MANILA, Philippines — the year draws to a close, so does the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of the country’s national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.
One of the final activities commemorating Rizal’s birth sesquicentennial was Ambeth Ocampo’s lecture called “Doble Kara: Rizal in Art and Monument”. “Doble Kara” is Ocampo’s last lecture of the year, as well as the concluding installment in the “History Comes Alive!” series held at the Ayala Museum.
“Doble Kara” revisits the origins of the Rizal Monument in Luneta Park. From its origins in Switzerland, to the history of the land it stands on, Ocampo looks at the many strange ways that Rizal is represented in our art and history.
With more than a hundred monuments of the national hero to be found all over the country, there have been several representations of Rizal – from the usual depictions of him wearing his famous black overcoat, to the more unconventional ones to be found in the countryside.
“We have one in Binan, Laguna, that looks like a wedding cake. There’s an art deco one. Sometimes he’s all white, sometimes they give him a black coat. But the most amazing monument is the one in Catbalogan, where they have three nude men carrying him!” shares Ocampo with a laugh.
Ocampo began his lecture by tracing the history of the monument’s location – Rizal Park. Before becoming the park as we know it today, Rizal Park was the “killing fields” of the country’s Spanish colonizers.
“Its old name was really Bagumbayan. Spanish Manila was the area inside the walls of Intramuros. The area outside was new land, and that was why it was called Bagumbayan. It was formerly a place of execution,” he says.
Ocampo says that in much the same way that Rizal’s execution in Bagumbayan inspired people like Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo to begin the revolution, it was the execution of the priests Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora in Bagumbayan in 1872 that inspired Rizal and his contemporaries to dream of a better future for the country.
“Rizal said that if it were not for 1872, he would have been a Jesuit. There would have been no ‘Noli’, no ‘Fili’, and our history would have turned out a different way. Teodoro Agoncillo said that there is no Philippine history before 1872. He claimed that before that it was a history of Spain in the Philippines and not our history. 1872 is the base point for Philippine history,” explains Ocampo.
From that execution sprung an entire generation of heroes. At the time, Rizal was 11, Bonifacio was nine, Apolinario Mabini was eight, Antonio Luna was six, Emilio Aguinaldo was three, and Gregorio del Pilar and Emilio Jacinto were not even born.
PARK CUM CEMETERY
It was only during the American occupation, under the leadership of William Howard Taft, that Bagumbayan would begin to transform into what we know it today.
Playwright Pascual Poblete thought of the idea of constructing a monument for Rizal, and Taft provided land in the Luneta for the monument. Poblete, along with Rizal’s elder brother Paciano Rizal, and Juan Tuason among other, would solicit the money needed to build the monument.
Finding a sculptor to work on the monument involved a worldwide search and even some controversy. After choosing 30 works from those submitted around the world, the commission picked Italian Carlos Nicoli’s work – but never got around to building it.
“There are a lot of reasons for it. One was that he could not pay the bond. But if you look at his work, you could see that it was so complicated and too expensive to build. They gave it to the second prize winner who did ‘Guiding Star’, named Richard Kissling, best known for the Swiss monument of William Tell. The connection is that Rizal actually translated William Tell into Tagalog,” says Ocampo.
When construction on the monument began, the very first thing done was to transfer the remains of Rizal to its base. Rizal’s bones had been in the safekeeping of his family, who had unearthed it from where it was originally buried in Paco Park. Ocampo says that in effect, people are wandering around in a cemetery when they go to Rizal Park.
“It’s not a monument, he’s buried inside. When you have your pictures taken there, it’s a cemetery. It’s not really a park,” he says.
Even after its construction, the monument still courted controversy. When plans were made to modernize Rizal Park in the 1960s, future National Artist Juan Nakpil was tasked to modernize the monument in order for it to blend with the “future” Rizal Park.
“In 1961 they wanted to modernize the thing and they wanted to build a cultural complex in Rizal Park. It woUld have dwarfed the Rizal Monument, so they built a pylon that was made by future National Artist Juan Nakpil. It was another way of making the monument higher. What eventually happened was they put the pylon made of stainless steel, and people complained that it looked nightmarish,” shares Ocampo.
The pylon was eventually removed during the Holy Week, reportedly to prevent any court injunction from restraining them as government offices were closed during holidays. The pylon used to be located at the median of the Baclaran section of Roxas Boulevard.
But for all the time, money, and controversy that has gone into this most recognizable image of our national hero, what exactly was Rizal’s wishes after his death? This is where the ultimate irony lies, according to Ocampo.
“Rizal left specific instructions as to what to do when he was killed. ‘Bury me in the ground.’ He wanted to be buried in Paang Bundok, where Manila North Cemetery is. We buried him in Roxas Boulevard. He asked for a cross or a stone to be placed on his grave, we put tons of granite on top of him. He asked that we only put the date of his birth and the date of his death, we put a dedication to Rizal. He asked for no anniversaries, and yet we put wreaths. Why haven’t we followed him? That is because Rizal wrote a lot for a nation that did not read. I hope that we read him so that we can appreciate him and know what he really likes,” he says.
The Rizal monument tells us a lot about Rizal and a lot about ourselves, Ocampo adds.
“Your image of Rizal depends on the books you read, the teachers you had, and the monuments you saw. There will be more monuments as we have Rizals, and maybe in the multitude of Rizals that we have, maybe one day when we read him, we will find the real Rizal,” he ends. (RONALD S. LIM/Manila Bulletin)