The Long View : The landscape of memory

The Long View : The landscape of memory

First posted 10:57pm (Mla time) Nov 28, 2004
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Inquirer News Service

Editor’s Note: Published on page A15 of the November 29, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

ABOUT 10 years ago, I wrote about an order issued by Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan III, imposing a moratorium on the renaming of streets. His reason was simple: mailmen were getting lost, and letters weren’t reaching destinations. But as with so many sensible initiatives, nothing happened with that. Congress itself has taken the lead in renaming places.

The legislature’s bad habit (shared by city councils) of changing street names is nothing new. On June 18, 1938, the President of the Philippines sent a letter to the National Assembly:

“I have the honor to inform you that I have today disapproved Bill No. 2250, entitled ‘An Act giving the name of Celestino Aragon to a street in Manila’ on the ground that the changing of the names of streets will only create confusion in titles to registered lands and in deeds and contracts relating to real property in which the name of the street sought to be changed may appear as one of the boundaries of the property involved. To change 


the name of a street will necessitate the changing of such boundaries and thus entail expenses on the part of the parties concerned.

“As nothing is to be gained by changing the names of streets, I wish to announce that hereafter I shall veto all bills of this nature. If it is the intention to honor any great man in the manner suggested in the proposed measure, this could be done by naming a new street after him instead of changing the names of streets which are already known to the public through long usage.

“Furthermore, I wish to invite your attention to the fact that one of the two subjects of the proposed measure, namely to change the name of an alley in the City of Manila to that of ‘Pedro Zapanta’ is not expressed in the title of the bill, in violation of Article VI, Section 12, Paragraph (1) of the Constitution. On this ground alone, the bill should be vetoed.”

While today no one can lay claim to being a true-blue Manileño (Nick Joaquin, for one, maintained that basically Manila became the country’s largest Visayan city with the influx of immigrants in the 1940s and 1950s), Manila and other cities have histories that go beyond the families that live in certain neighborhoods. The names of streets form part of that “landscape of memory.” The habit of changing street names not only erases history, it also makes up two insults: it demotes the person after whom the street is originally named; and it trivializes the other person sought to be honored. Everyone’s favorite example is why poor Sen. Nicolas Buendia had to be demoted for the purpose of honoring Sen. Gil Puyat; or how Puyat could have been honored when everyone still calls the street Buendia. I was unpleasantly surprised-upon receiving an invitation to address the students of the Far Eastern University-to know that Morayta has been renamed Nicanor Reyes Street. (By all means, honor the founder, but not by eliminating a venerable old street name!)

The same applies to monuments and statues. The wisdom of adding new ones may be debated till kingdom come (for example, why Alfredo Lim had to spend millions for a new Bonifacio Monument when the Liwasang Bonifacio could have been spruced up, is beyond me), but a great crime is committed when old monuments are discarded. A particularly horrifying example of this is the fate that has befallen the memorial busts of Leon Ma. Guerrero (grandfather of the diplomat and writer, Leon Ma. Guerrero and the doyenne of Filipino writers, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil). Guerrero is honored as the Father of Pharmacy in the Philippines. He was a botanist, chemist, educator, bureaucrat (secretary of agriculture and commerce under Aguinaldo, head of the Bureau of Science) and politician (member of the Malolos Congress and the first Philippine Assembly). For years, the Philippine Pharmacy Association, the oldest professional organization, honored him by holding a program in the Mehan Gardens to mark his birthday, during which medicines were distributed to the poor. Mayor Ramon Bagatsing Sr. kicked out the bust; National Historical Institute Director Serafin Quiason rescued it and put it back; Mayor Lito Atienza kicked it out again (but to be fair, he said it will be restored once the Mehan Gardens controversy is resolved).

Another Guerrero bust was thrown away, literally. The bust was commissioned by the College of Pharmacy of the University of the Philippines and done by the famous sculptor Guillermo Tolentino. It was enshrined in the college when it moved to UP Diliman from UP Manila. Not so long ago, the College of Pharmacy moved back to UP Manila and the College of Chemistry, which retained the building, decided to put the bust in a garbage pile. There the bust moldered until a sculptor, Raul Funilas, noticed it and convinced the supply officer of the College of Pharmacy in UP Manila to give it to him. Funilas, whose efforts were noticed by, rescued the bust and is now restoring it.

The crime of the College of Pharmacy here is threefold: it left behind the bust, it dishonored the man the College itself considers the father of the profession, and it gave the bust away.

There is no longer a landscape of memory in this country. Only in the Philippines and communist countries do you see such contempt for the landmarks of the past.

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Comments welcome at

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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