As early as June this year, I posted an alert message to the Manila Nostalgia community about an impending demolition job on the western section of the historic Manila Army Navy Club, the pool side. My warning received only a handful of sighs from fellow members.

Along with this, Carlos Celdran (now Manila tourism consultant) refuted that all those movements on that part of Luneta is a mere rehabilitation of the seawall. The issue quickly died down. A few weeks later, Manila netizens were shocked to the sight of a torn down Army Navy Club.

I should have shout about it the first time.

The Army Navy Club and the Elks Club are turn-of-the-century structures. Forums to many important events in the history of Philippine-American relations. Still and all, with its National Historical label and National Historical Institute marker, the ANC wasn’t spared of a developer’s wrecking ball. Heritage advocates, culture lovers and concerned citizens were up in arms. But the uproar came a little too late. What was left of the building was an eerie skeletal structure and none of the William Parsons design.

Meanwhile, within a hailing distance from the ANC ruins, and amid the furor, another multi-storeyed heritage structure is being shrouded in a gigantic safety net. At the mercy of a hydraulic excavator — the Admiral Hotel.

At the time, Typhoon Mario, enhanced with the powerful southwest monsoon, closed in on Metro Manila shutting the whole Philippine capital down. And so — under cover of the bad weather — the excavator crushed the hotel to the ground. Manila Nostalgia member Jeremy Vergonio’s mayday cry was but tiny voice in the storm:

Another heritage building that survived WWII being demolished (Admiral Hotel). And mind you,they are acting fast. In a span of 3 days, with the typhoon and habagat, this is the result. It pains me to see her going down..again, as some would say, “in the name of progress”.

Admiral Hotel is unknown to many Filipinos. In fact, there is not much the internet can give about this establishment. Unless you google it with the word “demolition.” What made this building an important cultural property is, one, it is a world-class structure with a touch of European Revivalism designed no less by Fernando H. Ocampo, one of the Fathers of Modern Philippine Architecture. Two, the hotel was host to many illustrious people including General MacArthur and US President Herbert Hoover. Lastly, Philippine law states: structures dating at least 50 years old shall be considered Important Cultural Property.

Fifty years is extensive. If rule of law is not being trampled upon in this land, Manila would probably be a living museum by now.

With the Army Navy Club and the Admiral Hotel annihilated, infuriation turned to indignation. Inquiries turned to investigations. And as it turned out, with all the agencies mandated to protect these cultural treasures — National Historical Commission of the Philippines, National Historical Institute, National Commission for Culture and Arts and a number of its subcommittees — no arm of the government, including the Manila City Hall itself, was able to prevent what cultural activists and heritage conservation advocate Ivan Henares termed the “September Massacre of Manila’s Heritage.”

But that is not the shock of it all. A hearing on the “carnage” — presided over by Senator Pia Cayetano together with Ms. Gemma Araneta Cruz and Madam Isidra Reyes — uncovered the following spine-chillers: Manila City Hall’s carelessness in the issuance of construction and demolition permits; NHCP officials’ incomprehension of cultural and heritage laws, not to mention the lack of coordination among them; and developers laden with deceits and their crooked logic of preserving by reconstructing.

A cease-and-desist order was quickly directed to Anchor Land Holdings, the company in charge of the construction/demolition. Unfortunately, the NHCP dragged its feet in issuing the letter, until nothing is left of what used to be the Admiral.

There’s no more to be said of the government officials’ faculties. It’s either they are brain-dead or there’s just too much money involved. You get my drift. And there’s no blaming the developers, there is nothing in them but greed and it’s a given.

As for the city government, my sneaking suspicion of a collusion behind all the destruction was reinforced by what Isidra Reyes has to say about the Manila Mayor:

At the rate American Colonial Era buildings are being torn down, with the blessings of Manila City Mayor Joseph Estrada, Manila is looking more and more like the devastated city it was after the Battle of Manila in 1945. Is Erap hell-bent on removing the remaining traces of the American Colonial Era to favor his Chinese cronies? It is a well-known fact that Erap has no love lost for the Americans. Despite having been schooled at the Ateneo for some years, Erap is best known for mangling the English language and for making movies which attack American imperialism.

When he was senator, he was one of the so-called Magnificent Twelve who pushed for the removal of U.S. military bases. And the feeling was apparently mutual. When he was elected President in 1998, the U.S. was no doubt among those instrumental in orchestrating his removal from office and replacing him with President Bill Clinton’s Georgetown University classmate, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He was convicted of plunder and placed under house arrest for six years, after which he ran again for President, placed second to Noynoy Aquino, and then made a successful bid as Mayor of the City of Manila.

