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Rizal Memorial, Intramuros, and other historic sites

The reported move to raze the Rizal Memorial Stadium and replace it with a commercial district with malls and condominiums has been met with a storm of protest from those who deplore the continuing loss of historic sites in Manila and fear the loss of even more due to the apathy of current and former city and other government officials.

Rep. Cristal Bagatsing of the city’s fifth district has asked the House Committee on Basic Education and Culture to look into the report and reminded the officials concerned of Section II of RA 10066, the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, which provides that “no cultural property sale may be sold, resold, or taken out of the country without first serving a clearance from the cultural agency concerned.”

The Rizal Memorial Stadium – officially the Rizal Memorial Track and Football Stadium – was built in the 1930s for football tournaments and some international matches. The First Oriental Olympic Games were held in 1913 on the grounds that later became the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. The stadium was built in the 1930s and it hosted the 1934 Far Eastern Games. In 1954, the Rizal Memorial was the principal stadium of the Asian Games. It has one other – non-athletic – distinction: it hosted two sold-out concerts of the Beatles in 1966, the evening concert attended by an audience of 50,000, the Beatles’ second biggest concert ever.

The rising concern over the possible demolition of the Rizal Memorial Stadium recalls other old structures that are now gone in the name of modernization – the old fronton where Basque pelotaris used to play jai-alai on Taft Ave. and the walls of the Army-Navy Club at the Luneta. There was a move to sell the Manila Hotel, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur lived for many years, to foreign buyers in 1997. The move, fortunately, was stopped by the Supreme Court which ruled against the sale of the historic landmark.

There is need not only to keep these historic sites but also to maintain them against the ravages of time. Perhaps the single most historic site in Metro Manila today is Intramuros, the Walled City built by the Spaniards across the Pasig River from the native settlements in Tondo. Intramuros has Fort Santiago where Rizal was kept prisoner and where he wrote “Mi Ultimo Adios” before he walked to his execution in Bagumbayan at the Luneta in 1896.

The Department of Tourism is now in the midst of a project to promote Intramuros with the Manila Cathedral, originally built in the 16th century, and San Agustin Church, 400 years old, with its Museum. Fort Santiago was the barracks of Spanish soldiers after Miguel Lopez de Legazpi came to Manila in 1571; the headquarters was named after Spain’s patron saint St. James or Santiago Matamoros.

The ongoing dispute over Rizal Memorial Stadium should renew our interest and concern over the few remaining historic sites in Metro Manila. Let us keep and preserve them not just for their tourism value but, more important, as reminders to our people of our rich history as a nation.