MANILA – Streets named after Falangists and generals who revolted in 1936 are a source of controversy in Spain, while in the Philippines’ capital, half a world away, they are a reminder of the links between powerful Filipino families and late dictator Francisco Franco.
Primo de Rivera street, named in honor of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Franco dictatorship’s Falange political party, runs from the Singkamas barangay (neighborhood) to La Paz, a bustling workers’ district filled with food and clothing stalls and the sounds of roaring jeepneys (picturesque local minibuses) and swarms of three-wheel motorbikes.
Roads named after veterans of the Morocco campaign and leaders of the uprising against the Second Spanish Republic are found on both sides of Primo de Rivera, which also intersects with Mola, named after Emilio Mola, who masterminded the mostly-failed military coup that marked the start of the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War.
The Philippines became independent in 1898 after three centuries under colonial rule. Franco (1892-1975) was still a young boy at the time, so why does this section of Makati city, part of Metro Manila, pay tribute to the generals who took part in his 1936 military uprising?
According to historian Florentino Rodao, the answer lies in the support shown by Manila’s oligarchy – made up of influential families of Spanish descent – to the rebels after the July 17, 1936, coup and to the dictator after his forces emerged victorious in the civil war.
Philippines was the former Spanish colony where support for Franco was the strongest, Rodao, author of the book “Franquistas sin Franco: Una historia alternativa de la Guerra Civil desde Filipinas” (Francoists without Franco: An Alternative History of the Spanish Civil War from the Philippines), told EFE.
After World War II, the Ayala Corporation – owned by the Zobel de Ayala family, which partially traces its roots to Spain – developed the urban plan for what were then family-owned lands in La Paz, according to the barangay’s municipal records.
The family – today one of the Philippines’ richest and most influential due to its vast real-estate and business empire – was closely linked to the Franco regime after the dictator named the first patriarch of the family, Enrique Zobel de Ayala, as consul of Spain in the Philippines following the end of the Spanish Civil War.
Apart from the Ayalas, several other families of Spanish descent with links to Franco, including the Cervantes, the Gorrichos and the Bormahecos, were involved in the construction of the area and the choice of place names, the secretary of the Singkamas neighborhood, Bienvenido Cerdeña, told EFE.
The Catholic Church of the Philippines also extended support to Franco through the then-archbishop of Manila – Michael O’Doherty, who died in 1949 – and the head of the University of Santo Tomas, Silvestre Sancho.
The religious leader celebrated masses in the memory of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, whose father, dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera, was an officer in the late-19th century colonial war against pro-independence rebels in the Southeast Asian archipelago.
On the other hand, the La Paz neighborhood also is notable for a small street named after Miguel Cabanellas, a leader of the 1936 military uprising who was scorned by the Franco regime and had no urban places named after him, except in Manila.
“Since Cabanellas was a freemason, he ended up being shunned by the rebel authorities; but they never learned of that situation in the Philippines” so the street’s name remained unchanged, Rodao explained.