TheCentenary of theRizal Monument

December 30, 2013 marks the centennial of the Rizal Monument, which was built as the tomb and memorial to Jose P. Rizal and has since then served as the de facto symbol of our nationhood. The following essay on the Rizal Monument—on its origins, complex history, and enduring legacy—is the Presidential Museum and Library’s contribution to the Rizal Day 2013 commemoration.

I. Landmarks of Exclusion

Intramuros, by its very design, was meant to exclude. Conforming to the shape of the river and the sea-edge that surrounded it, the walls of Manila—walls that had been built as fortification against foreign invasion and native rebellion—served as a sixty-six hectare reliquary of medieval dreams.

At its historic core was Fort Santiago—the old palisaded settlement of Maynilad, turned into the Fort of St. James, named after the patron saint of the conquista of Castille, Leon, and Aragon invoked by the Catholic Monarchs as they wrested away the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors. Intramuros had heavily guarded gates, drawbridges over a surrounding moat; it had bastions for long-range offense, lunettes to divide and impede attackers, redoubts to serve as safehouses for retreating defensive soldiers. The enclave that served as the seat of the Spanish colonial government and the Spanish religious authority in the region had been built as a military fort, for it cradled that which Spain valued most in the colony. Writing a few years (1859-1860) before Jose Rizal’s birth, a German named F. Jagor described Intramuros as “built more for security than for beauty,” where life was “vanity, envy, empleomania and racial strife.” Intramuros was, foremost, for the Cross and the Sword.

Halfway around the world from the Continent, the peninsulares of the Philippine archipelago served as loyally Mother Spain’s thrust of cross-and-sword—although at the cost of having to live by the bells of forced resettlement that tolled, for the past two centuries, to keep medieval time and obedience in a colony that was modernizing almost against its conquerors’ will. Vanity, all is vanity: In its exhaustion and decadence, the rituals of religion were mirrored in the ritual life of the colony, every bit as rigid and status-obsessed as the creaky Bourbon court in Madrid. As with every spanning wall, those of Intramuros contained just as well as they kept out.

The foreshadowing of the end came in the late 1700s—shortly after the British fairly easily conquered of Manila, and marking the momentum of history shifting from Spanish conquest to defense and decline—for the more affluent of the population of Intramuros to wander beyond its walls. Within the Intramuros, perhaps, they would forever be subjects of Spain; beyond it, they could lay claim to the glamour of being the elite in a land largely oppressed. As a result of this mild exodus, suburban culture began thriving in Manila, especially in the stretch of seafront land connecting the Walled City to the suburbs that surrounded it. As the authors of Malacañan Palace: The Official Illustrated History note, “Seventeenth century colonial life placed a high value on being able to get away to the outskirts—whether along the waterways of the Pasig or by the shores of Manila Bay in such places as near as Ermita, Malate, and Pineda (Pasay).”


National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal, whose death we commemorate on December 30. This photo is part of the Colorized History project of the PCDSPO.

This area we know today as Rizal Park, that which began as barely habitable marshland, then became a hub of the Spanish leisure class. The soft ground and the esteros were filled to create a uniform field that stretched from the Walled City to surrounding arrabals or suburbs—particularly to Ermita, originally christened Bagumbayan or the “new village.” The field’s proximity to the seat of power, its ease of access from the new country homes being built in the outskirts of Manila, and the breeze it drew from the sea a welcome respite from the tropical heat made it an ideal spot for the elite insistent of their comforts.

The promenade became part of the daily agenda, although one that would always concede to that set by the Catholic church’s. After vespers, the Manila elite would converge on the rectangular field, for the bracing evening air and the pleasure of each other’s company. The seemingly innocuous stroll allowed the Spanish their early evening relaxation—all whilst preening before people of their own class and race (and, later, when less stringent rules applied, to the ilustrados who streamed from the surrounding suburbs). It was a ritual of posturing beneath the guise of a leisurely, even lazy, pursuit.

In adherence, the marshland was to be manipulated into a map of paseos (walkways) and calzadas (carriage drives) over time; it would eventually contain a rotunda at its heart and two circular fountains, as well as a bandstand. The Governor-General’s military band would play once or twice a week, on which occasions, British author Henry T. Ellis would write, “caballeros may be seen lounging amongst the carriages that have halted near the music, talking soft nonsense and whispering naughty fibs to the señoritas, 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.”

[By the 18th century] the daily paseo would become a display of wealth and power. Henry T. Ellis, a British author who served in the Royal Navy, visited Manila in 1856 and later wrote a book on his travels, Hong Kong to Manilla and the Lakes of Luzon. In it, he described Manila and the Calzada: “The town, on the southern side of the river, or what may be called Manila proper, is the old city, first established by the Spaniards. It is surrounded by a wall and ditch, with drawbridges, sally-ports, and gates, and may deserve the rank as a third-class fortress of its time. Things here, speaking generally, are kept in a very creditable state of repair, and the gates, or most of them, jealously closed at certain hours. Two-thirds of the way around the walls, there is a fine broad carriage drive, called the Calzada, where all the beauty and fashions of both sides of the water enjoy the sea-breeze, which sets in pretty regularly between four and five. Here may be seen in the evenings as many as a hundred, for the most part, elegant carriages, graced by Spanish and mestiza ladies, with hardly a bonnet amongst them, and having no covering for their heads save their own luxuriant jetty locks, dressed and ornamented with great taste.”

