Missing ye olde Avenida Rizal
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-08-22

Coming from the direction of the Malacanang Guest House where your Chair Wrecker met with President Noynoy Aquino last August 11, accompanied by my wife Mey and my sister Carol, we proceeded to a dinner appointment at the New President Restaurant located at the Manila Grand Opera House Hotel on Doroteo Jose, near Rizal Avenue, Manila.

It’s been decades since I’ve been to that part of Manila. Traversing Claro M. Recto to get to Rizal Avenue and ultimately to Doroteo Jose turned out to be a sort of culture shock for me. From Recto Avenue corner Quezon Avenue all the way to Rizal Avenue and then to Dorotheo Jose — the familiar landmarks associated with fond memories of the days of my youth simply vanished.

In the 1950s and the 1960s, we associated life’s pleasant memories with Recto Avenue (then called Azcarraga) and Rizal Avenue (then called Avenida Rizal). In the 1950s, there was no Cubao Commercial Center, no Greenhills Commercial Center and no Makati Commercial Center. You did most of your dining, shopping and entertaining in what was called Downtown Manila.

Seeing the new Downtown Manila, I felt that there is hardly any motivation to visit the place again. Going there now would make you an advocate of the RH Bill, urban renewal and a phase-out of the jeepneys. The LRT (Light Rail Transit) along Rizal Avenue made the place dark and less vibrant — quite a contrast to what this avenue was to us in the 1950s and the 1960s.

In the early 1960s, the Philippine peso stood at less than P4 to the US$, the clear mark of an economy that was second only to Japan in Asia. The minimum wage was P4 a day and Filipinos could eat three meals a day on that daily wage. The price of gasoline was in centavos, as low as P0.15 for a liter of high octane. Jeepney and bus fares were a mere P0.10 as was the price of a Coca Cola. The Volkswagen sold for less than P6,000 when it was first introduced and its advertising bragged that it can get you to Baguio and back to Manila on less than P3.50 peso worth of gas.

A company vice president made P2,500 a month average salary, a supervisory position would make P500 a month while a rank and file employee’s salary would range from P180 to P300 a month. A good sized middle class home would cost P30,000 while rent for a first class two-bedroom apartment with a carport would cost P120 a month. Middle class families felt secure with life insurance coverage of no more than P150,000 for death or disability of the breadwinner.

The first-run theatres charged P1.00 for a movie and a family of four can have a hearty snack at Fairmont (noted for their Mocha ice cream) for just under P5 after the movie. It was the golden age of the panciterias (Chinese restaurants) in Manila — To Ho Antigua, San Jacinto, Rice Bowl, Far Eastern, China, Smart, Moderna, Ilang Ilang (the oldest), National, Marquina, Moonlit Terrace, Aroma, Wah Nam, to name the more popular ones. You paid P20 for an 8-course dinner for ten people. You only parted with P1 for a pint of carton packed Magnolia ice cream. You paid P3 for a seat in the reserved section of the Rizal Memorial Stadium to watch the NCAA cage wars.

The 1960s were the last of the best years of Philippine sports. We dominated basketball in Asia until 1967. Gabriel “Flash” Elorde fought his best championship fights in the 1960s and his title fight with Harold Gomes — when he won the World Jr. Lightweight boxing title in what was the opening feature of the new world-class Araneta Coliseum — was a sellout. Up to the early 1960s, we were also a dominant force in Asian soccer. Filipina Mona Solaiman was the track sensation of the Asian Games. Dodjie Laurel won the Macau Grand Prix.

Filipinos set the tone in Asia for style and glamour. All over Asia, Filipinos were the celebrated travelers. Pitoy Moreno’s fashion shows and the Bayanihan Dance Troupe were the expressions of Filipino style and flair all over Asia where they were in great demand. Our neighbors in ASEAN envied us and sent their children here to study in our colleges and universities. When Filipinos left to work abroad, it was more likely to be a manager and not as rank and file and blue collar workers like the millions we export today.

In the 1960s, we had a theatre tradition going. Several groups like the Manila Theatre Guild, which performed at the old Army-Navy Club in Luneta, and Repertory Philippines, which performed at the Insular Life Theatre in Makati, staged plays with regularity. Schools like the Ateneo, St. Paul’s, San Sebastian College, UST and UP also produced stage plays. We even had our Broadway counterpart which catered to the general public’s theatre taste. These were the Old Manila Grand Opera House and the Clover Theatre.

The Philippine Senate of the 1960s was so esteemed that it would have been the dream of many a lad then to be in the league of such Senators like Claro M. Recto, Lorenzo Tanada, Jose W. Diokno, Soc Rodrigo, Ninoy Aquino, Arturo Tolentino, Emmanuel Pelaez et al. Clowns belonged to the circus or the movies and none of them ever dared to seek comradeship with those Senate greats of yore.

Should the post-1980s generations watch the movies that were filmed in the 1950s and the 1960s, they will notice that the dwellings of depicted poor people then were nowhere as pitiful as the lean-tos and hovels that now proliferate in our urban landscape.

The 1960s was a period of transition in the Philippines which marked the last of our good ole days. The era of trials and tribulations that the regime of Dictator Ferdinand Marcos started ended our good ole days. In Singapore
, Lee Kuan Yew was bringing his new country to greatness. In the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos was bringing us to the pits and the dark ages. 

The Rizal Avenue that we visited last August 11 was the opposite of the glorious Avenida Rizal I fondly remember. It was all about what it was before and what should not have been today in our country.

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