The Unknown Rizal and the Time Capsule

By Harren Fegarido

Dr José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda is always a part of the growing and ever-changing modern generation of the Philippines. From one-peso coins to t-shirts, mugs and other merchandise, you can never miss his face and his tidy, one-sided hairdo every day. His life and books are taught in schools as a requirement (although, ironically, considered as a “minor” subject) to finish a course. Moreover, any student cannot graduate without enrolling in Rizal 101. Almost all plazas and open spaces in the Philippines have at least one Rizal monument standing small or tall and proud of its heroism. He’s the national hero so, of course, he has the right to the utmost recognition and honor for fighting for our freedom against the 333 years of Spanish colonization. Speaking of plazas and monuments, I came across this Rizal monument left withered in time and darkness and, in many years, has not received a single ribbon or wreath commemorating his birthday or death. Here is the story of what I dub as the “Unknown Rizal” and the time capsule.

Located near the corner streets of Jalandoni and De Leon Iloilo city stands a Rizal monument facing the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Aglipayan) church; it seems the statue was left undisturbed for years and is currently enclosed in a concrete wall with a locked gate that I have never seen being opened even once. Only a few people notice the edifice of the old weary and humble Jose Rizal (in “statue” form, of course) because of its unlikely location. Unlike other Rizal statues afforded with lights and honor guards, this Unknown Rizal stands alone watching the faces of passersby, hoping that either one of them notice him.

Unknown Rizal - Project IloiloThe monument got my interest since I live nearby and always pass that way. One early morning, as I was trying to take a photo of the structure for this article, I noticed that the gate was opened. I entered the place and saw men shoveling and cleaning sack load of oysters at the foot of Rizal’s holy ground. Inside the property lived some informal settlers, which were around two or three families. I started to ask questions from them around about the structure. One pedicab driver said that the statue has been there before he was born in 1952, and it was enclosed in a fence since it was situated in a lot that is a private property. After venturing out to ask more people living near the area, they seem to keep mum or avoid giving details about the structure, like they always say “it is of private property”. Maybe they thought I came here to investigate since they were talking about a media man who also came two years before and asked about the case of this memorial.

But really, how can a Rizal monument stand in a private property? I tried to google for some history and facts about the Unknown Rizal and no single data gave me the answers. By the time I was gathering facts about this historical edifice, a Facebook group in which I am a member was also discussing about this same Rizal monument. Then I met Mr. Elm Depatillo online and asked some facts about this Unknown Rizal memorial since he is connected with the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, which if you remember is the church standing across the structure. He gave some hints of history about the place and some interesting facts pertaining to it, as well.

During the Spanish colonization, the books of Jose Rizal—Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo—contained some details about the oppression of the Spanish friars, which was mainly characterized through Graciano Lopez Jaena’s “Fray Botod”. Andres Bonifacio also headed the Katipuneros in a revolution. Here, groups of Katipuneros were also formed to protest and fight against the oppression of Spain and Spanish friars. After the Spanish uprising, sons and daughters of the katipuneros—most of whom were members of the Aglipayan church, in addition to other sects and groups—created a society to remind the people of the revolution and the oppression they especially received from the Spanish catholic friars. These groups are called Kapawa and Mainawaon. The Kapawa put up the Andres Bonifacio Monument here in the city as a symbol of retraction and revolution against Spain and to distinguish the Catholic Church from the Aglipayans; this is where you can see the statue of Ka Andres today facing the Tanza Catholic Church with his bolo raised up and holding the flag of Katipunan.

The Mainawaon, on the other hand, constructed the Rizal monument facing the Aglipayan church, which still holds the distinction of being the only Catholic church established by Filipinos. I was then told that they buried a “time capsule” under the Rizal Monument in which, if ever the date comes to pass on when it is supposed to be excavated, contains the date of construction and will reveal details of Filipino history.

There is no record on when the monument was constructed, but it was believed that it was put up during pre-war or American era around early 1900s. The structure was constructed at the middle of a small park and members of the Aglipayan church pay honor and respect to our national hero during that time. No one knows how the monument had even came to be included as private property for the owner who bought the land. As of now, it is said that owners of an old grocery store in the city also own this lot. The Aglipayans then made a move requesting the owner of the lot to donate the monument to a museum or to at least relocate it somewhere to give back Rizal its stolen honor and respect. But because of other priorities of the church during those times, the relocation of the monument was put on hold.

Iloilo City is now in its own Renaissance period as of the moment; the city is undergoing a major facelift, heritage buildings are restored, old houses are turned into museums, culture and arts are flourishing and new investments come showering in. But some things, some things that play a great part in the city’s history, some things that have witnessed the rise and downfall of the Queen City, these things have been left behind. If no one will raise its fist and start a new revolution to restore, to bring back the glory, to uphold the symbol of freedom and revolution of this Rizal Monument, history will be hidden behind those concrete walls and the monument will stand there still, above a pile of oysters, in darkness and silence with no guards, no wreath nor flowers, no plaques or celebration. Only a structure made of concrete withered in time, and a time capsule hidden underneath remains.

Photos by the author

Harren Fegarido is a wanderer