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June 23, 2003

This month of June, the country celebrates  the 142nd birth anniversary of our national hero: Jose Rizal.  Rizal was born Jose Protacio Alonzo Mercado on June 19, 1861 in Calamba, Laguna (The reconstructed ancestral house has been turned into a museum. Contact tel. no. 545-201-10 to schedule a visit). He was the seventh child of  Francisco Mercado, a well-to-do sugar planter and landholder, and Teodora Alonzo, one of the best-educated woman of her time. Rizal’s siblings were Saturnina, his only brother Paciano, Narcisa, Olympia, Lucia, Maria, Concepcion, Josefa, Trinidad, and Soledad.  He wrote the novels “La Solidaridad” and “El Filibusterismo” tackling the abuses of the Spanish friars in the country and the evils that beleaguered the country in his time. At dawn on December 30, 1896, Rizal was shot at Luneta for supposed treason against the Spanish government. Not wanting to receive a traitor’s execution, Rizal requested that he be shot facing the firing squad. The request was denied. He then asked that he be shot not in the head but directly in the heart. On receiving the gunshots, he managed, with one last mighty effort, to twist his body around, falling to the ground on his back, his face turned towards the sun. His death fueled further the historic Philippine Revolution of 1896 led by Andres Bonifacio that eventually won for the country its independence in June 12, 1898.   

We present here below some articles on some of the many statues that proliferated forth throughout the country after his death, including the landmark Rizal Monument in Luneta:

 *Monumentalizing Rizal (text by Robert Paulino)

The Rizal monument in Luneta has long been considered as among the most famous sculptural landmarks in the country. It is almost protocol for visiting dignitaries to lay a wreath at the monument. At the Luneta is not merely a statue of the national hero, but also the mausoleum that houses his remains. Both statue and mausoleum are located near the very spot where Rizal was executed.

On 28 September of that same year, the Philippine Assembly approved Act No. 243, “granting the right to use public land upon the Luneta in the city of Manila” where a monument shall be erected to Jose Rizal.” As conceived by the Act, the monument would not merely consist of a statue, but also a mausoleum to house Rizal’s remains.  

A Committee on the Rizal Mausoleum consisting of Poblete, Paciano Rizal (the hero’s brother), Juan Tuason, Teodoro R. Yangco, Mariano Limjap, Dr. Maximo Paterno, Ramon Genato, Tomas G. del Rosario and Dr. Ariston Bautista was created. The members were tasked, among others, with raising funds through popular subscriptions. 

The estimated cost of the monument was P100,000. By January 1905, that goal had been oversubscribed. When the campaign closed in August 1912, the amount collected had reached P135,195.61 

Finally, more than twelve years after the Philippine Assembly approved Act No. 243, the shrine was unveiled on December 30, 1913 during Rizal’s 17th death anniversary.  

Swiss sculptor 

The Rizal Monument in Luneta was not the work of a Filipino but a Swiss sculptor named Richard Kissling. Further, Kissling was only the second placer in the international art competition held between 1905 – 1907 for the monument design. 

The first prize winner was Professor Carlos Nicoli of Carrara, Italy. His scaled plaster model titled “Al Martir de Bagumbayan” (To the Martyr of Bagumbayan) bested 40 other accepted entries. Among his plans were the use of marble from Italy (in contrast to the unpolished granite now at Luneta) and the incorporation of more elaborate figurative elements. 

Many accounts explained that the contract was awarded to Dr. Richard Kissling of Zurich, Switzerland for his “Motto Stella” (Guiding Star) because of Nicoli’s inability to post the required performance bond of P20,000 for the duration of the monument’s construction. Some sources say that Nicoli failed to show up at the designated date for the signing of the job contract. Another narrative declared, “parenthetically, the contract was awarded to Richard Kissling because his quotation was lower that that of Prof. Nicoli’s.” A complaint was reportedly filed by Nicoli through the courts of justice. 

Some of the local press lambasted Kissling’s model. It was satirized in a cartoon and labeled vulgar y tosco, meaning “lousy.” The constituents of the Jury of Awards – all Americans and none of whom were artists, architects nor engineers –were also questioned. (Then Governor James F. Smith headed the jury.)

There were plans for the famous Filipino painter Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo to inspect and modify the design. However, the latter was ultimately left “as it is” since the bronze of the statues had already been cast in Switzerland. 

The stainless steel shaft 

During Rizal’s (birth) centenary year in 1961, a controversial stainless steel shaft/pylon was superimposed over the granite obelisk. This increased the height of the structure from 12.7 meters to 30. 5 meters. 

The said remodeling undertaken by the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission (JRNCC) was widely criticized. It drew derisive remarks of it being “carnivalistic,” “nightmarish,” “commercialized,” “pseudo modern,” “hodgepodge of classic and Hollywood modern,” “fintailed monstrosity,” and “like a futuristic rocket ship about to take off for interstellar space,” to cite some. 

Many found the gleaming modernistic steel shaft incompatible with the somber granite base. Moreover, the latter seemed to dwarf the much smaller Rizal figure. Others simply dislike the idea of tampering with a popular and traditional image, which was already immortalized in stamps, paper currency, books and souvenirs, among others. 

The designer of the remodeling was Juan F. Nakpil – later to become the country’s first National Artist for Architecture. He quoted former Secretary of Education and JRNCC chair Manuel Lim as the one who “envisioned it as a part of obelisk that will jut out to serve as a convenient guide for incoming boats and ships and for the people lost in their way around the city.” 

The P145,000 shaft was eventually removed two years later under the request of Secretary of Education Alejandro Roces and Director of Public Libraries Carlos Quirino. It was dismantled during the Holy Week “reportedly to prevent any court injunction from restraining them as government offices were closed during holidays. 

