How well do you know Rizal Park?
Here are 30 little-known facts about Rizal Park as culled from interviews with officials of the National Park Development Committee (NPDC), park attendants and guides, frequent visitors, history and architecture hobbyists, old news clippings, and other reports, both print and online.
Vatican City can fit inside Rizal Park. The Vatican has an area of 44 hectares compared with Rizal Park’s 58 hectares.
Valencia Circle, which surrounds the Lapu-Lapu statue, is Metro Manila’s biggest rotunda (defined as a circular road with no road inside). It has a diameter of 42 meters. The circle is named after Teodoro Valencia, the longtime head of the park who initiated and maintained the beautification reforms that put it in top shape.
Rizal Park was neglected for decades, feared and avoided by the public as criminals and prostitutes wandered the place. The NPDC was created in 1963 to clean up and develop the park.
The park’s other popular name, Luneta, was derived from the lunette or crescent-shaped outworks or minor fortifications surrounding Intramuros, the old walled city of Manila.
Another name for the park, Bagumbayan, literally “New Town,” was one of the towns surrounding Intramuros. Bagumbayan was torn down because British invaders mounted cannons on its buildings during the attack on Manila in 1763. A marker lies on the spot where the town’s San Juan Bautista church, which housed the Black Nazarene, used to be. The open area left was known as the Bagumbayan Field, which became the execution ground for criminals.
The Rizal Monument’s real name is “Motto Stella (Guiding Star),” the title of the entry submitted by its sculptor, Richard Kissling of Switzerland. However, Kissling’s obra was only the runner-up. Italian Carlo Nicoli’s entry, titled “Al Martir de Bagumbayan,” won the international design contest for the monument.
There is no single official explanation why the contract was awarded to Kissling. One account said Nicoli had failed to post the required performance bond, or that he had failed to show up at the contract signing. Another said Kissling’s entry was chosen because his quotation was lower than Nicoli’s.
There is also no official explanation of the meaning of the monument’s details. The monument depicts Rizal in overcoat holding a book. The obelisk is usually taken to mean Rizal’s masonic background while the three stars are said to stand for Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. The figures at the back of the monument, such as leaves and a pot, are said to symbolize the country’s natural resources.
The consensus is that the figures beside Rizal—a mother rearing her child and two young boys reading—signify family and education, said Federico Edos, NPDC cultural and public affairs division chief.
Technically, the Rizal Monument is a mausoleum. A committee of Manila’s affluent residents, some of them friends of Rizal, like Ariston Bautista Lin and Maximino Paterno, was formed by the Americans in 1901 to raise funds from the public for the building of a memorial to Rizal.
The Rizal family was involved in the establishment of the monument since the hero’s elder brother, Paciano, was a member of the committee.
The Rizal family as well as the entire country, for that matter, would not know until half a century later that Rizal had left specific instructions about his mortal remains.
In an undated letter to his family, probably written while he was a prisoner in Fort Santiago, Rizal said he wanted to be buried in the ground, with a simple stone and cross containing his name, the dates of his birth and death, and “nothing more.”
“If later you wish to surround my grave with a fence, you can do it. No anniversaries. I prefer ‘Paang Bundok,’” he wrote, referring to the cemetery north of Manila where the North Cemetery now lies.
The Philippine government was able to get hold of this letter and other Rizal documents after these were presented in 1953 by then Spanish Foreign Minister Alberto Martin-Artajo y Alvarez.
Interred in 1913
The “remains” of Rizal interred in the monument in 1913 consisted of bones because after his execution, the hero was secretly buried without a coffin at Paco Cemetery. There was an account of how his sister Narcisa ultimately discovered the burial site and how she bribed the caretaker to mark the site with RPJ—Rizal’s initials in reverse. The remains were exhumed after the Americans conquered Manila in 1898.
Not all Rizal’s bones were interred in the monument. The Rizal Shrine, his former cell in Fort Santiago, houses a glass urn containing a piece of the vertebra (backbone), which was allegedly cracked or chipped by bullet from the firing squad.
Rizal was killed by Filipinos. The execution squad—eight Filipino riflemen from the 70th infantry regiment, the Magallanes, of the Spanish colonial army— opened fire on Rizal at exactly 7:03 a.m., according to the marker at the park.
Even in death, Rizal was able to save some people. In February 1945 during World War II, as Allied troops liberated Manila from the Japanese, the monument and the trenches around it shielded several civilians, mostly women with babies and young children, from sniper fire and shrapnel.
There is no official explanation why Rizal’s statue faces the west or seaward. Some park officials pointed out that Rizal faced that direction before he was shot; others recall the words of Elias, a character in “Noli Me Tangere:” “I shall die without seeing the dawn break upon my homeland.” In any case, Rizal’s “view” of the Manila Bay and its world-famous setting sun has been “blocked” by the Quirino Grandstand.
Plaza Noli Me Tangere
Not everything on the park is about Rizal’s death. To the south of the monument is the Plaza Noli Me Tangere. Its centerpiece is a fountain donated in 1964 by the people of Wilhelmsfeld, a German town where Rizal lived while studying in the nearby University of Heidelberg. It was said that Rizal drank from the fountain and sat near it as he wrote the final chapters of the “Noli” in 1886. Near the fountain is the bust of his best friend, the Austrian professor Ferdinand Blumentritt.
