By Marjorie Gorospe INQUIRER.net MANILA, Philippines -- Serenity. That is what Paco Park offers to the tourist who strolls inside the park’s adobe walls built during the Spanish occupation. But before this place was renovated into a park, did you know that it was actually built as a cemetery? Paco Park is a recognized cultural heritage primarily because this was the place where the remains of our national hero -- Dr. Jose Rizal -- were first laid to rest. Later on, Rizal’s remains were transferred to Bagumbayan, or what we call today as “Luneta.” The three martyr priests -- Fr. Mariano Gomez, Fr. Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora -- were the first men buried in Paco cemetery. Ironically, Rizal dedicated El Filibusterismo to the three martyrs and later on the four of them met each other in death in this same area, but not for long. However, even if their remains were already transferred, there are still markers inside the park to commemorate the four heroes. It was only in 1948 by virtue of a legislative act that Paco cemetery was transformed into a park in accordance with the guidelines set for all national parks. There was also a need to transfer all other remains to Manila North Cemetery because of cholera epidemic during that time. "This is a place to reminisce the Spanish era," says Carlito Fajardo, Executive Director of Paco Park. The walls and the structure of the park bring flashbacks of what has happened through the years -- endless toil are etched in every building block of each wall, marked by the sweat and blood of our ancestors under the unjust hands of the Spaniards during that era. “Tranquility -- how peaceful and quiet,” Fajardo adds when asked what Paco Park offers to the public. Who would have known that one can find a place such as this in the heart of a busy city like Manila? I was fascinated with the silence of the place -- for a moment I even forgot I was still inside the city. All you could hear is the humming of birds and -- if you close your eyes -- you would feel like you were sitting near a serenely flowing river. In reality, a fountain in the middle of the park is the source of that sound. This is a perfect venue for those in search of peace of mind, away from stress and pollution. Every Friday, the park holds a concert called "Paco Park Presents" where cultural organizations are the main performers. It may be the Rondalla concert rendering folk music, a chorale group filling the place with their angelic voices or a dance troupe performing the Tinikling and Pandanggo. The presentations, according to Fajardo, are primarily for the enrichment of our culture in the right place in a new age. The park is also open to wedding receptions and the couple may use the chapel to exchange vows. During my stay at the park, I saw Aling Remedios, one of the park’s caretakers, and she shared with me some occurrences in the area which she could not explain in her five years of tending the park. She says that, at times, she would hear someone walking behind her, but upon looking back she would discover the place was empty. On one occasion, a group of students took a photograph of themselves at the park, and it came out with a shadow that filled a portion of the picture. Aling Remedios says these events were creepy but that she did not pay attention to such things and instead focuses on her job. I also interviewed Angela, a tourist visiting the park with her friends. The peace and tranquility of the place were the main reasons why they stayed in the place, despite the knowledge that the park was a former cemetery. When asked about the feeling of sharing serenity with the dead, Angela says: "I do not want to come here at night. It would be scary so I prefer to come here during the day." My short visit to the park gave me a sudden rush of adrenalin, but I was certain it was not because of any paranormal things that might occur while filming the place. It was more because of pride that we managed to preserve our cultural heritage in places such as Paco Park where future generations would get a glimpse of the sacrifices made by our ancestors. Fajardo later mentioned: “As Filipinos, we should know our culture, values and how we became a nation.” My short visit to this place made me feel like a brand new citizen -- someone who is indebted to our ancestors because of enjoying a life built on the sacrifices of our heroes to preserve our freedom. I hope that in time, more and more Filipinos would appreciate a place like this instead of going to malls or bars where they tend to forget where we really come from.
Recently in Luneta Category
By Anna Valmero INQUIRER.net WITH malls installed in almost every key city and town, flashing the spirit of consumerism -- spending a lazy weekend afternoon at Rizal Park (also called Luneta Park) was a refreshing experience. My afternoon stroll last Saturday brought vividly to life personal archives of Sunday family picnics and class field trips for history. The visit breathed life to the sepia prints of my childhood photos and reminded me of my former classmates whom I studied “Kasaysayan” with. The park offers locals and foreigners a refuge. The green expanse of Rizal Park is a relief from the toxic environment of the city -- 24/7 air mixed with carbon monoxide and other pollutants, noisy, traffic streets and the like. The free benches, open spaces and shade entice visits from families and lovers, tai-chi practitioners, chess players, photographers and bikers. Away from the mall shops that lure us to buy more than what is needed, the park brings simplicity on spending quality time with those dear to us. To top this all, a stroll at the park is a good way to learn and teach history. The last I think is an important take-away when visiting the park. Bagumbayan, as it was called in the Spanish era around 1800s, is witness to significant moments in the Filipino history, such as the execution of national hero Jose Rizal and the Gomburza as well as the 1995 World Youth Day mass. During my walk, I wondered if the vagrants at the park knew who Rizal was or the events that happened in the park. It led me to thinking if all the people visiting the area knew the flagpole west of the Rizal monument is the starting point of Kilometer Zero for measuring road distances in the country. As they eat the contents of their picnic baskets, have parents tried teaching their kids about Jose Rizal and the busts of national heroes erected on both sides of the Luneta pond? National parks such as the Rizal Park are a great venue for building memories and teaching history. There is so much to learn from the National Museum, National Library and other centers located in the area. Think of it as an adventure: all it takes is an inquisitive mind and a healthy spirit as you embark on an afternoon journey to ask questions, discover and learn insights about our heritage from these historic sites.