Manila in the 60s

Does anyone remember what Manila, and in particluar, Makati, was like in the 60s? I have some vague recollections…

The Currency and the Economic Landscape

To begin with, the money was different – it felt different. It had value…so much value, in fact, that centavos were printed on paper. The Peso-Dollar exchange in the sixties was 2-1. If you had P50 in your pocket, you were rich. The only time I’d ever saw a 50 note was on rare occasions such as birthdays or Christmas. And then, it had to go straight into my savings account. The notes themselves were artiscally designed and printed in Switzerland and came in different colors. There were 5(orange), 10(brown), 20(green) and 50(blue) centavo notes. The peso notes were: 1/2(green-mayon obverse), 1(black-mabini obverse), 2(blue-rizal obverse), 5(yellow-la solidaridad reverse), 10(brown-gomburza obverse), 20(orange-katipunan reverse), 50(red-lapu-lapu reverse), 100, 200 and 500. Needless to say, I’ve only seen the 100, 200 and 500 notes in private collections. Even the coins were worth something. The 10, 20 (later 25), 50 and one peso coins were minted in silver (90% up to 1906 and then reduced to 70%) up until the mid forties and were in circulation throughout the fifties and early sixties.

HISTORICAL FACT: When the Americans landed in 1898-1899, the monetary system left behind by the Spanish was such a mess that they decided to start from scratch. The exchange was arbitrarily pegged at 2-1 to the dollar and remained that way for more than half a century. The Americans also decided that the notes should be smaller than the regular dollar notes in circulation at the time as a symbolic way of showing that the peso was of lesser value. You might recall that all Philippine notes and coins of that era had “Filipinas” on the obverse and “United States of America” on the reverse. In fact, experts will tell you that no U.S. coin collection is complete without a Philippine set simply because the words US of A appear on the coins.

And thus, the peso was known as the “junior dollar.” However, over time, it turned out that the smaller peso note was more durable than the bigger dollar note and cheaper to print. And so, sometime in the late 20s or early 30s, all the dollar notes were redesigned and reissued in conformity with the size of the smaller peso note. (I bet you guys didn’t know that, but it’s true!) In 1903, the Americans also minted the copper 1/2 centavo, which was around for only 3 years. I’ve never understood the logic of the half centavo coin. HOW THE HELL DO YOU MAKE CHANGE FOR HALF A CENTAVO??? 

Nonetheless, for those of you who might be interested, I have to say that there are some very fine specimens of Philippine coins and notes from that era that are worth quite a bit of money. Most notably the 1906(S) 1-Peso coin (which, depending on the condition of the coin, can be worth around $10,000); the 1918 5-centavo “mule” (which had the regular 5 centavo fascia on the obverse with a 20 centavo reverse); and the 1910(S) 10 centavo coin (of which only a handful were minted and are almost impossible to locate). The interesting thing about collecting coins is that they are a visual historical record of the country.  

The point is: the money was worth something and appealing to the eye – much like Manila at the time.

Being too young at the time, I really don’t know much about the state of the economy back then. I do know, however, that the Philippines was experiencing unprecedented growth, in large part, due to massive investment by American businesses. In 1968, the population stood at 35 million and our economy was only second to Japan. We were way ahead of Korea, Taiwan, HongKong and Singapore, not to mention Malaysia, Thailand, India, China and Indonesia.

The Political Landscape

Again, I can’t say much about politics back then other than it was a two party system. But I believe the political system was looked upon with respect, something that is no longer true today. Politicians were statesmen – learned and cultured. The electoral system was not based on celebrity or popularity, it was based on leadership and diplomacy. Whatever graft and corruption existed (and I’m sure it existed) was kept to a minimum or, at the very least, was done discreetly, and not to the extent and impudence with which it is carried out today.

Were there problems? Certainly. There was the Huk Balahap movement with Luis Taruc in Tarlac. Also, there was the problem with Sabah and the Jabidah massacre of 1968. 

And basically, that, except for Max Estrella’s “Yeba” and the philandering of Arsenio “Arsenic” Lacson, was the extent of my political awareness in the 60s.

