Luneta Revisited

Hindi na siguro kaila sa marami sa inyo, na maraming taon ng aking pagkabata ang aking iginugol sa Luneta. Sa katunayan isa sa mga mabentang akda sa blog na ito ay ang “Alaala ng Luneta.”

Malaki na rin ang pinagbago ng lugar na ito mula nang ako’y lumisan ng bansa, mahagit dalawang dekada na ang nakalipas.

Ngunit muli akong nagulat sa progresong aking nakita nang huli akong magbalikbayan. Talaga namang matayog na ang monumento ni Rizal. Mas mataas na ito kesa George Washington Monument ng Amerika. Niluma rin nito ang Eiffel Tower ng Paris. Wala nang panama ang mga iba pang monumento ng ibang bansa.

Bakit ba hindi natin naisip ito noon?

At kung hindi pa po ninyo nakikita ang bagong monumento ni Rizal, heto na po ito ngayon.

Torredemanila

(*image from the internet)

(**ang akdang ito ay bunga ng bangag kong pag-iisip sanhi ng matinding jet-lag.)

Luneta, Cradle of my Childhood

(The following article was published in Manila Standard Today, June 6, 2011. This is an English version of my earlier post, “Alaala ng Luneta.”)

I read a few weeks ago from a blogger that Rizal Park, better known to me as Luneta, is being renovated and updated. This is in time for the celebration of Jose Rizal’s 150th birthday. (Rizal is old indeed, but his relevance never fades.) Included in the project is building a boardwalk in the relief map, and re-opening of the dancing fountain. It is good that this park received some face lift, as it has been left in the dark ages for some time.

The blogger also posted some pictures of Rizal Park, then and now. Suddenly a flood of memories of this place came upon me.

Luneta was not just a national park that my family frequented. This place has a deeper meaning for me. I know it is the death place of our national hero, but it is also the fount of our living.

My father was a certified public accountant and he became an employee of the National Parks Development Committee. This agency was in charge of running the affairs of the park. Its office was right at the heart of Luneta, near the Tourism building. Here, my father served as an accountant for about 20 years, later becoming its chief accountant. His work there provided for our shelter, put food on our table, and sent us to school.

Countless times did we go there, not just to visit our dad, but also to jaunt in the park. I knew Luneta even when I was very young and barely speaking. My mother told me that when I see the park’s landmarks, I will scream: “Uneta na, Uneta na! I spent many hours in its playground – running, swinging, see-sawing, sliding, and climbing the big shoe, the big hippo, and other playground structures. Even when I was in high school, I still visited the playground. No, not to ride on the swing but on bump cars, and to play space invaders in its arcade.

We also spent numerous times in the breakwater at the back of Quirino Grandstand. Here we inhaled fresh sea breeze (or fresh ship fumes?), and played while eating Magnolia drumstick or pinipig crunch. There were also many instances that we stayed until dusk to witness the magnificent Manila Bay sunset.

It was also in one of the swings near the grandstand where I attempted to fly. While my father was pushing me in the swing, I abruptly released my grip and jumped. Yes, I momentarily floated in the air, but also rapidly plunged back to the ground face first. My heart had burst in sadness as my flight was unsuccessful. My lips also had burst open and I had to be rushed to a nearby clinic to have my wound sutured. So you think Rizal was the only one who shed blood in Bagumbayan?

We also passed long hours idling in the lagoon of the dancing fountain, Japanese garden, and Chinese garden. I remember my father would take me at dawn on weekends when I was young, and we would jog around the park. We also saw people practicing tai-chi and eskrima, but we did not join them. And even though I almost passed out from exhaustion, those where one of my sweetest memories.

My sisters and I also skated several times in the skating rink at the water globe there. There were lots of skillful skaters in that rink (I wasn’t one of them). Many times, I stumbled and fell in that place. I scraped my knees – also my pride and dignity.

Of course, we also visited Rizal’s monument a hundred times. It was fascinating to watch the soldiers march around, especially during the changing of the guards. At one time, during my high school days, we stood and paraded in front of that monument in our fatigue uniform as CAT (Citizens’ Army Training) cadets, honored and pledged respect to Rizal. It was also under the shadow of Rizal’s statue that my parents taught me about patriotism and heroism. Rizal became my favorite hero.

After my father’s early death, our visit to Rizal Park had become rare. A few months after his passing, I was still in college then, my mother, due to loneliness, asked me to take her at the breakwater at the back of grandstand. There, we both gazed longingly far into the ocean. But we only caught glimpses of troubled waves and cloudy skies, for we could not view what our future would be.

More years passed. After I finished my studies, I went back there with my then-girlfriend (now my wife). As Rico Puno put it: “namamasyal pa sa Luneta, na walang pera.” Here, while we watched the sinking sun and the floating trash of Manila Bay, we let our dreams sailed into the west across the ocean, where the sun elopes and the light hides.