Until a few years ago, the pylon stood on Roxas Boulevard to mark the Pasay-Parañaque boundary. Its present whereabouts are uncertain. 

*Rizal in Laguna (by Ronnie Reyes) 

Art professor Robert Paulino points out that, given their ubiquity (in every town plaza of the country), statues of Rizal are a good field of study. Such a study would yield important insights into the wide variety of ways in which the national hero is portrayed across the nation. One can see how the various communities all over the Philippine embody an idealized national image like Rizal. 

Monuments to Rizal began to rise soon after the hero’s death. The first known marker was set up in Daet as early as 1898. This particular one did not even have a figure of Rizal being in a shape, one time, Daet resident Fernando Amorsolo described as something like as haystack. At about the same period, images of Rizal began to proliferate in magazines and newspapers. Very likely, the monuments to the hero being created by local artists all over the islands were based on these. 

Laguna was chosen as the site of this article’s informal survey of Rizal’s monuments, being the hero’s home province. Even in such a delimited space, an incredible variety was encountered. Most monuments had the hero in his overcoat. The image possibly stems from that photo of Rizal with his friends in Europe. One cannot but muse why this becoated figure of Rizal came to be so favored. It is perhaps an indication that Rizal is seen as a national figure who is also an international figure. Does part of this esteem stem from the perception that he had adventured into other lands, and that he had experienced foreign climes? 

Interestingly, Rizal’s own hometown has the distinction of being one of the few places known to portray the hero in a Barong. This monument is of a more recent vintage. The older pre-war monuments in other parts of Laguna are more elaborate and extravagant. A good example is the one in Nagcarlan. 

In the Nagcarlan monument, Rizal is attended to by a whole retinue of figures. At the base of the pylon on which he stands are feminine figures representing virtues like industry and artistry. These figures are in turn surrounded by statues of merlions and maidens holding up torches. One impression which emerges from all of this is that Rizal is being associated with the virtues mentioned above. The hero’s presence becomes a kind of endorsement for these virtues.  

In two Laguna towns, Alaminos and Magdalena, Rizal’s figure is embraced by a woman, very likely representative of “Inang Bayan.” She is dressed in the costume of the period (circa 1920s). This time, the insinuation of a woman in familiar attire may be a mechanism to make Rizal less distant, less foreign. One of course can only guess at the intentions of the sculptor and of patrons who commissioned the piece. 

The named of the people who put up the monument usually appear in commemorative plaques prominently displayed on the site. Absent are the names of the people who actually made the statues and structures. Research is evidently needed in this area. 

In the case of at least one Laguna town – Paete, the creators are identified. In fact, it appears that the sculptors were not commissioned by some committee. They made the monument as a personal homage to the hero as one of them had actually been Rizal’s protégé. (The next article tells the story-ed.).  

*Rizal in Paete (by Eric Baet, translated from Filipino by Tony Alcasid) 

On the southern shores of the legendary Laguna de Bai, surrounded by the green foothills of the Sierra Madre, is the town known for its colorful traditions and for the skill of its woodcarvers. If one passes by the main plaza, one will hardly notice, behind a covered stage, a monument made up of a cement base topped by the statues of Mabini, Bonifacio, and Rizal. Though these statues’ coat of paint had faded and though they are covered in dust and surrounded in garbage, they are intimately linked with the town’s rich history.  

It is known that the statues were set up in 1903 to honor the three heroes of the Revolution of 1896. The Paete monument is among the earliest monuments to Rizal and other Filipino heroes. The earliest known monument to Rizal, the one erected in Daet in 1898, only predates it by five years. 

Dominador Castañeda, the art historian, notes that the Paete sculptors who created the figures were Mariano Madriñan and Jose Caancan. Interestingly, in a recent discovered parish commemorative program, the following were cited as the makers of the monument: Melencio Balan, Gregorio Pagalanan, Candido Caday, Pedro Caguin, Juan Caguin, and Jose Caancan. Absent from this list is the name of Madriñan. It is possible that Castañeda was mistaken in including Madriñan? In deciding this matter more research has to be undertaken. It should be considered, however, that the writers of a local fiesta program would have had to be very careful not to forget anyone in their list since someone in the town could have easily taken offense. In this light, one would have to weigh very carefully the absence of Madriñan’s name. Why would the fiesta program writers omit the name of so famous a town figure as Madriñan? 

Data shows that Maestro Madriñan, born in 1882, was one of the illustrious sons of Paete. He received a prestigious award from the King of Spain, Alfonso XII, during the International Exposition at Amsterdam. This was for his statue of the Mater Dolorosa which is now safeguarded by the Quesada family. Castañeda reports that Madriñan was responsible for the Rizal statue in the Paete plaza. 

Castañeda further reports that Jose Caancan molded the figure of Mabini from Portland cement even though he did not have any experience on the medium before. Interestingly, Caancan is known to have been a student of Jose Rizal himself. Having heard that the hero had been exiled to Dapitan, the young Caancan ran off to Mindanao to apprentice with Rizal. Rizal is supposed to have taught him carving as well as other subjects. 

In a way then, the monument in Paete represents a real connection between the town and the national hero. The monument is a witness to the passing of time, to crisis, and to progress, to calamities, and to other important human movements. This monument was set up not only to honor heroes but also as an important vessel of heritage to be inherited by future generations. 

All over Laguna, all over the country, the statues of Rizal at plaza centers, in front of school buildings have many stories to tell. Who commissioned them? Who made them? Why were they made? Many questions await their answers. Many stories await retelling.