February 23, 2021

John Benjamin Tesoro

Last February 16, 2021, there were only 6 National Monuments declared by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines namely:


1.  Jose P. Laurel Monument in Sto. Tomas, Batangas
2.  Jose Rizal Monument in Daet, Camarines Norte
3.  Jose Rizal National Monument in Rizal Park, Manila
4.  Apolinario Mabini Monument at the National Library of the Philippines in Manila
5.  Quezon Monument at the Quezon Memorial Shrine, Quezon City
6.  Andres Bonifacio National Monument in Caloocan


The NHCP or the "Pambansang Komisyong Pangkasaysayan ng Pilipinas" is a government agency whose mission is to promote our nation's history and cultural heritage via diligent research, dissemination, sites management, heraldry works and conservation. Quoting from the organization's "Mission" retrieved September 17, 2016, it "aims to inculcate awareness and appreciation of the noble deeds and ideals of our heroes and other illustrious Filipinos, to instill pride in the Filipino people and to rekindle the Filipino spirit through the lessons of history." As part of the reorganization after President Marcos' declaration of martial law, the present day NHCP was established in 1972. However, "the roots of the institute can be traced back to 1933, when the US colonial Insular Government first established the Philippine Historical Research and Markers Committee (PHRMC)" according to Ambeth Ocampo's "Looking Back: A personal introduction" (November 11, 2008) Philippine Daily Inquirer archived from the original on February 28, 2009.


On February 17, 2021 (Ash Wednesday), the 7th National Monument was proclaimed: the critically as well as publicly acclaimed, “GOMBURZA” by the late Solomon Saprid that was recently refurbished and located across the National Museum in Manila. Originally inaugurated on January 17, 1972 and attended by then President Ferdinand Marcos & First Lady Imelda, this highly coveted commission attracted the most renowned sculptors of that era. Stringent parameters were in place to coax the best efforts out of the participating artists which required a scaled model of their proposed artwork. Saprid’s entry stood out although the study is simple, compact, albeit monumental, his submission “had the greatest sculptural potential.” The sculpture’s visual impact forcefully conveys its message.


There was an article from the defunct Philippine PANORAMA by E.P. Socorro on July 6, 1980 entitled: “WHEREVER IT STANDS GOMBURZA STANDS FOR NATIONALISM.” According to the writer, the monument was “booted out” of its original pedestal in front of the Manila Cathedral and relocated to Plaza Roma along Burgos Drive and replaced by the original King Carlos IV statue erected in 1824. The move was carried out by head consultant, Dr. David B. Baradas – a PhD in Anthropology and assigned by the newly formed “Museum Design and Development of the Intramuros Administration” under the Ministry of Human settlements, the body which was restoring all of Intramuros to the way it was during the Spanish era that caused a “mild” controversy since the Spanish ruler was dominated by a lascivious wife and his only relevant claim to fame was the dispatchment of the vaccine that neutralized the dreaded small pox epidemic that infected a significant number of Manila residents serendipitously during his reign however, his underlying incompetence actually led to the fall of the Spanish empire. The “GOMBURZA” initially replaced the statue of Carlos IV out of Plaza Roma and when the latter reclaimed its former space, the transition caused a slight furore since the protesters felt that the administration which carried out the order “deemed it proper to restore to Intramuros what was once Intramuros’ and never mind if it meant putting a weakling back on his perch.”


There were earlier suggestions to transfer the monument to Cavite; site of the Cavite Mutiny of 1872 where the three martyred priests were accused of leading. Architect Jose Ramon Faustmann, consultant on town planning and IA architecture was appointed with the setting of the statue after the new site was approved and finalized after careful studies which almost positioned the artwork in front of the Manila City Hall in the triangle where they position the annual giant Christmas tree. After comprehensive deliberations by the committee, the choice was based on the following factors according to Dr. Baradas and Faustmann: the allocated plot is along Burgos Drive which is named after one of the clergymen; it is within reach of Rizal Park or Bagumbayan where they were executed; off the road and at the center of a parking lot, the location allows a better view of the statue and serve as centerpiece for the National museum. And because Saprid had originally envisioned Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora rising out of a pool of water, the architect constructed a 20×20 meter pool with steps leading down to the monument. The water will come cascading from behind the first step but will only come up just approximately until the fifth step that are topped with sharp gravel like stone to supposedly deter would be swimmers. But the hardy trespassers proved to be up to the challenge which is why security became mandatory in guarding the area from would be bathers.


For many years, the formerly enclosed area became a refuge for squatters who quickly established the surroundings as their permanent settlement while transforming it into a vast toilet and laundry facility while parts of the sculpture were being vandalized and stripped of some of its metal to be used for building materials.  The Lord gracefully granted all the immediate family’s prayers for all the involved government’s response and pro-activeness was nothing less than miraculous which includes the timing for help because the industrious incumbent mayor of Manila was concurrently transforming most of the city’s respected landmarks into its former glory which remarkably diluted the shameful legacy of past officials’ penchant for procrastination from recent memory made possible when 2 other separate organizations participated in restoring the monument and surpassing its former status. Besides the office of the mayor, the Intramuros administration and especially, officers from the National museum did not hinder each other’s objectives in making this wonderful event come to pass.


And so, the Saprid family could not express their gratitude enough when the responsible organizers from the National Museum graciously proclaimed, Solomon Saprid’s “GOMBURZA,” only the seventh National monument in the entire country. In the words from the exceedingly decorated sculptor himself, “As a Filipino, I gave the most of my talent to the making of that statue because I sincerely believe in what the martyr-priests died for. Their death actually started the nationalist movement in the Philippines, and what Filipino, artist or whatever, would not rise to such clarion call as theirs?”

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