Manila took a long time to make. What is now its sea reached as far as the present towns of Mandaluyong, “a place of waves” and Makati, “a place of tides”. It is said that diggers in Makati often find seashells. This could mean that once a upon a time Makati was seashore or seabed. The line of the shore may have been along Guadalupe, under the cliffs. So, at that time, the highway called EDSA would have been a beach!
All the land north of this, up to what’s now Quezon City, was under water. Then, through hundreds and hundreds of years, this foreshore began to till up until a triangle of ground appeared.
This became the site of the City of Manila. The triangle can be imagined as a fan: the handle is Pasig town; the rim of the fan is the arc between Pasay and North Harbor.
No one knows how long it took to turn sea into land. But we do know who built a site for Manila.
The builder was the Pasig River.
The present Pasig is a stream 23 kilometers long. It rises from the North side of Laguna de Bai and flow West – ward into Manila Bay. The mouth of the river was a first somewhere near Pasig town.
Into the Bay there the river carried its load of mud and sand. After hundreds of years these deposits of soil had piled up to form ground. Through this triangle of ground that it had formed, the river forced a new channel, with many loops, to reach the bay now farther off.
The river thus divided the triangle into an upper side and lower side, or into north and south. And the mouth of the river was now almost exactly in the middle between these two halves.
The ground thus formed at the mouth of a river is called a delta.
The delta of the Pasig River is almost entirely occupied by the City of Manila. In the beginning this delta was not a solid hunk of ground. Instead it was a jumble of small islands between which ran the rivulets that we call esteros.
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It must have been a long time before anybody inhabited these islands. Being barely above sea level, they would go under water during high tide or the monsoon rains. Floods are still a problem in modern Manila because the land level has not risen much since the days when the Pasig delta was a jigsaw of tiny isles.
The site of Manila was reclaimed from the sea – and the sea is still trying to get it back!
The higher ground beyond the delta was already inhabited. In the dense forests of what is now Caloocan, Quezon City and San Juan roamed the aboriginal tribes. Their tools, weapons and other goods (which are called artifacts) have been unearthed. But no artifacts have been found in the ground of Manila, a sign that the delta islands began to be lived in only recently.
Perhaps the first to inhabit the delta isles were the barangay folk who began to arrive in the Philippines around the tenth century. They came in the large rowboats called barangay. A group of families related to one another is called a clan from the nearby Malay world to a new home in the Philippines, then still the virgin wilderness of Aeta and Negrito.
Certain barangay expeditions sailing up from the south and cruising the western coast of Luzon carne upon an opening .in the shoreline. The entrance was partly blocked by an island that rose high like a rock. Rowing past this “door”, the migrants found themselves inside a big and beautiful bay, almost perfectly round and almost totally enclosed. Here the water was calm and the breeze was gentle, for this was haven shut off from the storminess of the China Sea outside. Down to the waters of the bay grew the forest primeval, so that everywhere you looked you saw a world of blue and green.
With what awe must our forefathers have gazed on all that purity and silence and loveliness!
They had discovered Manila Bay.
One of the world’s best natural harbors, the bay is 56 kilometres at its broadest. The entrance is about 18 kilometres wide and is divided the Rock of Corregidor into two passages: a northern and southern channel. If our forefathers entered through the upper channel, which is only some three kilometers wide, they rounded the tip of the Bataan peninsula and saw its deep jungles. lf they sailed in through the lower passage, they beheld the “hook” of Cavite and green hills rising from a narrow curving shore. From a distance, the hills look like a Sleeping Woman. Ahead, on the east point of the bay, was the fairest marvel of all: a cluster of islands sparkling in the sunshine like emeralds.
Oh, how the hearts of our forefathers must have leapt with joy upon seeing that mini archipelago tucked so safely deep inside the bay!