Charting Ecological and Social History


Charting Ecological and Social History: Southeast Asian Estuaries Take Center Stage at the closing of the Philippine Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia

VENICE, ITALY – The Philippine Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is set to bring together scholars for an insightful roundtable session on “The Estuary in Southeast Asia: Reflections on Ecological and Social History” on November 25, 2023 from 2:00 PM to 4:30 PM (CET) at the Philippine Pavilion in the Arsenale.

The roundtable discussion takes its cue from the proposition of the Philippine participation at the 2023 Venice Biennale for Architecture. Titled Tripa de Gallina: Guts of Estuary, it focuses on a specific estuary in Manila and its communities, constructing a narrative around its historical significance and envisioning a future through and beyond the environmental challenges it confronts in the present.

An image of the estero Tripa de Gallina, taken from a map of the City of Manila published in November 1920 by John Bach, issued under the Authority of the Bureau of Commerce and Industry.

To provide a nuanced perspective on the conditions of estuaries in Manila, this roundtable will present two scholars who explore the ecological and social history of the estuary. Anthony Medrano and Michael Pante will delve into the nature and transformation of the estuary in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, probing its place in modern discourses and contemporary issues. Additionally, they will shed light on the estuary’s current state in specific sites and the crucial roles played by communities, governments, development workers, and citizens in shaping its present and potential life. Furthermore, the roundtable will look into the convergence between architecture and interdisciplinary scholarship related to ecological and social history. It will finally address the awareness within the Filipino community in Italy of the global environmental challenges the planet faces.

Pante, an Associate Professor at the Department of History, Ateneo de Manila University, will read the paper, “From Venice of the East to the Warsaw of Asia: The Meanders of Manila’s Esteros in Philippine History.” It explores the historical significance of Manila’s esteros, serving as efficient transportation in precolonial and early colonial times. After World War II, the city’s ecology shifted drastically, which accelerated the decline of the esteros due to factors like land-based transport, suburban migration, and environmental decay. Pante shares how the esteros have “turned into entrails that allow us in the present to peer into the complexities of the past and see how we ended up in this situation of ecological and cultural decay.”

For his part, Medrano, a National University of Singapore (NUS) Presidential Young Professor of Environmental Studies at Yale-NUS College, widens Pante’s perspective on the interplay of environmental and socio-economic forces in the history of waterways in Southeast Asia, proceeding from the premise that waters are “born from histories of ebb and flow, exchange and influence.” In the paper, “Creole Waters: Stories of Life and Loss in Southeast Asia’s Estuaries,” Medrano discusses the vitality of estuaries, which are “central to feeding food webs that support the lives and lifecycles of humans and nonhumans alike. Historically, they mattered too, giving form and function to coastal sultanates such as Melaka and Banjarmasin as well as to provincial port-towns like Iloilo and Bagan Si Api Api.”

The roundtable will be moderated by Patrick Flores, consultant of the Philippine Arts at Venice Biennale, Professor at the University of the Philippines Department of Art Studies, and Deputy Director at the National Gallery Singapore.

The discussion offers a unique opportunity to gain deep insights into the estuary’s significance in the intricate web of Southeast Asian history, ecology, and contemporary architecture.

The sustained Philippine participation in the Venice Biennale is a collaborative undertaking of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Office of Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda.


Michael D. Pante is an associate professor at the Department of History, Ateneo de Manila University, and the chief editor of Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints. He is the author or A Capital City at the Margins: Quezon City and Urbanization in the Twentieth-Century Philippines (Ateneo de Manila University Press; Kyoto University Press, 2019).

Anthony D. Medrano is the National University of Singapore (NUS) Presidential Young Professor of Environmental Studies at Yale-NUS College. He also holds appointments in the Department of History at NUS, the Asia Research Institute, and the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM). His writings have appeared in publications such as the Journal of Asian Studies, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Forest and Society, and Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints. He is completing his first book, The Edible Ocean: Science, Industry, and the Rise of Urban Southeast Asia for Yale University Press.