Abstract: (Re)Constructing a Nation: Contesting Nationhood Within the Walls of the Metropolitan Theater of Manila

Built in 1931 during the American Colonial Period, The Metropolitan Theater of Manila (The Met) sits in an idyllic corner near the Mehan Gardens and the iconic Liwasang Bonifacio. Inspired by Felix Mendelssohn’s “On Wings of Song”, its architect Juan Arellano designed the Met in modern Art Deco, but infused it with local Filipino motifs. It served to showcase a cultured Filipino identity acceptable to Western audiences. But since that age of silver screen actresses and opera stars, the Met’s occupants have fluctuated dramatically across the social strata. Today, however, pounding hammers and whirring saws have invaded the space, loudly singing a new melody. Widely covered by the national media, the Grand Old Dame of Manila now enters a new chapter in its storied history, undergoing a renovation spearheaded by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Touted as a restoration of a “glorified past” by bureaucrats and media alike, The Met has become symbolic for a storied Filipino identity. In this narrative, this renovation becomes the rediscovery of a Golden Age of Culture, unwillingly lost to the whims of time. Yet the propensity to emphasize the wonder of “rediscovery” reveals a refusal to engage in the historical realities that caused its disappearance from the national psyche and further assumes that past ideas of Philippine identity are consistent with the present. Therefore, countering this narrative that The Met embodies a lost Filipino spirit, I ask whether its treatment instead parallels the actual shifts of Philippine national identity. Further, I ask what does its contemporary portrayal reveal about Philippine national identity today.