It is with his blessings that these American Colonial Era buildings are being torn down, no doubt. Even the most rabid defender of the Chinese developers responsible for the demolition of these buildings, Manila City Councilor Bernie Ang, is his crony. So what other American Era buildings are lined up for the wrecking ball, Erap? William Parsons’ Army and Navy Club is gone, Fernando H. Ocampo’s Admiral Apartments and Hotel is gone, and currently being demolished are the Michel Apartments and another beautiful building designed by Fernando H. Ocampo, the Angela Apartments. Perhaps the Carmen Apartments and the El Hogar Building are next, as the occupants of both buildings have already been told to vacate both buildings.

The Manila Metropolitan Theater is a sitting duck and so is Carlos Arguelles’s Philamlife Building. The Jai Alai Building is also gone, thanks to another short-sighted Manila City Mayor. Looking back, it was much better Post-War when most of the Pre-War buildings were reconstructed and rebuilt as per original plans.

Today, we dread at the quality of buildings which will replace the beautiful vanquished buildings. We don’t need more anonymous-looking condo buildings! What we are losing with this wholesale destruction of our heritage is our city’s history and soul.

With all these historical buildings gone, soon enough the Manila we knew shall be no more and shall exist only in our memories and the vintage photos we so lovingly post in Manila Nostalgia. Let us not allow that to happen. If something can be done, it should be done now.

Perhaps Erap is rolling out the red carpet for China’s takeover of the Philippines. It started with the Scarborough Shoals and is now creeping fast into our nation’s capital city.

Does that explains why he was ready and willing to apologize to China for the sins of his predecessors?

FAREWELL, ADMIRAL by elmer nev valenzuela_001


I used to find myself gazing at the Hotel’s picture windows. The oversized quadrilateral shape is something else. Its frosted white exterior, atypical with the rows along Roxas Boulevard. The first time I set foot here in Malate I knew, Admiral Hotel is a beautiful, beautiful work of art.

Now we have to close our eyes to see the beauty.

FAREWELL, ADMIRAL by elmer nev valenzuela_002

RISE AND FALL. A towering monstrosity and a shattered heritage.

FAREWELL, ADMIRAL by elmer nev valenzuela

BEGINNING OF THE END. Months before its end, the Admiral Hotel was wrapped in an atrocious tarpaulin, signifying an impending destruction. I just felt the need to take a snapshot here.

FAREWELL, ADMIRAL by elmer nev valenzuela_004


An attempt to tear down a wall.

INTRAMUROS by elmer nev valenzuela_002

After flipping through my 10-no photography spots in Manila, BMSD founder photographer Mel Cortez messaged me asking how come Intramuros — the most notorious of all photo restricted places — was not included in the list.

The Walled City, he said, is the hardest when it comes to camera-wielding visitors. Not for anything, but owing to the IA’s penchant for shooting fees.

INTRAMUROS by elmer nev valenzuela_003

Intramuros is intra meaning within, and muros meaning walls.

I ride around ‘within these walls’ practically without a miss, during weekends.

INTRAMUROS by elmer nev valenzuela_001

With the Canon as a riding partner hanging quietly around my neck.

INTRAMUROS by elmer nev valenzuela_004

If I were to behold Intramuros from a travel photographer’s eye, I’d be done with this place.

With street photography, the Walls come alive.

INTRAMUROS by elmer nev valenzuela_0022

So I told Mr. Cortez, the lineup stems from my personal account.

You see, I have never been in a run-in with the Gwardia Sibil.

INTRAMUROS by elmer nev valenzuela_0012

Nor have I chanced upon photographer/s being stopped by these guards.

INTRAMUROS by elmer nev valenzuela_0013


INTRAMUROS by elmer nev valenzuela_0014

INTRAMUROS by elmer nev valenzuela_0015

Mel Cortez was right. I must be in a different lifetime.

INTRAMUROS by elmer nev valenzuela_0016

Now a word from Tourism Department:

Shoots for commercial advertisements, videos, infomercials, events such as prenuptial, and other commercial productions need permission from the managements of NPDC and IA to ensure that the well-being of the photographers are taken care of, as well as make certain that everything goes smoothly during the shoot

A complete BS.


Seeing is not enough. There must be museums.

