The meaning of the Rizal National Monument

THIS year marks the 60th anniversary of the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC), the caretaker of the Rizal Park Luneta and Paco Park, two of the country’s foremost parklands. A government agency under the Department of Tourism, in this milestone year is headed by Executive Director Cecille Lorenzana Romero and Deputy Executive Director Juan Carlos Antonio Apelar. Romero said during the launch last month: “As we celebrate our 60th anniversary, we would like to invite all of you to the 60 activities we prepared in continuing our agency’s mission: to nurture places and spaces that allow the Filipino Spirit to breathe, grow, and thrive.” The theme: Parks for every generation.

According to the book Parks for a Nation edited by Paulo G. Alcazaren, the first committee for Luneta that was formed in 1962 was a citizen’s committee, set up by Manila Mayor Antonio Villegas, aimed at looking into the development of Luneta as “one of the most modern parks in the Far East.” A young landscape architect Dolores “Dolly” Quimbo Perez, who had just returned to Manila, was tasked to create a proposed master plan for the park which Mayor Villegas presented to President Diosdado Macapagal in December. The president then formed the Luneta Park Committee headed by first lady Eva Macaraeg Macapagal.

The 60th anniversary marks two milestones: 1) the creation of an executive committee for the development of the Quezon Memorial, Luneta and other national parks through Executive Order 30 signed on Jan. 14, 1963; and 2) the designation of that committee as the National Parks Development Committee through Executive Order 69 signed on Feb. 7, 1964 (exactly 59 years ago today). Dolly Perez became head consultant, and veteran architects Angel Nakpil, Gabriel Formoso and Luis Araneta were her advisers.

Last Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, I gave a tour for the families of the NPDC employees as a personal gift for the many opportunities they gave me these past few years to serve the park as a tour guide. Monday, February 6, I was invited to conduct another tour of the park after the Stop and Salute flag-raising ceremonies and the Partners Appreciation Brunch.

The NPDC is the custodian of the country’s No. 1 landmark, the Rizal Monument. It is our Kilometer 0, where we measure the distance of places in the country from Manila. The spot where the mortal remains of our national hero Dr. José Rizal lies. It was recently depicted in the phenomenal hit series “Maria Clara at Ibarra” as the portal where Klay was able to return to the world of Rizal’s novel El Filibusterismo.

Having been constructed because of an international contest conducted by our American colonizers, some critics point to this monument as evidence that Rizal was a truly American-sponsored hero. Yet, it was constructed by public subscription, meaning, it was the Filipino people who had it built!

Although an Italian sculptor from the famous Nicoli family won the contest, it was the second placer, the Swiss doctor, Richard Kissling, who got the commission and was able to construct his design, the “Motto Stella” (the guiding star) which now stands.

But Johnne Dominique Maniego imagined in a Facebook post last February 2 what it would have been if the Italian design had been constructed. Although it was grander in design, placing Rizal on top of a phylon, and appearing like the Victoria Memorial in London, I felt that it was too complicated one can get lost in the details — maborloloy. The Motto Stella was simple enough to make us focus on Rizal’s bronze figure.

But is Rizal the Motto Stella? Sure, I have another answer. At the top of the obelisk are three stars: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao — the Philippines. Can we also say that our guiding star, including Rizal’s, can be Inang Bayan?

Since we focused on Rizal, we overlooked the other figures and the Spanish quotations around the monument coming from the Noli Me Tangere. On the eastern side, a figure of two boys reading a book with the quote “Dela instruccion nace la grandeza delas naciones.” (The school is the book in which is written the future of the nations – Chapter 32.) On the western side, a breastfeeding mother with the quote, “La madre Filipina cria el porvenir del pais.” (Mother Philippines raises the future of the country.) At the back, figures of banana, jar and plow with the quote, “El progreso seguira su camino y dela sangre de los que caigan brotaran nuevos y vigoros retoños.” (Progress continues on its way, and from the blood of those who fall, new and vigorous offspring is born – Chapter 53.)

We are the nation. Therefore, the monument is as much a tribute to Rizal as it is a reminder of the greatness he believed we Filipinos possess, if we try to be educated. We can be the greatest monument to Rizal.

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