Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Rizal Diorama...A "Must See" in Manila

"The fam" and I took a side trip to Luneta Park in Manila. With so much local history represented in that place, I knew I would wind up there eventually.

Over the span of 74 years, the cruel Spaniards took the lives of almost 140 Filipinos in a small northwest corner of the park, a place that I call the killing ground. Many of those martyred in that hallowed place were totally innocent of the charges of treason and rebellion leveled at them; just the same, to set an example, they were either shot or garroted.

In fact, in 1872, Spain choked the lives out of three innocent Filipino priests in Luneta, which made them forever beloved and famous to generations of their countrymen. I’m an American, but I’ll never forget their names—Fathers Burgos, Gomez, and Zamora. Falsely accused of masterminding the '72 Cavite Rebellion, one of the priests pleaded, “Why are you killing me? I have done nothing!” The Spaniard placing the metal “squeeze collar” around his neck, answered callously, “Don’t you understand? It doesn’t matter.”

Twenty-four years later, on December 30, 1896, they murdered another innocent Filipino, the most famous “Pinoy” in the history of this country—Jose Rizal.

The Spanish in charge of their Philippines colony made a huge mistake when they killed this incredibly intelligent and talented man. The evil friars and Spanish governing authorities insisted on his demise, but in doing so, they galvanized the rest of his countrymen into finally going through with a full-scale run at independence. Read
this earlier post to get a more in-depth look at this truly wonderful man.

I found the following excerpt online:

“North of the Rizal monument, near the Chinese Garden, is a small enclosed section. This is the actual site of Rizal's execution. Larger-than-life dioramas show his final days in captivity and his death at the hands of his own countrymen. The Spanish authorities used Filipino, not Spanish soldiers, for his firing squad. As the diorama statues show, Rizal's last act of defiance was to face away from his executioners."

We visited the diorama around lunchtime; so naturally, we were almost the only ones there. As I’ve said in previous posts, Filipinos NEVER miss lunch.

I was struck by the size of the figures. As the photos show, the bronze statues tower over mere humans. It cost less than 20 cents per person to enter, and it was money well spent.

The “enclosed section” around the diorama is made that way by grassy manmade hummocks about eight feet high. I would never have done it that way, since it destroys the way it might have looked at the time of Rizal’s death. As a lay-historian, I am a purist when it comes to the preservation of historical sites. Then again, the way it once looked can never be recaptured, especially since much of the land that was once Manila Bay is now reclaimed land. On his walk to the execution site from his prison cell inside the ancient walled city of the Intramuros, Rizal remarked how wonderful the view of the Bay and how clear he could see the Cavite Peninsula. Unfortunately, these days there is absolutely no way anyone can see Manila Bay from anywhere in the Luneta Park.

The excerpt I found above states that Rizal’s last act of defiance was to face away from his Filipino firing squad. That is a bit misleading, because actually, his statue is supposed to represent him spinning away from the firing soldiers in a last gasp effort to die looking up at the sky, instead of breathing his last face down.

In reality, his last request was to be shot facing his executioners, but the Spaniards refused, citing Spanish law that seditionists are to be shot in the back. Legend has it that as the bullets crashed through his back, with superhuman effort he spun himself so that he could die face up. Considering what happens to the human body when a half-dozen large caliber bullets crash through it, I find this to be a highly unlikely; just the same, it certainly adds grandly to his legend.

As we wondered through the gigantic bronzes inside the enclosed area, I changed my mind somewhat about the presence of all the trees and tall lush hummocks. They provide welcome protection from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. The quiet and peace within its bounds promotes contemplation and reflection.

My girls ran from statue to statue, while I also wandered from one visual to the next, trying to imagine what it must have been like when Dr. Rizal tragically breathed his last. I felt like weeping, but I was angry too, remembering how the spectating Spanish men and women had actually cheered as the peace loving, and yes, SPANISH LOVING man lay bleeding on the ground at their feet. Outraged, I thought, ‘How COULD they?’

Not far from the diorama is the Rizal Monument. I will talk of it in a future post.


Amadeo said...


Another rich Philippine history lesson.

I used to spend weekends at the Luneta because many college/universities held ROTC training there.

But it is now much more eye-rich and more developed compared to our times.

You must also have visited the new refurbished Intramuros.

I suggest you also visit nearby historic Escolta and environs, just across Jones Bridge. Once the premier commercial spot in Manila. I would like very much to see pictures of how it now looks.

More power!

PhilippinesPhil said...

Sounds like a plan Amadeo. So much to see, so little time...

Ed said...

My Philippine vacation file is starting to get pretty thick these days. I already have scuba diving to check out underwater caves and other historical places to visit... of course during lunch time.

Nick Ballesteros said...

*sigh* This post reminds me of the time I was new in Manila. I was reviewing for the board exams then, and being from Baguio City, I didn't know anybody else there except another college friend who was also my classmate in the review classes. We used to visit Rizal Park on the weekends and watch Concert at the Park where classical music and Filipino folk music is staged. We liked watching it because it's relaxing and best of all, it's for free (we barely had extra money between ourselves to buy snacks then).

How time flies. I should like to visit Luneta Park once more with my wife and revisit my old haunts more than a decade ago. I have never been to the life-size statues myself.

Thank you Phil.