The Malecon [the waterside edge of the open field between Intramuros and Ermita] and the Calzada would merge by the edge of Ermita, which also allowed promenaders from Ermita and Malate to join the evening throng. The three streams of traffic meeting at the open field naturally required some organization for the people in each stream to head back to their origins. This made way for the creation of a flattened roundabout, or as described in another travelogue, a small extended hippodrome. The roundabout or loop formed another paseo and a space or plaza. This space was given a formal name, the Paseo de Alfonso XIII, but it became more popularly known as the Paseo de Luneta or the Luneta for short.

From Parks for a Nation: The Rizal Park and 50 Years of the National Parks Development Committee, published by the NPDC.

The Luneta, then, draws its name from the lunette or the “crescent-shaped structure for defense used in fortifications in the 17th to 18th centuries”—a persistent, if now forgotten, reminder of the military fortifications of the conqueror’s citadel it is adjacent to.

The more illustrious Filipinos of the time were given leave to join these daily promenades—if only because of the access from the surrounding suburbs they’d been earlier permitted to reside in. But despite these occasional brushes in this half-kilometer field fronting the sea, a yawning chasm of class, politics, and subjugation remained between the Filipinos and their Spanish conquerors. It was, of course, an institutionalized, nearing-inherent division—one that had been in place for more than three hundred years. It was not equality to walk the same manicured lawn as the frocked granddaughters of conquerors; the caste would not be broken down because an archbishop’s carriage was mere paces away—but the shared proximity lent to the illusion. This ease of colonial living that the Spaniards enjoyed—which, although aspired for and even shared by sympathizers and select ilustrados, nonetheless exacerbated the servitude and suffering of the common Filipino—would be disrupted by the onset of the Philippine revolution.

The century that had passed allowed the peninsulares and insulares to settle into their life of colonial relative luxury—but as pockets of rebellion erupted all over the country, and the city of Manila itself was threatened by skirmishes led by one Andres Bonifacio, the plebeian from modest Tondo (and, thus, an alarmingly apt poster boy for indio insurrection), the conquerors were pushed to slowly dispossess themselves of the casual enjoyment of the affluence of awarded their station. The changes wrought to the Luneta best encapsulated this. Once the Filipinos began banding together to overthrow Spanish rule, there came the transformation of a setting that invited leisure—one that indulged, for a handful of hours every day, the illusion that the Filipino and the Spanish who performed their nightly promenade were equal in stature—into a chilling bulwark of the three-centuries-strong foreign regime, hosting the cruelties it stood for and espoused.

The Paseo de Luneta would become the capital’s killing field, but its dual role only conformed to the Spaniard aim. As the National Parks Development Committee points out, “Bagumbayan Park gracefully hosted flirtations among the Manila elite, as well as callously witnessed the deaths of the disloyal citizenry.” Because beneath the trappings of relative colonial comfort, of preening in the late afternoons, and the joyful gatherings of the cool evenings, Mother Spain’s dictum held ever-strong: Indios were forever indios, and woe to those who rebelled.

II. Tropical Baroque

In the last decades of its reign, the Intramuros was subject to a series of events that lends to the portentousness of its narrative—part and parcel of the defeat of Spanish colonial rule. On the eve of the Revolution, Tropical Baroque was Spanish Manila; Andre Bellessort writing in 1897, described the febrile portents of the end of dominion:

In addition, news reports and slogans that virtually spread by themselves assume the forms of legend in this country. Before the insurrection, it was rumored in Tondo that around six in the evening people would see the apparition of a woman whose head was crowned by serpents; everyone interpreted this vision to mean that the fatal hour was approaching. Another report had it that in Biak-na-bato a woman had given birth to a child dressed in a general’s uniform —which meant that arms had been landed. These tales and apparitions over-excite the people’s imagination, which soon drops the supposedly hidden meaning and gets lost in pure fantasy. Someone has written that the Spanish conquest robbed the subdued peoples of their original poetic imagination and impoverished their souls. A time always comes when the spirit of a race is reborn and impatiently seeks to know life. The very earth nourishes it with fresh vigor. Today the Spaniards have not only peoples to contend with but also, and above all, the phantoms of the past, nature awakened from slumber, legends descending from the mountains, the dead rising from their graves. And that is why the soldier, overwhelmed by his task, fights indifferently while the insurgents go into battle with such courage that they actually have been observed, rushing, bolo in hand, across firing lines and returning to camp bloody but alive.

[quote from André Bellessort, One Week in the Philippines (November 1897), translated by E. Aguilar Cruz.]

This urn contains the remains of Dr. Jose Rizal. Photo courtesy of NHCP

But the disruptions to the Spanish regime had a root in the disruptions to the very landscape they’d unfurled their colonial empire on. In 1863—the year of Andres Bonifacio’s birth—a great earthquake toppled the Cathedral and many other churches, and the Palace of the Governor-General in Intramuros, causing the Governors-General to “temporarily” reside in Malacañan Palace (until, in the twilight of their rule, they would once more return to Intramuros). The rebuilding of the city would mark, as Nick Joaquin described it, the incarnation of “the Manila of Rizal and the Revolution, the last great creation of Spain in the Philippines.”

