Rizal Park Luneta and the fresh air of freedom

First of 2 parts

Last Thursday, in the wee hours of December 30, 2021, I woke up to a tweet from an award-winning actress, Nadine Luster, saying: “Don’t get me wrong … I learned a lot in school, but I think that six years of repeated history was a waste of time. ” She added, “The same subject for six whole years … I had Lapulapu as a subject every year. Magkakaibang quarter lang.” Of course, I’ve been feeling bad ever since – although in all fairness all she said was that she had a bad experience learning about the history of the old program (the current K + 12 supposedly avoids this repetitiveness in social studies or Araling Panlipunan with the spiraling progression of themes each year from home to learning about the world) – some followers of this influential influencer might interpret that “the story is a waste of time “on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the death of national hero José Rizal amid a historical distortion.

But her tweet is also a time to reflect on the fact that there maybe really something to improve on in the way history is still being taught. I actually believe that at different levels there must be an age-appropriate review of Philippine history that may have a different emphasis – as it can be very difficult to talk about the disputed narratives of history in lower levels – which makes the absence of The History of the Philippines at the high school or high school level dismal. And even though there are a few rehearsals, if the story was taught in a relevant and fun way, maybe Ms. Nadine wouldn’t have called it a waste of time.

Last Thursday’s Rizal Day commemoration centered on his place of martyrdom under Spanish colonizers, known in 1896 as Luneta de Bagumbayan. Subsequently, it was named in his honor, Rizal Park. But of course, at a time when executions were a form of entertainment, other patriots also gave their lives there such as the tied-up priests Mariano Gomez, José Burgos and Jacinto Zamora in 1872, and the thirteen martyrs of Bagumbayan who were executed a few days after Rizal.

Since the motto Stella (Guiding Star – the Rizal Monument) was erected there in 1913 to mark Rizal’s grave – paid for by public contributions – this is where we have come to celebrate the freedom to commemorate our history (Day of independence and other public holidays), freedom of worship (three popes said mass there, the Traslacion begins there and other events of different faiths), freedom of expression (the march against the barrel scam pig and the protests against the funeral of President Ferdinand Marcos in Libingan ng mga Bayani took place there), and the freedom to love (where we create happy memories with our loved ones).

The flagpole is the site where Rizal’s dream of self-determination and identity was fulfilled, when the Americans finally granted our independence on July 4, 1946. The Quirino Grandstand is where we celebrate the beauty of democracy with the peaceful transition from one president to another.

It is simply “the people’s park” (as sung by Rico J. Puno, even the poor can enjoy it – “namamasyal pa sa Luneta ng walang pera”), but for me, as I said in the visit Rizal Park official virtual walk, it is also the “Heart of our Republic”.

So coming to the park and telling these stories can make learning history fun and relevant, like, literally, “a walk in the park”.

Last Monday, December 27, the park finally launched its logo and new brand image. The park is now officially called “Rizal Park Luneta”. We will talk about it again next week.

As part of the activities leading up to Rizal Day, the National Parks Development Committee commissioned me to organize a tour for some of the park’s guests, starting with the Salute to a Clean Flag initiative on December 27, which included its founder Monique Pronove, Liza Chan-Parpan (who recorded “Christmas in Our Hearts” with her father José Mari Chan) and Michael Villagante (Filipino winner of the Lorenzo il Magnifico prize at the Florence Biennale). It was my first face-to-face public visit to this pandemic, such a “perfect Christmas”! Then I also took a tour of Intramuros and Rizal Park, “Rizal to Manila, Manila to Rizal”, retracing his life, death and legacy on December 28th and 29th.

I was supposed to take my girlfriend May-i’s family, the Galuno-Orozcos, to the park on December 25th, her birthday, but we decided to postpone it until December 29th because of the Christmas crowds. With this, I had an awareness. Rizal Park Luneta is not only the cradle of our national history and the vessel of our personal memories. This is where the martyrs shed their blood for freedom, where we express our freedom, and during the Covid-19 pandemic, where we wanted to reunite our loved ones to breathe the fresh air of freedom. Rizal Park Luneta is where we feel free.

A new free and blessed election year 2022, Philippines!


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