Renato Redentor Constantino

Life reveals far greater pleasures when we use our sense of curiosity more often. This is so for travelers and it’s something any Filipino can enjoy when they start asking about the origins of street names.

For instance, Magsaysay Boulevard was named after The Guy, Ramon Magsaysay, one of the country’s more popular presidents. But less would know the same thoroughfare was previously called Sta. Mesa Boulevard, named after Santa Mesa, a district formerly part of Sampaloc and an abbreviation of the board of directors of the original owners of the land: La Hermandad de la Santa Misericordia, whose name became La Santa Mesa. But did you know Sta. Mesa Boulevard was first called Camachilehan, after the kamatsile that used to fill the area? Pursuing this a bit more might even lead you to new avenues. 

Outside the Philippines, the kamachile is called Manila Tamarind and Madras Thorn, though it’s neither from Manila nor Madras, India. The tree is native to Mexico (and some countries in Southern America). In the Nahuatl language it’s called cuauhmochitl, where the Spanish guamúchil – and kamatsile – were derived. It’s scientific name is Pithecellobium dulce, from the Greek words “pithekos” (ape) and “lobos” (pod) and the species name “dulce” from the Latin “dulcis” meaning sweet. It’s different from tamarindus indica, which we know as sampaloc, though kamatsile is sometimes used as a tamarind substitute when making sinigang, or used in inabraw, known to others as the Ilocano dish dinengdeng. The kamatsile “endures drought, survives both heat and shade and is able to grow on poor soils and denuded lands in dry climates and on seacoasts even with its roots in brackish or salt water.”

We live today with so much history, yet we recognize so little in our midst. This is what #SintangLakbay, the history bike tour PUP organized to mark the 120th founding anniversary of the university, hopes to correct: by jostling memory and encouraging participants to dwell a little bit more on the past. It is a tiny contribution to nation-building, which often begins with recalling things people think are long gone only to realize the artifacts are still very much with us in the present. This is when the past becomes usable. 

Consider for example the lowly tansan, our word today for ‘bottle cap’. Did you know that Tansan is a brand of Japanese soda the origins of which are rooted in the early 20th century? What about the powder dye we use to color fabric today, which we still call dyobos? The word comes from Joe Bush, an American who operated a laundromat in Sta. Cruz, Manila and who named his dyer and cleaner company after himself–a firm that sold color powder dyes in paper satchets in 1899.


Perhaps this is what the Municipal Board of Manila had in mind in 1911 when it decided to name certain streets in the city after virtues. Officials back then probably hoped the names would remind citizens how to live a meaningful life.


Near PUP is the LRT Station named “Pureza”, after the street where the station is located. A few still make the mistake of thinking the word is derived from “poor” but in fact the name means “pure” in Spanish, just like the names of its neighboring streets: Alegria, for “happiness”, Honradez for “honesty”, Sobriedad for “sobriety”, Verdad for “truth”, and Firmeza for “steadfastness”. (The second stop of the second #SintangLakbay ride can be found at the corner of two streets, which marks the spot where the first shot of the Philippine-American War was fired. Both streets are named after virtues – Sociego for “tranquility” and Silencio for “silence”.)

But not all streets have retained their original names. Today, the street Trabajo (the famous market on the street still bears the original street name) is now M. de la Fuente, named after Manuel de la Fuente, a former police chief and Manila mayor. Other street names once named after virtues have likewise been renamed: Economia (Thriftiness) is now Vicente G. Cruz Street,  named after a Manila city councilor in Sampaloc district; Constancia (Constancy) is now Ruperto Cristobal, Sr. Street, and Lealtad (Loyalty) is now Jacobo Fajardo Street.

What’s in a name? Try and tour Manila with family and friends on a bicycle and you’ll realize there’s a whole lot more history out there waiting for you to discover.

Artworks by Nadia Cruz

Sintang Lakbay is a historical walk and bike ride to promote inclusive mobility by facilitating active interaction with urban landscapes, restoring working-class memory in national history, and mobilizing public contributions to remembering through art and research. It is a collaborative project by The Polytechnic University of the Philippines, 350 Pilipinas, and the Constantino Foundation