• The Pasig Review

Saan naka turo si Rizal? and other vignettes about Pasig's beloved plaza

From the Desk

Pasig City is home to the Ortigas Center - a gateway to industry and the home of the country's most modern skyscrapers. But behind this modernity and brutalist urban jungle is the town's old world nestled in a place where the rivers of Pasig and Marikina meet. Pasig's city center is perhaps one of the oldest and most intact pueblos in Metropolitan Manila.

The old town of Pasig is an example of a Spanish Colonial Pueblo - a settlement founded by the Spanish Colonists and organized to control and consolidate power in a particular area. A Pueblo is built in a unique way; a plaza near a Church and the Municipio and then surrounded by rows of large houses and a market. This is the set up of Colonial Pasig and the people are more than fortunate that the pueblo was preserved.

Plaza dela Paz during the American Period. Viewed from the Pasig Church Tower

In Pasig, the Plaza Rizal, a prominent 2500 square meter plaza that used to be known as the Plaza dela Paz is considered the town's center of public life. The plaza is an open space where people can stroll, gather and organize themselves into movements to profess their feelings for the city. It came to be a venue of grand aspirations and at times also sentiments. The plaza is indeed a silent witness to the changing landscapes of the time.

The Plaza Rizal

Perhaps the earliest account of the construction of the present Plaza Rizal was in 1920 through the initiative of the Silanganan Lodge no. 19 of the Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines. The Silanganan Masons constructed the plaza in memory of their "Fraternal Brother Rizal" whom they regard as the most celebrated and illustrious member of their fraternity. Gary Echevarria a 32nd Degree Mason and third generation member of the Silanganan Lodge grew up hearing stories of how his grandfather, pre-war Pasig town councilor and Rizal Provincial Administrator Leopoldo Echevarria raised into Freemasonry in 1920 would gallantly ride a horse complete with Masonic Regalia in parades every July 4 and December 30 in honor of the National Hero. Masonry has a special bond with the plaza not only because of their initiative to build it but because Jose Rizal is one of them. Even up to the present, Masons together with other organizations pay their respect to the hero every December 30. It was through the initiative of the Silanganan Lodge and Gary Echevarria that the old makers were cleaned to show the names of the the Masons responsible to the erection of the Plaza - Masonic logos were also placed in memory of their Masonic Brothers.

The old Plaza Rizal surrounded by large houses. At the foreground is the Marikina River

The solemn dedication of the Plaza in November 21, 1920 was also co-organized by the Asociacion Juventud Rizalina who formed the reception committee to welcome their honored guests, then Speaker Sergio Osmena and wife Esperanza Limjap-Osmena, Gen. Rafael Crame, Chief of the Constabulary and the Governor of Rizal, Andres Gabriel. The president of the Juventud, Leonardo Garduno worked hard for the inauguration and even built a makeshift grandstand in front of the plaza. Just like the Masons, the Juventud generously placed their own marker to commemorate their hard work in the building of the plaza.

The Era of the Plaza Boys

The Plaza Boys Celebrating New Year's Eve 1949

Just like any town, the plaza is a melting pot of culture and the harbinger of modernity. The youth is naturally the center of it all. New trends, fads and gimiks were founded as mere ideas of young people and their thirst for everything that is new and out of the ordinary. The Rizal Plaza became the headquarters of the Plaza Boys. This informal group of young men is a mainstay at the plaza's activities. They break the monotony and offer new ways to celebrate the town's traditional celebrations. They are often the ones who organized activities or just simply hang around bringing color to the "black and white age". During the early years of the peacetime era, the group reigned the affairs of the plaza. Wearing their "Americanas" with their extended group of friends, the Plaza Rizal went alive ushering a new age where town squares are no more just a place for relaxation and discourse but also a venue for grander and celebratory affairs. The Plaza Boys produced two members who became local chief executives of Pasig, namely Emiliano R. Caruncho, Jr. and Mario S.J. Raymundo.

The Plaza of our memories

A lot of people especially those who have lived in Pasig all their years have a special memory of the plaza. For students studying at the nearby Colegio del Buen Consejo, the plaza played host to their numerous class pictures, documenting their student years at this all-girls school. People remembered a time of great patriotism when they automatically pause at the sound of the National Anthem during the daily Flag Ceremonies at 7am. And while the old people took shade on the thick trees surrounding the Plaza, the young people played on its generous grounds, running back and forth and crossing the pebble washed bridge where the statue of Rizal is imposingly placed. In someway, the children learned how to roller-skate as the plaza became a makeshift skating rink in the early 70's. Concerts and Choral Competitions were also organized making the plaza a cultural magnet that invites the townsfolk to Pasig's center. One famous anecdote about the plaza is how the townspeople every morning would see Mayor Emiliano Caruncho jogging bringing with him his golf club and rest on its benches while engaging some children with some small chats and humor. A typical small town life that mirrors the Pasiguenos humble beginnings as a proud metropolis.

The plaza is also the perennial rendezvous place and the unofficial hintayan, sunduan and kitaan. Countless excursions and fieldtrips pushed through thanks to the plaza acting as the waiting/holding area of the barkada. It is highly impossible for a Pasigueno not to know anything about the Plaza Rizal for it is a landmark that greets everyone and announces that you are indeed at the heart of Pasig - just like how the Statue of Liberty welcomes the early American Immigrants to the United States.