In 2008, after many years of living in the west, I went back to the land of my birth. One place that I re-visited was Rizal Park. With my wife, children, mother and sisters, we again toured the place that we loved.

We went to the newly opened Manila Ocean Park at the back of the grandstand. Truly, it was beautiful and can be compared to other nation’s top aquariums. My kids and I also rode a kalesa and went around Luneta, which made them happy. I made the kutsero happy too after I handed him our fare.

The water globe and skating rink were gone, the map was in bad shape, and the fountain was not dancing anymore. It seemed that only the carabao and Rizal had not changed.

I reverently approached my hero’s monument. Even though he had no more sentries, he still remained there standing, watching the world around him. I again humbly paid him my respect, and penitently whispered the reason I left him.

Alaala ng Luneta

Noong nakaraang araw ay aking nabasa mula sa isang blogger, na pinagaganda ang Rizal Park, o mas kilalang Luneta sa akin. Ito’y para sa selebrasyon ng ika-150 kaarawan ni Gat Jose Rizal sa darating na Hunyo, 2011. (Totoong matanda na si Rizal, subali’t ang kanyang mga pananaw ay naaangkop pa rin sa panahon.)

Kasama sa mga proyekto ay ang pag-lalagay ng boardwalk sa malaking mapa ng Pilipinas na naroon, at pag-bubukas muli ng mas pinabuting dancing fountain. Salamat naman, sapagka’t matagal-tagal na rin nakatiwangwang at napag-iwanan na ng pag-unlad ang Luneta.

Ipinakita rin ng blogger na ito ang mga larawan ng Rizal Park, noon at ngayon. Biglang bumaha sa aking isipan ang mga ala-ala ko sa lugar na ito………

dancing fountain at Rizal Park, circa 1970’s

(image from here)

Ang Luneta ay hindi lamang isang pambansang likasan na madalas naming pasyalan noon. May mas malalim pa itong kahulugan para sa akin. Oo nga’t dito nagbuwis at nawalan ng buhay ang ating mahal na bayani, ngunit dito rin nagmula ang aming ikinabuhay.

Ang aking ama ay CPA at siya ay  naging empleyado ng National Parks Development Committee (NPDC). Ang NPDC ang namamahala sa pagpapatakbo ng Rizal Park, at ang kanilang opisina ay naroon mismo sa Luneta, sa tabi ng Tourism building. Dito siya naglingkod ng mahigit dalawampung taon bilang chief accountant, at nang malaon ay chief financial officer, hanggang sa kanyang biglaang pagpanaw. Ang trabaho ng aking ama sa Rizal Park ang nagpakain, nagpalaki, at nagpa-aral sa amin.

Madalas kaming lumalagi sa Luneta para dalawin ang aking tatay at para na rin mamasyal. Bago pa lamang ako magsalita ay kilala ko na ang Luneta. Sabi ng aking nanay, kapag nakikita ko na ang mga landmarks nito ay sisigaw na ako ng “Uneta na, Uneta na!” (Luneta, at hindi puneta ang aking sinisigaw.) Maraming oras din ang aking iginugol sa playground doon – tumatakbo, nagswi-swing, nag-papadulas sa mataas na slides, at umaakyat sa malaking sapatos, sa malaking hippopotamus at kung saan-saan pa. Kahit noong high school na ako ay pumupunta pa rin ako dito, hindi para mag-seesaw o mag-swing, kundi para sumakay sa bumpcars at maglaro ng space invaders sa kanilang arcade.

Malimit din kaming namamasyal sa may breakwater sa likod ng Quirino Grandstand. Dito kami lumalanghap ng sariwang hangin ng Manila Bay (o sariwang usok ng mga bapor?) at naglalaro doon habang kumakain ng Magnolia popsicles o pinipig crunch. Maraming beses din kaming inaabutan ng takipsilim doon, upang saksihan ang kahanga-hangang Manila Bay sunset.

Doon din sa isang swing malapit sa grandstand kung saan ko tinangkang lumipad. Habang tinutulak ako sa swing ng aking tatay, ay bigla akong bumitaw at tumalon mula sa duyan. Oo nga at panandalian akong pumailanglang, ngunit mabilis din akong lumagapak sa lupa at sumubsob ang mukha. Nabiyak ang aking puso sa lungkot dahil hindi naging tagumpay ang aking paglipad. Nabiyak din ang aking nguso, at ako’y itinakbo sa clinic doon sa Rizal Park para tahiin ang aking nakangangang sugat. Kaya dumanak din ang aking dugo doon sa Bagumbayan – gapatak nga lang at hindi tulad ng ating bayani.

