It would be hard to believe that Manila in the 1930s was already considered congested, but it was. The economy was booming and Manila represented the dream of Filipinos all over the country—there was a job and a better life waiting for them here. Everyone wanted a piece of Manila.
But what made Manila an economic capital, with centers of trade, proximity to big ports and access to the sea, also made it susceptible to potential attacks. At that time, international politics was considered a powder keg: memories of the first World War were still fresh, yet talks of a bigger war were looming on the horizon, and all it would take was a small spark to ignite an explosion.
All these considerations were not lost on Manuel Quezon, president of the Philippine Commonwealth, a transition government to prepare for the independence to be awarded by the Americans in a few years. What the country needed was a national capital that could best reflect the aspirations of a newly independent nation, a future capital that could replace Manila.
These dreams of a national capital gave birth to Quezon City.
A CAPITAL CITY FOR THE WORKING MAN
Quezon proceeded to found the People’s Homesite Corporation, using the land from the Tuason family, some 1,572 hectares which is now known as Diliman. This is where Quezon started building his city, with the commissioning of a blueprint from William E. Parsons, who died in 1939 and left the work to his partner, Harry T. Frost, an adviser of the Commonwealth on architecture. Frost sought the help of A.D. Williams, former director for Public Works, and Juan Arellano, the country’s top architect. Louis Croft, a landscape architect, was also asked to collaborate in the masterplan.
This piece of land in Diliman was supposed to be the Barrio Obrero or the Worker’s Village, a housing project for government employees. Later on, additional land was purchased to serve as the center of defense of the new capital. This site was called Camp Murphy, which is today divided into Camp Crame and Camp Aquinaldo.
With this in place, a bill was introduced to create Balintawak City. But with the different sectors’ deference to the man behind it all, the law was passed as Commonwealth Act No. 502, or the charter of Quezon City.
The new city was expanded to include nearby towns, totaling to around 7,300 hectares. The people were enthusiastic to be part of the planned new city, in hopes that they could partake in the development which was to happen on a grand scale.
A GREAT METROPOLITAN DISTRICT
Frost outlined in his masterplan of Quezon City as it stands with other planned cities in the world, a phenomenon that was not something new, even in the Philippines. The Americans had also planned Baguio City as an escape for the American colonial government in the Philippines when the heat of summer in Manila was too much to bear.
He referred to Quezon City as “an integral part of a great metropolitan district,” akin to what we refer today as the National Capital Region. Quezon City was initially conceived as “practically the only remaining residence properties near Manila that are susceptible of development on a large scale.”
While everything looked rosy for Quezon City, the air was thick with murmurs of war, and by December 1941, the Japanese were on the shores of Manila.
REVIVING THE PLANS AFTER THE WAR
It was President Elpidio Quirino who had to take the helm of realizing the dreams of the Capital City after the sudden death of Manuel Roxas, the first president of the republic after the war. Quirino signed Republic Act No. 333 in 1949, establishing the permanent seat of national government in Quezon City from Manila. It also created the Capital City Planning Commission headed by Arellano, who was called back in to work on a new masterplan.
The heart of the 1949 Arellano plan is the Constitution Hill (Batasan Hills today), envisioned to be the site of the three main branches of the government: the House of Congress will hold both houses of the legislative, the Palace of the Chief Executive will be the residence of the President, and the Supreme Court. In the original plan by Frost, this national government center was located in what is now t he Quezon Memorial Circle.
Only the Batasan Complex was realized in the Constitution Hill, while the Palace and the Supreme Court remained in Manila.
The new masterplan also had a quadrangle at the heart of the city, bounded by the East, West, South (Timog today), and North avenues. Principal streets radiated from the avenues to the city’s borders. This quadrangle was supposed to be a “central park” in a city envisioned as full of greens and gardens. It would house a botanical and zoological garden, a golf course, and a stadium.
The Exposition grounds were also envisioned near the quadrangle; in 1941, this was projected to be the site of the 1946 World’s Fair, an affair to celebrate the country’s independence. This site is now SM North.
This park was never realized; while the avenues remain today, much of the quadrangle was apportioned for other purposes.
A CITY FOR FILIPINOS
Street and avenues were to be named after historical events, Filipino heroes, and other Filipino names. Many of these remain today, such as Katipunan Avenue, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao avenues, among others.
The original goal of creating a city to provide housing was realized through the projects numbered one to five, with a six, seven, and eight added later on. While these were targeted for the informal settlers, and the lower to middle classes, the more affluent could choose to reside in Sta. Mesa Heights or New Manila.
QUEZON CITY TODAY
The planned capital city may not have seen all plans to fruition, but it was the declared capital of the country from 1948 until 1976, when former president Ferdinand Marcos signed Presidential Declaration No. 940, reverting the capital to Manila. This might be because most of the plans of the capital city have never been fully realized.
But Quezon City today is a bright spot of development. It has consistently been declared the richest and most competitive among cities of Metro Manila. It is the country’s leading center for education, with many of the country’s universities establishing their flagships in the city. Business is set to get a big boost, with the creation of new business centers that crawl towards the north of EDSA.
Quezon City may not be the planned capital that it was supposed to be, and Quezon’s dreams may not exactly be what it has become now. But the future remains bright for this city, where development is not just a dream, but a reality. — JOHN LEE CANDELARIA