The Met Open 2014 by Elmer Nev Valenzuela

The Metropolitan Museum of Manila presents the first MET Open 2014. A benefit exhibition featuring a diverse collection of modern and contemporary pieces created in the Philippines by local and foreign artists as presented by 5 respected curators in the country. On view till Oct. 4, 2014. There must be time enough in one’s lifetime to lay eyes on sublime insanities.

Here’s a peep inside.

BRAGGING RIGHTS by elmer nev valenzuela_4

Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Tall Galleries

COPYRIGHTS AND BRAGGING RIGHTS by elmer nev valenzuela_2

“Terminal Velocity” & “Epona” (Josephine Turalba)

Visuals by Veejay Villafranca

Veejay Villafranca tour de force

MET Open 2014

“Lifted Veil (2)” (Ambie Abaño)

COPYRIGHTS AND BRAGGING RIGHTS by elmer nev valenzuela_3

“Three Muses” (Napoleon Abueva)

MetOpen 2014

“Distributed Law of Symmetry Paralysis” (Robert Langenegger)

"Large Landscape With Figures" (Giuseppe Zeis)

“Large Landscape With Figures” (Giuseppe Zais)


From the Vatican Collection (Wire Tuazon)

From the Vatican Collection (Wire Tuazon)

COPYRIGHTS AND BRAGGING RIGHTS by elmer nev valenzuela_1

Excuse me while I brag my little corner of the room.


What a glory to have my pieces under the same roof with the virtuoso’s! I rummaged through @ANCHardBall’s twitter feeds to retrieve a beautiful line which comes to mind right now:

No need to be humble when you just delivered a perfect routine. Own it.


10 No-Photography Places in Manila by elmer nev valenzuela

Sekyu: Tasked with the dirty job of enforcing company policies

Photography is a strong arm. Here in the Philippines, the House Bill 4807 boner is proof of this. You don’t mess with photojournalists. Photojournalism rules! I’d like to think, in this democratic population, while civilian authority reigns supreme over military, photojournalists reigns supreme above all.

But no. For we have another sector which doesn’t budge to photographers and reigns topmost in this hierarchy — the Security Guards.

You see, where the power of camera ends, security guard supremacy begins. Thou shalt not mess with the sekyu. They don’t bend to photographers and photojournalists’ carte blanche. They can declare NO PHOTOGRAPHY and they don’t even need a legislation from your friendly neighbor Congressman.

A recent brush with a security guard made me dig up past experiences involving photo refusals and run down this 10 No Photography Places in Manila (Metro Manila if you will). Keep your cameras low on the following places and no Stormtrooper will ever bug you.

From the least strict to the most forbidding now:

10. NAIA Terminals

Taking photos inside any of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals is prohibited only in security-sensitive areas, immigration and customs. Other than these spaces, you are free to enjoy your camera anywhere. However, it doesn’t mean the guards can’t question you at his discretion. In any case, NAIA terminals seem to apply a bit of leniency to shutterbugs so the airport goes to number 10.

10 No-Photography Places in Manila by elmer nev valenzuela

Airports: Probably the only place which is not without photographers at any given time

 9. Churches/Religious Temples

I have been turned down from shooting inside religious places at least twice. (Maybe I should refrain from asking?) Although most houses of prayer don’t really mind you clicking around, it would be a courtesy to ask first or shoot only on special occasions.

10 No-Photography Places in Manila by elmer nev valenzuela

Taoist Temple in Manila is open to photographers on special occasion. Plus a chow.

8. Shopping Malls

This article arises from a recent incident where I was stopped by a sekyu from taking shots of an installed artwork inside the posh Greenbelt 5. It’s easier to comply when asked politely so I act as ordered. Malls are privately owned so there’s no contending with their rules. And naturally, the classier the place, the more they are ‘attentive’ to mall-goers.

10 No-Photography Places in Manila by elmer nev valenzuela

An episode with a lady guard

 7. Rizal Park

You can’t shoot Rizal.

The idea requiring commercial photographers to secure a permit first before shooting around here is ridiculous. Why do photographers have to pay a fee for using a public place since they have already paid for it in the form of taxes? The park exists because of taxpayer’s money. Park officials ‘rationale’ behind this permit thing is pros make big bucks out of the place, so they should be willing to at least give something back. In this case, something could reach as high as a five-digit figure. A total cut-throat. And as if this isn’t insane enough, see how they distinguish a pro from a hobbyist, up next on my list.

