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Modern Living

Wait a Monument

CITY SENSE - CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren - The Philippine Star

We have been besieged of late by several bits of news sent by concerned citizens from all over the country. Last week, this column featured the plight of Dumaguete and Silliman University. This week, we come back to Metro Manila once more to look at a threat to the one landmark in the city that, by its urban presence and civic artistry, has become the very definition of "monument."

"Monumento" is a place, a destination and one of the most recognizable public spaces in Metro Manila. Monumento is the Bonifacio Monument, a pre-war masterpiece created by the late National Artist for Sculpture, Guillermo Tolentino. For three-quarters of a century, it has stood to mark the northern entry to the city, a welcome sight to all travelers. Like (Plaza) Lawton, Cubao (intersection), and Crossing (EDSA corner Shaw), Monumento is immortalized as a destination on jeepney and bus signs. It also is the proud symbol of the city of Caloocan, once a backwater of Manila and now home to over a million citizens.

But alas, the landmark may soon be just a memory. It apparently lies in the path of the original LRT’s planned extension to Valenzuela as well as plans to connect the system to the newer Metrorail.

The transport needs of our ever-growing metropolis must be met. Rail transport is one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly ways of moving people around in any city. I do believe, however, that we should not pay the price of losing our built heritage, our sense of place or any more public open space in exchange for infrastructure. With just a little more effort, and surprisingly not much more cost, many problems (like the Silliman issue last week) involving conservation versus city improvement can be solved in a win-win situation.

Monumental History

Some have argued that, with the inevitability of the removal of the monument to give way to the LRT/MRT, the Bonifacio Monument could be transferred to other locations such as the Luneta. This may be physically possible but not advisable for two main reasons. First, the Luneta has too many monuments and structures already – the Bonifacio’s would be taller than Rizal’s, disrupting a balance that has been in place for almost a century. Secondly, the Bonifacio Monument was intended to sit at its site specifically to commemorate the historic spark ignited there and that led to the culminating events of 1898.

Caloocan used to be part of Tondo until 1815 when it became a municipality. The town’s growth surged after the completion of the Manila-Dagupan railway in 1892. It was there, in August 23 1896, that Andres Bonifacio led the famous cry that sent the clear message of resistance to Spanish rule. For several years after, Caloocan was in the thick of the fight – first against the Spanish, then quickly against the Americans. By the turn of the century, the terror of war turned into reluctant acquiescence and Caloocan fell into the new colonizer’s sphere of influence.

The historic importance of Caloocan and the Cry of Balintawak was, however, never forgotten and the date was cause for annual celebration. After the Rizal Monument was erected in 1912, the attention of civic-minded citizens turned to Bonifacio. In 1918, an act was passed to build a monument in honor of Bonifacio and the revolution. Caloocan was chosen as the logical site for this. A small statue of Bonifacio by sculptor Ramon Martinez was already up in Balintawak by that time but what seemed to be lacking was the proper scale and setting. (The statue has since been transferred in front of Vinzons Hall at UP Diliman.)

As with the Rizal Monument, a competition was held to determine the best design for the new monument. It took another 10 years for the competition to get off ground. Meanwhile, Manila was slowly filling out and parts of the Daniel Burnham master plan for the city was taking shape.

One of the main roads leading out of the city was Rizal Avenue. The avenue’s extension was to link it with the highway leading north (now known as the MacArthur Highway). A junction was formed with these two and a circumferential road known as Route 54 (now EDSA). This junction gave the opportunity for a rotunda and hence, a perfect setting for a monument, an entry statement for the city as well as an opportunity to commemorate the heroes and the events that occurred in Caloocan.

Tolentino’s Masterpiece

A ceremonial cornerstone was laid by Doña Aurora Quezon in 1929. A year later, judges sat to decide the best design out of several submitted. The three-man jury consisted of Manila’s city architect Andres Luna de San Pedro, another architect Tomas Mapua, founder of the Mapua Institute of Technology, and sculptor Vicente Francisco.