The Geographical and Cultural Landscape

The things I remember about Manila in the 60s were: Patio Flamenco (Earl Carroll’s old house) along Dewey (not Roxas) Blvd.; double-decker Matorcos; the illegal but otherwise accepted and openly visible casinos; Fisher’s Club; High Noon and Yellow Bar in Culi-culi; Indios Bravos and the Hobbit in Mabini; DiMark’s; Seafront; the Army-Navy Club; the new movie theatres (New Frontier, Greenhills, Rizal); the art deco movie theatres (Ideal, Odeon, Cinerama); the sleazy movie houses (Mayfair, Art, Holiday); the ice-skating rink in Cubao; Green Acres miniature golf; Fish Fun in Bulacan; Sunya restaurant; New Europe; Country Bake Shop; the Majestic Barber Shop; the 3 “Y’s” (Yutivo, Yco, Ysmael); Acme Supemart and the hotels.

Do you know how many luxury hotels there were before the Hilton and the Sheraton (and later the Intercontinental) showed up? I think there were only two: the Manila Hotel and Filipinas Hotel.

The first hotel in Makati was the Intercontinental. But do you remember what it was before it became the hotel? It was Nomad’s Club and we used to play football there. There was a yearly match that pitted the “Bachelors” against the “Married Men” with a mini-bar set up in the center of the field. The bachelors always creamed the married men because they would basically stop by the bar, pick up a beer and run around the field with a San-Mig in one or two hands. The bachelors always took the game much too seriously.

Dasmariñas, Legazpi and Salcedo Villages did not exist – they were merely concepts in some architect’s blueprint plans. Ayala Avenue was devoid of buildings except for the Monterey (Urdaneta Condo today) and Gilarmi apts. The financial center was composed of the Insular Life, San Miguel, PDCP, SGV, Oledan, Rufino and Commercial Bank and Trust buildings and little else.

The commercial center consisted of Rustan’s, a 300 sqm one-storey outlet in front of Rizal Theatre and Leila’s restaurant. Beside it was SMACA – ShoeMart Appliances and Car Accesories. And there was Anson’s, Mercury Drug, the Automat, Bookmark, Florophoto, Syvel’s, Angela’s Arcade, Bricktown, Makati Supermarket, Coronado Lanes, Maranaw, Sulo, Assandas, Plaza Restaurant, the Amusement Center, Erehwon and Motorist’s Haven. Pasay Road was not commercial.

The Hobby House, Nina’s Papagayo, Las Conchas, DZTR and SYA supermart were located along Makati Ave. Jupiter Street was not commercial.

There were six black and white police cars numbered 101 to 606, taxi’s were 15-5, gas was 33 cents a liter, cokes were 15 cents and you could buy a hundred marbles for 1 peso in Acme. Archie comics were 25 centavos.

We had Italian Village and La Capana on Highway 54 (EDSA) which, back then, was just a two lane blacktop. There was an A&W in Cubao and Jusmag in Quezon Circle. DZRJ and Muller’s house were in Sta. Mesa, New Manila was old money and Philippine Education was in Quiapo. There were beach resorts in Cavite fronting the bay.

There was a lot of crime…and gangs. Manila was known as “Dodge City of the East.” We had crazzies like Valentin de los Santos and the Lapiang Malaya. There was the big Chinatown fire of 1965 and you could see the glow of the flames all the way from Makati.

There was no law against the use of drugs. The only law against drugs in the Penal Code made reference to opium. The new drug law, RA6425, came with the proclamation of 1081. But during the 60s, a joint sold for 1 peso, a lid could be had for 15-20 pesos and grass was also sold by the matchbox (2-5 pesos). Nembutals, seconals, amphetamines, bennies, dexxies, ‘ekis’ all sold for about 15-30 cents a tab. You could buy Mercodol and Tricodine by the quart (I know I would). Fadormirs (4 to a round, pink and violet plastic pillbox) and Quaaludes were popular. And all these were sold over the counter in any drug store. 

Everything was inexpensive. 

This, in essence, is what greater Manila was like in the sixties. I remember the air to be clean and the afternoons balmy. It was never unbearably hot – even during the summer. It never felt crowded even in the worst traffic jam. There was a different hue to the city back then. The colors were warm and friendly – accommodating really – and reflected a sense of well-being in the people. We devoured everything American, from eating habits to  fashion, music, movies and TV, and the latest vernacular.

This was the backdrop with which many of us grew up…               

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1 Comment

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