MONUMENTS: ‘The Manila of our affections’

Bea Cupin
What do monuments mean to our everyday lives?

It’s the steady hum of cicadas that envelops you the moment you step into the garden near the Wall of Remembrance at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City.

That, and the absence of everything else.

To the right, 3 gardeners cut overgrown grass in front of a black wall that commemorates Filipinos who “offered their lives for freedom, justice, and truth.” There is nobody else on June 3, save for us, 3 journalists, out to document monuments around Metro Manila.

It’s the same experience almost everywhere.

Over the course of 7 hours, we went around 3 Metro Manila cities to visit several monuments. We wanted to document their place in everyday metropolitan life and, maybe, to answer the question: What are they here for?


{module 4205}

A key feature at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (literally, Monument to the Heroes) is the Wall of Remembrance, where the names of martyrs – those who devoted their lives for freedom, justice, and democracy in the Philippines during the Marcos years – are immortalized. From an initial list of 65, the wall has since included names of those who passed on after the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution but who, in their lifetime, continued to work for the same EDSA ideals.

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Ironically, Roces Monument in Roces Circle, at the end of Don Alejandro Roces Avenue in Quezon City, is without any marker or plaque about the man seated handsomely on the stately chair. Don Alejandro Roces Sr. was “influential” in creating Quezon City, according to outgoing Mayor Herbert Bautista. The monument is part of the local government’s efforts to commemorate those who helped establish the city.  

Don Alejandro Roces Sr., according to the Inquirer, is considered the “Father of Philippine Journalism.” He was behind publications such as the Taliba, La Vanguardia, and Tribune. Jonas Roces carved the bronze statue. 

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The Quezon Memorial is easily one of the most accessible yet often taken-for-granted monuments in the Metro. Built to commemorate the legacy of Manuel L. Quezon, the first president of the Philippine Commonwealth, the Federico Ilustre-designed structure features 3 columns and angels bowed in grief. All 3 angels, each holding sampaguita wreaths, represent Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Outside are images depicting key moments in Philippine history. Inside is a museum that features Quezon memorabilia and relics.

The remains of the late president and his wife, Aurora Quezon, are interred inside the memorial.

{module 4191}

Installed in 1993, the monument consists of 37 figures that depict different sectors from Philippine society that banded together for the People Power Revolution of 1986. “Inang Bayan” is the focal point of the monument, which remembers a revolution that ended the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

The tableau was made by Ed Castrillo and installed in 1993.

In recent years, the monument played host to protest rallies after the current administration allowed a hero’s burial for Marcos.


{module 4192}

Ninoy Aquino, assassinated by the guns of the Marcos dictatorship, once united Filipinos against tyranny. A senator before Martial Law under Marcos, Ninoy became a prominent voice in the opposition during the dark years of the regime. He was detained along with many others, such as the late senators Jose W. “Pepe” Diokno and Lorenzo Tañada, and lived in exile in the U.S. for several years. He returned to Manila on August 21, 1983, but was shot dead at the airport tarmac upon arrival. The international airport where he was killed is named after him. Ninoy Aquino’s monument in Makati was sculpted by Peter de Guzman.

{module 4194}

Muhammad Dipatuan Kudarat was a “brave, wise, and benevolent” sultan of Mindanao during the 17th century, bringing together tribes from Lanao, Cotabato, Davao, Sulu, Zamboanga, and North to resist attempts by the Spanish to invade their land. After several tries, the Spanish gave up and instead signed a peace treaty with the sultan.

Jose M. Mendoza sculpted the monument of the sultan in 1973.

{module 4196}

General Pio del Pilar was one of the leaders of the Philippine revolution. He was born in Barrio Culi-culi in what is now Makati City. Culi-culi has since been named after him. A local leader, Del Pilar later joined the Katipunan, a secret society that wanted to end Spanish rule by armed revolution.