Integral to this final incarnation of Spain was Bagumbayan, where an execution provided the birth of a consciousness that was patently national: of the Filipino not as Spaniard born overseas, but former Indio claiming nationhood.

Bagumbayan was the site of the martyrdom of three secular priests falsely accused of leading an uprising. On January 20, 1872, two hundred Filipinos employed at the Cavite arsenal staged a revolt against the Spanish government’s voiding of their exemption from the payment of tributes. The Cavite Mutiny led to the persecution of several prominent Filipinos; secular priests Mariano Gómez, José Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora—who would then be collectively named GomBurZa—were tagged as the masterminds of the uprising. They were charged with treason and sedition by the Spanish military tribunal—believed to be part of a conspiracy to stifle the growing popularity of Filipino secular priests and the threat they posed to the Spanish clergy. The GomBurZa were publicly executed, by garrote, on the early morning of February 17, 1872 at Bagumbayan, the hub of the leisure class.

The Archbishop of Manila refused to defrock them, and ordered the bells of every church to toll in honor of their deaths; the Sword, in this instance, denied the moral justification of the Cross. The martyrdom of the three secular priests would resonate among Filipinos; grief and outrage over their execution would make way for the first stirrings of the Filipino revolution, thus making the first secular martyrs of a nascent national identity. Jose Rizal would dedicate his second novel, El Filibusterismo, to the memory of GomBurZa, to what they stood for, and to the symbolic weight their deaths would henceforth hold:

The Government, by enshrouding your trial in mystery and pardoning your co-accused, has suggested that some mistake was committed when your fate was decided; and the whole of the Philippines, in paying homage to your memory and calling you martyrs, totally rejects your guilt. The Church, by refusing to degrade you, has put in doubt the crime charged against you.

As Leon Ma. Guerrero astutely notes in his celebrated biography of the Filipino nationalist, The First Filipino, “Our story begins with an execution which prefigures its end.” It would be nearly fourteen years after the portentous garroting of the GomBurZa that Rizal would meet his own death at the hands of the Spanish government—stemming from similarly flimsy accusations, the same mystery-enshrouded trial, and in the same seaside field.

But there came rebirth, after death: The reign of the Cross and the Sword came to an end where it began: in Fort Santiago where, in a cell, the Spanish authorities imprisoned the man whose life had proposed the inclusion spelled the death-knell of Castilian rule.

The most bravo of the indios—the “Tagalog Christ,” in the immortal lines of the Basque intellectual Miguel de Unamuno—was executed by musketry in Bagumbayan, on December 30, 1896, for sedition and for inciting an uprising: Jose P. Rizal—scholar and writer, practicing ophthalmologist, celebrated ilustrado, and he who would be designated as the Philippines’ national hero.


Teodora Alonzo cradling the remains of her son, Dr. Jose Rizal. (source: From the “Pictorial Album on Rizal”, Edicion del Centenario, Comisión Nacional Del Centenario of Jose Rizal, Manila, 1962)

Eyewitnesses—Danilo Dolor recently compiled the catalog of first person accounts of Rizal’s final moments—all marveled at his composure, instantly, it seems, identifying it as a secular crucifiction. Rafael Palma described it as a combination of the sacred and profane: “A shot rang out and something like an immense sigh arose from the multitude,indicating that all was over. [...] Shouts of 'Long Live Spain! Death to the Traitors!' could be heard three or four times. People began to disperse and to leave the place, contented and happy at satisfying their curiosity. I even saw some Filipinos laughing"; a British writer compared declared the execution “one of the most cold blooded crimes registered in history since the tragedy of Golgotha"; and last words attributed to Rizal at the moment the rifles fired: “Consummatum est.” It is finished. Biblical, indeed.

To Rizal’s contemporaries, molded, after all, by Rizal’s vision that the indio was Filipino, the trial and execution of Rizal was thus the ultimate transfiguration. Here is Apolinario Mabini, summarizing its meaning in his book, La Revolucion Filipina:

In contrast to [Fr.] Burgos who wept because he died guiltless, Rizal went to the execution ground calm and even cheerful, to show that he was happy to sacrifice his life, which he had dedicated to the good of all the Filipinos, confident that in love and gratitude they would always remember him and follow his example and teaching. In truth the merit of Rizal’s sacrifice consists precisely in that it was voluntary and conscious. He had known perfectly well that, if he denounced the abuses which the Spaniards were committing in the Philippines, they would not sleep in peace until they had encompassed his ruin; yet he did so because, if the abuses were not exposed, they would never be remedied. From the day Rizal understood the misfortunes of his native land and decided to work to redress them, his vivid imagination never ceased to picture to him at every moment of his life the terrors of the death that awaited him; thus he learned not to fear it, and had no fear when it came to take him away; the life of Rizal, from the time he dedicated it to the service of his native land, was therefore a continuing death, bravely endured until the end for love of his countrymen.

But just as Rizal firmly situated his own execution with that of GomBurZa, it in turn —considering how it stands, especially, in the narrative of the Philippines’ emancipation from Spain—was but one of many in Bagumbayan, which had, for seventy-four years in total, served as execution site for insurrectos, Filipino rebels and mutineers that paved the way to lasting independence.

