City Focus: Manila

By Shannon Lewis

The Philippines’ capital of Manila is hard to pin down. The name is used to refer to both the City of Manila itself as well as the wider Metro Manila region. The city proper is by some measures the most densely-populated in the world, while Metro Manila incorporates an impressive 15 more cities in close proximity: Quezon City, Caloocan, Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Parañaque, Pasay, Pasig, San Juan, Taguig and Valenzuela. Taken together, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said in 2015 that the total population was over 12.8mn people. The PSA reported Metro Manila’s 2018 GDP as being approximately $127.4bn, representing around 38% of the country’s total output.

As the capital of the Philippines, Manila has a long and storied history. Its original inhabitants were the Negritos, the Philippines’ aborginial population. Over time, Chinese influence was exerted via trade, before invasion by Hindu and later Muslim forces from the Indian subcontinent. In the 16th century, the Spanish, led by conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi invaded, annexing the territory to their empire. These competing influences were drawn by Manila’s strategic location for trade between Europe, Asia and the New World, and the city accordingly prospered. It was during this time that the historic Intramuros walled district of the city was created, which features distinctive architecture from the period.

Spanish control of the city was, however, exchanged for American rule after the Spanish-American war of 1898. It is perhaps this period that has left the longest-lasting legacy on the city and the country at large, with the Philippines in its current incarnation having English as well as Filipino as its official languages, and possessing a presidential system of government. The City of Manila was devastated throughout the Second World War, during which time the country was occupied by the Japanese. In 1946, following the war, the country was granted its independence, and Manila was rebuilt in a style befitting its heritage.

Ayala Corporation

Ayala Corporation has its roots in the colonial history of the Philippines. Founded in 1834, when the Philippines were under the control of the Spanish Empire, the conglomerate has interests in areas as diverse as real estate, education, financial services, utilities, energy and more. It got its start under the name of Casa Roxas, founded by Domingo Roxas and Antonio de Ayala, who invested in a distillery, growing via banking and trams before playing a role in the country’s regeneration following the Second World War.

SM Investments

Another conglomerate, SM Investments was founded by Henry Sy, an immigrant from China. The company takes the initials of Sy’s first company, a shoe store known as ShoeMart, founded in 1958. The shoe store later grew into a department store, and the company retains a focus on retail, with more than 70 SM Supermalls shopping malls across the country. The firm also now has interests in banking and property development, both in the Philippines and China.


San Miguel Corporation

Perhaps the Philippines most internationally famous organisation, the San Miguel Corporation holding company operates San Miguel Brewery, makers of San Miguel Beer. Founded in 1890 by Spaniard Enrique María Barretto de Ycaza, the brewery’s produce first found success in places in Asia such as Hong Kong before becoming more internationally popular. The company has since diversified its offerings, moving into the food and packaging industries, as well as utilities, mining and even airport operation.

Owing to its placement on Manila Bay, a natural harbour leading onto the South China Sea, Manila has served as an important port throughout its history. The South China Sea itself is a vital shipping lane, seeing an estimated third of global shipping passing through, worth $3.37trn. Though the Philippines is not considered an import/export powerhouse, American think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that 72% of the country’s trade was through the South China Sea. Consequently, the Philippines’ largest port of Manila is a vital link, showcasing 2,460,387 containers in 2018.

Upcoming events in the city include the Filipino Franchise & Business Expo 2020 at the World Trade Center in Pasay, which describes itself as an occasion for entrepreneurs and the “longest-running business expo in the Philippines”. The event runs between 28 February and 1 March. Also upcoming is The International Farmers Summit 2020, an agricultural event with a focus on animal health, genetics and nutrition, taking place between 12-14 February at the SMX Convention Center also in Pasay.

Manila’s prime location has led to the city being fought over for much of its history, but that same source of conflict has also led to the economic success that has turned it into the powerhouse of the Philippine economy.


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