FFE Magazine

The Centenary of the Rizal Monument

by  gov.ph  gov_ph


I. Landmarks of Exclusion


Intramuros, by its very design, was meant to exclude. Conforming to the shape of the river and the sea-edge that surrounded it, the walls of Manila—walls that had been built as fortification against foreign invasion and native rebellion—served as a sixty-six hectare reliquary of medieval dreams.


At its historic core was Fort Santiago—the old palisaded settlement of Maynilad, turned into the Fort of St. James, named after the patron saint of the conquista of Castille, Leon, and Aragon invoked by the Catholic Monarchs as they wrested away the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors. Intramuros had heavily guarded gates, drawbridges over a surrounding moat; it had bastions for long-range offense, lunettes to divide and impede attackers, redoubts to serve as safehouses for retreating defensive soldiers. The enclave that served as the seat of the Spanish colonial government and the Spanish religious authority in the region had been built as a military fort, for it cradled that which Spain valued most in the colony. Writing a few years (1859-1860) before Jose Rizal’s birth, a German named F. Jagor described Intramuros as “built more for security than for beauty,” where life was “vanity, envy, empleomania and racial strife.” Intramuros was, foremost, for the Cross and the Sword.


Halfway around the world from the Continent, the peninsulares of the Philippine archipelago served as loyally Mother Spain’s thrust of cross-and-sword—although at the cost of having to live by the bells of forced resettlement that tolled, for the past two centuries, to keep medieval time and obedience in a colony that was modernizing almost against its conquerors’ will. Vanity, all is vanity: In its exhaustion and decadence, the rituals of religion were mirrored in the ritual life of the colony, every bit as rigid and status-obsessed as the creaky Bourbon court in Madrid. As with every spanning wall, those of Intramuros contained just as well as they kept out.


The foreshadowing of the end came in the late 1700s—shortly after the British fairly easily conquered of Manila, and marking the momentum of history shifting from Spanish conquest to defense and decline—for the more affluent of the population of Intramuros to wander beyond its walls. Within the Intramuros, perhaps, they would forever be subjects of Spain; beyond it, they could lay claim to the glamour of being the elite in a land largely oppressed. As a result of this mild exodus, suburban culture began thriving in Manila, especially in the stretch of seafront land connecting the Walled City to the suburbs that surrounded it. As the authors of Malacañan Palace: The Official Illustrated History note, “Seventeenth century colonial life placed a high value on being able to get away to the outskirts—whether along the waterways of the Pasig or by the shores of Manila Bay in such places as near as Ermita, Malate, and Pineda (Pasay).”


National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal, whose death we commemorate on December 30. This photo is part of the Colorized History project of the PCDSPO.

This area we know today as Rizal Park, that which began as barely habitable marshland, then became a hub of the Spanish leisure class. The soft ground and the esteros were filled to create a uniform field that stretched from the Walled City to surrounding arrabals or suburbs—particularly to Ermita, originally christened Bagumbayan or the “new village.” The field’s proximity to the seat of power, its ease of access from the new country homes being built in the outskirts of Manila, and the breeze it drew from the sea a welcome respite from the tropical heat made it an ideal spot for the elite insistent of their comforts.


The promenade became part of the daily agenda, although one that would always concede to that set by the Catholic church’s. After vespers, the Manila elite would converge on the rectangular field, for the bracing evening air and the pleasure of each other’s company. The seemingly innocuous stroll allowed the Spanish their early evening relaxation—all whilst preening before people of their own class and race (and, later, when less stringent rules applied, to the ilustrados who streamed from the surrounding suburbs). It was a ritual of posturing beneath the guise of a leisurely, even lazy, pursuit.


In adherence, the marshland was to be manipulated into a map of paseos (walkways) and calzadas (carriage drives) over time; it would eventually contain a rotunda at its heart and two circular fountains, as well as a bandstand. The Governor-General’s military band would play once or twice a week, on which occasions, British author Henry T. Ellis would write, “caballeros may be seen lounging amongst the carriages that have halted near the music, talking soft nonsense and whispering naughty fibs to the señoritas, their bewitching occupants, braving alike the brilliant fire of their dark, lustrous eyes and the all–enchanting coquetries of the fan, in the mysterious uses of which no ladies in the world are better versed than the daughters of Spain and her colonies.”


