Friday, February 13, 2015

Luneta - Manila's Breathing Space and Historic Wonder

Metro Manila, despite its size, doesn't allow much green space as every meter of land seems prime property for development. Concrete structures take priority over open spaces and garden; a stark contrast from, say, Singapore where foliage are almost always part of the landscape despite their very limited land area.

This is the reason why Luneta, as most locals refer to what's officially known as "Rizal Park", is special. It's the country's answer to the big cities of the the worlds' park squares. It is also one of the city's most popular destinations as it is close to many other important sites: Intramuros and Fort Santiago, Manila Hotel, Roxas Boulevard's boardwalk and its famed sunset, and the National Museum.

The Brits and Bagumbayan

Rizal's execution in Luneta (1896)
It is also historically significant as National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal's site of execution in December 30, 1896. He was accused of inciting rebellion against the ruling Spanish government.

But back in the early 1800s, this was nothing but a marshy sector of a town called Nuevo Barrio aka Bagumbayan.

Though not a lot is known about the very short 2-year rule (1762 to 1764) of the British in the country, clearing this marshy space was their contribution.

Imagine if the Brits stayed longer, we'd be walking around selling and eating balut and chomping on siopao, riding jeepneys, going to markets with English accents. Such horror! In this land rose a barracks and a hospital. Eventually, Paseo de Luneta was born, so named ("lunette") after the moon-shaped moat in nearby Intramuros. This was a busy public plaza with horse-drawn carriages, family revelry and leisure-mongers.

160 Executions

When the Spanish assumed their colonial rule, this area of social activity was turned into a plaza for public executions. Trust the Spaniards to be magnanimously brilliant in delivering a cautionary message for the locals and picking space for symbolic mortality, their statement for crime and punishment. In fact, close to 160 "enemies of the state" were executed here, including 3 Filipino priests, summarily called "Gomburza" who were touted as subversive elements after the 1872 Cavite mutiny. But its most famous martyr was Dr. Jose P. Rizal, the country's national hero.

Rizal's monument was born out of a worldwide design contest. An Italian artist came out first prize winner, Carlos Nicolli of Carrara, Italy. For some reason, the contract was awarded to the second prize winner, Richard Kissling, a Swiss-sculptor (left) who designed Rizal's statue. He called "Motto Stella" (Guiding Star). Even in those young times, politization of issues were rife.

These days, Kissling's statue of Rizal has been imitated in several cities all over the world. You've probably heard of Madrid's Avenida de Filipinas with its own version of Luneta. Recently, there's Australia's own Rizal Park in Campbelltown in New South Wales. There's one in Reforma Avenue, Mexico City; La Molina in Lima, Peru; Litomerice in Czech Republic; another in Singapore; and half a dozen all over the United States.

Soldiers are assigned to guard Rizal's monument on a daily basis, but for a few exceptions (like when I visited). This is how we pay homage to a fallen hero. We pay our respects. Can we say the same about our commander-in-chief who prefers to check out vintage cars over meeting caskets of fallen heroes? Such shameful, heartless, cognition-impaired priorities from a contentious father of a nation, right Kris Aquino?

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Rizal Park Open Air Auditorium

Gigantic Lapu Lapu.

National Museum of the Filipino People (that's its full name)

For more information, please visit their website here -


Sherry Ellis said...

Very interesting to read about the history of this place. I enjoyed looking at your pictures, too.

Ramakrishnan said...

Interesting stuff and superb images.Two questions - who is Kris Aquino ?(Corazon's son ?).What is lapu lapu ?

eye in the sky said...

Thanks, Sherry. I find it fascinating piecing "the story" as well.

eye in the sky said...

Thanks, Ram. Kris Aquino is a girl; a really smug, self-important, bratty daughter of former President Corazon Aquino and her assassinated husband Benigno Ninoy Aquino. Kris is also the sister of our current president Benigno Noynoy Aquino III, son of Cory and Ninoy. Kris is a TV/movie personality who hosts 2 daily shows all week through. Can't sing, can't act, can't dance - yet is considered a "multimedia star" for the silliest reasons.

Lapu-Lapu is one of the Filipino heroes who stood brave against the so-called "discoverer" of the Philippine, Ferdinand Magellan (Fernando Magallanes). Lapu-Lapu killed Magellan in fact - so he's considered a valiant and worthy hero for defending sovereignty against a mighty world explorer. Here's the funny thing, Lapu-Lapu actually came from Borneo and migrated to Cebu (middle of the Philippine archipelago). He was someone who preferred piracy over other endeavors, but this detail isn't taught or underlined in our history books, of course. He killed a colonizer, thus he becomes a hero.

Sometimes, history is a selective endeavor. Bits and pieces of the unsavory truth are pretty much swept under a rag.

Ramakrishnan said...

Thanks for furnished such intricate and interesting details.