He was captured by the Spanish and later released, pushing forward with his role as military commander. He fought against the Americans in Morong, Bataan, but was defeated. He was forced to exile in Guam along with other prominent Filipinos.

Upon his return to the Philippines, Del Pilar continued to work towards Filipino freedom.

{module 4197}

Gabriela Silang is credited as the first Filipino woman to lead a revolt against Spain. Born in Ilocos Sur in 1731, she led her second husband Diego Silang’s troops after his death. She was captured, sentenced to death, and hanged publicly in Vigan in 1763. Jose M. Mendoza sculpted this monument in 1971.

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José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Realonda is often called the country’s national hero. While it’s a title that the author, polygoth, and ladies’ man might deserve, it’s not solely his to claim. The Philippine government has yet to act on moves to officially declare several Filipinos “national heroes.”

Still, Rizal Park is one of the must-visits for any Metro Manila tourist. Rizal Park was once known as Bagumbayan – the same place where the Spanish executed Filipinos who defied their rule.

The monument figured prominently in headlines in recent years because of a legal battle over the construction of the Torre de Manila, a high-rise residential building. Today, the DMCI development stands prominently in the skyline behind Rizal. It’s been called the “national photobomber.”

{module 4200} 

Tucked in a quiet corner inside the walled city of Intramuros is a monument that pays tribute to the thousands of innocent lives lost as Filipino and American troops fought Japanese forces from February 3, 1945, to March 3, 1945.

“This memorial is dedicated to all those innocent victims of war, many of whom went nameless and unknown to a common grave, or never even knew a grave at all, their bodies having been consumed by fire or crushed to dust beneath the rubble of ruins,” reads the inscription on its base, penned by no less than the late National Artist for Literature, Nick Joaquin.

There was a time when the memorial had seemingly been forgotten – trash would be seen around the figure of a weeping woman surrounded by 6 other suffering figures. It’s no longer the case today – sweepers religiously clean the monument and the area surrounding it. Children use it as a base for their tagu-taguan (hide and seek) game.

“We have never forgotten them. Nor shall we ever forget,” so wrote Nick Joaquin.

{module 4201} 

In the middle of a compound that hosts among the country’s best museums is the dominating figure of Lapu-Lapu, the Datu of Mactan credited as the first Filipino to resist foreign rule. The Battle of Mactan, which marked the victory of Lapu-Lapu against the forces of Ferdinand Magellan, would set the Spanish conquest of the Philippines back for several decades.

The 30-foot bronze statue, sculpted by Juan Sajid Imao, is a gift from the Korea Freedom League. It was unveiled in 2004 and is also in Rizal Park or what used to be called Bagumbayan. 

The immediate area surrounding the statue is currently off-limits to visitors because of pending renovation work. When we visited, however, no renovations were visible just yet.

{module 4202} 

It’s both easy and hard to miss the shrine for Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan near the Manila City Hall. Bright patches of color dot the massive shrine, which depicts Bonifacio and the Katipunan’s role in the Philippine revolution. Bonifacio, often called “The Father of the Revolution,” founded the Kataastaasang, Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (or Katipunan), a secret society that worked towards freedom from the Spanish through armed revolt.

If you’re a motorist, the shrine becomes all the more important. The area surrounding it is a parking lot – brightly colored vehicles now outnumber the colored flags that adorn it.

“Monuments play a critical role of venerating persons who have played an important role in shaping the character and development of a nation,” Ian Morley, a faculty member of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s history department, told Rappler in an email interview.

While we put so much emphasis on the role monuments play in memory, Morley is the first to say that it’s not solely their burden to bear. “Monuments alone cannot keep collective memory alive,” he told Rappler.

“They form part of an infrastructure affixed to culture that reminds the public of important people in the past, and so how the ‘nation’ has been formed… they remind us of the past so that we know how the present state of the country has come about, and who played a vital role in that process,” he said.

As they build and bear witness to historic statues, monuments, and structures, do Filipinos truly care to remember? –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.