The Quirino Grandstand used to be known as the Independence Grandstand and was renamed after President Elpidio Quirino, the first Philippine president to take his oath of office in the park and started the tradition of holding presidential inaugurations there.
The original Independence Grandstand was made of wood and designed by architect Juan Arellano for the proclamation of Philippine independence on July 4, 1946. A permanent replica of the grandstand was built just in time for Quirino’s oath-taking in 1949. The structure was later expanded to seat more guests.
The wooden grandstand was built very near the monument and just in front of the Independence Flagpole, where the Philippine flag was raised and the American flag lowered. The flagpole, reputedly the tallest in the country, is authorized by law to fly the national colors 24/7.
The flag pole is actually the “Kilometer Zero” from which all distances from Manila are measured. To memorialize this fact, a small post with the inscription “KM 0” was erected on Roxas Boulevard just across from the flag pole.
The 24-hour honor guard at the monument come from the Philippine Marine Corps’ Marine Security and Escort Group. They are not mere guards who stand beside and march around the edifice but soldiers with at least a year or two of combat experience.
Valencia gave a testament to the spirit and discipline of the guards after Typhoon “Yoling” ravaged Manila in 1969. He wrote, “All the trees in Rizal Park were down, the flowers were all blown away and the shrubs in shambles. The only structures left standing were the monument of Rizal and the two Marine Guards.”
The park used to encompass only the vicinity of the monument. The area east of the monument was known as Wallace Field, used for athletics, rodeo, military parade and the Manila Carnival beauty contest. There is no official information as to who exactly was Wallace. He could be US Army Lt. Col. George Wallace after whom the old Wallace Air Station in La Union was named.
But since Wallace died in 1946 it was unlikely that a military facility would be named after him while he lived. Some speculated that the field might have been named after Lewis “Lew” Wallace, the Civil War general and author of the historical novel “Ben Hur” who died in 1905.
The reclaimed part of the park where the grandstand lies is known as New Luneta. It used to be called Burnham Green, after American architect Daniel Burnham, who expanded the park and envisioned it as a miniature version of Washington, DC’s National Mall.
The plan was to have government buildings built around the park. Burnham’s scheme was aborted due to funding problems and the transfer of the country’s capital to Quezon City after World War II.
One of the Filipinos who worked hard to implement the Burnham Plan was civil engineer, visual artist and poet Petronio Katigbak, a native of Lipa and a graduate of Harvard University. He became the assistant city engineer of Manila. The task so strained Katigbak that he fell ill and died at the age of 36 in 1916. The municipal board of Manila honored him by naming a road after him—Katigbak Drive, in front of Manila Hotel.
Incidentally, Katigbak is a nephew of Rizal’s first love, Segunda Katigbak. The romance between Rizal and Segunda ended after she married her mother’s cousin.
A road forming the park’s southern limit is also named after another Lipa native. National Library director Teodoro M. Kalaw was related to the Katigbaks. His sister and two of his daughters married Katigbak scions. His and Segunda’s fathers were cousins, and Segunda’s mother was a stepdaughter of Kalaw’s aunt.
There are monuments in the park that may mystify visitors because they lack inscriptions. One is the “Binhi ng Kalayaan” by Eduardo Castrillo which used to stand at Valencia Circle until displaced by the Lapu-Lapu statue in 2005. The “Binhi” shows a torch-bearing woman, symbolizing freedom, tending a wounded man with a boy and a girl by her side.
La Madre Filipina
Another monument that is paid less attention is “La Madre Filipina,” which depicts a seated lady comforting a weeping man while a young woman gazes at her. While most tour guides would say that the undated work symbolized the Filipino mother, some say the woman is the symbol of the motherland or “Inang Bayan” who used to be depicted in political cartoons much like Juan de la Cruz.
The manmade lake showing a physical relief map of the country does not show the Spratly Islands which are being claimed by the Philippines. Some visitors have proposed that the lake be widened to show the claim.
There are four special narra trees found near the monument. They were planted by Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, President Corazon Aquino, and President Fidel Ramos and his wife, First Lady Amelita Ramos, during visits to the park. Visitors need only to ask any park attendant for the location of the trees.
“The superstitions might get ‘souvenirs’ from the trees and harm them,” one attendant replied when asked why the markers on the trees had been removed.
A statue of the carabao, the national animal, and the endangered tamaraw are also found in the park just across from the monument. The two beasts used to have their heads turned toward each other. Feng shui experts, however, voiced their objections to the arrangement.
“They said the arrangement was bad luck, because the two animals seemed to be attacking each other. So the two statues switched places and are now turning away from each other, as if they’re snubbing each other,” Edos said.
There are numerous spots in Rizal Park that may warrant remembrance or a marker in the future. Most recently, survivors and families of victims of last year’s bus hostage drama in front of Quirino Grandstand said they were planning to erect a memorial marker for those killed.
Photojournalists have yet to identify and mark the spot where the unknown photographer stood while taking the only picture of Rizal’s execution while fans of director Ishmael Bernal have yet to locate the spot where Alex, the main character in Bernal’s critically acclaimed “Manila By Night” woke up at the end of the film.
Orginally posted at 9:55 p.m.