There was a time when public schools in Manila, and in the Philippines as a whole, were regarded highly for two things: quality education (which at that time surpasses that of private schools) and their architectural quality were landmarks to behold.
Today, public education is going through some tough times as it is being hounded with lack of resources and a growing student population that not many schools could accommodate. In the midst of all these, there is the Legarda Elementary School.
While the school is located in Manila’s Sampaloc district, it is actually not located along its namesake street which is one of Sampaloc’s main thoroughfare. It is located a few steps off España Boulevard, bounded by the streets of Sergio H. Loyola, Jacobo Fajardo, Craig, and E. Quintos. The land itself was originally part of the property owned by a prominent family in the area, the Legardas. The family donated that land to the city government for the purposes of building a school there which would be built in memory of the family’s patriarch who passed away years prior, Benito Legarda.
Legarda himself has played a prominent role in Philippine history, having been part of the First Philippine Republic as a member of President Emilio Aguinaldo’s Cabinet and a member of the Malolos Congress which drafted the country’s first constitution. But he would soon switch his allegiance to the Americans who colonized the country soon after and were waging a war against Aguinaldo’s republic. Legarda even helped form the country’s first political party in 1900, the Partido Federalista which advocated US statehood for the Philippines, something that did not sit well with other Filipinos as well as with the Americans themselves. He would also soon become part of the American-controlled Second Philippine Commission in 1901 and then became the first Resident Commissioner of the Philippines in 1907, acting as the country’s representative to the US House of Representatives albeit with no voting powers.
The school was built in 1922, with its main building designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro, the architect son of renowned painter Juan Luna. With its architecture inspired by those country homes in Victorian England, one would not think this structure actually serves as a school.
The school building was spared from the destruction brought by World War II as it served as barracks for the Japanese forces during the war. When American forces took over, they converted it to serve as military hospital and headquarters for the US 1st Cavalry Division. The Philippine Army also used the site as its headquarters for a while as well.
With the rising student population, additional school buildings were built to accommodate them. But the Victorian-inspired main building was left intact, an achievement in heritage conservation that was cited by the Department of Education and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
Legarda Elementary School today serves as a reminder of the glory days Philippine education once had and perhaps to serve as hope for better days ahead for the country’s educational system. Seeing this school with its beauty kept largely intact, there is reason to be optimistic somehow.