Amid brewing uproar over Dan Brown's "gates of hell" reference to Manila, cultural activist Carlos Celdran urged Filipinos to remain calm and get their act together.
The excerpt about the Philippine capital in the American writer's new novel Inferno is only an exaggeration in fiction and is not so bad, the popular tour guide said, but he knows why Filipinos are infuriated.
"Considering the pagka-pikon ng mga Pinoy, I can't blame them also because the reason why they're so pikon is because they're helpless in changing our city," Celdran said.
"Ang gulo talaga ng Maynila. Kung may confidence ang mga Pilipino or Manilenos in changing our city, I don't think we'd be so pikon," he said.
He however reminded Brown, the author of top-selling novels Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, among others, that the U.S. had a lot to do with the current state of Manila.
American forces bombed the city in 1945, leaving the Philippine capital the most devastated place after Warsaw during the second World War.
Manila needs fixing
Celdran conceded that some parts of Manila are close to Dan Brown's description: "Talagang gate of hell talaga ang Tondo at Ermita compared to Fort Bonifacio and Makati."
"I really think we should start concentrating in fixing Manila. 'Yun talaga ngayon ang big challenge ni Erap Estrada," he continued.
"The moment we fix Tondo, Manila, Ermita and Malate, gates of hell won't happen any more. Because the world will always judge us by the old Manila, not the newer parts of Manila."
Celdran went on to cite a personal experience which shows how bad Manila is: "There was one time I took a person to Tondo on a tour there. She was so horrified... She vomited because of what she saw."
"It's nothing to defend, it's just what we are. If wanna change it, that should come from us," said Celdran, who became popular for his Church protest in support of the reproductive health bill.
Hiding Manila's decay and poverty is a difficult task, the tour guide said. "It's hard to hide the poverty. Mahirap itago 'yun. Don't try to hide it. It's hard to justify it. Ito talaga ang character ng Manila."
He also pointed out that the potential popularity of Dan Brown's new novel might work in our favor in the long run.
"We should also thank the fact na he's giving us international attention because if this book of Dan Brown makes it big, sigurado 'pag may movie they will still be in Manila," Celdran said.
New York, Berlin have poor dwellers, too
Celdran reminded everyone that even the world's greatest cities like New York and Berlin exude character that of Manila.
"There's no such thing as perfect city. But the thing is tayong mga Pinoy, we always dwell on the dark side," he said.
"If Erap fixes crappy old historical Manila, he can change the world's opinion about the entire country," Celdran noted.