The memorable look of the Plaza Rizal which so many Pasiguenos continue to look back and adore

Renovations and Reforms

The Plaza Rizal of the 90's up to late 2000

The late 80's saw the massive changes in the landscape of the Plaza. From the imposing Rizal statue at the middle of the square, a smaller one was installed on a lower pedestal that was placed at the left side of the plaza. From a grandiose park that became a testament of the City's progress, it became humbler, practical and even utilitarian as more space became open and available for public gatherings and the like. The people longed for the older plaza because its more serene but most importantly the old one was the plaza of their youth - the place where they grew up, played and met friends - an icon of their childhood. Even to this day, people who grew up in the 70's would recall how this town square became part of their lives. Some remembered a simpler lifestyle and a more cohesive community bonded together by this special place.

In 2011 the plaza was again renovated in preparation for the 150th birth anniversary of the National Hero. The Rizal monument was returned to its original location facing the church and the grounds meticulously designed based on present day standards of aesthetic beauty. The new plaza became more civic-centered that improved the sense of pride and connection to the city's history since the renovations integrated the Concepcion Mansion and the other environs including the Cenotaph of Andres Bonifacio. New markers were installed while the old and historic one placed at the far but prominent corner of the park.

Every Christmas Season, the park became a venue for lights and sounds show sponsored by the city government. It complements the annual Paskotitap or the Christmas Parade. The park became more inclusive inviting guests and people from outside Pasig. It introduced the city as more people friendly and placed the plaza on map where citizens can enjoy a fantastic show of lights that goes on every 30 minutes.

The square also became a center for political rallies that used it as a center point of their civic expression. People converged and met. Politicians and leaders expressed their intent to challenge the status quo. While some failed in their pursuit for greatness, others became successful and it changed the course of Pasig's History. The plaza became an arena of reforms that up to now is felt - history became kinder to the plaza because it stayed their quietly observing the people's stories.

The illuminated plaza every December

Saan nakaturo si Rizal?

Of all monuments dedicated to the National Hero, the statue of Pasig is perhaps one of those that would solicit questions with an almost unlimited but sensible answers. Saan nakaturo si Rizal? - a question that has been asked too much in different generations that it produced intergenerational answers. If you were born during the time when the Rizal Monument was placed at the left side of the park, a humorous answer is that Rizal points you at the direction of the only Jolibee Fastfood chain located at the city center. It goes to say that after your visit either at the Church or for a quick stroll at the park, Jolibee is the only place to go. Historically, people will tell you that it points you to Bitukang Manok a small but historic tributary where the Virgin of Antipolo would ride on her way to the Galleons. To some, Rizal is directing you to the place where the sons of Pasig gathered in the famous Nagsabado sa Pasig - the start of the Pasiguenos' quest for Freedom - something which Rizal dreamed in life.

Now that the statue is back to its original place, the same questions were raised albeit different answers. As a Masonic park, Brother Rizal directs you to the east, where the son rises and greets the motherland every morning. The east is a special place for the Masons especially since the lodge that spearheaded the construction of the plaza was named "Silanganan". The east also symbolizes freedom that was fought for by our heroes. During those days, freedom is to think of a brighter tomorrow for living under the colonists is to live in the darkness of night. Hence, the literature of that time would compare the east to the break of dawn - the arrival of freedom. Just like Elias' last line before his death in Noli Me Tangere: Mamamatay akong hindi nasisilayan ang pagbubukang-liwayway sa aking bayan, Kayong makakakita, batiin ninyo siya at huwag kalimutan ang mga taong nabulid sa dilim ng gabi.

To some the hero points you to Pasig's birthplace, Pinagbuhatan - kung saan nagbuhat at magwawakas ang lahat. Rizal could be pointing at Pinagbuhatan to reiterate his famous line: Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan, ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan. Rizal even in death teaches us the value of history amid our thirst for development.

Perhaps the most radical answer to this questions is that Rizal points you to the Church - the bastion of the Frailes of the Spanish Era. History suggests that Rizal's death is attributable to the hatred of the abusive friars he wrote about on his twin novels. In fact, if not for the insistence and influence of then Manila Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda, Rizal's execution could not have happened.

The old Plaza Rizal during a festive event

As to why Rizal could have been pointing to the Church suggests that the Frailes are the cause of his untimely death - Sa moog na iyan nananahan ang mga taong nagpapatay sa akin. The old statue is pointing after all to the Church with his other hand placed on a pedestal and a book that could be the Bible or the Doctrina Christiana or it could also be his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. The poem in the original marker in both Spanish and Filipino gives us a sneak peek on how the Friars are regarded as the kontrabida to Rizal's untimely but heroic death.

Ang Binhi ng Kalayaan

Nang Isipa't Budhi Na Inihasik

Mo sa Masaganang Bukirin

Nang iyong Bayan ay Sumibol

At ngayon ay isa nang

Malabay na Kahoy na

Kumukupkop sa Lahat nang

Mamamayang Sumasasilong sa

Mapagbiyaya niyang lilim at

Maano nawang huag maihapay

Nang diwang Prayleng sa iyo

Ay nagpabaril sa Bagongbayan

Noong ika-30 Nang Disiembre

Nang 1896 upang mapanatili sa

Amin ang kaligayahang

Ipinalalasap nang mapagbiyayang

Kahoy nang Kalayaang Iyan

Mahabaguing Dios sa Kaitaasan

Huag mo nawang itulot

Ang Pilipinas ay nag danas na

nang di gaanong hirap at sakit

Sa gawa ng Diwang Prayle

Wherever Rizal our National Hero and Martyr may point at, one thing remains, he points to us - the torchbearers of his heritage, the people he died for. We are Rizal's victory for we are free from the bondage of our Colonists and though he never saw his motherland independent, his statues in every plaza in every corner of the country reminds us of his lasting contribution to the causes of national freedom. We are his treasure, and he our gem.

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