The National Parks Development Committee (NPDC) notes, in their Parks for a Nation, “The actual number of people executed at the Luneta remains unknown. According to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, there were some 880 people martyred at the old Bagumbayan. One of the earliest recorded incidents was the capture and execution of 82 non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the Tayabas regiment, headed by Sergeant Irineo Samaniego, on January 21, 1843. Samaniego and his men launched an uprising in retaliation to the killings by the Spanish army of hundreds of old men, women, and children in Alitao on November 1, 1841.”

Seventy-three members of the Katipunan were executed in Bagumbayan; black granite tablets bearing the names of identified members now line the pathway in modern-day Rizal Park’s Heroes’ Square. Four months before Rizal’s execution by musketry—on August 31, 1896, two days after Bonifacio issued a manifesto declaring the start of the revolt against Spain—fifty-seven Filipino revolutionaries were shot in Bagumbayan. Five days after this, four more Katipuneros were captured and executed at the same site.

Rizal’s execution would be far from the last the site would host, despite the furor it had sparked from Filipinos already roused by the movements of the Katipunan: Five days after Rizal’s martyrdom, on January 4, 1987, eleven people—most of them Freemasons—were killed by firing squad. They were the ilustrados of Nueva Caceres—a city in what is now Camarines Sur. A week later, another thirteen —immortalized as Trece Martires in both memory and the place-name of their home town—would be martyred at Bagumbayan.

The Spaniards exulting in the Luneta would soon enough make their final retreat to Intramuros; for the second—and now, last—time, it would face an assault from another Western power; the instrument of defeat would be signed in San Agustin, burial place of Legazpi and oldest of the churches in the city: sword, after three centuries, surrendered in a convent consecrated to the cross.

III. Indio Bravo

In the seventeen years after Rizal’s execution, authorities both Filipino and American—the new, more “benevolent” conquerors—would legislate the martyrdom of Rizal, culminating in the construction of a monument in his honor. It is this formalistically simple memorial—albeit an elaborate final resting place of his nearing-sacred remains—that has become the de facto symbol of our nationhood: a bronze-and-granite homage to a man’s martyrdom, built at the very field where he met his untimely death. And this monument—and the extravagant rallying for the memory of Rizal, almost immediately after Spain surrendered to the United States of America its colonial possession—was but one of many of the Americans’ politically strategic moves in their occupation of the Philippines.

But even before all the legislation that, by whatever agenda, pushed forward Rizal as the nation’s foremost hero; even before Rizal’s execution at daybreak of December 30, 1896—the Filipino revolutionaries looked to Rizal as their hero, his principles were adopted, if translated, in the Katipunan’s crusade for Philippine independence. Because even if Rizal himself disavowed the revolution as Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo envisioned it, sharing with Rizal the dream of true independence—of nationhood—was part of the spirit that spurred the revolution.

The Katipunan famously inducted its members under a portrait of Rizal; Bonifacio himself invoked that supreme “phantom of the past,” Rizal. His manifesto of March 1897 invoked:

Sasagi kaya sa inyong loob ang panlolomo at aabutin ang panghihinayang na mamatay sa kadahilanang ito? Hindi, hindi! Sapagka’t nakikintal sa inyong gunita yaang libolibong kinitil na buhay ng mapanganyayang kamay ng kastila, yaong daing, yaong himutoc at pananangis ng mga pinapangulila ng kanilang kalupitan, yaong mga kapatid nating nangapipiit sa kalagimlagim na bilanguan at nagtiis ng walang awang pagpapahirap, yaong walang tilang pag agos ng luha ng mga nawalay sa piling ng kanilang mga anac, asawa at matatandang magulang na itinapon sa iba’t ibang malalayong lupa at ang katampalasanang pagpatay sa ating pinakaiibig na kababayan na si M. Jose Rizal, ay nagbukas sa ating puso ng isang sugat na kailan pa ma’y di mababahaw.

Interesting is the use of “Maginoo”—highest of the high, in the prehispanic “perdido eden” of Rizal and Bonifacio in their writings; for “Maginoo” in our ancient societies subsumed all other exalted ranks, whether Rajah or Datu; higher, even that of the posthumous honorific, now current, of “Gat,” applied to both Rizal and Bonifacio—interesting, because though conferred by his contemporaries, it failed to gain currency in their posterity.

Ironic, too, was that in his death, Rizal fully embodied the de Unamuno moniker of “Tagalog Christ” (though also “Tagalog Hamlet”). For Rizal the Deist and critic of Catholic ritual became a secular martyr, glittering with the trappings of sainthood, imbued with the iconography of The Redeemer. Among the most iconic Rizaliana photographs was Rizal’s own mother Teodora Alonzo posting with her son’s bones. After the Rizal family was given leave to retrieve his remains from Paco Cemetery, Alonzo cleaned the bones herself, and wrapped them in a fine linen cloth not unlike a shroud. At Fort Santiago, a splintered piece of spine—remains on display in gilded and crystal-protected splendor, a kind of monstrance of the cult of nationhood.

Thus whether in the trappings of Catholicism’s veneration of the saints, or transmogrified into Brown Christ,  Filipinos were inclined—thought it only right—to give Rizal the honor that he was due. Where folk religion was, the First Republic in its quest to achieve an identity  would in turn decree worthy veneration: On December 20, 1898, Aguinaldo issued an edict designating December 30 of every year as a “national day of mourning for Rizal and other victims of the Spanish government, throughout its three centuries of oppressive rule.” Ten days later, Filipinos as citizens of a nation commemorated Rizal Day for the first time.

