Dr. José Protasio Rizal stands haloed by the sun, looking out to the sea in perpetual vigilance for the beloved country, Philippines. Inang Bayan sits trustingly in his shadow, a mother rearing her child — symbolic of family, and social interdependence and cohesiveness. On Rizal’s other side are two boys seeming to be studying their lessons — could it be that they are Basilio and Crispin, sons of the crazed Sisa, the other face of Mother Country as she suffers in Rizal’s incendiary novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo?
Rizal, in the frock coat of the Filipino intelligentsia in the dawn of the 19th century, holds a book, Noli (Part I) and the Fili (Part II), where he exposes the corruption and coercion of the Spanish colonizers. Rizal exhorts Filipinos to waken to a quiet revolution through education, where they can rise to equal heights in accomplishment and the higher rungs of recognition in society. Thus would the natives come to rule themselves and rule the country in equal justice and equal opportunities for all.
And so Basilio and Crispin, young sacristans in Rizal’s Noli, are symbols of hope in the youth and the growth of the intelligentsia in the country. The death of the younger, Crispin, from the violent punishment of the parish priest juxtaposes the desperation of the Filipinos at their situation versus the escape of Basilio and his chances at transcending the obstacles to a better life. In the Fili, Rizal shows Basilio 13 years later as a student of medicine at the Ateneo. It is Basilio’s enlightened advice that convinces his activist classmate Isagani not to massacre by arson the roomful of Spaniards and elite Filipinos in an extreme show of protest against the oppressive regime.
The protagonist Simoun in the Fili is Rizal, as Crisostomo Ibarra is Rizal in the Noli. José Rizal, the dangerous intellectual, the propagandist, was executed by the Spanish authorities on Dec. 30, 1896, at Bagumbayan field, and buried in an unidentified grave at the Paco cemetery where he lay in anonymity throughout the Katipunan’s armed revolutions (which Rizal in his lifetime refused to join), throughout the intervention of the Spanish-American War of 1898 when Spain ceded the Philippine archipelago to the United States under the Treaty of Paris, and even while Emilio Aguinaldo declared independence on June 12, 1898, and his later acceptance of American rule.
On Sept. 28, 1901, the United States Philippine Commission approved Act No. 243 that granted the right to use public land upon the Luneta (former Bagumbayan field) in the city of Manila, where the monument was erected to commemorate the memory of José Rizal, and also house his remains. The shrine was unveiled on Dec. 30, 1913, on Rizal’s 17th death anniversary.
So there stands Rizal, a bronze sculpture with an obelisk as his backdrop set on a stone base, the Noli-Fili in his hand and the tableaux at his feet — Inang Bayan nursing her child and the two boys reading. It might as well be the nation’s mission-vision statement concretized in immortal consciousness: Rizal’s dream to build a strong society enlightened in its endeavor to create equal opportunities to a better life through education while always guided by the basic principles of unity and integrity. The perimeter of the monument, about 100 meters from where Rizal was executed in 1896, is protected by the Philippine Marines in ceremonious daily changing of the guard. Here wreaths are laid on Independence Day and other important occasions by the President and senior government officials, as well as foreign dignitaries in homage to the national hero. Here the common citizens visit, in proud affirmation of national identity and love of country.
The dignity of the Rizal monument had been zealously guarded for the past century until a most serious sin of insensitivity was committed. How did it happen that a monstrous high-rise condominium, the Torre de Manila, was allowed by two successive city mayors to be built directly behind the monument — impinging upon the clear background of the monument, as such construction will now be forever part of the backdrop of the obelisk and José Rizal? Public interest groups, including the Knights of Rizal, filed a protest against the desecration, and the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on June 16 stopping the building’s construction.
But the Torre de Manila is 60 meters beyond Luneta Park’s boundaries, the condominium developer, DM Consunji Incorporated (DMCI) reminds all. They have broken no law against construction on public land. Existing buildings nearest to the monument are 280 meters away while Torre de Manila stands 870 meters away from the monument. The company also said it secured a permit to build 49 levels — a basement level, 46 storeys, and two penthouse levels — in July 2012.
The Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board suspended DMCI’s license to sell units in the Torre de Manila after the Court ordered the indefinite suspension of construction work. But 91% or 896 units have already been pre-sold. What is to be done with the buyers? The suspension of construction will negatively affect DMCI Homes, which has so far spent P1.2 billion of the total P2.7-billion project cost. Some 300 of 400 affected workers are now jobless. Let us just plant a forest of trees behind the monument to improve the view at our cost, DMCI offers. Roused nationalists and environmentalists are crying out for the demolition of the building, now on its 40th storey.
But here is the most atrocious offer of a “win-win” solution, discussed last week with the guilt-ridden Manila City Council by Manila Representative Amado Bagatsing: “Turn the national hero’s monument by 180 degrees so that its new background would no longer include the DMCI Homes condo project.” People do not know whether to laugh or cry about this suggestion.
Dr. José Rizal would cry. Are these the Filipinos whom he died for? Is this solution to save the face of the two successive mayors now pointing at each other on who has the greater blame in allowing the monstrous Torre de Manila to be built? Would it be to forgive the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts for their insensitivity and a definite lack of passion and commitment to their jobs, that they did not anticipate rules beyond public land use?
The Supreme Court set for July 21 the oral arguments from the petitioners and DMCI. Total demolition of the Torre de Manila will be unlikely, from a practical point of view, but some comment that probably downscaling of the construction to the original seven storeys limit will be acceptable.
Rizal did not turn his back on his vision of a better Motherland. Let his vision live for generations more.