To Filipino romantic comedy fans, it’s the setting for John Lloyd and Bea’s pre-Malaysia scenes in “Miss You Like Crazy,” and it’s where Toni Gonzaga wishes her teacher Piolo Pascual a Happy Valentine’s Day in “Starting Over Again.” To live music fans in the 80s, it’s the location for many a weekend classical concert date, thanks to a program called “Paco Park Presents.”
It may not be as popular a destination as the more accessible and easy to find Rizal Park but Paco Park, located in Paco, Manila, at the east end of Padre Faura Street, has its own charm and rewards. Declared a National Cultural Treasure, it is serene and romantic, mysterious yet welcoming. “Just go there and feel the ambiance of the place from her weathered stones,” says noted Manila tour guide and heritage conservation advocate Ivan Man Dy.
“Paco Park is one of the most beautiful places in Manila,” tour guide and longtime Paco resident Gregory Dorris tells ANCX. “It’s a quiet, and often nearly empty escape from the hectic city outside its walls.”
The Paco Park is a favorite wedding venue despite it being a former cemetery. It is a recreational garden fenced in by two circular walls made of thick adobe, and has a small domed chapel at its center. The garden design was done by the esteemed landscape architect Ildefonso “IP” Santos who would become National Artist. Of course, it was originally intended to be the home of the dead, specifically those from Manila’s affluent families in the very early 1800s. It was later expanded to allow more bodies following the cholera outbreak in the country’s capital, necessitating the second wall.
What would later give the cemetery fame, however, are the three Filipino priests who were buried there, Padres Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, branded as traitors to the Spanish government, and eventually executed by garrote in Bagumbayan. They were buried in unmarked graves, just like the man who would later dedicate a book to them and meet the same fate. “Paco Cemetery was the initial secret resting place of the executed Jose Rizal,” says Dorris, “his family having been residents of Paco.”
“When Rizal’s sisters discovered his grave, they bribed the guards to mark it with ‘RPJ,’ his initials in reverse, to hide the spot from the Spanish,” according to Atlas Obscura, writing about Paco Park.
“It’s a little green patch of a historical gem in that part of Paco,” says Man Dy when asked why one must absolutely see the park now that it’s finally open to the public again. “Plus it’s only a 10-minute walk from Luneta.” Other landmarks that Greg Dorris suggests to visit in the area are the house of President Laurel, and the Paco Church. The original Old Swiss Inn is very nearby but unfortunately not currently open, and the restaurant My Kitchen by Chef Chris is all but gone.
The park is now open from 8AM to 5PM daily.