10 No-Photography Places in Manila by elmer nev valenzuela

This park is owned by the people. The government is just an administrator.

6. CCP Complex

The Cultural Center of the Philippines applies the same ‘no permit, no photography’ policy as in Rizal Park. How they draw the line between pros and hobbyists is mind-boggling: I was shooting around the place one afternoon when a security officer walked up to this young lady beside me who was taking shots as well. The next thing I know, she was already leaving. What does she have (that I don’t have) that made the guard single her out? A tripod. She was deemed as professional photographer by the “professional” equipment that she have. When the poor girl couldn’t show any permit, she was shooed away.

Other insane ideas as to how they judge pros from non-pros include the use of DSLR, powerful telephoto lenses, big removable lenses, or if they find you working as a group. Amazing.

10 No-Photography Places in Manila by elmer nev valenzuela

CCP Complex grounds. No permit, no commercial photography.

5. Light Rail/Metro Rail Transit facilities.

I’m not into trainspotting but Manila street photography is not complete without images of the bustling railway stations. The level of photography restriction here is somewhere between no-nonsense to iron-fisted. I can tell by the way the guards yell at violators. In spite of this, I still find a way to elude the guards’ train of thoughts.

10 No-Photography Places in Manila by elmer nev valenzuela

Coming to get me

 4. Makati Central Business District.

Privately owned by the Zobel de Ayalas, the whole of Makati CBD is a no-photography area. My first acquaintance with security here was way back in ’97 during a hunt for a cityscape to grace the cover of a souvenir program. I have a short ‘unguarded moment’ along Ayala Avenue before motorcycle-riding police showed up on my face. Since then I’ve had many occasions with the guards here with the most recent at Greenbelt 5. Now it feels like there’s always one out to get me for every swing of the camera. Do not presume they don’t exert great effort in enforcing the no-photo policy here because they do.

10 No-Photography Places in Manila by elmer nev valenzuela

Makati Central Business District: You can’t shoot here.

3. Bonifacio Global City

Another Forbidden City. How come they always build high rise cities then bar photographers?  Fort Bonifacio used to be an idyllic photographer-friendly military grounds. When it grew from grass to glass, it has become boom town of paranoia. The only time I enjoyed the full liberty of snapping around here was during the PHOTOMARATHON event of 2013 wherein we were provided with IDs, permits and everything we needed to keep the guards off.

10 No-Photography Places in Manila by elmer nev valenzuela

The Fort: From grass to glass.

 2. US Embassy

One of a few interesting landmarks in my neck of woods that I have yet to get my lens on. You can’t say you’re not warned here. You can’t miss the glaring NO-PHOTOGRAPHY sign complementing a bunch of poker-faced guards neath a line of CCTVs. Though the policy is standard procedure in American embassies the world over, some countries believe there is no legal right to enforce this photography ban. If security is such a big issue here, why do they allow Google Street View to have photos of the embassy from the ground and above?

10 No-Photography Places in Manila by elmer nev valenzuela


1. Camp Aguinaldo

No other place gets my no. 1 spot in the most restricted place for photography in Manila. My experience in this military headquarters dates back many years ago. I was nabbed upon entering the gate and taken for questioning inside this miserably awful interrogation room. All for carrying a camera inside the premises. They even tried the equipment on me to see if it is functioning the way it’s supposed to be. But that was long ago. I wonder if they still exercise their draconian policy in this age of camera phone.

10 No-Photography Places in Manila by elmer nev valenzuela

A scuffle during the Marlon Stockinger F1 show in Manila occured when security personnel barred photographers from the exhibit

There’s a great deal of no-photography places in Manila aside from what I have laid down here actually. BAWAL MAGSHOOT DITO (No Shooting Allowed Here) — a group of photographers fighting for unjust policies in the Philippines — provides a list of these places in their Facebook account. Many of which I find mental. Photography ban in Manila stems from the idea of either gaining profit from commercial photographers or simply out of paranoia. Beyond this, it’s overreaction. Should House Bill 4807 push through, it will only reduce further the already shrunken world of Pinoy photographers.

We used to shoot around freely once upon a time. When digitization made photographers out of everyone, the whole town shut the doors upon us.


