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A Quezon monument built from prewar coins

LUCENA CITY—For residents of Lucena, capital city of Quezon province, there is only one place to go to relax or simply spend time with the family outside the home.

The 82-year-old Perez Park, however, is not just a favorite promenade area. It is also where the monument of Quezon’s favorite son stands as its most imposing landmark in the middle of a lagoon.

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First-time visitors usually gather around the double life size bronze statue of the late President Manuel L. Quezon, whose 113rd birth anniversary will be celebrated on Aug. 19.

Many residents may not know that the monument was actually built from coins donated by schoolchildren—actually, one-centavo bronze coins minted by the US government and were circulated during the Commonwealth Period before World War II.

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“Twelve sacks of one-centavo coins were donated by young students all over the province,” reveals Carlos Villariba, a local historian and photo curator of the Quezon Gintong Yaman Museum. “‘Those were lots of coins’, I told to myself when I first heard the story,” he says.

Villariba says his father, Cesar, 88, a former member of the Batasang Pambansa during the Marcos regime and also a known historian of Lucena and Quezon, had shared with him the information about the coins and the monument while he was researching on the history of the Perez Park.

Tribute

Villariba shows a clipping of a news report written by the late Quezon newsman Owen Masaganda, which related how in 1946, Godofredo Magallanes, a former military colonel  and then manager of Manila Hotel, had promised Quezon’s widow Aurora during a gathering of Tayabas (former name of Quezon province) natives that a monument of the former president would be built as tribute to his heroism.

The coins collected from public elementary pupils were shipped to Milan, Italy, where the monument was sculpted by an Italian, according to Masaganda’s report.

The monument was conceived during the time of Gov. Gregorio Santayana in 1950, but it was erected in 1954 when Vicente Constantino was the governor. On Aug. 19, 1955, then President Ramon Magsaysay inaugurated the memorial as a tribute to Quezon, a native of Baler (which is now part of Aurora province).

Citing his own research findings, Villariba says architect Felipe Mendoza won a contest held for the best design of the shrine.

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He shows a sketch of the winning piece which was made part of Constantino’s personal Christmas card in 1952. It had the governor’s appeal to help build the monument.

The Quezon shrine, marked with an imposing marble wall, lies on the fourth block of the seven-hectare Perez Park in front of the Capitol building. The three entry points to the shrine are now secured by steel gates from vandals and drug addicts who used to hang around at night when the park was still poorly lit and unsafe.

Former Gov. Felimon Perez donated the site way back in the early 1920s. The park was designed by engineers Sergio Bayan and Jose Capinpin, and was built starting in 1924.

The history of the park and that of former President Quezon seemed to be intertwined. When the park was inaugurated in 1929 with a colorful grand parade, Quezon, then Senate president, came as the guest of honor.

Incumbent Gov. David Suarez restored and improved the once popular jet fountain in front of the Quezon monument.

The multicolored fountain that used to squirt water as high as 50 feet was put up in 1967 during the administration of the late Gov. Anacleto Alcala. However, it was left idle for the past three decades and the operating machines underneath were left to rust.

According to Villariba, the fountain was conceived by Alcala to add beauty to the park and help the residents forget the tragic fire that razed more than 30 blocks of residential and commercial areas in 1965.

“Bringing back the former jet fountain is no longer feasible so we decided to transform it into a multi-colored dancing fountain to add glitter to the park atmosphere,” Suarez says.

The provincial government also replaced the busted Italian-made floodlights illuminating the monument and the façade of the Capitol building.

Restoration work

Villariba, a historical consultant of the provincial government, discloses that the long concrete wall that blocks the view of the park from passing trains will soon be demolished so that travelers can enjoy the majestic panorama of the brightly lit monument and edifice, and the fountain’s dancing colored lights.

“Even without the fountain and Quezon monument, the park was already popular back then,” Villariba says.

He shows a clipping of the American Chamber of Commerce Journal in 1930, which had an advertisement from the Manila Railroad Co. (predecessor of the Philippine National Railways) that highlighted the start of the so-called “Lucena Express” route.

“That Lucena Express train was actually bound for Bicol, but the train management gave focus on Lucena because of its popular image then as having enchanting tourist destinations, and one of them was the Perez Park,” Vilalriba says.

Haven

At the center of the first block of the park is a manmade cave that also doubles as bandstand where top musicians in the 1920s and 1930s performed for free before their audience sitting on two shaded galleries.

However, the shaded spots were demolished in early 2000 during the park rehabilitation initiated by then Gov. Wilfrido Enverga. The first block lost its original sunken design when the ground was flattened.

Strong protests from the city residents forced the provincial government to abandon its plan to also alter the original low-level features of the other blocks.

At the second section is a stone map of the province, made up of boulders representing the municipalities. An embossed glass bears the total land area and population at the time it was constructed.

On the third block is a shrine in the middle of a fish pond with concrete images of teacher, policemen, road workers, and white-collar state employees.

“That shrine was a tribute to government workers by then Governor Perez. He is not only a statesman but also an artist,” Villariba says.

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TAGS: Manuel L. Quezon, monument, People, quezon, Regions
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