City of Manila

“Can we defend it at Plaza Miranda?”

The title of this entry refers to the famous quote of Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay (whose birthday falls on the month of August as well) whenever a national policy that was to be implemented is something the public would support or not. It was a testament to the importance of Plaza Miranda as the venue for public opinion. But we are getting ahead of ourselves here as it is important to know first the story of this particular spot that has become a national landmark of sorts.

History tells us that Plaza Miranda was named after Jose Sandino y Miranda, the Spanish-era Treasury secretary from 1853-63. While his “claim to fame” is something remotely connected to free speech or even religion, (after all, the famed Quiapo Church/Basilica of the Black Nazarene is located along the plaza) it was something that is usual in the business of naming places, trying to fit a person’s name to a certain place even if the person has nothing to do whatsoever with that place, which otherwise would have been more symbolic.

Plaza Miranda during the Feast of the Black Nazarene as represented in art

While it began its life as one of the many Catholic church plazas that sprouted all over the country, Plaza Miranda evolved to become Manila’s “epicenter” of sorts as a center of bustling commerce in the city (the downtown area that is Quiapo in particular) and, more importantly, the country’s center for democratic activity, a center for demonstrations and political rallies.

marker dedicated to labor leader Crispin Beltran, who’s no stranger in leading/attending various rallies at Plaza Miranda
the so-called Plaridel Corner, named after journalist Marcelo “Plaridel” Del Pilar, which is supposed to be a platform for anyone who wants to say about the issues of the day

The postwar years before the Martial Law era was a formative time for Philippine democracy. Plaza Miranda found itself used not just as a gathering point for devotees of the Black Nazarene but also as a place for people to be heard regarding the issues of the day. And politicians recognized that. (the quote above by Magsaysay was an example) The plaza became a favorite spot for political rallies, like one such rally organized by the Liberal Party to announce its candidates for the 1971 senatorial and Manila local elections. That rally which was held on August 21 that year was supposed to be one of those typical rallies filled with speeches, entertainment, and fireworks. That was, until 2 grenades were thrown on the stage where the candidates and other Liberal Party officials were at, killing 9 people (one of them was a 5-year old child) and wounding many others, mostly prominent people like Senators Jovito Salonga, Eva Estrada Kalaw, Gerardo Roxas, (AKA Mar Roxas’ dad) Sergio Osmeña Jr., Eddie Ilarde, and Manila mayoralty candidate that time Ramon Bagatsing Sr.

From a bastion of democracy, Plaza Miranda soon came to symbolize a dark chapter in the nation’s history which led to a series of events highlighted by the declaration of Martial Law more than a year later. Even after the end of martial law, and the rule that implemented it, the scars of 1971 had an adverse effect on the nation and on the plaza. Even as democracy and freedom of expression was restored eventually, Plaza Miranda was never the same again as urban decay and chaos overran the plaza. This even in spite of a campaign was spearheaded in 1999 by then Manila Mayor Lito Atienza to “revive” Plaza Miranda by giving it a complete makeover, which some thought was too “garish” and “inappropriate” given the place’s character.

the architecture of these arches were designed to complement the Baroque architecture of the basilica, which some criticized for being untrue to the plaza’s character
the Plaza Miranda bombing marker is unfortunately obscured by stalls of fortune tellers & other vendors who don’t seem to care about the significance of this marker
the sea-lions/merlions which symbolize the City of Manila found at the arches of the plaza

Nevertheless, Plaza Miranda will always be an important venue that, for good or ill, has shaped the character of Manila and the country over the years and until today. More importantly, the spirit of free expression and democracy that has come to symbolize Plaza Miranda, is still alive despite what happened that fateful day in 1971. We can only hope that the fire will still remain burning and will not be forgotten and taken for granted by future generations. We can also hope that as much as the people value the freedom this plaza symbolizes can be translated into the taking care of the physical well-being of a place as historic and important as this one.

the statue at top of the Plaza Miranda obelisk, symbolizing the fire of freedom

acknowledgements as well to Travelsmart.net

© The Urban Roamer

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