The Birthplace of La Liga Filipina

City of Manila

This should have been published last month, during the anniversary of the founding of La Liga Filipina. But it’s history and national heroes’ month anyway so it’s still to get this out online today.

Today, the whole stretch of Ilaya Street from Plaza Amado V. Hernadez to the intersection at Juan Luna Street is a scene of urban madness. For one, the street is not passable to vehicular traffic with all the stalls occupying the road itself. Walking along this stretch of road is also a…challenge, to say the least, as you navigate through the walkways that have become narrow because of those stalls while trying to be mindful of not losing the stuff that you have at that moment.

It’s such a shame because Ilaya is a notable street not only for its commercial activity but also its historical significance. After all, it is along Ilaya Street where Jose Rizal founded his short-lived civic organization called La Liga Filipina (The Philippine League) on July 3, 1893.

The exact site where Rizal founded La Liga Filipina was at a house owned by a certain Doroteo Ongjunco at 176 Ilaya Street, who himself would become one of the members of La Liga Filipina. Alongside Ongjunco, the organization also counted as its members Apolinario Mabini, who would become a key adviser to Emilio Aguinaldo and would hold the distinction of being the country’s first prime minister; Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, who would write the declaration of Philippine independence that was proclaimed on June 12, 1898; and another fellow by the name of Andres Bonifacio.

Organizing the La Liga Filipina was one of the first significant steps Rizal did upon arriving in Manila on June 26. It can be said that after years living outside the Philippines and fighting for the country’s welfare as a member of the Propaganda Movement, this act was Rizal’s way of “taking things to the next level” so to speak. This time, he is fighting for the welfare of the motherland right at home. Of course, Rizal still espoused for the reforms the Propaganda Movement advocated such as representation of the Philippines in the Cortes or the Spanish legislature. Such ideals, though not as explicit, are espoused in La Liga Filipina as well.

However, the organization went beyond the Propaganda Movement. La Liga Filipina was a reflection of Rizal’s evolving mindset regarding the ideas of nationhood.and how a people can become better citizens. The the organization went so far as listing as its mission or aims being: uniting the whole archipelago into one vigorous and homogenous organization; mutual protection and defense against all violence and injustice; and encourage education, agriculture, and commerce. So while it can be argued that La Liga Filipina was not an independence movement per se, it seemed that it may be preparing its members, at the very least, for that event if and when it happens.

Whatever the case may be, the Spaniards were alarmed when they learned about it. So much so that just 3 days after La Liga Filipina’s founding, Rizal was arrested and exiled far south to Dapitan in Mindanao. As a result, La Liga would disintegrate as two factions emerged. One is the pro-reform faction called the Cuerpos de Compromisarios where Mabini became part of. And there was the other faction founded by Andres Bonifacio shortly after on July 7, meters away from the Ongjunco house in Ilaya. That faction would be the one we now know as the Katipunan.

The house where La Liga Filipina was founded no longer exists. In its place now stands a small plaza called the Plaza Liga Filipina. On the middle of the plaza, where an obelisk with Rizal’s bust currently stands. From what I understand, the monument is a replica of an original monument that was said to have been erected in 1903 through the efforts Timoteo Paez,  a member of both La Liga and the Katipunan and also helped secure the land where the original house stood to be the memorial/plaza that we see today. The monument was bulldozed in the midst of the destruction going on during and after the Battle of Manila so a new monument was built in its place.

Reading on what’s inscribed in the marker, also shares an interesting story how the residents managed to save the monument and the plaza, from being erased from existence during the 1960s. It is an inspiring tale which I hope present and future generations will take to heart not only preserving this site but all other surviving heritage and historic sites in the city and in the country as well.

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