After a long time of neglect, decay and disuse, the Manila Metropolitan Theater (MET), once a social and cultural citadel in the capital, is now getting a refresh that it so deserves.
The new owner, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, has been allocated PHP 9.48M by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in order to jumpstart rehabilitation work on the Manila Metropolitan Theater. The government body in charge of cultural matters purchased the heritage building from the Government Service Insurance System last May of 2015.
“The Aquino Administration had made the first step in purchasing this iconic landmark from GSIS, and now the NCCA can begin the worthy task of restoring the MET to its former glory. Ultimately, funding the MET’s rehabilitation will not only preserve a piece of history from our country’s storied past. It is also a cultural investment for future generations of Filipinos,” Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad said.
The amount of P9.48 million is a special budget release that will be charged against the National Endowment Fund for Culture and the Arts (NEFCA). The latter represents the NCCA’s 10-percent share from the travel tax collected by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA, formerly the Philippine Tourism Authority), and is treated as an Automatic Appropriation.
The release will fund the conservation efforts to rehabilitate the theater, which includes the mobilization expenses for the physical cleaning as well as the establishment of security.
“Rehabilitating the MET will restore dignity to the Crown Jewel of Manila Theaters after years of neglect and disrepair. Bringing the MET into the modern age will also boost our country’s tourism industry, as the proper management of our cultural heritage will support the gains of our economic growth,” Abad said.
Designed by architect Juan Arellano and opened in 1931, the MET was constructed in the Art Deco style. It had undergone restoration and rehabilitation several times through the years, especially in the wake of the damage it incurred after World War II. Despite being a National Cultural Treasure, it had been closed due to the theater’s state of decay and issues with regard to its ownership since 2012.
Known for its grand art deco design by architect Juan Arellano, the Met opened in 1931, during the term of Mayor Tomas Earnshaw. The 7,533 square-meter Met could hold over 1,000 guests; murals by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo hang in its lobby. It has since seen great performances by great performers. Its events were the highlights of many a Manila high-society night.
The next decades after its reconstruction from wartime destruction, it served as a boxing arena, hotel, warehouse and squatter colony. In the 1970s, former first lady Imelda Marcos led restoration efforts dedicated “to surface the true, the good and the beautiful in the Filipino in Metropolitan Manila.”
It soon became a source of conflict as the GSIS and the City of Manila quarreled over it. The building was shut down in 1996. There would be pronouncements of reviving the MET through the years by different people but would not yield anything at all. Empty promises by Former Mayor Alfredo Lim, in 2008, and the National Museum, despite declaring the site as a national treasure.
Strangely enough, the theater was used again after several years for the Wolfgang Band concert in 2011, then never again.
In 2014, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada pledged to buy the MET from the GSIS for P267 million, saying he wanted to turn it into an institute for performing arts for the Universidad de Manila and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. Ultimately, the NCCA would buy the decrepit and possibly haunted theater and finally restore it to its former glory.
It also has alleged paranormal activities from Ella Luansing Tinio, who was to perform as Viola on the Filipino-translated work of Will Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night in 1992. Tinio died in an accident before she could participate in the play, and was said to have haunted (in good faith) the actual play, on the Teatro Pilipino’s farewell performance there. Whether Ella’s presence be made known to the world or have spirit mediums show her to the light remains to be determined.
Construction workers who have attempted to restore the MET before has attested to uneasy feelings and phantom plays, singing voices and performances late at night, understandably unnerving the workers.
At the very least, the ghostly activities are anything but poltergeist, and may actually be very interesting. Let not the fear of the unknown or ghosts dissuade any restoration of the MET.
Those wanting to dare read about Ella Launsing Tinio, her life, death and her artistic haunting can do so here.