Who are the People Behind the Famous Avenues and Boulevards of Manila?
If you live or work in Metro Manila, then you’ve heard of (or maybe, because of the city’s nightmare traffic, even cursed at) some of these people: Epifanio de los Santos, Gil Puyat, Ayala, Quezon, and many others whose names grace the streets we traverse every day. But have you ever stopped to think who these people are?
Street names reflect who society deems important and worthy of reverence. It’s why so many things are named after Jose Rizal. They also tell us who the people naming the streets deem important, even when they name them after themselves (ahem, Marcos Highway), which is why some streets change names over time.
Take a look at the famous names behind some of the most popular streets in Metro Manila.
Gil Puyat/ Buendia Avenue
People plying the Pasay/ Manila/ Makati route are no doubt familiar with Gil Puyat/ Buendia, or as veteran commuters call it, bwenja. Crossing from EDSA all the way to Taft Avenue, this road is named after two important senators.
The avenue was originally named after Nicolas Buendia, a former senator, a Katipunero from Bulacan, and a lieutenant during the revolution.
After the revolution, he participated in the American colonial government, becoming municipal president of Malolos and even governor of Bulacan for a term. He was also one of the founders of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, the Aglipayan church. Buendia was also a delegate in the Constitutional Convention on 1934.
The name change happened in 1982 to honor former senate president Gil J. Puyat, who had passed away a year before. Puyat served under the senate from 1951 until its abolition in 1972 due to martial law.
Beyond that, Puyat was a businessman and industrialist, pioneering post-war rehabilitation under his father’s company, Gonzalo Puyat & Sons. His business ventures would continue throughout his senatorial career and beyond, with his forays in real-estate development and financial services growing during the Marcos years up to his death, and even today.
Roxas Boulevard hugs the Manila Bay coastline, connecting Caloocan, Manila, Pasay, all the way to Cavite through the NAIA Expressway and Cavite Expressway.
Though currently named after the former President Manuel Roxas, it was originally named Cavite Boulevard. During the American period, the road was then renamed in honor of George Dewey, who negotiated with Emilio Aguinaldo to facilitate the invasion of American forces in the Philippines. During the Second World War, the Japanese renamed it to Heiwa Boulevard, before settling on its present name in the 1960s.
Paseo de Roxas
Paseo de Roxas is another story. A major artery road in the Ayala-owned Makati central business district, it intersects Ayala Avenue and Makati Avenue. It’s perhaps best known for its proximity to the Ayala Triangle Gardens and the Ninoy Aquino statue in the middle of the road.
But, contrary to what you might think, Paseo de Roxas wasn’t named for the former President, but after Domingo Roxas y Ureta, a Mexican-Filipino businessman and co-founder of the Ayala Corporation.
Recto Avenue is home to multiple colleges and universities in the University Belt. It was also where Andres Bonifacio founded the Katipunan in 1893. Before Recto though, the street was known as Calle Azcarraga, named after Marcelo Azcarraga Palmero, the first and only Spanish Prime Minister born in the Philippines.
In 1961, Azcarraga was renamed after the statesman, poet, and nationalist Claro M. Recto. A consummate politician since 1916, he worked hard to promote Filipino nationalism in his works and essays throughout his career. He was often compared to Rizal and Mabini as “the finest mind of his generation.”
Like others, though, his desire for independence blinded him into collaborating with the Japanese during the Second World War. He was pardoned and absolved after the war by President Roxas, himself also a collaborator. Recto did not take this well, as he didn’t get the chance to properly defend himself. He died in 1960, seemingly of a heart attack, though declassified documents talk of a plot by the CIA to poison Recto.
Across Recto lies Mendiola. Owing to its proximity to Malacañang Palace, Mendiola has become famous as a site of protest action, with some even turning violent.
During the First Quarter Storm, students clashed with police in the Battle of Mendiola Bridge, leaving four dead. In 1987, thirteen farmers were shot dead by police during a protest in what is now known as the Mendiola Massacre.
The historic street was itself named after Enrique Mendiola, an educator and textbook author who championed the right for education. He was one of the first Filipinos appointed to the University of the Philippines’ board of regents.
Intersecting Mendiola and Recto is Legarda Street, once named Calle Alix after Jose Maria Alix, a magistrate of the Real Audiencia de Manila, the highest court of the land at the time. During this time two of the Luna brothers, Juan and Antonio, lived and owned a fencing school there.
The name was changed to its present form in honor of Benito Legarda, a member of Aguinaldo’s Malolos Cabinet and colonial Philippine Commission. He founded the Partido Federalista along with figures such as Pedro Paterno and T. H. Pardo de Tavera, advocating annexation of the Philippines by the United States as a state.
There are no streets in Metro Manila named after Andres Bonifacio, the Supremo of the Katipunan. Strange, considering the number of streets named after other Filipino revolutionaries such as J. Ruiz, Nakpil, Kalentong, and Ongpin, just to name a few.
You might think Mandaluyong’s Boni Avenue is just a cute way of shortening Andres Bonifacio. And while indeed short-hand for Bonifacio, it was actually named after Bonifacio Javier, a former mayor of Mandaluyong. Before he became mayor in 1945, he fought as a guerilla leader during the Second World War, organizing around 2,000 men in a regiment under Marking’s Guerillas, a group affiliated with USAFFE.
Bonny Serrano Avenue
Similarly, Bonny Serrano is named after another Bonifacio: Col. Bonifacio Serrano, a Korean War veteran and war hero. He was the highest-awarded Filipino soldier during the Korean War, having earned the Medal of Valor for his bravery in capturing 77 North Korean soldiers with only a five-man regiment. His story was turned into a film, Korea, starring Jaime de la Rosa and Nida Blanca, directed by Lamberto Avellana, and written by a young Ninoy Aquino.
There are many more streets bearing the names of heroes, politicians, businessmen, and so on, not just in Manila, but all throughout the country. Sometimes it pays to look back and think of who these people are, and if they are really worthy of having their names immortalized in the maps and street signs of our country.