City of Manila

A Mexican Connection in Intramuros

Mexico evokes many thoughts and emotions among Filipinos, For some, Mexico is associated with the nationality of many of the opponents boxer Manny Pacquiao faced, such as Juan Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, and Juan Manuel Marquez. For others, it is a country of the telenovelas from which we have come to love people like Thalia and become more fond for cheesy and insane plotlines. And there are those who associate and have grown fond of the country because of its food like the tacos and the burritos.

What many do not realize though is that this appreciation for Mexico goes way, way back. All the way back to November 19/20. 1564, when Spain launched an expedition from its crown colony in Mexico that would finally bring the Philippines under Spanish rule. The expedition led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi would arrive in the country in February 1565, launching Spain’s colonization campaign, capping off with the establishment of Manila as a city and the colony’s capital on June 24, 1571.

For the next 300 years or so, the links between Mexico and the Philippines grew within the confines of Spanish rule.  For one, the Philippines was being governed not directly by Spain but through Mexico which was the seat of the Spanish crown colony in the Americas and the Pacific. And of course, there was the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade which not only enriched trading between the two countries (and between East and West in a macro perspective), but also forged deeper relations between the countries through both tangible and intangible influences, from goods to customs, and even language.

Fast forward to 1964, the quadricentennial of the Legazpi expedition to the Philippines and is also considered as the beginning of Philippine-Mexican relations. To honor this occasion, a plaza outside the Intramuros walls was to be inaugurated and dedicated to this milestone.

The place chosen to be the site this new plaza was an interesting one, to say the least. It was where the storied Magallanes Monument was located before it reduced to rubble during the Battle of Manila in 1945. So somehow, it was fitting that in the place of the old monument dedicated to the man who kickstarted the Spanish campaign in the Philippines would be a monument dedicated to the expedition that managed to accomplish the campaign. At the same time, the riverside area holds significance as it was an area bustling with activity during the Galleon trade as boats along the river delivered goods to and from the galleon docked near the mouth of the river where it met the Manila Bay.

The plaza was given a new name: Plaza Mexico. A marble structure was erected in the plaza as well to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Legazpi expedition and of the Mexico-Philippine maritime expedition in general. The structure is actually donated by the Mexican Secretary of The Navy Shipyards as a gesture of goodwill.

Apart from the marble structure, there is also a monument located in the plaza, depicted a man seated on what looks like an intricately-carved chair. This has long been a curious sight for some to say the least. This has led to questions like: who is this person being portrayed in the monument? And what does he have anything to do with Mexico or Mexico-Philippine relations?

The man in question is actually Adolfo Lopez Mateos, a Mexican politician who actually served as the country’s president from 1958 to 1964. That makes him the President during the quadricentennial. As to why there is a monument of him in the plaza, it’s a mystery that’s waiting to be solved, at least as far as the Urban Roamer is concerned. It is not clear if the Mateos monument was inaugurated at the same time as the plaza, though most likely it is the case. Which makes things even more awkward if take into consideration the fact that not only was Mateos alive in 1964, he may have been still the president around the time this was made.

photo courtesy of Memoria Politica de Mexico

From many accounts though, Mateos was a well-remembered president who pushed for a number of reforms in Mexico. such as land ownership, education, and labor relations. Reforms that are still being felt in the country. I realize this may be simplifying things but I suggest you check out even his Wikipedia to know more what he has accomplished. Because of his contributions, many consider him one of the best presidents Mexico has ever had.

Perhaps if we get to learn more about him and his achievements, he would be better appreciated as more than just a guy who has a monument in Plaza Mexico. For one, he is already better than many of our politicians here.

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