All things considered, the Americans’ iconization of Rizal can be seen as a convenient move for the Filipinos who had pushed for the same aims. Though the motivations may differ—and Constantino’s argument against the Americans’ agenda may ring true—in the end, both desired the same widespread and institutionalized tribute to Rizal.

In 1901, under the country’s first American civil governor William Howard Taft, the Rizal martyred by Spain not five years before had become Philippine National Hero regardless of whether any legislature, Filipino or foreign, had declared him as such. The Americans certainly had no compunctions about assimilating the cult of Rizal renaming districts, cities, and provinces after Rizal—this, the Philippine Commission undertook. It was also during the early years of American Occupation that Rizal Day was made an official holiday: On February 1, 1902, the Philippine Commission enacted Act. No. 345 which set December 30 of each year as Rizal Day, and made it one of the ten official holidays of the Philippines.

It was during this period that construction of a monument honoring Rizal received colonial approval. On September 28, 1901, Act No. 243 was passed, thus granting the right to use public land in Luneta as the site in which a statue of Rizal would be erected. Act No. 243 likewise stipulated that the monument would also house his remains. Thus, a marker would forever serve as a reminder of where the country’s National Hero had fallen, his bones made sacred to the budding Filipino nation.

[Act No. 243] also created a committee on the Rizal monument that consisted of Pascual Poblete, Paciano Rizal (the hero’s brother), Juan Tuason, Teodoro R. Yangco, Mariano Limjap, Máximo Paterno, Ramón Genato, Tomás G. del Rosario, and Ariston Bautista. The members were tasked, among others, with raising funds through popular subscriptions.

The committee held an international design competition between 1905–1907, and invited sculptors from Europe and the United States to submit entries with material preference produced in the archipelago. The estimated cost of the monument was PhP100,000, including prizes for the winners of the design contest. The insular government donated PhP30,000 or the fund. By January 1905, that goal had been oversubscribed. When the campaign closed in August 1912, the amount collected had reached PhP135,195.61. On January 8, 1908, the judging committee—composed of Governor-General Frank Smith, John T. MacLeod, and Dr. Maximo M. Paterno—officially announced its decision through the press.

From “The Rizal Monument,” by the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP), accessed at

IV. Monumental Rizal

Forty entries were received by the 1907 deadline, and the bozetos (scale models) of the shortlisted ten were displayed at the Ayuntamiento in Intramuros. Upon deliberation, the Committee on the Rizal Monument declared the Al Martir de Bagumbayan (To the Martyr of Bagumbayan), an ornate neo-classical piece, the winner of the design competition. The design of Carlos Nicoli of Carrara, Italy was awarded the first prize, worth PhP5,000. His design depicted an 18m-tall monument, with its 12m base rendered in two shades of gray Italian marble, and the pedestal that held the entire structure to be rendered in two shades of white Italian marble. Elaborate figurative elements dominated Nicoli’s design.

Gallery: Richard Kissling. Click the image above to launch the gallery.

Gallery: Bozetos. Click the image above to launch the gallery.

The contract, however, was ultimately awarded to Swiss sculptor Richard Kissling for his bozeto titled Motto Stella (Guiding Star), which had won second place. According to Parks for a Nation, “Nicoli was reportedly not able to put up the construction bond required to build the monument. Still others claimed his designed was deemed too expensive as it used Carrara marble.” Kissling's design, which would use unpolished granite and bronze, naturally cost less than that of Nicoli’s, a predominantly marble structure.

The Motto Stella, too, was an understated, straightforward monument: Allegorical figures arranged around an obelisk, with the likeness of Rizal facing the sea. It was as opposite from Nicoli’s lofty ornateness as a sculpture could be, and criticism of Kissling’s design surged. But the construction of the monument pushed through, and the tribute to Rizal—placed in daring proximity to the seat of the Spanish colonial government—would take four years to complete. Supervising the casting was Rizal’s good friend, the painter Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo, who was less than pleased with the result.

On December 29, 1912, a solemn ceremony was held to finally bury Rizal’s remains at the base of the monument that would soon rise in his honor. His remains been stored in an ivory urn kept in Narcisa Rizal’s house in Binondo since their exhumation on August 17, 1898. Before this, they lay in a grave in Paco Cemetery, marked only by a marble plaque with the hero’s initials in reverse. On December 30, 1912, after a funeral procession and a “lying in-state” at the Ayuntamiento de Manila, the urn bearing Rizal’s remains was brought back to Luneta. Thus: A year after the re-internment—more than twelve years since the enactment Act No. 243, and seventeen years to the day of his death—the monument to Rizal was unveiled.

There is a curious serendipity to the choice of Kissling’s design. It would not be ludicrous to think that Rizal, who eschewed pomp and circumstance and had expressly asked that no fanfare be attached to his death, would have approved of the simple and nearly anonymous grave in Paco Cemetery. The monument that would stand in his honor, owing to the wishes of the people and the sponsorship of the American government, would have chafed—and Nicoli’s ornate and nearly grandiose design would have further gone against Rizal’s wishes. Kissling’s obelisk, the sense of containment in its unpolished granite, was a compromise—but it better suited the principles of the man it had been built to honor.

