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Proof of this modernization and civilization, this compromise between those anti-colonial origins and the Benevolent Assimilation they were now espousing would be to turn Taft’s “little brown brothers” into the inhabitants of an Oriental District of Columbia. As the Americans had contrived for Rizal to be their new wards’ counterpart to George Washington, they proceeded to create a Washington D.C. in Manila.
The Rizal Monument, and the park that cradled it, was at the heart of a master urban architectural plan for the capital of the Philippines, devised by the Chicago architect and city planner Daniel Burnham. In 1904, United States Secretary of War, and former Governor-General of the Philippines, William Howard Taft commissioned Burnham—via William Cameron Forbes, who would eventually be Governor-General himself—to submit plans for the administrative capital of Manila, and the proposed summer capital in Baguio.
By then, Burnham—founder of the City Beautiful movement—had already spearheaded the planning commission of a major renewal of Washington D.C.; and had designed the cities of Cleveland and San Francisco. The City Beautiful aesthetic, which Manila would naturally adopt, was marked by neo-classical elements and derivatives of it. [The City Beautiful aesthetic would have been an apt backdrop for Nicoli’s winning-but-bypassed design.]
Burnham then recommended William E. Parsons, a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts in France and a practicing architect in New York, to oversee the implementation of what was to be known, in legislation, as “the Burnham plan for the improvement of the city of Manila, and the Burnham plan for the improvement of Baguio.” By virtue of Philippine Commission Act No. 1495, enacted on May 26, 1906, Parsons was appointed Consulting Architect to the government, and he would stay in the Philippines in this capacity for the next nine years. His term coincided with Forbes’; the two would work closely together in the planning of the cities of Manila and of Baguio, which included projects such as the building of the Philippine General Hospital, the Manila Hotel, and the Mansion House in the highlands of Baguio.
In 1905, after a six-week stay in the Philippines and barely four months after his return to Chicago, Burnham submitted the city plans for Manila to Secretary of War Taft; of these plans, he wrote rather succinctly: “The Manila scheme is very good.” The plans were approved within two months and orders for their implementation given immediately.
Burnham had prepared a big plan for Manila to match the aspirations of an emerging player in world affairs. The Burnham Plan had five major design directives: 1) the development of the waterfront and the location of parks and parkways so as to give adequate opportunities for recreation to every quarter in the city; 2) the establishment of a street system, which would secure direct and easy communication from every part of the city, to every other sector or district; 3) the location of building sites for various activities; 4) the development of waterways for transportation; and 5) the provision of summer resorts.
The plan included all elements of a classic City Beautiful plan. It had a central civic core. Radials emanating from this core were laid over a gridiron pattern and large parks interconnected by parkways. In this core, which Burnham located beside the old city [of Intramuros], government buildings were arranged in a formal pattern around a rectangular mall (“mall” here refers to a linear formal open space defined by trees or buildings). This mall is reminiscent of the National Mall in Washington D.C. and is, in fact, roughly the same width and orientation. The layout differed from the Spanish “Laws of the Indies” configuration [the design adopted within Intramuros], in that the focus was civic space and government buildings and did not include religious structures.
Completing the civic ensemble were the Hall of Justice complex, located south of the mall, and semi-public buildings such as libraries, museums, and permanent exposition buildings all along a drive towards the north. The core then was not intended to be the Rizal Park we know today, although a monument to a national hero was part of the plan.
[. ] In designing the civic complex, a la Washington D.C. one of the first elements the American civil government wanted to put up was Manila’s equivalent of the Washington monument. For this, the Americans chose Dr. Jose Rizal; his monument was to rise at the center of the projected new civic mall. Unfortunately, the monument’s location was determined not by the actual spot where Rizal was executed but slightly south of it because of the geometry and the width required of the Burnham-designed mall. [. ] As in Washington D.C. the orientation of the mall was towards a body of water. When Burnham surveyed the old Luneta site, however, he found, that the new port works had blocked the view of Manila Bay. To correct this and to create a large pleasure park, he proposed that the area in front of the old Luneta be extended a thousand feet.
