The paper was full of ads today.

Today’s Inquirer, aside from containing more ads
than editorial, also had ads in editorial.

Randy David, in his column, scolded the purveyors of billboards for scarring
the Philippine landscape. He says of this week’s guests to an international
conference: “As they pass Metro Manila’s slums, they will form an image of an
impoverished people drowning in advertisements for material goods they can only
fantasize about but will likely never acquire in their lifetime.” Later on, he
says: “If our public officials think they have made commuting in the city more
bearable by allowing outdoor advertising companies to clutter both sides of our
major thoroughfares with outsized billboards, they ought to have their heads
examined. These are forms of sensory assault that cannot be turned off. They
are, as someone put it, “the last unavoidable medium.” They endanger motorists
and they slow down traffic. But more importantly, they degrade the

I am caught between agreeing
with him, and defending my means of livelihood. No one comes to Manila for the
sight-seeing. What landscape is there to degrade? There are billboards, many
more, in downtown KL and Bangkok and Hong Kong; from all the tourist shots I’ve
seen, apparently Tokyo just happens to have streets in between neon signs. It’s
not the advertisers’ fault that there is only one major street in Metro Manila,
and that everyone has to pass there. Neither is it their doing that urban
planning is an oxymoron in this country. How can anyone plan when grease money
lets you build what you want where you want, when squatting is condoned because
more squatters mean more votes, when people are simply too worn down by the
daily struggle to put food in their mouths to care about what goes in through
their eyes? It is a sad, sad thing.

Jai Alai building was torn down to make room for housing. The construction of
the LRT meant dismantling what remained of Art Deco in downtown Manila. The need
to survive today overrules any need to preserve anything for tomorrow.

In a way, billboards paper over that
loss. They’ve become our landmarks. We don’t turn left at the old church, but at
the Bench billboard. The smiling celebrity faces hawking bags, burgers and
briefs are, if only until the billboard rental contract expires, the faces that
greet us on our way to work, and mark the road home.

(I feel such a burden now, to be more
responsible about the billboards that come out of our agency, because when you
become a replacement for an Art Deco building, or a historical bridge, you at
least have to look worthy.)