V. National Necropolis

American Manifest Destiny coexisted uneasily with its own anti-colonial origins; thus America debated how long the Filipinos would be their wards: Would it be generations or within a generation? And like the French with their ouevre civilisatrice, imperial appropriation had to be disguised with Anglo-Saxon stoicism—“take up the white man’s burden,” as Rudyard Kipling had exhorted the Americans.

Proof of this modernization and civilization, this compromise between those anti-colonial origins and the Benevolent Assimilation they were now espousing would be to turn Taft’s “little brown brothers” into the inhabitants of an Oriental District of Columbia. As the Americans had contrived for Rizal to be their new wards’ counterpart to George Washington, they proceeded to create a Washington D.C. in Manila.

The Rizal Monument, and the park that cradled it, was at the heart of a master urban architectural plan for the capital of the Philippines, devised by the Chicago architect and city planner Daniel Burnham. In 1904, United States Secretary of War, and former Governor-General of the Philippines, William Howard Taft commissioned Burnham—via William Cameron Forbes, who would eventually be Governor-General himself—to submit plans for the administrative capital of Manila, and the proposed summer capital in Baguio.

By then, Burnham—founder of the City Beautiful movement—had already spearheaded the planning commission of a major renewal of Washington D.C.; and had designed the cities of Cleveland and San Francisco. The City Beautiful aesthetic, which Manila would naturally adopt, was marked by neo-classical elements and derivatives of it. [The City Beautiful aesthetic would have been an apt backdrop for Nicoli’s winning-but-bypassed design.]

Burnham then recommended William E. Parsons, a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts in France and a practicing architect in New York, to oversee the implementation of what was to be known, in legislation, as “the Burnham plan for the improvement of the city of Manila, and the Burnham plan for the improvement of Baguio.” By virtue of Philippine Commission Act No. 1495, enacted on May 26, 1906, Parsons was appointed Consulting Architect to the government, and he would stay in the Philippines in this capacity for the next nine years. His term coincided with Forbes’; the two would work closely together in the planning of the cities of Manila and of Baguio, which included projects such as the building of the Philippine General Hospital, the Manila Hotel, and the Mansion House in the highlands of Baguio.

In 1905, after a six-week stay in the Philippines and barely four months after his return to Chicago, Burnham submitted the city plans for Manila to Secretary of War Taft; of these plans, he wrote rather succinctly: “The Manila scheme is very good.” The plans were approved within two months and orders for their implementation given immediately.

Burnham had prepared a big plan for Manila to match the aspirations of an emerging player in world affairs. The Burnham Plan had five major design directives: 1) the development of the waterfront and the location of parks and parkways so as to give adequate opportunities for recreation to every quarter in the city; 2) the establishment of a street system, which would secure direct and easy communication from every part of the city, to every other sector or district; 3) the location of building sites for various activities; 4) the development of waterways for transportation; and 5) the provision of summer resorts.

The plan included all elements of a classic City Beautiful plan. It had a central civic core. Radials emanating from this core were laid over a gridiron pattern and large parks interconnected by parkways. In this core, which Burnham located beside the old city [of Intramuros], government buildings were arranged in a formal pattern around a rectangular mall (“mall” here refers to a linear formal open space defined by trees or buildings). This mall is reminiscent of the National Mall in Washington D.C. and is, in fact, roughly the same width and orientation. The layout differed from the Spanish “Laws of the Indies” configuration [the design adopted within Intramuros], in that the focus was civic space and government buildings and did not include religious structures.

Completing the civic ensemble were the Hall of Justice complex, located south of the mall, and semi-public buildings such as libraries, museums, and permanent exposition buildings all along a drive towards the north. The core then was not intended to be the Rizal Park we know today, although a monument to a national hero was part of the plan.

[...] In designing the civic complex, a la Washington D.C., one of the first elements the American civil government wanted to put up was Manila’s equivalent of the Washington monument. For this, the Americans chose Dr. Jose Rizal; his monument was to rise at the center of the projected new civic mall. Unfortunately, the monument’s location was determined not by the actual spot where Rizal was executed but slightly south of it because of the geometry and the width required of the Burnham-designed mall. [...] As in Washington D.C., the orientation of the mall was towards a body of water. When Burnham surveyed the old Luneta site, however, he found, that the new port works had blocked the view of Manila Bay. To correct this and to create a large pleasure park, he proposed that the area in front of the old Luneta be extended a thousand feet.

From Parks for a Nation: The Rizal Park and 50 Years of the National Parks Development Committee, published by the NPDC.

Thus it was that the American-sponsored Burnham Plan unwittingly mirrored the spirit of the Spaniards’ transformation of the marshland by Bagumbayan. Whereas the ruling elite of the peninsulares transformed a tract of land into a venue for the rigodon of the promenade—and having it serve a second purpose as a killing field for Filipino insurrectos who’d betrayed the Spanish government; the Americans, to coax loyalty from their new “possessions,” turned this same landscape as a tribute to a martyred ilustrado, and the centerpiece of a Manila that had overthrown the Old World regime. And in parallel with the Luneta’s macabre underside during the Spanish era, the Americans had built a necropolis to serve as an administrative and cultural center—a tomb of the martyred man as the centerpiece of an elaborate transformation of the capital.

