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The city built on army tunnels
03:06 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

It’s Manila’s sparkling new crown jewel – home to wide pedestrian streets, picturesque parks and modern shopping centers. Bonifacio Global City, the capital’s newest development, packs a lot into a tiny space – one square mile to be exact.

There are shiny new office buildings for the likes of JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Coca Cola, and the Philippine Stock Exchange will also set up shop here soon.

A view of Manila's budding skyline

A former military base for foreign and Filipino forces, Bonifacio has long seen a mix of nationalities. Manual A. Blas, head of commercial operations at the development that will sit in the heart of Manila’s financial district, says there’s a dash of the world’s greatest cities in Bonifacio’s design.

“The original people who conceptualized Bonifacio visited several great cities,” Blas says.

“They went to Paris, they went to Singapore, to New York and other places where they feel the master planning was correct. And they tried to apply it here.”

Property value in the surrounding area has shot up as a result of the development.

According to global property consultant Jones Lang Lasalle, prices for residential units in the district have shot up to around $4,300 per square meter.

This compares to prices in other notable districts which reach a maximum of $2,600, ensuring Bonifacio is one of the most expensive areas in Manila.

A military past

For sure, the tree-lined boulevards of Bonifacio are a stark contrast to the city’s poorer districts. In these areas, slow-crawling traffic edges down clogged streets dotted with shanty towns.

The development also feels a million miles from the area’s previous life as a military base camp, first for the imperial Spanish and then the Americans.

“During the American period this area was called Fort McKinley, named after President (William) McKinley,” explains professor Ricardo Jose at the University of the Philippines.

“It was one of the best forts the Americans had. There was an Olympic size swimming pool, there was a YMCA, (and) a BX Shopping center.”

In its former life as Fort McKinley

A vast network of underground tunnels were built here for storage and movement during this time.

However when the Second World War arrived, the Japanese were soon to fight their way into power. “They turned it into a fort that they call Sakura Heiei,” Jose says.

The Americans eventually reasserted their control and the site was finally returned to the Philippines in 1949.

It was quickly renamed Fort Beneficio – in tribute to the Filipino revolutionary Andres Bonifacio, who rebelled against Spanish rule in the late nineteenth century.

Today, the only visible clue to this fascinating military past are the tunnels which extend under what will become Manilla’s future business district.

But that may not remain the case for long.

Marching forward

The Bases Conversion and Development Authority is in charge of transforming the camp into a hotbed of economic activity.

The land has been privatized and the funds raised will be redistributed back to the Philippines army.

The Bonifacio Global City skyline in suburban Manila.

Arnel Paciano Casanova, president of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority explains that the development is necessary but Filipinos were keen to recognize the history of the site.

“We preserve our past as an essence of our history but at the same time developments must be forward looking,” Casanova says.

And although far from complete, the hope is that Bonifacio Global City will help move Manila’s economy upwards while preserving tradition.

Plans are already afoot to convert the tunnels into a history museum.

Such a gesture will no doubt provide a fine nod to the past – not to mention provide an intriguing juxtaposition to the sleek modernity of glass fronted skyscrapers towering above.

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