I. SPANISH PERIOD
Luneta, alternately called Bagumbayan (in
Tagalog “new town") was an ancient Tagal town set upon marshy land and located
1.5 kilometer south of Manila. Roughly it confines cover what is now Roxas
Blvd. Extension in front of old Luneta, P. Burgos St. to Pasig River down to
San Luis St. (now T.M. Kalaw), to the beach which is now Roxas Blvd.
It was overlooked by the Spanish conquistadores
in favor of Rajah Sulayman’s large barangay settlement until its strategic
importance was discovered. In 1574, Chinese army led by Lim Ah Hong
attacked Maynila, and Bagumbayan provided a natural barrier for the defense
of the palisaded city.
In 1601, Bagumbayan was mentioned in the records
of the Supreme Court of Spain under the Spanish appellation, Nuevo barrio.
The name was later change to Luneta, which in Spain means a detached,
had a church, the Church of San Juan, which was promptly demolished after
the British invasion in 1762 as it provided too much cover for the attacking
Later the Spaniards were to develop its northern
portion into the district of Parian where the local Chinese were quartered.
The marshy grounds remained a strategic “no mans
land until 1820 when the Paseo de Luneta was built adjacent to the beach.
The Spanish Luneta was rectangular – one hundred
meters wide and 300 meters long – with semi ends and a fine, broad carriage
drive called La Calzada were Manila’s elite would meet after vespers to
enjoy the bracing evening air.
The promenade had a bandstand, a glorieta at the
center and two circular fountains. The Governor’s military band played in
the early evenings and all of Manila elite came to see and be seen.
A band plays on the La Calzada once or twice a
week; on which occasions caballeros may be seen lunging amongst the
carriages that have halted near the music, talking soft non-sense and
whispering, naughty fibs to the senoritas, their bewitching occupants,
braving alike the brilliant fire of their dark, lustrous eyes and the all –
enchanting coquetries of the fan, in the mysterious uses of which, no ladies
in the world are better versed than the daughters of Spain and her colonies.
Park gracefully hosted flirtations among Manila elite as well as callousedly
witnessed the deaths of the disloyal citizenry. For 74 years, the Spaniards
used the site as an execution ground for “rebels and mutineers”.
No piece of land is probably as sacred and
hallowed. Between 1823 and 1897, 158 patriots and martyrs were felled on the
square by Spanish infantrymen, including the three priests; Fathers Gomez,
Burgos and Zamora. The morning of December 30, 1896 was considered a most
memorable day. It was the time when Dr. Jose P. Rizal was executed by the
Spanish friars. It is said that the blood they shed served as a “spiritual
fertilizer which invigorated the Filipino people’s yearning for liberty.
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II. AMERICAN PERIOD
In 1902, during the American occupation of the
island, Daniel Burnham, architect and city planner, chose the Bagumbayan field as the site of the proposed American Government center. Spanish Luneta
was lengthened towards San Louis St. and westward towards Manila Bay.
Burnham designed a U-shape composition of
buildings but only three were actually erected-the Congress, Finance and
Agriculture (now housing the Department of Tourism) buildings.
Then the Americans set about building a memorial
to honor Dr. Jose P. Rizal, the national hero. The monument was built with
money raised by popular subscription and with the cooperation of
Governor-General William Howard Taft. The memorial is the work of Swiss
sculptor Richard Kissling who cast the bronze figure in Switzerland. It was
completed in 1913, fully 17 years after the hero's execution. Today, it
remains the most revered of the numerous monuments honoring Rizal. Here, his
entered remains are guarded night and day.
The park area east of the Rizal Monument was
renamed Wallance Field. The area where the memorial stood was called Old
Luneta and the part reclaimed from the sea, where the Quirino Grandstand and
New Luneta are now, was known as Burnham Green.
Field had an athletic field, often used for rodeo events and as military
parade grounds. For years, it was leased as the site of the gay Philippine
Carnivals, the country’s much awaited social event. In 1953, Wallance Field
was the site of the first Philippine International Fair. After the event,
the site was abandoned and the whole area generally neglected.
RAMON MAGSAYSAY PERIOD
In the late 50’s, the late President Ramon
Magsaysay reserved the Luneta Park exclusively for park purposes and had
trouble resisting persistent official pressure from groups who wished to
exploit the park for their own pet projects. One group strongly lobbied to
use the site for a National Culture Center and envisioned the construction
of a National Library, National Museum and National Theater.
