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Chin up, Plaza Miranda -1
Source: Inquirer
Author: Alex Y. Vergara
Date: 2000-01-02
For decades it was associated with

urban squalor and an infamous

political bombing that hastened the

declaration of martial law. Now

Plaza Miranda gets a facelift--and a

new future

AFTER decades of neglect, a new and

gleaming Plaza Miranda is ready to

face the world as the country enters

the new millennium.

The city government of Manila, led

by Mayor Lito Atienza, embarked on an eight-month total

facelift of the historic but once-shabby square. The P49-million

price tag, which was reportedly footed by Malacaņang,

includes the rehabilitation of the Lacson Underpass.

''For the longest time, Plaza Miranda mirrored the face of

Manila--a center of anarchy and urban decay,'' says Atienza.

''Now, it has become a centerpiece of the city's urban

redevelopment program.''

Indeed, Filipinos long based abroad or in the provinces will be

probably hard pressed to recognize the new Plaza Miranda, the

center of political meetings in pre-martial law Philippines.

What they will probably remember are images of the bloody

Plaza Miranda bombing, where scores of people were killed or

injured, including former senator Jovito Salonga, during the

Liberal Party's miting de avance on Aug. 20, 1971.

The still unsolved bloodbath helped embolden then President

Marcos to declare martial law a year later. It also gave the

future dictator a convenient excuse to implicate then Sen.

Ninoy Aquino, his archrival and Liberal Party stalwart who was

spared from being bombed like his partymates by coming late

to the rally.

Visual congestion

''Every time we talked about Plaza Miranda, all we could think

of was the bombing,'' says Councilor Miles Roces, 30. ''It was

as if it only happened yesterday because the plaza remained

almost unchanged.''

Atienza has no intentions of rewriting history. But he felt a

pressing need for Manilans to break free from ''visual

congestion'' that for years had swamped them.

So the mayor asked eight Master's students in architecture

from the University of the Philippines to submit their plans for

Plaza Miranda.

Almost everyone knows Atienza as a former PR practitioner,

but not everybody knows that he graduated from the

University of Santo Tomas with a degree in Architecture.

''I never got to practice it,'' he says. ''But the training helped me

get the best ideas. We later included them in our master plan.''

Actually, the planting of mature acacia trees sometime in 1998

signalled the start of Plaza Miranda's redevelopment. His

attempt to plant ''fake'' trees, recalls Atienza, was roundly

criticized by media, including the INQUIRER.

Aside from four acacia trees, the city's landscape artists have

transplanted several palm trees bordering busy Quezon

Boulevard, where commuters are greeted by a statue of a

woman atop a 35-foot-high marble obelisk.


Its outstretched hands carry a torch, which, says Atienza,

represents freedom. Several gold-painted markers linked by

chains ring the obelisk.

Two pillars bound each side of the chained area, and atop each

post is a cast-iron urn alloyed with bronze. Each urn doubles

as a cauldron where gas-fuelled flames will burn brightly

during special occasions.

''This is a freedom park, not a plaza,'' Atienza insists.

The entire plaza, er, park is bathed in floodlights installed on

the ground and attached to several strategic arches circling the


People in the control room located somewhere at Lacson

Underpass has also been beefing up its collection of classical

and folk music to be played through Plaza Miranda's sound


The granite-paved plaza, which extends to Carriedo,

Evangelista, R. Hidalgo and Villabos Streets, now brims with

Roman-Gothic structures inspired by--what else--the Quiapo


''Instead of clashing with the church,'' says Roces, ''we built

structures that will complement it.''

Landmark church

Thus, the landmark church, which had fortified its front gates

after it found itself slowly being engulfed by the ocean of

squalor outside, has now literally brought down its walls.

Inviting plant boxes heaped with Christmas-red poinsettias

have supplanted threatening iron grills. The steel-and-glass

portal leading to the balcony is now open during the day. Only

a waving and smiling Pope John Paul II is missing from the

structure inspired by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Several buildings have taken the cue by hewing closely to

Plaza Miranda's look. For years a major eyesore, the gutted

building fronting Quezon Boulevard is finally being torn down

to give way to a new one.

Filipinos born before the '70s will remember that building which

carried an electronic news billboard where the pre-martial law

Manila Times flashed its headlines and late-breaking news


''I hope our efforts will become a lynchpin in the total plan to

redevelop not only Quiapo but also areas like Sta. Cruz,'' says

Atienza, who was praised by countless constituents while

conducting the tour.

The charismatic mayor, who readily shook hands and greeted

well-wishers, even earned the approval of people living outside

his city of affections.


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