Manila and Its Contradictions: Quirky Quiapo

A friend and I decided to take a trip to Quiapo on a random Monday. We went to see if we could have a couple of cameras and lenses checked and fixed, which were not really necessary for me at the time. I really just wanted to take another photo walk someplace in Manila. It’s been long overdue.

Amidst the chaos of Quiapo — and it really is insane out there — the best point of reference is the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. And believe me, a church is probably the last place I would pick as a meeting place. Casually known as the Quiapo Church, it was built and destroyed approximately six different times since the early church was first constructed by Franciscans out of bamboo and palm leaves in the 1500s.


The Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene

Today it is home to the supposedly miraculous Black Nazarene statue, which was carved by a Mexican, and arrived in the Philippines on a Spanish ship via the galleon trade. Devotees flock here on January 9 of every year, to celebrate its feast day.

Ironically, the marketplace that surrounds it is known for pampalaglag (abortive chemicals), pagan potions like gayuma (a love potion), drinks to enhance male sexual performance, toys (for children and adults) and clothing. I sighted tons of curios as I roamed around it today, reflective of all the deities that Filipinos seem to believe in: Catholicism, paganism, and consumerism.


The Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene

As one can imagine, its hustle, bustle and latent character was a field day for anybody who had any sort of interest in photography, so you would think that they would be used to it by now. As it turns out, at the Quiapo Marketplace, photographing is a touchy subject. My friend and I were called out several times for taking pictures, being belligerently asked what I was taking pictures of, what for, and where they would appear; being told that it was forbidden if we weren’t going to buy anything. And it wasn’t like we were brazen about it; we skipped the bulky DSLRs and opted to use only our phones.

Ironically, literally just down the street from the photosensitive Quiapo marketplace is Hidalgo, a strip of camera houses where to can go to for repairs, good deals, and collectibles. It’s worth the trip through all the shops to dig up some cool stuff and canvass, but the eponymous Dong Camera Repair Center seems to be the shop that the whole Manila underground photography world goes to to get things done. He’s the man to see!


Hidalgo Street sights

The beautiful thing about this experience is that some citizens showed genuine concern about our safety. We were often called out by the vendors — those who were not hostile with our photo-taking — to look out for our bags and phones, and watch out for pickpockets. And this is a valid concern, however ironic; besides/despite the church, Quiapo is infamous for its crime. Mostly they are pickpockets, but it does not stop there.

Of all the days that we chose to go to Quiapo, it was the same fateful one when a girl was shot on the street. Someone had caught wind that some company’s Finance Officer had some money with her, held her up, and shot her in cold blood.

The incident happened earlier during the day, in the morning. Not so early that we were not shaken to hear the news, because we did make plans to go at right about the same time the shooting happened. Thankfully, both of us woke up late.


The scene of the crime

See the blood stains on the floor? See those candles that they lit in her memory? See how nonchalantly everyone goes about? Damn.

Clearly, Quiapo is a cold, hard place. No room for ninnies here. Which is probably why my friend and I were called out so many times, for so many things; they can smell naïveté from a mile away.

Regardless, it was a great day! I would recommend the experience either way. Just keep all your valuables close to your body, and stay away from the banks.


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