Plaza Libertad: The face of Ilonggo History
The heritage that surrounds Plaza Libertad is often underestimated here in Iloilo.
Formerly called, Plaza Alfonso XII, Plaza Libertad has been witness to several important events both for Iloilo and the country. One of these is the well known surrender of Governor General Diego de los Ríos to the Filipino revolutionary troops of General Martin Delgado on Christmas Day of 1898, thus ending the 333-hundred year old Spanish colonization of the Philippines. After which the triumphant revolutionaries for the first time raised the Flag of the First Philippine Republic on Iloilo City, the last bastion of Spanish power in the country.
The plaza was also Iloilo’s symbol of rising from an uninhabitable and marshy land to a internationally known cosmopolitan city in the 1890s. The history of Plaza Libertad was well documented on Reverend Father Policarpio Hernandez’s Iloilo: The Most Noble City. It was said that the plaza existed together with the Church of San Jose as a well-kept garden maintained by the local elites and authorities in 1870s. But as the Ayuntamiento of Iloilo took over the plaza in the early 1890s, wild vegetation covered the plaza and made it impassable and dirty. It was a sight of shame for the city as years passed with bad planning, inadequate funding, and sheer negligence.
By 1896, then provincial governor Don Ricardo Monet, passionately worked for the beautification of the Plaza. On August 13, 1896, Plaza Alfonso XII was inaugurated with trees, gardens, and pathways. It was a beautiful sight at the center of the city, like an English garden suddenly popping up in the tropics. Every Thursday afternoon after its inauguration, the Banda Municipal played classical music in the plaza to entertain the people.
It is also inseparable to the plaza that day in 1896 (or 1897?) when Ilonggos enthusiastically sent the Ilonggo Volunteers to Manila to help the Spanish quell the young Philippine Revolution. This event includes a parade and review of arms which was attended in full force by the Ilonggo elite and local Spanish authorities. These companies of troops, though fighting the revolutionaries under General Aguinaldo, demonstrated gallantry and admiration. This patriotism to the Mother Country (Spain) prompted Queen Maria Cristina to bestow to Iloilo City the perpetual title “La Muy Noble Ciudad” in March 1898.
In recent history, Plaza Libertad is also the site of the first and simple Dinagyang Festival in 1968 to honor the arrival of the replica of Santo Niño de Cebu which is a gift from Cebu. The replica brought by Fr. Sulpicio Enderez was received with gala and celebrations from the Old Iloilo Airport down to the city streets. It is also important to note that devotion to the Sto. Nino at the Parish of San Jose started a year earlier.
Today, Plaza Libertad is still the center of Iloilo City. On its northwest face is the newly constructed Iloilo City Hall (along Calle De La Rama) which will soon be completed. In the northeast, it is guarded by the historic Iglesia de San Jose de Placer (Church of Saint Joseph) which is opposed by the Masonic Temple (built in 1928 as Iloilo Lodge No.11) in the south side. Around the plaza are the Landbank branch which occupies the former Hotel de Iloilo, the Lacson’s ancestral homes, and several business establishments.
I for one sat at the benches on the plaza and stared at history in its face and appreciated the tree laden plaza in the middle of this bustling city. Still, the elderly and young students bring life at the plaza as actors and actresses in a tableau of history being made every day in the life of the Iloilo City. At Sundays, the plaza is filled with families and children playing on its open spaces while people walk around and still reliving the glorious past of this noble city.
A monument to commemorate the Ilonggo struggle for freedom. Shattering the marble which represented the initial apathy and condemnation to the Manila uprising.
Plaza Libertad welcome sign
One of the four figures found at the corners of Plaza Libertad. I see them like the four winds or four intellectuals guarding the plaza.
It may not have the climax it had in the Spanish era, but Plaza Libertad still reflects how this soft muddy land became the glory of the colonial times.
Tags: Iloilo City, Metro Iloilo - Guimaras, Plazas
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