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MMDA's Tolentino tells Dan Brown: Manila not 'gates of hell'

Traffic on Metro Manila's main highway, Epifanio delos Santos Avenue. FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines - Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino on Thursday joined the bandwagon of novelist Dan Brown's critics as he called the depiction of Manila in Brown's latest novel, "Inferno" as inaccurate.

Tolentino personally wrote Brown a letter. The letter dated Thursday, was written on offical MMDA stationery.

"We write to you with much concern regarding your recently published novel "Inferno" and its mention of Manila being defined by a number of terrible descriptions of poverty, and pollution, among others, having suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade and worse, being alluded as 'gates of hell,'" Tolentino said in his letter.

"While we are aware that yours is a work of fiction, we are greatly disappointed by your inaccurate portrayal of our beloved metropolis. We are displeased of how you have used Manila as a venue and source of a character's breakdown and trauma, much more her disillusionment in humanity," Tolentino added.

Tolentino defended Metro Manila is being a "center of Filipino spirit, faith and hope."

"Our faith in God binds us as a nation and we believe that Manila citizens are more than capable of exemplifying good character and compassion towards each other, something that your novel has failed to acknowledge. Truly, our place is an entry to heaven," Tolentino said.

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"We hope that this letter enlightens you and may guide you the next time you cite Manila in any of your works," the MMDA chief added.

In "Inferno," a character,  Sienna Brooks, described to be a bald 32-year-old English doctor, joins a humanitarian mission to Manila, only to be shocked by its apocalyptic poverty and is later raped in one of Manila's slums.

An excerpt from the book goes: “When the group settled in among the throngs in the city of Manila—the most densely populated city on earth—Sienna could only gape in horror. She had never seen poverty on this scale.”

Brown then enumerated what Sienna saw: hungry kids gazing at her “with desolate eyes,” “six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade, whose workers consisted primarily of young children, many of whom had been sold to pimps by parents who took solace in knowing that at least their children would be fed.”

The book also mentioned panhandlers and pickpockets, and how Sienna “could see humanity overrun by its primal instinct for survival. When they face desperation … human beings become animals.”

Sienna, also saw her surroundings as “a kind of shantytown—a city made of pieces of corrugated metal and cardboard propped up and held together” with “wails of crying babies and the stench of human excrement” in the air. She saw herself as having “run through the gates of hell.”

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