Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Unang Bantayog

By :  Bro. Eduardo S. Freyra, 32° KCCH

The Rizal Monument in Daet, Camarines Norte was the first monument built to honor Jose Rizal, and is the oldest surviving such monument in the Philippines.  It was designed by Lt. Colonel Antonio Sanz with the help of Ildefonso Alegre of the Phlippine Revolutionary Army and through the financial contributions of the locals of Camarines Norte.  The three-tiered stone pylon with its square base supporting a triangle in two stages was the first monument and memorial marker in memory of the Philippines' National Hero.

Image source :
This 20-foot stone pylon is bereft of intricate design, but is in every way special because it is a monument to Bicol's libertarian aspirations.  Located by the banks of Daet River, construction of the Rizal Monument commenced on December 30, 1898 in compliance with the 1898 decree of General Emilio Aguinaldo, President of the Philippine Republic, to observe December 30 as a national holiday.

It was completed in February 1899, antedating by about 14 years the monument in Luneta, which was inaugurated only in 1912.  By virtue of this act, Camarines Norte became the first province to celebrate Rizal Day.

Designed by Sanz, a Mason, it is composed of a three-tiered stone pylon, in square base surmounted by a two-level triangle, the last one tapering off to a point.  Its foundation was made of mortars and boulders from the demolished old Spanish jail in Daet.  The front face contains a black metal slab from the National Historical Commission when it was declared a national historical landmark in 1961.

Inscribed on the podium are Rizal's popular novels -  Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, and Morga, a tribute to Antonio de Morga, author of Sucesos de las islas Filipinas in 1609, an important book on the Spanish colonization of the archipelago.  There is an eight-rayed sun on both sides of the topmost triangle, a five-pointed star and the phase "A Jose Rizal" (To Jose Rizal).  But unlike other Rizal Monuments, it does not have any his sculptured image.  Oral accounts say that the base contains a time capsule containing the list of contributors to the project.  Some quarters and treasure hunters even believe that there were treasures buried around it.

Masons played an important role in putting up the monument because of its pronouned Masonic elements.  Add to this the fact that Rizal, Aguinaldo, Sanz and many financial contributors were Masons, Masonic historian MW Reynold S. Fajardo wrote in the periodical Cabletow, "The monument is unquestionably Masonic, the base is a square and is surmounted by a triangle; on the sides of the tirangle may be seen the five-pointed star and at the top used to be the all-seeing eye."

While Rizal has never set foot in Daet, the First Rizal Monument is a source of pride, not only for the townsfolk but also for all Bicolanos, attesting to the people's reverence for Rizal and his ideals.

Rizal's life and ideals inspired Daet's political leaders and citizenry  in declaring the municipality as a "Charter Town" in 2002, which uphold universal values as guiding principles in governance and public life.  To emphasize this point, the first public officials of the Province of Camarines Norte and the Municipality of Daet have incorporated the image of the First Rizal Monument in the provincial and municipal insignias.  This will remind elected officials, now and in the future, to govern in accordance with the virtues espoused by Rizal.

A Monument To Freedom

In less than a year after the Filipino revolutionary government led by Aguinaldo consolidated their control of the newly liberated pueblos from the Spaniards, the Filipino officers prepared for the eventual collapse of peace.  The seething conflict of the Filipino-American War finally erupted in 1899 and reached the town of Daet by the first month of 1900.

Then Maj. Antonio Sanz, in charge of the detachment in Daet, found no better way to please his superior, then Col. Vicente Lukban, to immortalize their victorious entrance to town of Daet than by erecting a monument in honor of the most respected hero of the revolution, Dr. Jose Rizal.

The First Rizal Monument

The monument which stands today was a  three-tiered three sided block which assumed a triangular shape toward the peak.  It was engraved with stars and the name Jose Rizal with year 1889.  This monument became popularly known as "Morga" apparently because of an inscription which bore his name.

"Morga" was referring to Dr. Antonio Morga, a prominent Spanish officer in the royal audiencia in the 16th century  who earned his distinction for his book on the affairs of the Philippines, the Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, published in 1609.

The historical interest on Morga's Sucesos was revived when Rizal published an annotated version of this in January 1890.  Rizal found immense propaganda value in reminding the friars of the existence of a once flourishing culture in the islands which the colonial regime effectively destroyed.  Stating clearly in his dedicatory remarks the purpose which inspired him in writing this book, Rizal indicated them as follows :

In the Noli Me Tangere, I began the sketch of the present state of our Native Land.  The effect that my attempt produced pointed out to me, before proceeding to unfold the other successive pictures before your eyes, the necessity of first making known to you the past in order that you may be able to judge better the present and to measure the road traversed during three centuries.

Born and reared in the ignorance of our Yesterday, like almost all of you, without voice or authority to speak about what we did not see or study, I considered it necessary to invoke the testimony of an illustrious Spaniard who governed the destinies of the Philippines in the beginning of her era and witnessed the last moments of our ancient nationality.  It is then the shadow of the civilization of our ancestors which the author is now evoking before you.  I transmit faithfully to you his words, without changing or mutilating them... The post, the nationality, and merits of De Morga, together with the data and testimonies furnished by his contemporaries, almost all Spaniards, recommend the book for your thoughtful consideration.

If the book succeeds to awaken your consciousness of the past, already effaced from your memory, and to rectify what has been falsified and slandered, then I have not worked in vain, and with this as a basis, however small it may be, we shall be able to study the future.

A Tribute

On the morning of December 30, 1898, the first monument of Rizal built through public subscription was inaugurated south of Manila at Daet town, in the province of Camarines Norte.  Revolutionary Army Lt. Colonels Ildefonso  Alegre and Antonio Sanz spearheaded a drive amongst families and patriots to construct quickly a tribute to their hero.  Lacking a professional sculptor, the community proudly made an obelisk with a mythical sun, symbol of freedom for which Rizal sacrificed his soul before the colonizer's firing squad two years earlier.

That night of the first Rizal Day, the first sculptural likeness of Rizal as a people's tribute was unveiled.  The first all-Filipino social society, Club Filipino, tendered tribute in Spanish songs and poetry to laud Rizal, a man personally known to many of the Club's members.   At the center of the drawing room where the program took place stood a pedestal draped and pleasingly decorated with palm fronds in the fashiopn of the age.  To the right were velvet-upholstered chairs for the guests of honor.  Rizal's mother, seven surviving sisters, and sole brother -  a general of unquestionable virtue and value.  To the left were a Frence Chassaigne piano and a small table on which rested a laurel crown.

At half past eight, Club president Telesforo Chuidian announced the start of the program to the distinguised members from government and commerce, military officers, and women dressed in black national attire.   Beautiful Trinidad  Ungson unveiled Rizal's statue to much applause.   The first figurative monument dedicated by the Filipino people to their star hero was a bust of cast bronze make by Filipino sculptor Vicente Francisco.

(source :  The Far Eastern Freemason.  3rd Qtr. September 2014)    

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