From Parks for a Nation: The Rizal Park and 50 Years of the National Parks Development Committee. published by the NPDC.
Thus it was that the American-sponsored Burnham Plan unwittingly mirrored the spirit of the Spaniards’ transformation of the marshland by Bagumbayan. Whereas the ruling elite of the peninsulares transformed a tract of land into a venue for the rigodon of the promenade—and having it serve a second purpose as a killing field for Filipino insurrectos who’d betrayed the Spanish government; the Americans, to coax loyalty from their new “possessions,” turned this same landscape as a tribute to a martyred ilustrado, and the centerpiece of a Manila that had overthrown the Old World regime. And in parallel with the Luneta’s macabre underside during the Spanish era, the Americans had built a necropolis to serve as an administrative and cultural center—a tomb of the martyred man as the centerpiece of an elaborate transformation of the capital.
And the secular cult of Rizal, too, had been set in motion; it would be unlike the height of the Revolution, when his writings served as sacred text and his image stood as the rendering of a pagan god looking out at secret, seditious meetings. Rizal was now both icon and institution—but this time out in the open: a guide to the laying down of roads, now a monument at whose foot all roads would literally converge: for the monument would be Kilometer Zero, in the manner of classical antiquity, where all roads converged in Rome.
But the Rizal of the Americans—the new Roman-inspired metropolis—was not to be. By 1916, the debate on whether America would permanently keep, or let go, of the colony had been settled; and the grand plan of Burnham was implemented more in the breach in a combination of Filipino protestations of economizing—no grand capitol would be built, the legislature, instead, taking over and remodeling what had been intended to be the National Library—and American extravagance: Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison used funds intended for the Burnham Plan to build an Executive Building in Malacañan Palace, closing down the governor-general’s office in Intramuros, sounding the death-knell of the walled city as administrative heart of the colony and firmly charting the future extramuros .
It would be the Second World War that would obliterate the last vestiges of Rizal’s Manila: bombed by the Japanese in the opening weeks of the war, the Japanese too would eliminate the last traces of the Spanish-era Luneta, as Imperial Japanese forces dug foxholes around the Rizal Monument and turned both Old and New Luneta into a battleground. Retreating into Intramuros and the neoclassical buildings of the government, the Japanese were systematically shelled and set on fire with flame-throwers by Allied forces, reducing the metropolis to rubble.
It was amidst the ruins of Liberated Manila that the Rizal Monument served as the backdrop—literally overshadowed and hidden from sight by a temporary grandstand—for the Independence Ceremonies on July 4, 1946, when at last the Philippine flag was hoisted to fly alone for the first time since the defeat of the First Republic. The first act of appropriation of the Third Republic would be to mark the spot where the ceremonies took place, with a monumental flagpole—the Independence Flagpole—and to build, on a permanent basis, the Independence Grandstand on what had been the American-era New Luneta. In the Independence Grandstand, on December 30—Rizal Day—would unfold, every four years, the ritual of republican, democratic transition: the inaugurals of presidents, who would take their oath of office, so to speak, with Rizal as their witness, and the Independence Flagpole signifying the independence of the nation.
Thus did Philippine governments—administrations—after the Second World War attempt to consciously appropriate Rizal’s legacy, not least by way of the Rizal Monument and the Luneta. In much the same way the first digressions from the Burnham Plan—in the prewar years, capped with the dream of a new capital to rise in Quezon City in a symbolic slaying of colonialism—the landscape changed according to national mood and, especially, the decisions of those in power—be it whim, advocacy, or political maneuver.
In the late 1950s, President Ramon Magsaysay reserved the Luneta exclusively for park purposes and had trouble resisting persistent official pressure from groups who wished to exploit the park for their own pet projects. One group strongly lobbied to use Luneta as the site of a national cultural center, envisioning the construction of a National Library, a National Museum, and a National Theater. But not a few persons decried the plans to mark the huge, open park—prompting a newspaper columnist to comment, “Luneta has been ruthlessly butchered, cut up to small, useless areas assigned for incongruous uses.” The arguments went on, silenced only by the death of the major protagonists. In the end, the Rizal Memorial Cultural Center was approved; Magsaysay himself laid the cornerstone of the only building that would be completed, the National Library.
