Roaming Malabon, Part 1

To the non-Malabon natives or to those who have no regular business, so to speak, in that city, Malabon is not one of those “go-to” places one feels going to. Compounded by the perceptions thanks to images of flooding and there being nothing much to see there, that attitude is understandable in a way.

the “legendary” floods of Malabon

So who would have thought that such a “flood-prone” area (which is actually caused more by high tides rather than floods) has such rich heritage character, something that is hard to find these days in an area so much urbanized as in Metropolitan Manila? This is what I discovered when I joined a little group who went on a food/heritage trip that took us around Malabon and a bit of nearby Navotas as well.

But first, one must know a bit about Malabon’s geography and history to better appreciate the place. Though it is not located along the shores of the Manila Bay, Malabon always has this connection to the water thanks to its close proximity to the bay and the presence of Manila Bay’s tributaries like the Navotas and Tullahan Rivers flowing around this city. With these connections, Malabon long thrived under the industry of fishing, as one can find before a number of fishponds located there. Unfortunately, the fishing industry there appears to have declined, if not disappeared altogether, since then First Lady and concurrent Minister of Human Settlements Imelda Marcos launched a reclamation project in Malabon during the 1980’s that eventually filled up some old fishponds and worsened the flooding situation in the area as the reclamation did not care to account how Malabon’s waterways work.

this restaurant used to stand on what was once a fishpond before the reclamation during the 1980’s, hence the restaurant’s name which is Spanish for fisherman
the former fishponds along Letre Road, Malabon

But going back to its history, Malabon’s Manila Bay connection also meant that it would stand to benefit the bustling trading activity happening at Manila’s seaport with the Galleon Trade and the trading boom that was felt by the 19th century. Soon the Spaniards who founded this little settlement way back in 1599 began to take advantage of the potential of the place they called then as “Tambobong*,” a place considered before as just land where plants like the tambo (reed) and labong (edible bamboo shoots) would grow.

the shore along Navotas River

*Interestingly, how the place got its name now as Malabon seems to be disputed. Some accounts say it was from the term “may labong” while others say it came from compounded Spanish words “mala” and “bon/buen,” bad and good which took into account Malabon’s bad muddy terrain and the good atmosphere and cuisine found there.

By the turn of the 20th century, Malabon was a thriving suburb of Manila as it became a favorite enclave of a number of middle and upper class families as various industries settled in and thrived like the tabacalera of the old, and today with patis (fish sauce) factories abound.

site of a former tobacco factory or tabacalera
Malabon’s famed fish sauce or “patis” factory

It is good to know that even with the looming threats of flooding and urbanization, Malabon’s old charm is still present in some way that never fails to surprise anyone who would stumble upon this part of the metropolis for the first time. For one thing, it is nice to see a number of these heritage, some even historic houses, still intact and managing to cope up with today’s modernism. Even though some houses look like midgets today thanks to raising street levels over the years as a way to “combat” flooding problems there.

the Paez House built in 1877, one of the oldest houses in Malabon
Benedicto Luna House in Brgy. Concepcion
ancestral house belonging to the forebears of GMA Network Chairman/CEO Felipe L. Gozon

With that, I must laud the city for having some active folks who treasure and protect Malabon’s heritage, especially the people I’ve met along the way. May they continue the good work of keeping the Malabon spirit alive and promote further raising the awareness of the people of Malabon’s rich yet overlooked character.

To be continued…

Click here for the links to the second, third, and fourth parts of this series.

Additional sources: Wikipedia, Ivan About Town, and the official website of Malabon’s city government

My thanks to the Facebook’s Pinoy Frugal Chow Hound group for organizing the Malabon trip I’ve went to.

I’ll also take the opportunity to those visiting this blog to also a check out a new friend of this blog, MyMalabon, which contains a lot of good information about Malabon’s rich heritage. A worthwhile online visit if you want to know more about the city.

© The Urban Roamer

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