And the secular cult of Rizal, too, had been set in motion; it would be unlike the height of the Revolution, when his writings served as sacred text and his image stood as the rendering of a pagan god looking out at secret, seditious meetings. Rizal was now both icon and institution—but this time out in the open: a guide to the laying down of roads, now a monument at whose foot all roads would literally converge: for the monument would be Kilometer Zero, in the manner of classical antiquity, where all roads converged in Rome.

But the Rizal of the Americans—the new Roman-inspired metropolis—was not to be. By 1916, the debate on whether America would permanently keep, or let go, of the colony had been settled; and the grand plan of Burnham was implemented more in the breach in a combination of Filipino protestations of economizing—no grand capitol would be built, the legislature, instead, taking over and remodeling what had been intended to be the National Library—and American extravagance: Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison used funds intended for the Burnham Plan to build an Executive Building in Malacañan Palace, closing down the governor-general’s office in Intramuros, sounding the death-knell of the walled city as administrative heart of the colony and firmly charting the future extramuros.

It would be the Second World War that would obliterate the last vestiges of Rizal’s Manila: bombed by the Japanese in the opening weeks of the war, the Japanese too would eliminate the last traces of the Spanish-era Luneta, as Imperial Japanese forces dug foxholes around the Rizal Monument and turned both Old and New Luneta into a battleground. Retreating into Intramuros and the neoclassical buildings of the government, the Japanese were systematically shelled and set on fire with flame-throwers by Allied forces, reducing the metropolis to rubble.

It was amidst the ruins of Liberated Manila that the Rizal Monument served as the backdrop—literally overshadowed and hidden from sight by a temporary grandstand—for the Independence Ceremonies on July 4, 1946, when at last the Philippine flag was hoisted to fly alone for the first time since the defeat of the First Republic. The first act of appropriation of the Third Republic would be to mark the spot where the ceremonies took place, with a monumental flagpole—the Independence Flagpole—and to build, on a permanent basis, the Independence Grandstand on what had been the American-era New Luneta. In the Independence Grandstand, on December 30—Rizal Day—would unfold, every four years, the ritual of republican, democratic transition: the inaugurals of presidents, who would take their oath of office, so to speak, with Rizal as their witness, and the Independence Flagpole signifying the independence of the nation.

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VI. Ghosts of Plans Past

Thus did Philippine governments—administrations—after the Second World War attempt to  consciously appropriate Rizal’s legacy, not least by way of the Rizal Monument and the Luneta. In much the same way the first digressions from the Burnham Plan—in the prewar years, capped with the dream of a new capital to rise in Quezon City in a symbolic slaying of colonialism—the landscape changed according to national mood and, especially, the decisions of those in power—be it whim, advocacy, or political maneuver.

In the late 1950s, President Ramon Magsaysay reserved the Luneta 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 Luneta as the site of a national cultural center, envisioning the construction of a National Library, a National Museum, and a National Theater. But not a few persons decried the plans to mark the huge, open park—prompting a newspaper columnist to comment, “Luneta has been ruthlessly butchered, cut up to small, useless areas assigned for incongruous uses.” The arguments went on, silenced only by the death of the major protagonists. In the end, the Rizal Memorial Cultural Center was approved; Magsaysay himself laid the cornerstone of the only building that would be completed, the National Library.

In the meantime, the park lay bare and unkempt; the Rizal Monument neglected, muddy in the rain and surrounded with tall cogon in the summer. The Luneta—now Rizal Park—was, like so many grand projects of the newly-independent nation, much better on paper than it turned out in reality. Foundations were laid; but not much else.

Then the Centennial of Rizal inspired a spurt of activity. The most infamous, if drastic, revision to Kissling’s original vision was made in the Rizal Centennial Year of 1961: A stainless steel pylon was superimposed over the granite obelisk, thus increasing the structure's height from 12.7 meters to 30.5 meters. The remodeling undertaken by the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission (JRNCC)—and designed by Juan Nakpil, who would later become the first National Artist for Architecture—was widely criticized. (The mild furor was not unlike the one met by the original Committee on the Rizal Monument when they awarded the contract to Kissling.) The towering steel pylon only lent an incongruity—gleaming where the base was somber and unpolished, drawing the eye away from the bronze figure of Rizal. Nakpil, in defense to the criticisms, quoted former Secretary of Education and then JRNCC chair Manuel Lim: That the taller pylon would serve as a convenient guide for incoming sea vessels, as well as a beacon for citizens navigating their way within Manila. Two years later, the steel shaft—which had cost the government PhP145,000—was removed, upon the directives of Secretary of Education Alejandro Roces and Director of Public Libraries Carlos Quirino. According to the UAP, the steel revision to the Rizal Monument  “was dismantled during Holy Week, reportedly to prevent any court injunction from restraining them as government offices were closed during holidays.”

