Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stored Treasure: The Return to Luneta


Stored Treasure / 15 May 2011

In my blog post The Lion, The Trip and The Photos – The Chronicles of Singapura, I made a personal commitment then that I will definitely "see" again and have my photo taken at our country's national landmark Luneta Park. The reason for this is the realization that I always had my photo taken at the official landmark of every place I visit but I’ve never done this in our country’s very own Luneta Park.

When I say "see" that means to actually take a deeper look, appreciate and experience our very own tourist spot.  Well I for one somehow overlooked Luneta.  I actually studied at a university in Intramuros which is just beside the park and worked at a company based in UN Avenue, which is also beside Luneta. And I must admit, I took for granted my geographic advantage.  I actually just walked through Luneta Park to cross from one street to another end.   (Well that of course is beside the numerous visits my family had when I was a toddler which my mom told me but I can't recall).

And with the commitment I earlier shared with you, a few weeks back, I actually invited some of my friends that we take a tour of Intramuros and Luneta but unfortunately our respective schedules didn't make this possible for us.  But, last week, on the other hand, I was just fortunate enough to have been  invited to a Luneta Heritage Tour courtesy of the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC) through Melo Villareal. I of course immediately said yes not just because of my personal mission but the month of May is declared the National Heritage Month of the Philippines.  I in fact fixed my schedule for this and there's nothing stopping me for fulfilling one of my goals for 2011.  =)

From the NPDC office, I was surprised that we will be riding a tram like transport (sans the railway) in touring the park!  I was impressed because I didn't expect that we'll have this kind of tour amenity locally.

Luneta is about 54 hectares and is considered the largest urban park in Asia.  During the Spanish colonial period, Manila's social and business activities were confined within Intramuros, then the Luneta area, which is south of the walls, was cleared to prevent sneak attacks from restless Filipinos who resist the western rule.  During the early Spanish times, the area was part of Bagumbayan, a field that served both a carriage drive for the elite and execution grounds for Filipino patriots like the Trece Marteres (13 martyrs from Cavite) and Gomburza (Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, nationalistic Filipino priests).  In 1800's, the place was known as Luneta as its land area is shaped like a small moon (lunette).    In 1913, it is officially called Rizal Park as a tribute to our country's national hero who was also killed in the area upon the orders of the Spanish colonial government on charges of rebellion on December 30, 1896.

Our first stop was in the Relief Map of the Philippines found along Taft Avenue in Manila.  The attraction is currently being reconstructed by NPDC and the Department of Tourism to pave the way for the "One-Stop" Heritage Trail which will serve as an overview of all the heritage sites in the country relating to the life of Dr. Jose Rizal.  The project is in line with the celebration of the upcoming 150th Anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal on June 19.  All heritage sites will be installed (in 2D tarp and with illumination) strategically around the map.  Each will be captioned with its historical highlights with relevance to Dr. Jose Rizal.  At the northern part of the area, a 13" x 13" clearview outdoor led display wall will be mounted to project the audio visuals of all heritage sites.

Restaurants with "al-fresco" settings of local, regional and international cuisine will be constructed along the walkway on both sides of one-stop heritage trail.  One of the dishes that will be featured is Rizal's personal favorite, tinolang manok (native chicken) with papaya.   Food attendants of Philippine cuisine will be in either period costumes or regional attire.  While the international cuisine will be served by food attendants in foreign costumes.

The public will have the chance to learn on-the-spot historical information of the sites relating to Dr. Jose Rizal within and outside the park such as Rizal monument, execution site, Heidelberg fountain all in Rizal Park, Rizal's residence in Calamba, Laguna; Rizal's shrine in Dapitan which served as his place of exile prior to his death; his first monument which stands in Camarines Sur.  Moreover, NPDC Executive Director Juliet Villegas shared that Lunet Park will be 100% hi-fi connected so that tourists will not only stay online as they walk through the park but be able to get information they need to know relating to the sites featured in the relief map.

Domestic tourism will also be promoted as more than 30 heritage sites spread in Manila, Regions III, IV, V and IX will also be given highlight in the facility.

After taking a look at the Relief Map, the tram then toured us at the National Museum and Lapu-Lapu Shrine.

