Batang Frisco

Thomas M Orbos

I am a bona fide “Batang Frisco.” I spent my childhood years in San Francisco Del Monte. I remember the tricycle rides to the Frisco market. I can still see the memories of a clean Del Monte River, the rice fields nearby and that old cigar factory in Roosevelt. Most of all, I cherish the memories of those Sunday family masses at the San Pedro Bautista parish, followed by a quick stop at that old bakery in Del Monte Avenue. San Francisco Del Monte or “SFDM” is forever carved in my memories as well as in the history of Quezon City.

It should be so. San Francisco Del Monte is older than the city itself. It traces its beginnings to 1591 when the Franciscan friars led by Pedro Bautista built a place of retreat and convalescence on this hilly area by a river on the outskirts of Intramuros. That convent and church, now named as Basilica Minore de Sanctuario de San Pedro Bautista still stands; its catacombs and plaza reminiscent of our Spanish past. The old carriage trail is now the busy Del Monte Avenue leading all the way to Manila. This roadway played crucial roles during the Philippine Revolution, the Philippine-American War, and in the battle to retake Manila by the joint Filipino and American forces during the last world war.

It comes as a concern then to hear about the proposed Senate bill to rename Del Monte Avenue, where the FPJ Productions is located, to Fernando Poe Jr. Ave. I understand where our legislators are coming from and there is no argument that the late Fernando Poe Jr.—who could have been our president, deserves to be given the proper honor and tribute. But with all due respect, such a move to rename Del Monte Avenue might not do justice not just to Quezon City but also to FPJ himself.  FPJ is a man of history. He not only appreciated history but also understood its significance. We can see this in his use of mass media. FPJ was meticulously accurate and he collaborated with the likes of Nick Joaquin and Erwin Castillo in injecting history in his films.  And for many Filipinos, his movie persona provided us that image of nationalism, more than what any history book and school lesson can provide. His fight for justice and freedom for the motherland in the many characters he played also became our fight. In this regard, the historical significance of San Francisco Del Monte did not escape him. Many scenes of his movies, especially those that revolved around the Spanish period, were shot on location in these areas, the church most especially.

In the Senate hearing held on this matter, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines gave its reservations to the proposed measure, citing a provision in our Heritage law that street names in existence for more than 50 years are already considered historical. Moreover, Del Monte is not just a road name but, as mentioned earlier, a reminder of the very creation of   the settlement that is now Quezon City. A more suitable tribute to FPJ is an honest to goodness count of his votes in his only electoral participation no matter how late it may be. This is more forthright than having a road named in his honor, now being discussed by some of those who left him hanging in his presidential run.

Admittedly, though, the move for a name change will be more political than anything.  Most likely, the bill will be passed into law with the Senate bill now being approved on the committee level and its counterpart measure in the House having been approved last month. If this happens, we will not argue on the merits of the law and our legislative process.

But moving forward, if there is one thing that this exercise will reveal and hopefully change is the fact that we, as a race, are still shortsighted in giving due importance to our own history. And while we easily lose the significance of past events, landmarks and institutions, arguments on such matters may hopefully lead us to more awareness about our past. History is the bedrock of any nation. We just need to glimpse at our Asian neighbors—Thailand, Korea, Japan, China—to seen how they value their own heritage. Our past makes us stronger. It is who we are and who we will become. Hopefully, the next time a similar measure is presented for discussion, a deeper consideration for our history is given due importance. Only then will branding oneself as “Batang Frisco” or “Batang FPJ” will have a deeper sense of history and belonging.

Thomas “Tim” Orbos was formerly with the DOTr and the MMDA. He has completed his graduate studies at the McCourt School of Public Policy of Georgetown University and is an alumnus of the MIT Sloan School of Management. He can be reached via e-mail at thomas_orbos@sloan.mit.edu

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