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An appeal to Cabanatuan’s Mayor Vergara

It is heartwarming to know that I am not alone in my lamentation about the current embarrassing state of Plaza Lucero in Cabanatuan. There are many others who are seriously disturbed and concerned about the disrepair that this public area, meant to be a space of relaxation for the citizenry and a historical site to take pride in, has instead succumbed to the lure of commerce. I am not even just thinking of the utter disregard of the ordinance that named it to honor Sen. Santiago Estrella Lucero, but the respect and reverence it deserves as the site of the death of Antonio Luna.

Historian Vic Torres recounts: “The first time I arrived in Cabanatuan was around after the earthquake in 1990.  The plaza and the convent were still damaged from the quake but I still saw the stairs where (Capt. Pedro) Janolino hacked Luna in the head. I still saw the interior of  the convent that was already a school. When I returned several years later, the building had been totally renovated into a modern building.”

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Just to clarify, Luna was shot and stabbed on the convent stairs, but he still managed to stagger out to the church patio, and presumably died on the spot in the plaza where his statue on a horse stands.

Cristino M. Collado, PhD, who calls himself a proud Novo Ecijano, wrote: “I join you in ruing the ugliness that has sprouted in many public places in our province. It used to be that Cabanatuan was the place to go and the place to see. I hope the city leaders will do something to restore the dignity of our heroes. And promote a sense of public responsibility by giving the people a plaza that they can be proud of.” He is calling on those who may remember a well-loved Nueva Ecija hymn from his schooldays, sang after the national anthem. The tune and the tempo still ring in his ears, but only some of the lines are recalled: “A land of perennial beauty and place endowed with plenty. In the country, it is well known as the nation’s granary. Courage and valor…” He is advocating its revival, especially among students.

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Among the most disturbed about the state of the city is Dr. Floriño A. Francisco, who first wondered about the background of Plaza Lucero sometime back. He knows very well what gargantuan efforts are needed to preserve and maintain existing structures with a history. It is the Francisco family on their own who have converted their family home a few blocks away from Plaza Lucero into the Museo Lázaro Francisco, to honor their National Artist father who is recognized for introducing the social realist tradition in Philippine literature. Today, the Museo is one of the attractions of the city.

Dr. Francisco first sought me out because the youth of Cabanatuan and history professors were interested in knowing more about the park’s origin. He used to be active with the Cabanatuan Heritage Foundation, which aimed to undertake the park’s restoration but realized they could not manage without the support of the local government.

In September 2018, Inquirer.net ran a story, “Taking a closer look at the Green, Green, Green Program,” which announced that, from a total of 143 cities, six city governments, Cabanatuan included, were awarded funding for civic improvements—in Cabanatuan’s case, specifically to improve Plaza Lucero. The total allotted amount was P2.58 billion under the 2018 national budget. This is welcome news, but is the project beyond conceptualization now?

A Santiago Lucero granddaughter, Lita Lucero Jison, is similarly concerned and agitated. Her irreverent suggestion: If they leave the park this neglected and dirty, why not just name it more appropriately after a dirty politician, too?

Yes, I am still in search of the missing marker of Plaza Lucero in Cabanatuan, and will not stop until I get satisfactory answers. Mayor Julius Cesar V. Vergara, Vice Mayor Anthony Umali, Rep. Ria Vergara—are you listening to the voices of your citizens?

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Cabanatuan City, History, Mayor Vergara, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, park citizens, Plaza Lucero, Sen. Santiago Estrella Lucero
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