[By the 18th century] the daily paseo would become a display of wealth and power. Henry T. Ellis, a British author who served in the Royal Navy, visited Manila in 1856 and later wrote a book on his travels, Hong Kong to Manilla and the Lakes of Luzon. In it, he described Manila and the Calzada: “The town, on the southern side of the river, or what may be called Manila proper, is the old city, first established by the Spaniards. It is surrounded by a wall and ditch, with drawbridges, sally-ports, and gates, and may deserve the rank as a third-class fortress of its time. Things here, speaking generally, are kept in a very creditable state of repair, and the gates, or most of them, jealously closed at certain hours. Two-thirds of the way around the walls, there is a fine broad carriage drive, called the Calzada, where all the beauty and fashions of both sides of the water enjoy the sea-breeze, which sets in pretty regularly between four and five. Here may be seen in the evenings as many as a hundred, for the most part, elegant carriages, graced by Spanish and mestiza ladies, with hardly a bonnet amongst them, and having no covering for their heads save their own luxuriant jetty locks, dressed and ornamented with great taste.”


The Malecon [the waterside edge of the open field between Intramuros and Ermita] and the Calzada would merge by the edge of Ermita, which also allowed promenaders from Ermita and Malate to join the evening throng. The three streams of traffic meeting at the open field naturally required some organization for the people in each stream to head back to their origins. This made way for the creation of a flattened roundabout, or as described in another travelogue, a small extended hippodrome. The roundabout or loop formed another paseo and a space or plaza. This space was given a formal name, the Paseo de Alfonso XIII, but it became more popularly known as the Paseo de Luneta or the Luneta for short.

-From Parks for a Nation: The Rizal Park and 50 Years of the National Parks Development Committee, published by the NPDC.


The Luneta, then, draws its name from the lunette or the “crescent-shaped structure for defense used in fortifications in the 17th to 18th centuries”—a persistent, if now forgotten, reminder of the military fortifications of the conqueror’s citadel it is adjacent to.


The more illustrious Filipinos of the time were given leave to join these daily promenades—if only because of the access from the surrounding suburbs they’d been earlier permitted to reside in. But despite these occasional brushes in this half-kilometer field fronting the sea, a yawning chasm of class, politics, and subjugation remained between the Filipinos and their Spanish conquerors. It was, of course, an institutionalized, nearing-inherent division—one that had been in place for more than three hundred years. It was not equality to walk the same manicured lawn as the frocked granddaughters of conquerors; the caste would not be broken down because an archbishop’s carriage was mere paces away—but the shared proximity lent to the illusion. This ease of colonial living that the Spaniards enjoyed—which, although aspired for and even shared by sympathizers and select ilustrados, nonetheless exacerbated the servitude and suffering of the common Filipino—would be disrupted by the onset of the Philippine revolution.


The century that had passed allowed the peninsulares and insulares to settle into their life of colonial relative luxury—but as pockets of rebellion erupted all over the country, and the city of Manila itself was threatened by skirmishes led by one Andres Bonifacio, the plebeian from modest Tondo (and, thus, an alarmingly apt poster boy for indio insurrection), the conquerors were pushed to slowly dispossess themselves of the casual enjoyment of the affluence of awarded their station. The changes wrought to the Luneta best encapsulated this. Once the Filipinos began banding together to overthrow Spanish rule, there came the transformation of a setting that invited leisure—one that indulged, for a handful of hours every day, the illusion that the Filipino and the Spanish who performed their nightly promenade were equal in stature—into a chilling bulwark of the three-centuries-strong foreign regime, hosting the cruelties it stood for and espoused.


The Paseo de Luneta would become the capital’s killing field, but its dual role only conformed to the Spaniard aim. As the National Parks Development Committee points out, “Bagumbayan Park gracefully hosted flirtations among the Manila elite, as well as callously witnessed the deaths of the disloyal citizenry.” Because beneath the trappings of relative colonial comfort, of preening in the late afternoons, and the joyful gatherings of the cool evenings, Mother Spain’s dictum held ever-strong: Indios were forever indios, and woe to those who rebelled.

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