Bit by bit, the city government of Manila is teaching its young generation to once again look back, know their history, and offer gratitude and give importance to our national heroes, national heritage and patrimony, things that seemingly no longer bear that much weight among the youth owing to the advent of gadgets and the internet.
It is highly noticeable how Mayor Isko Moreno —‘Mayor Kois’ for brevity— had been giving extra special attention to restoring or reviving and rehabilitating parts of the city that carry our country’s rich history, such as monuments.
For years to come, no one will forget the complete turnaround of the state of the Bonifacio Shrine beside the Manila City Hall.
Originally built during the time of Mayor Fred Lim with the aim of putting in a pedestal the memory of our famous, if not the most beloved hero, Gat Andres Bonifacio, the shrine ended up being in such a sorry state as a smelly haven for illegal vendors, vagrants, drug addicts and petty criminals. Aptly so, Mayor Kois called it the ‘tae-tae island’ since the entire shrine was literally littered with a combination of human and animal feces and urine. The whole area was virtually turned into a huge toilet.
After exhaustive cleaning efforts and the installation of simple, austere plain white lights, it is now a tourist spot and a favorite hangout for students, lovers and promenaders.
Monuments that have been neglected these past several years and have subsequently become eyesores, have been spruced up —–Gat Andres Bonifacio in Liwasang Bonifacio where an illegal terminal used to exist; UN General Assembly President Carlos P. Romulo and Gen. Vicente Lim on Roxas Boulevard which have been vandalized and turned into a storage area where vagrants leave their belongings while they go about their daily chores; and Apolinario Mabini on A. Mabini Street, where streetdwellers used to urinate and defecate and even built shanties there.
Of course, the famous Roman Ongpin monument in Binondo was among the first to catch public attention, after Mayor Kois himself hammered and dismantled the makeshift barracks put right on the site of the monument by the barangay chairman, a certain Nelson Ty, along with promotional materials of private companies, blocking the statue entirely from public view. In fact, many were even surprised that such a monument ever existed there.
When, after recent years of darkness, Mayor Kois lighted up the entire stretch of both sides of Taft Avenue from Manila City Hall all the way to Vito Cruz Street (by the way, the lampposts were unique in that each of them bore two bright lights, one for the sidewalk and the other for the street itself), he made a side trip and visited another monument which he had also ordered rehabilitated.
It was the monument which was built in honor of Pablo de Leon Ocampo. The statue is located on the former Vito Cruz Street which was later renamed Pablo Ocampo Street, again in his honor.
Mayor Kois did not only order the monument and the site where it stands cleaned and spruced up, he also lit it up and gave life to it, so that it is now a sight to behold, greeting those who go to and from the Rizal Memorial Stadium which is one of the venues of the 30th SEA Games.
He cited that as a Filipino lawyer, nationalist and member of the Malolos Congress, Ocampo held and served in high-profile and significant positions and helped bring about the peaceful transition of the Philippines from being a colony of Spain for more than 300 years (1521 to 1898) to what will later become the American Commonwealth of the Philippines.
More importantly, specially for Manilans, Mayor Kois said Ocampo served as the second vice-mayor of Manila from August 8, 1912 to March 6, 1920. This was the last public post he held before finally retiring from politics.
Residents right across the monument said that for the longest time, the said site had been totally neglected and even bastardized and it took Mayor Kois for it to be ‘decent and honorable’ once again.
They told the mayor that not even the descendants of Ocampo who benefitted from the good reputation he had built in his lifetime bothered to take care of Ocampo’s monument. Ditto with all the other monuments in the city. Imagine, it took someone like Mayor Kois, a lowly ‘basurero’ in the eyes of at least one descendant of Ocampo, et al, for proper care, respect and dignity to be given our late heroes.
Mayor Kois says it is important to instill in the minds of our youngsters the importance of honoring the monuments that bear the likeness of our heroes and knowing their contributions to the country’s history, stressing we owe to them all the things that we enjoy today, specially freedom and democracy.
This way of thinking on the part of Mayor Kois speaks well of his character as someone who gives importance to debt of gratitude, a trait which, lamentably, is lacking in most, if not all, of our politicians today.
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