Imperial Manila is a pejorative epithet used by sectors of Philippine society and non-Manileños to express the idea that all the affairs of the Philippines, whether in politics, economy and business or culture, are decided by what goes on in the capital region, Metro Manila without considering the needs of the rest of the country, largely because of centralized government and urbanite snobbery. Empirical research finds that Imperial Manila and its persistence over time has led to prolonged underdevelopment in Philippine provinces.
This sentiment is sometimes expressed by the proverb "Not a leaf can fall in our country without Malacañang's permission."[a] Another expression of Manila's powerful influence was voiced by National Artist of the Philippines Nick Joaquin, who said "When Manila sneezes, the Philippines catches cold."
It is unknown when the term was first used, but there are political writers, particularly those living outside Metro Manila, who associate this term with the People Power Revolution because it was believed that the country's former president, Ferdinand Marcos, was toppled from his position without the participation of Filipinos living in areas outside of the capital region. In the 1970s, Marcos borrowed US$2.5 billion from the World Bank in order to establish Manila as a globally-competitive city. The funding facilitated government-backed expenditures on infrastructure and urban developments that displaced and relocated the urban poor while benefitting elites, who were able to profit.
In an article published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, Amando Doronila wrote that:
People power movements have been an Imperial Manila phenomenon. Their playing field is EDSA. They have excluded the provincianos from their movement with their insufferable arrogance and snobbery...ignoring the existence of the toiling masses and peasants in agrarian Philippines.
The term was used by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in her 2006 State of the Nation Address, which she said has "slowed down progress, has become open to over-competition and oppressed the provinces and its people". It was because of the country's centralized government that provincial governments favor constitutional amendments for a shift to federal government, as well as supporting Arroyo and rejecting calls from Manila-based activist groups demanding for her resignation due to corruption charges particularly the Philippine National Broadband Network controversy.
Local opinion polls have also been lambasted for solely sampling "Imperial Manila-based residents" when it comes to surveys that deal with nationwide issues. Meanwhile, the term also appears in government websites such as those of the League of Provinces and the Province of Bohol.
Sara Duterte-Carpio, mayor of Davao City and daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, questions the use of 1976 song Manila by Hotdog during the parade of Team Philippines at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games opening ceremony. She claims the title is capital-centric and does not represent the whole country, even suggesting to use budots instead since her fellow Davaoeños "invented" it.
Officials of Mindanao-based rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front have blamed "Imperial Manila" for making the Muslim Mindanao region the poorest in the country, stating that "the consequence of neocolonialism has deprived our people to run themselves unfettered and unhampered." Government figures show that the region's poverty incidence in 2006 is at 55.3%, with three of its six provinces (namely Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur) listed among the country's ten poorest provinces.
"Imperial Manila" is also used by many in the business sector in reference to the notion that advertising or marketing a product only requires a single campaign that would work in Mega Manila (another Manila-centric term used most frequently by the media), thinking that it would also attract customers in the provinces. Advertising agencies in Metro Manila are also faulted for publishing print advertisements in Manila-based newspapers that would reach other cities by mid-morning (when the residents have already read their own local daily) or running a television commercial at a primetime slot of 21:00 in Manila while the rest of the country is already asleep.
In 2009, economists from the University of the Philippines and the World Bank made statements encouraging the Philippine government to further concentrate national economic activity within Metro Manila rather than disperse it around the country. Meanwhile, in some parts of Luzon, in some scattered areas in Visayas and in Mindanao, rolling blackouts happen almost daily. Metro Manila commuters, too, many of whom have had to leave their families in other parts of the country in order to look for work, suffer from the effects of traffic congestion.
The term is also used, particularly in Cebu, in conjunction with the perceived imposition of the Tagalog language, which is the language not just of Manila but also of many of the country's other provinces, as a national language. The provincial government has even mandated that the national anthem be sung in Cebuano as a form of linguistic protest, in spite of a law that punishes the singing of the national anthem in languages other than Tagalog with fine or imprisonment. In response, some academics have called either for the overthrow of local government officials who resist official Manilacentrism or, more recently, the ostracism and outright "shooting [of] regionalists … pointblank in the head".
The legal imposition of Tagalog as a national symbol also has social implications, such as pressure to use the words po and opo (a contraction of oo po, honorifics used for elders and persons of authority), honorifics which have no equivalent in most other indigenous languages in the country. Attempts have also been made to bring the orthographic conventions of other languages closer to those of Tagalog.
Notably, Tagalog-speakers themselves who are not from the capital region (e.g. Calabarzon or Mimaropa) are often derided as unsophisticated promdi (Tagalized form of "from the"; hicks or country bumpkins) because of their accent, grammar, vocabulary or rural customs.
- An example of this proverb's use can be found the following quote from David C. Martínez:
[W]e've left sacred and untouched, spotless and unsullied, the same centralist authority where near-absolute political power continues to reside: Imperial Manila. My father spoke the truth when he used to lament in Cebuano, "Wa y dahong mahulog sa atong nasud nga di mananghid sa Malacañang" (Not a leaf can fall in our country without Malacañang's permission)
- Martínez, David (2004). A Country of Our Own: Partitioning the Philippines. Los Angeles, California: Bisaya Books. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-9760613-0-4.
- Tusalem, R. F. (2019). Imperial Manila: How institutions and political geography disadvantage Philippine provinces. Asian Journal of Comparative Politics, 2057891119841441.https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2057891119841441?journalCode=acpa
- Martínez, David (2004). A Country of Our Own: Partitioning the Philippines. Los Angeles, California: Bisaya Books. p. 447. ISBN 978-0-9760613-0-4.
- Joaquin, Nick (1990). Manila, My Manila: A History for the Young. City of Manila: Anvil Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-9715693134.
- Ortega, Arnisson Andre C. (2016-03-01). "Manila's metropolitan landscape of gentrification: Global urban development, accumulation by dispossession & neoliberal warfare against informality". Geoforum. 70: 35–50. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2016.02.002.
- Doronila, Amando (August 28, 2006). "Time for paradigm shift". Philippine Daily Inquirer. pp. A1.
- "2006 State of the Nation Address of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo" (in Tagalog). July 24, 2006. Archived from the original on August 28, 2006. Retrieved 2008-02-14.
- "Arroyo pushing for federal government". Taipei Times. August 2, 2004. Retrieved 2008-02-14.
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- "Govs give PGMA ovation for her SONA and social payback programs". League of Provinces of the Philippines official website. August 14, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-09-04. Retrieved 2008-02-14.
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- Sy Cua, Aric John. "Sara hits song choice in SEA Games opening". ManilaTimes.net. The Manila Times. Retrieved 30 November 2020.
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