Madalas din kaming tumambay sa dancing fountain, sa Japanese garden, sa Chinese garden, sa open air amphitheater at nakinig sa libreng “Concert at the Park”. Naalala ko nang ako’y maliit pa, ay sinasama ako ng aking tatay ng madaling araw upang mag-jogging sa palibot-libot doon sa park, bago pa sumikat ang araw. Nakikita ko rin ang mga nagta-tai-chi at nag-e-eskrima doon, pero hindi kami nakisali sa kanila. Kahit pa hapong-hapo at halos tumirik ang aking mata sa pagod, ay isa ito sa masasayang alaala ko.

Mga ilang beses din kaming nag-skating ng aking mga kapatid sa skating rink na nasa water globe doon sa Rizal Park. Maraming mahuhusay na skaters doon (hindi ako kasama dun). Maraming beses din akong nabuwal at sumemplang sa lugar na iyon, kung saan hindi lang tuhod ang nagasgas, kundi ang aking yabang at dangal.

Rizal Monument, circa 1980’s

(image from here)

At siyempre pa, madalas din naming binibista ang monumento ni Rizal, na naging paboritong kong bayani. Nakakaaliw na saksihan ang pagmamarcha ng mga sundalong bantay, lalo na pag-nagpapalit na ng guwardiya. Minsan, noong ako’y nasa high school, ay tumayo at pumarada kami sa harap ng rebulto ni Rizal, habang naka-fatigue uniform bilang CAT (Citizen Army Training), upang magbigay galang. Dito rin sa harap ng monumentong ito, kung saan ipinamulat sa akin ng aking mga magulang ang kagitingan ng ating pambansang bayani.

Noong kami’y nag-aaral  pa (sa Pasay ako nag-elementarya at highschool), ay halos araw-araw kaming nasa Rizal Park. Dinadaanan namin ang aming tatay sa kaniyang opisina, at sabay-sabay na kaming uuwi sa aming bahay sa Sampaloc, mula roon. Ngunit nang namatay na aking ama ay naging madalang na ang aming pagpunta sa Luneta.

Mga ilang buwan pagkamatay ng aking ama, ako’y nasa unang taon ng medical school noon, nang sa aming kalungkutan ay humiling ang aking ina na dalhin ko siya sa breakwater sa likod ng Grandstand sa Luneta. Doon kami ay tumanaw ng malayo sa malawak na dagat. Ngunit mga ligalig na alon at makulimlim na langit lang ang aming nakita, dahil hindi namin matanaw kung ano ang bukas na naghihintay sa amin.

Dumaan pa ang mga taon, nang ako ay makatapos na, pumasyal muli ako sa Rizal Park kasama ng aking girlfriend (na ngayon ay misis ko na). Ika nga ni Rico J. Puno: “namamasyal pa sa Luneta, na walang pera.” Dito, isang dapit-hapon kami ay nangarap, habang nakatunghay sa lumulubog na araw, at sa mga lumulutang na basura ng Manila Bay. Pinaglayag namin ang aming mga panaginip sa buhay, patungo sa kabilang ibayo ng dagat, kung saan nagtatanan at nagtatago ang liwanag.

*******

Noong 2008, pagkalipas ng mahabang panahon at paninirahan sa kanluran, ay muli akong nakabalik sa lupang sinilangan. Isa sa lugar na aking muling dinalaw ay ang Rizal Park. Kasama ng aking asawa at mga anak, pati ng aking nanay at mga kapatid, ay muli kaming nagliwaliw sa lugar na napamahal sa amin.

Pinasok namin ang bagong tayong Manila Ocean Park doon sa likod ng Quirino grandstand. Tunay naman na maganda at hindi pahuhuli ang aquarium na ito sa mga aquarium sa ibang bansa. Sumakay din kami sa kalesa ng aking mga anak upang libutin ang Luneta, na talaga namang ikinasiya nila. Naging masaya rin ‘yung kutsero, matapos kung iabot ang aming bayad.

Wala na pala ‘yung water globe at skating rink, kundi ay rebulto na ni Lapu-lapu ang nakatirik doon. Wala na rin ang malaking relo na halaman (Rado flower clock). Tuyo at sira-sira na ang malaking mapa ng Pilipinas. Hindi na sumasayaw ang dancing fountain. Ang kalabaw at si Rizal na lang yata ang hindi nagbabago at hindi umaalis sa Luneta.

(photo from internet)

Mataimtim kong linapitan ang monumento ng aking bayani. Kahit wala nang mga sundalong nagbabantay dito, ay nanatili pa rin itong nakatindig, nagmamasid sa mundong paligid. Muli akong nagbigay galang…….. at mapakumbabang ibinulong sa kanya, kung bakit ko siya nilisan.

(*An English version of this article was published in Manila Standard Today)