In the meantime, the park lay bare and unkempt; the Rizal Monument neglected, muddy in the rain and surrounded with tall cogon in the summer. The Luneta—now Rizal Park—was, like so many grand projects of the newly-independent nation, much better on paper than it turned out in reality. Foundations were laid; but not much else.
Then the Centennial of Rizal inspired a spurt of activity. The most infamous, if drastic, revision to Kissling’s original vision was made in the Rizal Centennial Year of 1961: A stainless steel pylon was superimposed over the granite obelisk, thus increasing the structure's height from 12.7 meters to 30.5 meters. The remodeling undertaken by the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission (JRNCC)—and designed by Juan Nakpil, who would later become the first National Artist for Architecture—was widely criticized. (The mild furor was not unlike the one met by the original Committee on the Rizal Monument when they awarded the contract to Kissling.) The towering steel pylon only lent an incongruity—gleaming where the base was somber and unpolished, drawing the eye away from the bronze figure of Rizal. Nakpil, in defense to the criticisms, quoted former Secretary of Education and then JRNCC chair Manuel Lim: That the taller pylon would serve as a convenient guide for incoming sea vessels, as well as a beacon for citizens navigating their way within Manila. Two years later, the steel shaft—which had cost the government PhP145,000—was removed, upon the directives of Secretary of Education Alejandro Roces and Director of Public Libraries Carlos Quirino. According to the UAP, the steel revision to the Rizal Monument “was dismantled during Holy Week, reportedly to prevent any court injunction from restraining them as government offices were closed during holidays.”
The removal of the pylon, however, only signalled a rush to employ beautification efforts. Newspaper columnist Teodoro Valencia, who was among those who had bitterly protested the JRNCC’s “tampering” of the Rizal monument, announced publicly that he would try to give the monument and the surrounding area a facelift: “The original plan was to clean the monument itself, put it in a few flower pots to give it some respectability. But the support and the money started flowing in.” In a week’s time, PhP30,000 had been donated to their cause. The approach to the monument was cemented, lights were installed and a few trees were planted. Valencia got the Philippine Army’s approval to put an honor guard. The National Parks Development Committee was subsequently organized, taking on long-planned but never-effected projects: The beautification of the sea wall, the renovations to the grandstand. After decades of being dormant—and accounting the unpopular revision of the JNRCC in the early 1950s—civic society’s desire to witness the park’s enlivening translated into cash donations to the cause: During First Lady Imelda Marcos’ term as NPDC chairman, a total of PhP60 million would be donated to the development of Rizal Park. Since its inception, the National Parks Development Committee has overseen and ensured the upkeep and the necessary improvements to the Rizal Park, and the tribute to Rizal that lay at its core.
In the decades that have passed, interest in the Luneta has waxed and waned, and the weight of the Rizal Monument—which has, over time, been adopted as among the symbols of our nationhood—has nonetheless flirted with the rote and the commonplace. Every four, then six years, across an expanse of field from the bronze figure of Rizal, Presidents-elect would take their oaths to serve the Philippines and its people: only President Corazon Aquino would not take her oath there; even Presidents Estrada (who took his oath in Baroasoain) in 1998 and Arroyo (who took her first in the EDSA Shrine, and her second in Cebu) in 2004, delivered their inaugural addresses at the Quirino Grandstand (as the Independence Grandstand had come to be known). When a typhoon demolished the Independence Flagpole in the 1970s, it was rebuilt; and it was here, as Ninoy Aquino’s funeral cortege slowly made its way escorted by millions, that what the dictatorship denied the Filipino people themselves undertook: the flag in front of the Rizal Monument lowered to half mast, in symbolic tribute from the Republic’s protomartyr to its new martyr of democracy.