The principal author of House Bill 4807 or Protection Against Personal Intrusion, has recommitted his bill to the Committee on Public Information today. In his letter to the Committee on Rules of the House of Representative, Cong. Rodriguez stated and I quote — “This bill, due to malicious and uninformed statements of some members of the House of Representatives has been mistakenly dubbed as the “Anti-Selfie Bill” and has been met with strong opposition particularly by the media. Further, it came to my attention that certain affected stakeholders, including the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the Photojournalists Center of the Philippines (PCP), Inc., were not invited to the Committee Hearings on said bill.”

Clearly, this is not a well-thought-of bill. I wonder how many craps made it into our laws.

The congressman requested a further hearing on the bill and ask that all stakeholders involved be heard to ensure constitutionally protected rights are covered.

They should have thought about it from the start. I wonder how they yakked this bill through the plenaries. In any case, this should be considered as a win for journalists, photographers and freedom-of-expression loving citizens.

But this is only the first round.

House Bill 4807 is more than Anti-Selfie Bill

Do not be misled, House Bill 4807 is more than Anti-Selfie Bill




House Bill 4807 will curtail press freedom as well as freedom of expression.

I have conquered The Met.

Two of my works have made it to the halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. Consider this as an invitation to the exhibit as it opens on the 20th of this month. My photos, ‘LEAP’ and ‘QUIAPO UNDERPASS’, were taken with artistic intents only and nothing more. But of course, if those images could pay the rent, that would be a bonus.

Now the sad news is, I may no longer be able to go around doing street shots the way I do. There is this looming bill in Congress which appears to be crafted in order to shut down shutterbugs.

House Bill 4807 — called the Protection Against Personal Intrusion Act — prohibits taking visual or sound impressions of unsuspecting individuals with the intent to gain or profit therefrom. Plainly put, this outlaws taking photos or videos of people without their consent through the use of modern devices such as cameras, videocams and smartphones. The bill aims to ‘promote and protect the personal privacy of every person by preventing intrusion for commercial purposes, and enjoining everyone to respect the dignity, personality, privacy and peace of mind of every person.’

Respect. Privacy. Intrusion. I agree.

Some photographers have gone too far with their gears. There are in fact, cameras — aside from spy cams — which are, in many ways, designed for, well — furtive shots. They’re lightweight, more handy, and has faster and totally silent shutters. Perfectly stealthy. Any jackass can get his hands on these things. Not to mention the powerful lenses used by voyeurs and paparazzis who are hell-bent on intruding people’s private moments for whatever purpose it may served them. House Bill 4807 will curb these photography misdeeds if not eradicate them completely.


Pinoys are not that susceptible to photography and in fact they don’t really mind photographers on the street.

Unfortunately — however good the intent of this bill is — I would like to raise some bones of contentions here:

  • The bill will curtail press freedom.
  • And freedom of expression too.
  • Consent doesn’t go with photojournalism in most cases. How does a journalist ask for consent from, say, an angry mob?
  • This will make news photos and videos illegal. Do you stop media outfits from documenting actions of officials and minimize journalists’ access to information and proofs?
  • The danger here is when hideous organizations/elements or the police itself prevent reporters from taking photos of their actions.
  • Tourists may get caught up in this law and — worse — give another blow to tourism.
  • How do you ask permission from people in picturesque places? Or do you simply wait till the frame is cleared of every single body?
  • Does it apply to CCTV cameras? Because it takes videos and pictures of me without my consent.
  • How about TV cameras? Because they take close-up shots of audiences in a ballgame without their consent as well.
  • The bill could be used as a tool for suppression.

Street photographers in the Philippines are not insensitive to people’s “right to be left alone.”

Of all the creeps this House Bill is stirring, my greatest concern now is what will happen to STREET PHOTOGRAPHY in this land should 4807 comes into law. This genre of photography features the very subject the bill aims to ‘protect’ — people. Human scenes in public places.

CONSENT doesn’t go with street photography. While I don’t have any trouble in asking strangers for a photo (in fact with the right approach you will be amazed how people can be so accommodating) the result wouldn’t go anywhere near street photography. SP is more than a snapshot. It is about capturing people’s emotions and actions candidly. It is about documenting the life of our times genuinely and exhibiting it as it is. And since there is a clear amount of intrusiveness in doing Streets, no question the artistic expression would go head-on with the bill.

As of this writing, 4807 is on its third reading. And we’re hanging on to every word.


Latest: The lawmaker gave in to the people’s demand yesterday, Sept. 11, 2014 and has withdrawn his support for his own bill. (Weird as a dream, this is how they do it in Congress) But of course, this doesn’t mean House Bill 4807 is laid to rest.