If there's anything the Dolomite Beach crowd in Roxas Boulevard proved two weekends ago, it's that Manila’s citizens are aching to spend time in open spaces. Which is only natural—after spending so much time holed up at home, people need to reconnect with the outside world and with nature.
“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of green spaces such as parks which continued to blossom during this period,” says Cecille Lorenzana Romero, the Executive Director of the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC). We asked her to suggest alternative venues—now that the Dolomite Beach remains closed—where city dwellers can experience wide open spaces and still feel safe.
Lorenzana suggested Paco Park and the two popular gardens in Luneta: the Chinese Garden and the Japanese Garden, even supplying trivia and history about the three.
“As restrictions ease, Rizal Park is now open from 5AMto 8PM with a maximum capacity of 3,000 visitors at a given time, while Paco Park is open from 8AM to 5PM with a maximum capacity of 500 visitors at a given time,” Romero tells ANCX. “All visitors, regardless of the vaccination status, shall undergo mandatory temperature checks at the entrance and are required at all times to adhere to the minimum health standards.”
Here’s what Romero has to say about her three recommendations:
1. Paco Park
One of the oldest landmarks in Manila, the Paco Cemetery now known as Paco Park was inaugurated 199 years ago. The cemetery, designed based on the masterplan of Maestro de Obras Nicolas Ruiz, was completed on April 22, 1822.
Its construction began in 1814 and served as a burial ground for victims of the cholera epidemic prior to its completion. Dr. Jose Rizal was secretly buried at “Rizal Tomb” after his execution on December 30, 1896. This was also the final resting place of the three martyred priests – Fathers Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora.
Paco Park was formally declared as a National Park in 1966 and has been the most preferred venues for TV and film shootings, pictorial sessions, and other leisure activities. Its romantic atmosphere has also made the park a perfect place for special milestones such as weddings as well as pre-nuptial shoots and other private gatherings. Located inside Paco Park, the Saint Pancratius Chapel served as venue for Sunday masses and weddings under the care of San Vicente de Paul Parish.
On February 29, 1980, then Press and Cultural Attache of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in the Philippines, Dr. Christoph Jessen with then NPDC Vice-Chairperson Teodoro Valencia held a classical concert within Paco Park as part of the celebrations for the “Philippine-German Month,” and the program became a tradition, a weekly fare held every Friday afternoons called “Paco Park Presents.”
The park has an area of approximately 10,000 square meters and can accommodate 500 people at a given time during this pandemic. In 2015, the National Museum of the Philippines declared Paco Park as one of the National Cultural Treasures and Important Cultural Properties.
2. Chinese Garden
The Chinese Garden was built in 1966-1967 with Ka Doroy Valencia, then NPDC Vice Chairman, soliciting funds from Taiwan who sent then 78-year-old C.Y. Shih, one of the top landscapers in Taiwan, to design the garden. Assisting Shih was Ernesto Villavicencio, Filipino-Chinese Landscape Architect. The construction of the Chinese Garden cost more than P850,000, a staggering amount at that time.
All over the Chinese Garden are irregularly-shaped stones from Antipolo, trees, plants as well as a man-made lagoon. Pagodas and gazebos are accentuated with red pillars and green-tiled roofs. The life-sized granite Confucius Monument of the Chinese Garden is a unique celebration of the essence of true Chinese culture which aims to promote traditional and positive Confucian and Filipino values. The marker also honors all teachers – the unsung heroes of society. It is a donation of the Anvil Business Club as a way of reciprocating China’s support for the Rizal Monument in Rizal’s ancestral home village of Siong-que in Jinjiang City of Fujian province.
There is also a wisdom walk in this garden which features Chinese proverbs written in Chinese characters and translated in English and Filipino. The Chinese Garden is now considered as a venue for social gathering, personal and commercial shoots, and other Chinese-related celebrations.
This garden has an area of approximately 14,500 square meters and can accommodate 500 visitors at a given time to ensure physical distancing.
3. Japanese Garden
A donation from the Japanese government, the Japanese Garden is one of the most beloved landscapes at Rizal Park celebrating the beauty and wonder of nature through picturesque sceneries of trees, ornamental plants, stone lanterns, a lagoon, and Japanese-inspired bridges.
Since 1967, then First Lady Imelda Marcos made repeated requests to the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines to have a Japanese garden built in Rizal Park. Then President Ferdinand Marcos and First Lady Imelda Marcos made the same request to then Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato when he visited Manila.
Based on the strong request from the Philippines and to help foster Philippine-Japan relations, Sato requested the Philippine Society of Japan to lead the project. Over 53 million Japanese yen were gathered from various Japanese companies and organizations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan also spent 3.6 million Japanese yen to support the project. The turnover ceremony for the garden was held on June 11, 1969 with the attendance of President Ferdinand Marcos together with First Lady Imelda Marcos, as well as Former Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.
Located inside the Japanese Garden, the Trece Martirez de Bagumbayan Marker commemorates the heroism of 13 Filipino patriots in January 11, 1897 who were arrested after the Cry of Pugad Lawin on charges of treason and sedition.
This garden has an area of approximately 9,377.65 square meters and can accommodate 500 visitors at a given time to ensure physical distancing.
We also asked Intramuros Administrator Guiller Asido for his recommendations that we could add to this list, and he suggested Rizal Park and Paco Park as well but added two more: Fort Santiago and the Baluarte de San Diego, both Intramuros attractions.
4 and 5. Fort Santiago and Baluarte de San Diego
Both are magnificent to behold. Both figure prominently in the annals of Philippine history. The former is a fortress built by the Spanish in the 1500s, and served as repository for wartime paraphernalia as well as jail cell for Filipino insurgents including one Jose Rizal. The latter is a bastion in Intramuros, made up of three circular stone walls, designed precisely to protect the city from invasion.
“One can immerse and experience the history of both destinations and know more of our culture,” says Asido, and “be healed by the green spaces.” Visitors can also bike in both destinations, and visit the Lego Museum and Rizal Museum in Fort Santiago.
The Intramuros Administration has a program for fully vaccinated seniors 65 and above where they can have exclusive use of both Fort Santiago and the Baluarte every Saturday from 8AM to 10AM as long as they pre-register.