Not a few persons decried the plans to mark the
huge, open park, prompting a newspaper columnist to comment that “Luneta has
been ruthlessly butchered, cut up to small, useless areas assigned for
The arguments went on, silenced only by the
death of the major protagonists. For a long time the park was bare and
unkept. The peoples’ hearts sank everytime they passed Luneta which, by that
time had turned into a seatbed of crime and immorality. In the daytime, the
park was visibly a wild and unruly tract of land. At night, the whole place
was shrouded in complete darkness except for some scattered lights. The park
was a disgrace to Rizal whose own monument had been totally neglected; muddy
in the rain and surrounded with tall cogon in the summer.
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LADY EVA MACAPAGAL PERIOD
The idea to develop Luneta into a national park
was started when Mrs. Eva Macapagal was still the First Lady in Malacanang.
A committee headed by her was formed and started to plan out and develop the
F. VALENCIA PERIOD
In the late 1961, there was an attempt to
improve Luneta by modernizing Rizal Monument. A pylon was added to make the
statue look tall. This was bitterly attacked by Teodoro Valencia, a
well-known newpaper columnist who had always successfully used the written
word in crusading for what were originally lost causes.
Valencia asserted that one never tampers with a
monument because it is a work of art. By 1962, the infamous pylon had been
removed. There arose a clamor for improving the monument then disfigured by
the disposal of its artificial “top hat”. It was at this point that the
original beautification efforts started.
Valencia announced publicly that he would try to
give the monument and the surrounding area facelift,” The original plan was
to clean the monument itself, put it in a few flower pots to give it some
respectability”, he said, “But and money started flowing in. it was totally
unexpected. In one week’s time, P30,000 was easily collected from the
Valencia and a handful of fellow sympathizers
were struck. They had to go ahead and spend the amount accumulated. The
approach to the monument was cemented, lights were installed and a few trees
were planted. Valencia got the Philippine Army’s approval to put an honor
Then came official support. National Parks
Development Committee was organized and there was no more stopping for the
mobilization of the project. First came the beautification of the sea wall.
Then the grandstand was improved and completed. The development of the
raised portion facing the grandstand was rushed.
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LADY IMELDA R. MARCOS PERIOD
When the First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos took
over as chairman of the committee (Valencia was designated as
vice-chairman), the heart of the project was in earnest. The area behind the
Rizal Monument started to shape up. It was as if the last few pieces had
been found to complete the beautiful giant jigsaw puzzle.
By 1966, the pace of the work was fever pitch.
Some half a million pesos was being eaten up by the project every month.
News about whatever little improvement being done spread quickly until the
whole nation stirred with the desire to see the park improved. Cash
donations continued to pour in until it finally, P60 million had been spent
for the beautification of the entire park.
The money that went into the development of
Rizal Park came from government corporations, private business houses,
individual donors, taxi drivers, cocheros, students and plain citizens.
What was apparently obvious was that an empty,
dusty wasteland had metamorphosed into a beautiful park. But the sweeter
success was the fact that Mrs. Marcos and Valencia had rekindled a dormant
bayanihan spirit. The spirit which holds up rural life was successfully
transplanted to the city. Rizal Park dispelled beliefs that the city folks
were selfish urbanities.
Many professionals and businessmen continued to
volunteer their free services and private contributors continued to chip in.
The park was helped by budgetary appropriations from the National
Government. The City Government of Manila shouldered the electric bills,
provided a 42-men security detail and helped with the maintenance costs.
Various sector were still galvanized into one and the spirit of civic
concern had not flickered.
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as we see it today is the product of years of dedicated and painstaking
efforts by thousands of known and unknown citizens who gave of their time
and their labors to create something of beauty where there was nothing but
yawning wilderness in the very heart of our premier city. Its continued
cleanliness and order is a tribute to the use it, more than to those who
tend to it. Here is a park that is used, loved and nurtured by the people
who saw it shape up from nothing.
Now, Rizal Park is administered by the National
Parks Development Committee an attached agency of the Department of Tourism.
Funds for the improvements of parks are generated from government
appropriations and donations from government and non government sectors.