Story & Photos by Benjamin Layug Locsin
December 30 of this year will be the 125th anniversary of the execution of Filipino nationalist, writer, revolutionary and National Hero Jose P. Rizal. Almost every city or town plaza here in the country (there are currently 118), and even abroad (in Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America) has a monument, in stone, granite or bronze, dedicated to the National Hero and the values he stood for.
Of course, the most notable monument of them all is the Rizal Monument in Rizal Park (formerly Luneta). This imposing, 12.7 m. high monument itself, with its bronze statue of Dr. Jose Rizal standing on a rhombic base of solid granite rock below a 50-foot high obelisk, is his burial place (not the site of the execution, as many people think, which is about 100m north-northwest).
It had its beginnings in 1907 when a design contest for a monument dedicated to Rizal was held. Sculptors from America, Europe and other parts of the world began sending their entries in scaled miniature plastic cast models. The P100,000 grand prize entry was won by Italian sculptor Carlos Nicoli’s Martyrs of Bagumbayan. However, it was not able to post the required sizable performance bond and so the P50,000 second-place winning entry Motto Stella of Dr. Richard Kissling (of Zurich) was used instead and cast in Switzerland.
The monument was started on December 10, 1910 on land in the Luneta set aside for such by virtue of Philippine Assembly Act No. 234 on September 28, 1908. It was completed on April 26, 1913 and unveiled on December 30, 1913, the anniversary of Rizal’s death. His remains were finally transferred here on June19 and the Luneta was renamed Rizal Park. Today, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., two stoic Marine guards from a platoon of 33 honor guards take two-hour shifts of duty keeping vigil in Rizal’s honor as well as secure the safety and dignity of Luneta. Its changing of the guard is a spectacle in itself. Wreath-laying ceremonies are held here during national holidays and state visits.
In late 1961, during the centenary of Rizal’s birth, an attempt was made to modernize the Rizal Monument by adding an infamous aluminum pylon atop the old granite obelisk to make it look taller. Denounced as “carnivalistic” and “desecrating,” this “artificial top hat” was removed in 1962.
An exact replica of the Rizal Monument can be found in Madrid, Spain where Rizal stayed in for most of his European sojourn (1882 to 1891), and in Jinjiang, Fujian in China, where Rizal’s family roots can be traced.
Other countries (even those Rizal never set foot in) with plaques and Rizal busts or sculptures bearing his likeness include Singapore (Rizal visited Singapore four times), Hong Kong (where he served his self-imposed exiled in 1888); Tokyo, Japan (where he stayed for 45 days from February 28 to April 13, 1888 and fell in love with Seiko Usui), Wilhelmsfeld, Germany (where he stayed for 3 months, attending lectures and writing the last chapters of Noli Me Tangere); Montreal, Canada; Paris, France; London, United Kingdom; Sydney, Australia; Prague and Litomerice (home of friend Ferdinand Blumentritt), Czech Republic (which he visited in 1887 with friend Maximo Viola); Buenos Aires, Argentina; Lima, Peru; and Rome, Italy (he stayed here from June 27-30, 1887).
Rizal first saw America on April 28, 1888, and visited the cities of New York, Oakland, Reno, Chicago, and Boston. In, the United States, there are Rizal sculptures in Juneau (Alaska); Kauai and Lihue ( Hawaii); Chicago (Illinois); Orlando (Florida); Carson (California); Cherry Hill (New Jersey); New York City, and Seattle (Washington).
Though the Rizal Monument may be the most well-known and over a century old, it is not the first and oldest monument erected in honor of Rizal. Though Rizal never set foot in this town, that honor falls to a sparsely decorated, but still impressive and majestic monument in Daet in Camarines Norte. This 3-tiered, 20-ft. high stone pylon, near the bank of the Daet River, was designed by Lt. Col. Antonio Sanz, a soldier-artist, revolutionary head of the local government and a Mason like Rizal, and Lt. Col. Ildefonso Alegre.
Just two years after Rizal’s death, the groundbreaking for the construction of this monument was done on December 30, 1898, in observance of the first-ever Rizal Day (the first province to do so), decreed on December 20 by then Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo. It was completed sometime in February 1899, shortly after the outbreak of the Philippine-American War antedating, by 14 years, the more famous one built in Luneta. Unlike other monuments today, this piece is also rather unique as it does not bear a sculpted image of Rizal.
Calamba City, being the birthplace of Rizal, is home to the 6.7 m. (22-ft., representing the 22 languages Rizal spoke) high bronze statue of Rizal, located on a 6.7-hectare government property across the modern, 4-storey Calamba City Hall and the highway in Laguna, is the second tallest statue of the National Hero anywhere in the world. The statue, sculpted by Jonas Roces, stands on a 2.8 m. high tiled concrete pedestal mounted on a platform surrounded on all four sides by 15-step (representing 150 years) flights of stairs. The monument’s total height is around 13.1 m. (43 ft.).
This was the tallest statue in the country from 2011 until 2014 when the 7.93 m. (26 ft.) high bronze Rizal Monument, sculpted by Toym Imao (son of National Artist for Sculpture Abdulmari Asia Imao) in Santa Cruz, Laguna, was unveiled for the 2014 Palarong Pambansa hosted by the province. Depicting Rizal wearing a fencing uniform and holding an epee, it is the only one of its kind in the world. The third highest is a 16-ft. high bronze statue, built by Jordanian philanthropist Mahmoud Asfour, in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya.
Calamba City is also home to the smallest statue of Rizal, a bronze statue of Rizal as a child in the Rizal Shrine, done by Duddley Diaz and unveiled on June 19, 1998. The Rizal Shrine is a 10-minutes drive from the monument.