The entries were submitted under pseudonyms to ensure fair judging. Two entries impressed the judges. The entry submitted under the name Pugad Lawin was a magnificent trilon (three tall columns capped by a stylized capital) in the Art Deco style. The figures at the base were classical. The other notable entry, under the name Batang Elias (from Rizal’s novel), was a single obelisk with a sculptural tableau placed around an elevated platform. It was the more compelling composition of the two and it won the first prize of P3,000.

Batang Elias was the entry of Guillermo Tolentino. He was, by then, already an established sculptor, having come back a few years before from extended studies in sculpture in Washington D.C. and Rome. The second prize of P2,000 was won by architect Juan Nakpil and sculptor Ambrosio Garcia.

Tolentino researched his subject thoroughly, reading all the books and interviewing people who knew Bonifacio (remember this was only 30 years after the revolution). What came out from his assiduous efforts at authenticity and historical accuracy was a work that not only captured the details of Bonifacio’s physical countenance but also the context and substance of the events that led to 1896.

The monument’s main feature from a distance is its 45-foot high obelisk. This marble-clad structure sits on an eight-sided base representing the first eight provinces that joined the revolution. This, in turn, sits on a larger base with stairs, each with three steps representing each century of Spanish rule. (For the design of the rotunda and base, Tolentino got the help of architect Serafin de Lara who taught architecture and landscape architecture at the Mapua Institute of Technology.)

Tolentino sculpted 23 figures in bronze (with the help of Anastacio Caedo), each contributing to the narrative of the revolution. The story starts at the rear of the monument with a garroted figure. This gruesome figure is surrounded by other victims of colonial oppression. Flowing after this and around the obelisk are rising figures of resistance and revolution surging forward to a common goal. The tableau is anchored by the defiant figure of Bonifacio, with bolo and gun, kerchief and barong, and a gaze directed at the future of a free nation.

Moving Monument

The Monumento and its figures are etched in my urban memory. I used to pass there often. The start or end of a journey out of Manila was a chance always to view this landmark. It was an experience literally in the round as the (usually) slow turn around the rotunda gave one a chance to view it from all angles.

I had always cringed at the sight of the garroted figure and the limp bodies of the suffering around it. I had always marveled at how the figures seemed to move upwards and forward towards the Supremo with Emilio Jacinto behind him. The bronze flag always seemed to me to flutter crisply and I had always anticipated the bolos would, at any second, swing swiftly to cut down an enemy of the people.

Tolentino was a genius. Then and more so today, the monument moves and inspires when we need to stoke the passion and fervor of a nation still oppressed by enemies not only from without but mostly from within. The strength of the monument comes from his genius, as expressed in the sculpted figures, as well as from the karma of the site itself.

To move the monument is to displace and dissipate this strength. To move the monument is to give in to the terrorism of unplanned development, unmanaged urban sprawl, and uninspiring urban design. To move the monument is to lose another rotunda, another landmark, and yet another link to our past.

We are too ready to throw away irrecoverable treasures of our heritage. We are too lazy to take the effort of finding ways to accommodate elegance and aesthetics in our city. In a better city, we could have planned our transport systems to weave in more humanely into the fabric of our architecture, our parks, our plazas and the social realm of our public spaces.

In a better world, we could sit down in an open process of participatory planning where we could weigh all options to shape our cities and the settings of our nationhood. One more monument or landmark lost is one too many in a place that is more and more defined by forces commercial and global instead of environmental and social.

Like Bonifacio, I believe that we must stand our ground and defend our urban rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of a better quality of life in our metropolis. As it is today, Metro Manila is full only of monuments to our own shortsightedness.

* * *

Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at [email protected]

BATANG ELIAS BONIFACIO BONIFACIO MONUMENT CALOOCAN CENTER CITY METRO MANILA MONUMENT MONUMENTO TOLENTINO
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