Pandacan: the land of arts and depots (Part 1)

Not many people know this but May 30 this year is an important milestone being celebrated in a certain part of Manila, in a district they call Pandacan. What makes this date this year special is that it marks the 300th anniversary of the foundation of Pandacan. Thus, this series is dedicated to this storied district.

Located along the southern banks of the Pasig River across the districts of San Miguel and Santa Mesa lies the district known to many as Pandacan. Glancing from its name one might think it may have come from the Tagalog root word “pandak” or “short person” thus giving the perception that it may have called as such because the place was inhabited by short people. But the truth is actually farther than that. In fact, originally the place was not called Pandacan but “Pandanan,” a place where the edible pandan trees used to thrive. Somehow its name got corrupted over time and we now get the name we call it today.

Being located along the banks of the river, and considering the early Filipinos in Manila being dependent on the river, it is but natural that one would see a thriving community in what is now Pandacan before the arrival of the Spaniards. But apart from the river, the early Pandacan folk also relied on the rich land as well; farming was also an important source of living. As the nearby Kingdom of Maynilad soon fell to Spanish control, the community of Pandacan followed as well, first as part of the greater community of Sampaloc which was established on the northern banks but eventually became a suburb on its own on May 30, 1712.

In Spanish times, one can be considered a suburb in its own right with an establishment of a Catholic parish, so Pandacan got its own parish with the building of the church dedicated to the Santo NIño or the Holy Child of Pandacan in 1732. The church building itself that we see today though is not the original one as the previous ones were damaged.

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For good or ill though, the first thing that comes to mind when one says Pandacan is the oil depots that make their presence near the banks of the Pasig River, which have been a fixture since the beginning of the 20th century as oil companies started to establish themselves in the country. At the time, Pandacan was considered a considerable distance from the city itself making it a good place to put up oil depots to supply the growing needs of the city. Unfortunately, as the needs grew, the city grew with it. Pandacan eventually became a bustling neighborhood of commercial activity as well.

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This has been Pandacan’s challenge ever since as it strives to balance the presence of oil depots and the growing commercial activity in the city, without erupting to a worst case scenario of tragedy that has involved communities with oil depots. There has been movements calling for the removal of the oil depots from the district for safety’s sake; Manila City Council once approved an ordinance under the term of Mayor Lito Atienza calling for the relocation of these depots. However, his successor Alfredo Lim overturned this ordinance and allowed them to stay in the district “indefinitely” as some oil companies promise to scale down and eventually close their Pandacan operations within their own timeframes proposed.

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in recent years, some oil companies began to significantly reduce their operations in Pandacan; one former depot area has been converted as part of the Pandacan Linear Park, a park designated to serve as a buffer zone between the depots and the commercial/residential areas of the district

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in an effort to build goodwill with the people of Pandacan in the midst of the tense and contentuous atmosphere between the two parties, this oil company had a community health center built

But Pandacan has more to offer that is hidden behind the oil tanks by the river, a rich legacy that has managed to be kept alive in the midst of the changing times.

To be continued…

© The Urban Roamer

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