January 04, 2011
Others give you their lives without pain or hesitancy,
The place does not matter: cypress laurel, lily white,
Scaffold, open field, conflict or martyrdom’s site,
It is the same if asked by home and Country.
—excerpt from Mi Ultimo Adios
Among Filipino values, “pagtanaw ng utang na loob” is one of the most cherished. More than a sense of gratitude, it is an act rooted to the humane inner self. The Rizal National Monument in Rizal Park is perhaps the most recognizable and photographed monument in the Philippines. It is the nation’s foremost memorial to a linguist, novelist, doctor, scholar, poet and artist. A concrete act of “pagtanaw ng utang na loob” to a Filipino who offered his life in martyrdom to free his country from the bonds of Spanish colonialism.
On September 28, 1901, Philippine Commission Act 243 was passed, allowing the use of public land at the Luneta in the City of Manila to erect a monument to Jose Rizal. It would serve as the final resting place for the hero’s body.
An international art competition was launched and held from 1905 to 1907 to design Rizal’s monument. Many well-known sculptors from around the world participated and sent their entries, which included a scale model and a sketch of the monument and a site development plan. Among the 40 models at the public exhibition at the Ayuntamiento’s Marble Hall (formerly known as the Casa Consistorial), six were chosen by the committee headed by then Gov. James Smith. These are: Motto Stella, Al Martir de Bagumbayan, Noli Me Tangere Para Rizal, 1906, Victoria, F.F. and Maria Clara.
The prize-winning entry was entry 21, Al Martir de Bagumbayan by Italian sculptor Carlos Nicoli while entry 9, Motto Stella by Swiss sculptor Richard Kissling was given the second prize. Cash prizes of P5,000 and P2,000 were awarded respectively.
Nicoli’s entry was one of the first designs entered in the competition. The design was rectangular in shape with elegant details. Lions and ornate lampposts decorate its corners. In the center rises a marble base adorned with allegorical figures representing Victory, Justice, Music and the Fine Arts. A magnificent pedestal capped by a statue of Rizal with an angel of Fame hovering above his figure, dominates the structure.
The design of the Motto Stella, according to Kissling, took into account the numerous natural calamities that visit the country. His design represents piles of rocks as the base of an obelisk, at the foot of which is the larger than life statue of Dr. Rizal holding a book. The body of the monument is made of ordinary, unburnished granite, while its figures are in bronze.
However, because of technicalities, Kissling’s bronze and unpolished granite sculpture was the monument constructed.
The decision to award the coveted prize to Kissling’s design was met with criticism during the time. A caricature published in the Renacimiento Filipino compared Kissling’s monument to a pison or rammer.
Critics also noted the exaggerated proportions of the figures and their almost European features. Efforts were made to improve the design of the monument but to no avail.
On December 30, 1912, a solemn procession escorted the urn containing the remains of Jose Rizal from the Ayuntamiento Building to the base of the monument. Present were the surviving family members of Rizal and the members of the monument design commission. The monument was inaugurated the following year in time for the commemoration of the 17th death anniversary of the hero.
Initially thought of as a convenient beacon for ships and a landmark for the people of Manila, a stainless steel pylon designed by Architect Juan Nakpil was added on to the monument during the birth centenary of Rizal in 1961. The project was initiated by the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission, but was met by a barrage of criticism until it was eventually removed.
Today, the Jose Rizal monument stands as a lasting tribute of a grateful nation to one who believed in peaceful change, not unwarranted violence, as the true path to freedom. It is a testament and constant reminder to each generation that within the Filipino soul, the kalooban, lies a Jose Rizal, always ready to serve his beloved motherland.
An exhibition of select photographs of the different scale models submitted during the Rizal Monument contest from 1905 to 1907 is ongoing at the main office of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), T.M. Kalaw Street, Ermita, Manila. Aptly titled Bantayog, the exhibit showcases never-before-published photographs and articles about the Rizal National Monument from the NHCP’s Alfonso Ongpin Collection. The exhibition will also be presented in selected colleges and universities around the country in commemoration of Jose Rizal’s 150th Birth Anniversary.
Rommel R. Aquino works for the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.