We then headed to the central attraction of Luneta Park, the Rizal Shrine.

The soldiers are guarding the Rizal Shrine 24/7.  If ever one of them takes rest

And finally, I was able to take a shot of myself at the Rizal Shrine in Luneta Park.  I can now say, "Kumpleto na pagiging Filipino ko!"  Hehe, I know nationalism goes beyond that.  =)

Finally, here's my shot at the Rizal Shrine in Luneta Park.

And then we quickly walked around to see the rest of the attractions of the park.

The flagpole is another historical spot as it was here that the Declaration of Philippine Independence from American rule was held on July 4, 1946.

La Madre Filipina, a relic from pre-war Philippines.  This statue was created by master sculptor Martinez.

Binhi ng Kalayaaan.  This is an expression of the profound gratitude of Filipinos for the men and women who, at the turn of the 19th century, fought for the freedom of our country and toiled the fall of a mighty empire.

Aside from refurbishing Luneta, we were also informed that the old and historical Luneta Hotel will be resurrected!  The exterior will be kept in its classic form while the amenities inside the hotel will be somehow modernized to cater to culture loving tourists.  This is really such a welcome treat for me. 

After the tour, we proceeded to Vin for the press conference.

NPDC Director Villegas presented to us the master plan for the new Luneta and the upcoming 150th birthday celebration of Dr. Jose Rizal.

National Parks Development Committee Director Juliet Horfilla Villegas shared the rehabilitation programs they already started last year to bring back life in Luneta.  Despite lack of funds and through the help of volunteers and the private sector, they were able to improve the Children's Playground, the Musical Dancing Fountain and the public comfort rooms.  And to help eradicate the negative image brought about by the hostage crisis last year, they partnered with the Chinese community for the staging of Chinese Lantern Festival and Chinese New Year Countdown.  Other events they co-mounted were Tara na sa Luneta Free Concert, 2011 New Year Celebration and World Cup Pilipinas Year 2. 

Director Villegas cited the playground as one of the many undertaking they have started to restore the public's interest and excitement in Luneta.

Director Villegas also announced the upcoming renovation plans for the upcoming Independence Day celebration and Rizal's 150th birthday.  Aside from the Relief Map, NPDC is also currently working on the construction of the Noli Me Tangere Gardens where the 246 year old Heidelberg Fountain is featured (Rizal used to drink in this fountain when he was in Germany), Rizal Park marker and the Flower Clock. Aside from the physical developments, NPDC is also already in formal talks in mounting large scale tourist events like the upcoming Cirque du Soleil. Management has also started strengthening security, peace and order by getting volunteers and about 150 security personell and tourist police. But of course, the public should also do its part.

While all these efforts are being undertaken, Director Villegas shared that they need the public support in able for them to continue what they started.  Filipinos are summoned to help take care of Luneta.  We can do this by keeping the park clean and free of vandals by being concerned and vigilant with our park.  Those who have time may also volunteer.  And for the private sector, NPDC need support the construction of the underground vehicular passage way, multi-level parking at Maria Orosa and free wi-fi Internet connection in Rizal Park.

This is the Kilometer Zero in Luneta but the letter M has been stolen.  As a Filipino citizen, we are summoned to take care of Luneta Park as well.  NPDC can't do the mission alone.

As I shared with you my personal commitment to "see" Luneta again, I know some of my friends may have found it corny in this age where malls and modern theme parks reign.  But I really can't fully blame them as the park has been neglected for years and hence suffered from image of being filthy, irrelevant, unsophisticated and unsafe.  These issues covered the very essence of the site and hence pushed us to forget Luneta Park's historical value.  Ir is important that we remember and appreciate Luneta's role in our country's history.  Luneta simply symbolizes our nationhood. 

That is why I thank and salute the National Parks Development Committee for all the undertakings done to resurrect our very own national landmark.  I for one will rally behind NPDC in pursuing this change, and I hope you will as well. 

As a quote in the movie "500 Days of Summer" suggests, "The next time you look back, you look again", let's try to go back Luneta, see its value, and experience the pride of being a Filipino. 

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