The Rizal Monument, too, is the silent party in the ritual obeisance that foreign leaders pay to the most bravo of the indios. In 1998, during a state visit in the Centennial Year of the First Republic, King Juan Carlos of Spain and his consort Queen Sofia stood before tomb of Jose P. Rizal and laid a wreath against its base. In the shadow of Intramuros, before the final resting place of the man who was shot as enemy number one, the descendant of the last king to rule over the Philippines paid his homage. Closure, had come: symbolically, the breach had been healed. But few Filipinos noticed this act of racial and national vindication. Just as few Filipinos may be aware, and much less care, about the ghosts of plans whose grandeur perhaps spoke little to contemporary Filipinos at the time. But then, as now, Rizal remains preeminent: focal point of Manila; premier monument of the nation; and gathering place of the ordinary, who picnic and wander in a park under the shadow of the man whose dreams for them outlived that moment when the rifles fired, and when, in a last effort of will, he turned to fall facing the rising sun.
The tomb and memorial to Filipino nationalist Jose P. Rizal stands right by the edge of Manila, at the heart of a landscape bearing the much-vaunted histories it helped launch.
Its principal form, an obelisk of unpolished granite rising 12.7 meters toward the sky, is as straightforward a sculptural marker as a monument can be: Here lie the remains of Rizal, it announces, its duty as signpost and landmark thus achieved. The figure of Rizal follows the same simple aesthetic: It is a Rizal made restive in bronze, cradling the books that have lent to his legacy and in an overcoat that hangs just a little too boxy for his frame. This figure stands conspicuous, too, however: His garb is unsuited to the tropics—a reminder that he lived his life as an ilustrado in the stranger, colder climes of the European continent—and the underscoring of the scholarly air further sets him apart from the riotous revolution that led, if indirectly, to his death. It is a Rizal whose very rendering eschewed the revolutionary glory that had been continually thrust upon him, a glory that he could nonetheless rightly stake a claim to. His gaze does not even meet the sea; this is a Rizal that offers no dares, dispenses no threat. In a pensive mood, the Rizal of the monument angles his head ever so slightly—toward the Walled City, perhaps by chance.
As an object, then, the monument shies away from magnificence. It does not tower, there are no ornate details, no grandiose aesthetic claims. It is the land that surrounds it, however, the land on which it rose, that resonates with the history Rizal was party to and his memory helped cultivate—the stories of centuries-long subjugation, of “benevolent” assimilation, of city-razing warfare, of politicians eager to attach their names to that of the national hero’s. It is the Luneta—an annexed tract of land beyond the seat of the Spanish colonial government and religious authority; the centerpiece of the holistic overhauling of new Western conquerors, for both good and bad; and the machinations of politicians in the past half a century—that bears for the Rizal Monument the burdens of the historical narrative that it hosted—a historical narrative that is of all us Filipinos’.
Layered maps of Luneta—particularly of the Rizal Park—trace the evolution of the area over time, to provide a greater context to the landscape cradling the Rizal Monument. Click the dates bellow to set the time periods.
An expanded view of the Rizal Monument, as it is situated in the Rizal Park, allows the viewer a clearer view of specific details of the structure while keeping them anchored to their context. The Independence Flagpole has been included as reference. Click on the image to view the 3D model, which allows for greater navigation.
Bronze figure of Jose P. Rizal front - and - center of the obelisk. The books he cradle are meant to represent his novels Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.
Allegorical figures cast in bronze of the Philippine historical narrative.
The Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office and the Presidential Museum and Library would like to thank the following for their invaluable help and assistance in this project: the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP; particularly, Mr. Ian Alfonso, Ms. Marie Santiago, and the NHCP Research Division); the National Library of the Philippines (particularly, Maricel M. Diaz of the Filipiniana Division); the National Parks Development Committee; the city government of Manila; the Metro Manila Development Authority; My Rizal 150; the United Architects of the Philippines; Mr. Ambeth Ocampo; Arch. Paulo Alcazaren; LIPAD Photography; Mr. Lou Gopal; Engr. Juan Carlos Ayeng; Mr. Francis Yumul; Mr. John Tewell Pilot; Pupuplatter; the moderators and users of SkyscraperCity.com; and Retrato: Filipinas Photo Collection.
The Official Gazette is managed and maintained by the Presidential Communications Office.