I live in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), a city within a city, Taguig, within the megalopolis of Metro Manila, population over 10 million, within the archipelago nation of the Philippines. I was born on this island, but left as a toddler. Now I am back as a foreigner, an Amerikano, a returner, or balikbayan.
In BGC, the sidewalks are wide and clean, connecting with crosswalks at every corner. The buildings are white gleaming teeth biting the clouds. Overhead, cranes pierce the sky and there is a constant metallic noise of new buildings going up. The poor live on the other side of the wall where it’s difficult to see children hauling rocks and garbage during the school day unless you stand on tiptoe.
Sometimes I forget I’m in the Philippines. I could be anywhere in the States where people need specialty shops for coffee, wine, running shoes, and organic food. Except on every block, uniformed men with guns stand in the doorways of every bank, condo building, and coffee shop. The armed guards promise security, yet I’ve never felt so aware of what I could lose. A wallet, an iPhone, the exact amount of tissue and blood that shot spray displaces.
This place used to be American. It was Fort McKinley when the Philippines was a US colony and then became Fort Bonifacio, named after the revolutionary, Andres Bonifacio. Not too long ago, my aunt rented a house here from a military officer. I lived with her one summer and I remember trees, tall grass, and one-story homes. Our only security guards were a pair of geese named John and Marsha. My aunt is gone and so is the house. No one can tell me where it used to be.
In a fancy restaurant on High Street, a journalist tells me that he was detained here in solitary confinement for taking photographs of a protest in the 1980s. He waved his hand in the air to indicate that the prison was somewhere here, where now that Starbucks or Lamborghini dealer is.