MANILA, according to Maynila—a TV program I sometimes I chanced upon in my high school days—was all about high school or college drama and romance.
Rizal Park—commonly or formerly known as Luneta Park—Intramuros, and Fort Santiago are some of the backdrops of the budding, breaking, reuniting of young love. Maynila bears the tagline, Larawan ng Bansa (The National Image). There are times that I am convinced that our national image is reduced to drama, youthful and foolish sentimentalities, romance.
Often, parks are dating sites for the young and the young-feeling. But on a bright Wednesday morning, I only spotted a couple sitting closely together on a four-person bench as romantic as two pigeons locking beaks by the fountain. What I noticed instead were people lost in their own worlds: a young man looked unperturbed, lost in the book he was holding. A Chinese tour guide lit a cigarette, while a group of tourists took turns taking their pictures in front of the famous landmark. And perhaps they already forgot that this very park was the place of the hostage-crisisin 2010.
Some parks are created as urban developments; some parks are birthed from history like Rizal Park. It formed histories or rather histories were born there: the martyrdom and murder of our national hero, political rallies, revolutions. However, the plain and private histories and struggles displayed in public are more persistent in memory: friends sharing secrets, loners staring at the trees, kalesa drivers waiting for customers, families picnicking, lovers quarreling in broad daylight, the homeless begging with empty eyes.
One of the ironies of traveling: to take a park elsewhere as a destination while back in Cebu, it is considered as the home of the homeless, the unsophisticated; it is considered as the dating site of indays and dodongs and must be avoided else one will be branded as baduy, low class.
Here at Rizal Park, a pretty tourist asked her companion to take a picture of her in front of a statue; while on the other side, a family of beggars used it as their home.
Walking at the Walled City
“We are retracing Rizal’s steps,” Jo, the pilot of this trip, informed. I could not catch the drift. We were at the arc that says Intramuros.
“Yes, Rizal walked his way to Luneta, his deathbed, from Fort Santiago,” she further informed.
“Where is Fort Santiago?” I idiotically asked, looking at the arc again.
“At the end of Intramuros.” She smiled.
My excuse for not knowing was namayabas ko pag-discuss anas among maestra (I went guava-searching when our teacher discussed that). The walk from Luneta, Intramuros, and Fort Santiago felt like going through a forgotten history book.
I could feel the everyday histories in Rizal Park; but it is the old, the half-forgotten—if not totally forgotten—that plays with one’s vision in Intramuros.
What is within the walls must not go out and must be dealt with, with the utmost secrecy. For any versifiers and metaphor lovers, within the walls sends creative signals to one’s head: the more hidden it sounds, the more the curious desires to uncover it. After all, walls lead to the invention of eavesdropping.
“Kon magbaha, taas kaayong tubig dinhi,” Jo said, who used to live and work in Manila before moving back in Cebu. We were sitting on the steps in front of an old building with Manila Cathedral on our right, waiting for our two companions, who took turns in capturing pictures of themselves in every corner.
“Mura lagi’g sirado ang simbahan,” I said.
“Ayuhunon na siya. Gitiwasan sa linog.” It was discovered that the cathedral had structural problems. Coincidentally, it was closed a day after the shocking 6.9 earthquake that hit the Visayan region last year.
It seems that the walled city is the place where the old is on the brink of dilapidation. Everything looked either gray or brown. But the beauty of an old city resides in its grayness or brownness: the uncertainty that it will thrive amid ruins or resign itself to utter downfall.
But somehow, the citadel in the mouth of the Pasig River and Manila Bay managed to look petrified and proud. It outlived wars, earthquakes, typhoons, and other calamities. But old and unassailable as they seemed, the walls actually underwent several rehabilitations.
Past the moat, there were step models on the ground, and the guard said those were Rizal’s leaving Fort Santiago for Luneta. They were too straight and purposeful; whereas I would think the steps of a man with his death foretold must be nervous, staggering, unsure.
The Rizal at Fort Santiago
Walking the bulwarks and walkways on the top of the walls was my futile way of finding clues of the bygone years—years where collective, national histories were formed.
Cracks, moss forming on the walls, or simply the oldness of the citadel are hints that indeed we were walking on a place that has survived a cornucopia of calamities, a place that has delivered histories.
A place sometimes demands us to remember the past, and perhaps one of those communal spaces is the museum. Inside, I was reminded of those high school days when characters such as Ibarra, Victoria, Padre Damaso accompanied my nights. I was reminded of my Rizal professor who believed in me and gave me a passing (pasang-awa) grade despite my recurring absences in his class.
Our national hero is known for being a multitude of characters: Rizal the scientist, Rizal the poet, Rizal the novelist, Rizal the revolutionist, Rizal the traveler. But it was Rizal the letter writer who moved me. Panels after panels of letters addressed to his sisters, parents, and friends filled one of the rooms at Fort Santiago. His handwriting was delicate and feminine.
When one is distraught or longing for something or someone, I assumed that one turns to letter writing, poetry, or travel.
The last breathing day of Rizal was engraved on the floor. To read the entire narration, one has to walk. A line, a step backward. How fitting it was.
Walking was the last thing that Rizal did before his death.
(Second of three parts)