Believe it or not, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority head Francis Tolentino is angry with Dan Brown for his newest novel Inferno, not because of its description of Manila as a horrible place to be in. He’s furious as he thought Brown identified Manila as the pathway leading to that place in the afterlife where souls of bad people spend eternity.
Read his letter to Brown, which he released to world:
“We write to you with much concern regarding your recently published novel “Inferno” and its mention of Manila being defined by a number of terrible descriptions of poverty, and pollution, among others, having suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade and worse, being alluded as ‘gates of hell’”
“While we are aware that yours is a work of fiction, we are greatly disappointed by your inaccurate portrayal of our beloved metropolis. We are displeased of how you have used Manila as a venue and source of a character’s breakdown and trauma, much more her disillusionment in humanity.
“More than your portrayal of it, Metro Manila is the center of the Filipino spirit, faith and hope. Our faith in God binds us as a nation and we believe that Manila citizens are more than capable of exemplifying good character and compassion towards each other, something that your novel has failed to acknowledge. Truly our place is an “entry to heaven’.”
When first I read Tolentino’s letter, I immediately found it strange, and I had to read it a few times to understand what he is really saying, and where he is coming from.
Tolentino could have argued so many things and presented so much data to refute Brown’s depiction of Manila. He could have pointed out that Bangkok (without necessarily naming it) is considered by nearly all travel writers as the Asia’s and even the world’s capital for recreational and vicarious sex. While metropolitan Manila is so sickeningly polluted, still, we’re not in any list of the most polluted cities in the world drawn up by the World Health Organization and other research outfits such as the Blacksmith Institute. Top-notchers in such lists are Chinese and Russian industrial cities.
We’re also not in the roster of the most crime-infested megalopolises on this planet. In terms of murder rates, the top-notchers are mostly Latin American cities plus two South African cities, where rape – as in two Indian cities it seems – have become nearly a social epidemic. In a list of 25 cities based on their crime indices in 2012, Manila was listed only 16th, with two cities in Brown’s country—Florida and Detroit—and other Asian cities like Kuala Lumpur and Kolkata, having worse crime situations. Poverty? Yes, an unacceptable 26 percent of our people poor. But 71 other countries in the world —including India, Venezuela, and Colombia—have more of their people poor.
Nope, Tolentino didn’t bother to present these data—or just half it—because he thought the novelist identified Manila as the gate to hell, that is to that after-life place for evil souls, at last according to Catholic dogma. And this infuriated his Catholic sensibilities.
With such a literal interpretation of the term, it is no wonder that he tried to refute Brown by claiming that we are we are a nation “bound by faith in God”, and that Filipinos have “good character and compassion for each other”. Tolentino is really telling Brown: “How can you say we are going to hell? On the contrary, with our faith in God and having these Christian qualities our capital city Manila is the entry to heaven, and Filipinos will go there after they die. “
Either they no longer teach English 1 or Literature 101 at the Ateneo when he studied there or he skipped those classes. He just doesn’t understand metaphorical language, such as “gates of hell’.
Or he thought that Brown’s novel is about the Catholicism’s hell, and that it is a modernized version of the first part of Dante Aligheri’s Divine Comedy, in which he visits that terrible place, this time entering through Manila. Rather, it is an obviously another written-to-become-a-movie novel exploiting Brown’s best-sellers, this time about a bio-terrorist plot, with Robert Langdon in the manner of The Da Vinci Code, stopping it by uncovering secrets imbedded in medieval paintings and Dante’s poems. The reference to Manila as the “gates to hell” had nothing to do with the title, and was just a casual statement by a character’s (“I’ve run through the gates of hell”) after she described the city as one of “six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, horrifying sex trade.”
Tolentino elaborated on his ignorance in his May 23 interview with Paolo Bediones in the TV talk show Good Morning club. “This is not the first time I’ve written against Brown. In 2010 I wrote articles against his novel The Da Vinci Code, which insulted our religion and beliefs. He obviously took Brown literally: “Hindi naman po totoo na ang Maynila ang pintuan papunta sa impiyerno.” (“It is not true that Manila is the door going to hell.”)
He added: “Hindi niya alam na maraming religious festivities ang Maynila. Nandiyan po ang pista ng Poong Nazareno, young pista ng Santo Nino sa Pandacan, Tondo, at Sta. Ana. Nagpapakita po ang mga ito na malalim ang ating pananampalataya.” (He didn’t know that Manila has many religious activities, for instance for the Black Nazarene and for the Sto. Nino in Pandacan, Tondo, and Sta. Ana. These show that we are deeply religious. )
Tolentino said: “Kung ang Maynila ay pintuan patungong impiyerno, e kampon po tayo ng Diablo. Hindi naman totoo yun (If Manila is the door to hell, then we are lackeys of the Devil. That’s certainly not true.)
“You shot from the hip, so that you shot yourself at your foot. “ Those are metaphors, Mr. Tolentino. Don’t go to the hospital just yet.
Websites: www.rigobertotiglao.com and www.trigger.ph