The removal of the pylon, however, only signalled a rush to employ beautification efforts. Newspaper columnist Teodoro Valencia, who was among those who had bitterly protested the JRNCC’s “tampering” of the Rizal monument, announced publicly that he would try to give the monument and the surrounding area a facelift: “The original plan was to clean the monument itself, put it in a few flower pots to give it some respectability. But the support and the money started flowing in.” In a week’s time, PhP30,000 had been donated to their cause. 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 guard. The National Parks Development Committee was subsequently organized, taking on long-planned but never-effected projects: The beautification of the sea wall, the renovations to the grandstand. After decades of being dormant—and accounting the unpopular revision of the JNRCC in the early 1950s—civic society’s desire to witness the park’s enlivening translated into cash donations to the cause: During First Lady Imelda Marcos’ term as NPDC chairman, a total of PhP60 million would be donated to the development of Rizal Park. Since its inception, the National Parks Development Committee has overseen and ensured the upkeep and the necessary improvements to the Rizal Park, and the tribute to Rizal that lay at its core.

In the decades that have passed, interest in the Luneta has waxed and waned, and the weight of the Rizal Monument—which has, over time, been adopted as among the symbols of our nationhood—has nonetheless flirted with the rote and the commonplace. Every four, then six years, across an expanse of field from the bronze figure of Rizal, Presidents-elect would take their oaths to serve the Philippines and its people: only President Corazon Aquino would not take her oath there; even Presidents Estrada (who took his oath in Baroasoain) in 1998 and Arroyo (who took her first in the EDSA Shrine, and her second in Cebu) in 2004, delivered their inaugural addresses at the Quirino Grandstand (as the Independence Grandstand had come to be known). When a typhoon demolished the Independence Flagpole in the 1970s, it was rebuilt; and it was here, as Ninoy Aquino’s funeral cortege slowly made its way escorted by millions, that what the dictatorship denied the Filipino people themselves undertook: the flag in front of the Rizal Monument lowered to half mast, in symbolic tribute from the Republic’s protomartyr to its new martyr of democracy.

The Rizal Monument, too, is the silent party in the ritual obeisance that foreign leaders pay to the most bravo of the indios. In 1998, during a state visit in the Centennial Year of the First Republic, King Juan Carlos of Spain and his consort Queen Sofia stood before tomb of Jose P. Rizal and laid a wreath against its base. In the shadow of Intramuros, before the final resting place of the man who was shot as enemy number one, the descendant of the last king to rule over the Philippines paid his homage. Closure, had come: symbolically, the breach had been healed. But few Filipinos noticed this act of racial and national vindication. Just as few Filipinos may be aware, and much less care, about the ghosts of plans whose grandeur perhaps spoke little to contemporary Filipinos at the time. But then, as now, Rizal remains preeminent: focal point of Manila; premier monument of the nation; and gathering place of the ordinary, who picnic and wander in a park under the shadow of the man whose dreams for them outlived that moment when the rifles fired, and when, in a last effort of will, he turned to fall facing the rising sun.

The tomb and memorial to Filipino nationalist Jose P. Rizal stands right by the edge of Manila, at the heart of a landscape bearing the much-vaunted histories it helped launch.

Its principal form, an obelisk of unpolished granite rising 12.7 meters toward the sky, is as straightforward a sculptural marker as a monument can be: Here lie the remains of Rizal, it announces, its duty as signpost and landmark thus achieved. The figure of Rizal follows the same simple aesthetic: It is a Rizal made restive in bronze, cradling the books that have lent to his legacy and in an overcoat that hangs just a little too boxy for his frame. This figure stands conspicuous, too, however: His garb is unsuited to the tropics—a reminder that he lived his life as an ilustrado in the stranger, colder climes of the European continent—and the underscoring of the scholarly air further sets him apart from the riotous revolution that led, if indirectly, to his death. It is a Rizal whose very rendering eschewed the revolutionary glory that had been continually thrust upon him, a glory that he could nonetheless rightly stake a claim to. His gaze does not even meet the sea; this is a Rizal that offers no dares, dispenses no threat. In a pensive mood, the Rizal of the monument angles his head ever so slightly—toward the Walled City, perhaps by chance.

As an object, then, the monument shies away from magnificence. It does not tower, there are no ornate details, no grandiose aesthetic claims. It is the land that surrounds it, however, the land on which it rose, that resonates with the history Rizal was party to and his memory helped cultivate—the stories of centuries-long subjugation, of “benevolent” assimilation, of city-razing warfare, of politicians eager to attach their names to that of the national hero’s. It is the Luneta—an annexed tract of land beyond the seat of the Spanish colonial government and religious authority; the centerpiece of the holistic overhauling of new Western conquerors, for both good and bad; and the machinations of politicians in the past half a century—that bears for the Rizal Monument the burdens of the historical narrative that it hosted—a historical narrative that is of all us Filipinos’.

Map overlays

Layered maps of Luneta—particularly of the Rizal Park—trace the evolution of the area over time, to provide a greater context to the landscape cradling the Rizal Monument. Click the dates bellow to set the time periods.

Expanded View

An expanded view of the Rizal Monument, as it is situated in the Rizal Park, allows the viewer a clearer view of specific details of the structure while keeping them anchored to their context. The Independence Flagpole has been included as reference. Click on the image to view the 3D model, which allows for greater navigation.

Figure 1:

Bronze figure of Jose P. Rizal front - and - center of the obelisk. The books he cradle are meant to represent his novels Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

Figures 2 - 4:

Allegorical figures cast in bronze of the Philippine historical narrative.

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The Centenary of the Rizal Monument

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