Cabanatuan: In dire need of a park
When the very popular historical film “Heneral Luna” was the talk of the town after its release in 2015 and the details of 32-year-old Antonio Luna’s assassination by the Aguinaldo forces on June 5, 1899, in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, became better known, there was understandable curiosity about the town. He died in the plaza across the Aguinaldo headquarters; it’s known today as Plaza Lucero. A netizen asked, “Who is Lucero, anyway?”
My brother Chito, who is named Santiago after our maternal grandfather after whom the plaza is named, explained: “The plaza is named after our maternal grandfather, Senator Santiago Estrella Lucero, who was elected senator in 1922 for the Democrata Party.”
Previous to this, he was registrar of deeds in Nueva Ecija and also prosecutor of Nueva Ecija and later of Tarlac. Originally from Santa Isabela, today’s Malolos, Bulacan, the Luceros were ostracized in Bulacan after Santiago’s sister, a feisty woman named Loreto (maternal grandmother of Philippine Educational Theater Association’s Cecilia Bulaong Garrucho), successfully filed the first known sexual harassment case against Padre Santiago Perez, a frequent visitor in their home. That is an incident we in the family like to remember and draw courage from, especially in this month dedicated to women.
As recorded in an account by Malolos historian Milagros Enriquez, Loreto slapped the priest during his molestation attempt. The family was ostracized for this and for the subsequent suit, but three generations of Luceros were known to be rebels, and some were even imprisoned. The first Santiago, a well-loved long-term gobernadorcillo of Santa Isabel, was imprisoned for defying Spanish authorities. Loreto’s father who helped her win her case, Don Antonio Lucero, was framed a subversive. His son Santiago (of Plaza Lucero) fought during the Philippine revolution in 1899 against the Americans at La Loma, and was imprisoned until 1901. (In a sense, my brother Chito is aptly named.)
But this is less about my grandfather Santiago and more a Cabanatuan native’s plea in behalf of all other concerned Cabanatuan citizens who are making this reasonable demand from their local officials: What will it take for Plaza Lucero—the site of the death of Gen. Antonio Luna, across the St. Nicolas of Tolentine Parish Cathedral—to be transformed into a people’s park with benches and greenery to be enjoyed by all?
The many times I would go home to Cabanatuan and lose my way as commercialization has increasingly erased my old and trusted landmarks, tricycle drivers would help me find my way to the church and the heart of town by saying, “Sa tapat lang ng Plaza Lucero.”
Plaza Lucero has undergone various degrees of “uglification” in recent years. I found it hard to complain then because I was shocked that even the fenced space of General Luna’s statue astride his horse, on the spot where he died, had tall wild grass left unkempt. It was a complete desecration. The plaza was hardly a park, as it teemed with vendors and all kinds of makeshift stores, even a bibingka stand, in a space that had cracked concrete; hardly befitting a hero, and hardly deserving to be called a “park.”
During another visit last year, I saw that the area had been cleared of vendors and transformed into a parking lot. But, most heartbreaking of all, the General Luna monument was still neglected, and the Plaza Lucero marker was completely gone. No wonder I was besieged with questions about who in heaven’s name Plaza Lucero was named after! Or did I catch it in the midst of a transformation?
I haven’t visited since, afraid to see how much uglier the park has become and further putting Cabanatuan in such notoriety as the only city in the country without a public park. In its days of glory, it had trees, flowers, park benches and a skating rink. Greenery is especially essential in the city, as it always has the highest summer temperatures.
I am not a solitary voice crying in the wilderness, knowing the challenges similarly faced by Ninit Paterno with the Arroceros Forest Park. Other Novo Ecijanos are concerned. As Macaria Villalobos had posted: “Are there no more patriotic Novo Ecijanos who know and remember and respect the great men of what was once the great Nueva Ecija?”
Writer Bambi Harper, with her concern for historical structures, had once described the city as one with no sense of history.
Wake up, Cabanatuan!
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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