Litong-Lito: The Numerical Barangay and Zoning System of City of Manila

Barangays in Manila have smaller land sizes, unlike its surrounding cities (except Pasay and Caloocan) [Shapefile from PhilGis]

If you're working in the City of Manila, chances are, you'll encounter this scenario when ordering your fastfood delivery or online shopping orders: 
Fastfood Agent: "Okay po. Can you please confirm po your address: It's 123 General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila. Tama po ba?" 
Me: "Opo" 
Agent: "Ano pong barangay?" 
Me: "Uhm, di ko po alam eh. Pwede po bang Intramuros na lang?" 
Agent: "Di po kasi makapagproceed sa order dahil kailangan po ng system po namin." 
(Sighed in frustration, but let's try it) 
Me: "Sige. Hanapin ko muna ang tax papers ko kasi sinulat ko yung barangay ng opisina namin." 

You're not alone! When I was doing online shopping purchase, I was confused with what barangay are we located. Worse, they even need it in filing tax papers. I know the district where we are located. I know the street and even the number of our building, but the barangay? I'm staring blankly. I've even encountered two barangay halls within 300 meters from my office! Which is which?

The City Skyline of Manila

The City of Manila has one of the most number of barangays (Filipino version of "wards") in a city in the entire country: running almost 900 in count. Aside from that, barangays are grouped into zones, which has about 100, which is then further grouped in 16 administrative districts (to which we are more familiar with such as Intramuros, Ermita, Binondo, Quiapo, or Sampaloc).

If you are not a resident of the city, or not used to the barangay naming system of Manila, you'll be first confused by this mumble jumble of numbers and zoning. Who wouldn't? People have the tendency to remember the name more than numerical figures.

Barangays here have a peculiar naming convention: barangay names are numerical. It is then combined with the Zone, also numerical, then followed by the administrative district where it belongs. An example of which is: 
Barangay 658-Zone 70, Intramuros, Manila 
That is:

Barangay<Barangay Number>-Zone<Zone Number>, <District>, Manila 

In a research done by Paulus Huigen and Louise Meijering on the Story of De Venen in the Netherlands, the first aspect of a place identity is it is a social construct, which is naming places are one of its examples. 

In the Philippines, place names are usually associated with the natural environment, abundance of flora or fauna, prominent events or personalities, or names of the Catholic patron saints. Stories of its origins are laced with rich literature of legends and myths, but the more "common" formula would be:

Dumating ang Kastila at nagtanong: ¿Cuál es el nombre de este lugar? (What is the name of this place?) 
A native "Indio" responds: "May Lakan Diyan!" (There is a royalty there) 
Or in another legend, the Spaniard overheard the Tagalog siblings in a beach near Intramuros. They said, "Pweh! Maalat ate!" (Eew! It is salty!), referring to the taste of sea water. 

When the name of the community or place is acknowledged collectively, it has become its own identity. It has now its own characteristics that is different from the other. Furthermore, since it is collectively acknowledged, it has more "name recall" and association.

Guess what district is this? Then guess what barangay does this belong to? Still in City of Manila

Barangays, or barrios of the older times, are small communities that date back with pre-colonial era chiefdoms called balangay. It was during former President Ferdinand Marcos when these so-called barrios became barangay has been institutionalized in its modern local government unit form. 

Going back to Manila, while old Manila and its arrabales (districts) were further divided into multitude of barangays sometime in the 20th century "for administrative purposes," replacing the names of barangays, the communities, or wards with numerical versions have led a lot of people confused. Numbers do not have much name recall, unless if it is your birthday or Satan's infamous number (There is Barangay 666 in Ermita District). Numbers do not have that "imageability" that Kevin Lynch mentioned in his book

How many barangays do you see in this expanse of Santa Cruz and Sampaloc Districts? [Unofficial Barangay Map produced by City of Manila Planning and Development Office, Creative Commons]

People within the district, transient or local, would often refer to the name of the street, or a neighborhood name, rather than the name of the barangay, to locate a point or an establishment. 

For example: 
Person 1: "Saan sa Sampaloc?" (Where in Sampaloc?) 
Person 2: "Doon sa Balic-Balic." (It's in Balic-Balic.) 

Person 1: "Saan pwede magpa-retoke ng diploma?" (Where can I "fix" diploma?) Person 2: "Doon sa Recto [Avenue]." (There in Recto.) 

In my years of working in the City of Manila, so far I have never been referred to a Barangay name. Only landmarks, districts, streets, or sub-districts (or purok).

Barangay 658 Zone 70 Barangay Hall in Intramuros. Barangay 657 Zone 70 Barangay Hall is just kabilang kanto or a block or two away from here.

Somehow, the place identity has been "dehumanized" with the numerical system in place. While it is "for the convenience of administration" of a highly-dense city like Manila, barangay name or identity does not serve its function as a marker of a place's characteristics and interaction--unlike in the old days. Rather, it is just more of the administrative function of the local government. 

The barangay's character and identity has been subdued by the greater district's character where it belongs to, or the neighborhood street where landmarks are, which has more persistence to the memory of the people.

This is not Barangay XYZ but commonly called "Lawton" or "Liwasang Bonifacio"
To be fair, Cities of Caloocan and Pasay has also done the numerical numbering of barangays. Laoag, Vigan, and some towns in Ilocos Region has done this too. Iloilo City has a lot of barangays: 180 of them, but people still refer to the districts such as Jaro, Molo, Mandurriao, La Paz, Villa, or Iloilo for directions. However, people would usually still refer to the streets, the neighborhood, or the old kinagisnang distrito. 

In other words, barangay "numbering," rather than pagbigay ngalan or "naming," serves as the purpose of local governance or administration, but not of cultural association, geographical orientation or image in the mental maps of individuals, or identity of the place or lugar.

Where do you buy tarpaulin? Binondo! Along Nueva Street. Anong barangay?

So next time you'll go online shopping purchase and send it to your office or residence in Manila, just get the barangay numbers and write it on a post-it note or put it in your mobile phone. Unless, if Manila plans to reduce the number of its barangays in which, it is a bold political move.