This year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Coinciding with this momentous occasion, the 31st ASEAN Summit is being held here in Manila this week until November 15, prompting protests, heavy traffic, and a former beauty queen committing serious traffic violation. But in the spirit of this historic occasion, let’s focus instead to what this site does best: urban roaming of course.
In relation to the ASEAN theme going on in the metropolis, today the Urban Roamer takes you right between the walls of Intramuros where one of the Walled City’s defenses once stood. Where now stands an open park that, among others, is dedicated to the regional organization.
The Parian defense system
When the walls of Intramuros were being built, one of the first parts of the walls to be constructed was the area facing the Chinese community of merchants that first settled in the area around what is now the Metropolitan Theater. This community would be known as the Parian de Arroceros, or Parian for short. And the gate leading to this community would be known as the Puerta del Parian or the Parian Gate.
The fact that the Spanish colonial authorities first built the walls around the Puerta del Parian is an example of the “mixed” attitude they had towards the Chinese in Manila. On one hand, the Chinese merchants have been a driving force in the city’s (as well as in the country’s) economy, especially in the flourishing galleon trade. On the other hand, the Spaniards looked at them with disdain and suspicion that they may soon overthrow the government, especially considering they might gain support from neighboring China. Because of this, the authorities imposed strict measures against the Chinese, forcing them to be confined within the Parian among them while the cannons from the walls around Puerta del Parian are ready to fire the moment any undesirable activity is detected.
And indeed, the Chinese, especially in Parian, revolted against the government on a number of occasions to protest the harsh measures. One such revolt occurred in 1603 which, while crushed, merited the construction of an additional defense system around Puerta del Parian, a triangular fortification or ravelin or revellin in Spanish built in front of Puerta del Parian. This would become known as the Revellin del Parian.
The Puerta del Parian would gain additional significance when in 1765, upon the destruction of the original Puerta Real (royal gate) during the British occupation of Manila, it was elevated to become the new royal gate of the Walled City. This means the gate would be the official entry and exit gate for use of the Spanish Governor General of the Philippines.
The Puerta del Parian suffered heavy damage during World War II and the restoration work would not begin until 1967. The restoration itself would take another 15 years but the efforts to reconstruct the old gate eventually paid off.
A garden for ASEAN
Almost a decade after the completion of the Puerta del Parian restoration, the area between the Puerta and the Revellin del Parian was repurposed to be an open garden. It was not just to be any garden though. It was a garden that was to be dedicated to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the regional organization of Southeast Asia where the Philippines is one of the founding members.
As such, the garden’s centerpiece is a little plaza where one can see the busts of the 5 signatories of the Bangkok Declaration, the declaration which paved way for ASEAN’s establishment, on August 8,1967. Among them was the Philippines’ then Foreign Affairs secretary Narciso Ramos, better known to some as the father of former Philippine President Fidel Ramos.
There are other monuments that can be seen in the garden, such as that of Dr. Jose Rizal near the plaza, the “Father of Modern Vietnam” Ho Chi Minh, and the “Father of Modern Laos” Kaysone Phomvihane. There are also a number of flora present that are native not only in the Philippines but throughout the Southeast Asian region.
In a macro perspective, it is interesting to note the contrasts that can be seen here. There is the Puerta and Revellin del Parian serving as tangible ties to our past connection with the West through colonization on one hand, and the ASEAN Garden showcasing our country’s present ties with (Southeast) Asia in free association on the other. It is an interesting study of contrasts indeed that forms part of our interesting, sometimes convoluted, history that has helped shape our country.
Postscript: A European art museum experience
Apart from the ASEAN thing going on, if there is one more reason to check out Puerta del Parian area and the ASEAN Garden, it is the open air exhibit called the “El Museo del Prado en Filipinas” which you can catch until December this year.
Organized by the Spanish Embassy in the Philippines and Instituto Cervantes Manila, along with the Intramuros Administration and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the exhibit showcases high-resolution reproductions of various artworks that are being housed at Spain’s national art museum, the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. Mind you, these artworks are works of some of the most renowned painters in history such as Spain’s Diego Velasquez, Francisco Goya, and El Greco. In addition, the museum also has works by Raphael, Peter Paul Reubens, Hieronymus Bosch, Titian, and Albrecht Durer, among many others.
If you are dreaming of going to Europe someday and visit one of the museums there, a visit to the exhibition is the next best thing.
Acknowledgements as well to Ciudad Murada by Vic Torres and Bantayog by the Department of Foreign Affairs