Looking Back

Who was Epifanio de los Santos?

Last Thursday’s sudden downpour resulted in horrendous traffic that transformed Edsa once again into a big parking lot. So, with boredom and internet connection intersecting, social media posts bloomed with real-time photos of the standstill, with the hashtag #carmaggedon.

I have long wondered why we refer to weekday late afternoons as “rush hour,” when vehicles, in fact, move at their slowest speed at this time. Whenever traffic builds up on Edsa, I wonder if we have
truly honored Epifanio de los Santos, the historian, with the highway that now bears his name. Perhaps it would be a better idea to revert to its previous name: Highway 54, or the more generic and older “North and South Circumferential Road.”


Would it be possible to rename Edsa for some corrupt or inept government official we want to shame? This way, each time we curse and rant at traffic, we do so with the unfortunate one’s name in the same breath.

What was to become the longest street in Metro Manila began in 1940 when Manuel L. Quezon wished it would develop into the longest, widest and most beautiful road in the Philippines. Construction began under the direction of engineer Florencio Moreno of Quezon City, ably assisted by engineer Osmundo L. Monsod. Moreno was later elected to Congress and served as secretary of public works and communication under President Carlos P. Garcia.


Quezon may be disappointed that Edsa did not turn out to be the most beautiful in the country, but it remains the longest—from Caloocan at its northernmost end, passing by Quezon City, Mandaluyong and Makati, to its southernmost end in Pasay.

The story about its name that I first heard in the board of the National Historical Institute three decades ago was that, the government wanted to rename Highway 54 in honor of a Filipino historian. But the most eminent ones at the time, like Teodoro A. Agoncillo, Gregorio Zaide and Horacio de la Costa, were ineligible because they were still alive. With an unwritten rule that streets can only be named after dead people, it became Epifanio de los Santos Avenue.

This is, in fact, fake news, because the real contenders were US General Douglas “I shall return” MacArthur, and the much loved Ramon Magsaysay, who died in a plane crash in 1957. Then there was Jose Rizal, who already had a surplus of streets named after him. Still, the Caballeros de Rizal proposed that Highway 54 be renamed “19 de Junio” to mark the National Hero’s birthday. It could not have been “12 de Junio,” the date of the 1898 declaration of Independence in Kawit, because, at the time, Philippine Independence Day was celebrated on July 4, as in the United States, until Diosdado Macapagal moved it to June 12 in 1962.

Eulogio Rodriguez Jr. was the first to propose Edsa with House Bill 2832, on the grounds that the street passed through the province of Rizal and should honor an illustrious son of the province. Unfortunately, the Rodriguez bill did not prosper and the proponent passed away. Under a new Congress, the initiative was taken up by
Nacionalista Party member F. Sumulong and the Liberal Party’s Benedicto Padillo. The Sumulong bill was filed, first supported by the Philippines Historical Committee, the Philippine Historical Association, the Philippine National Historical Society, the Philippine Library Association, the Association of University and College Professors, etc. Other resolutions of support were passed by Quezon City in 1954, Pasay in 1955, and Makati in 1958. Politicians in Caloocan and Mandaluyong could not make up their minds and abstained.

Sumulong’s bill was unanimously approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and was signed into law by President Garcia as Republic Act No. 2140—“changing the name of Highway 54 in the province of Rizal to Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in honor of Don Epifanio de los Santos, A [foremost] Filipino Scholar, Jurist and Historian [of his time]”—on April 7, 1959, birthday of Don Panyong.

It is sad that Epifanio de los Santos is all but unknown to millennials today. He was a man described by contemporaries as the most learned man of his time, the best guitar player of his time, and the most eminent collector, writer, critic, historian and director of the National Library of his time.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]


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TAGS: EDSA, epifanio de los santos, History
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