Looking Back

Misplaced markers

People who take the trouble to read the impressive black markers installed on historic sites and landmarks can safely presume that whatever it is that is being memorialized happened on that exact spot. For example, we know the site of the 1872 execution of Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora as marked in Luneta, and their grave as marked in Paco Cemetery.

However, there are some monuments that are not as accurate in location as Waze or Google maps. The Rizal Monument in Luneta is actually his tomb; it should not be taken as the site of his execution, the actual site where he fell on his side in 1896 in a vain attempt of the doomed man to face the sky upon death. This spot is some meters away from the monument.


Then there is the simple wood house with a thatch roof where Apolinario Mabini died of cholera in 1903. This house has been moved at least twice: first from its original location to what is now the Presidential Security Compound across from the Malacañang complex, to give way to the construction of Nagtahan bridge; then transferred again (hopefully for the last time) to the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Mabini campus, to give way to the dredging and widening of the banks of the Pasig river.

Over the years, I have compiled dataon a number of misplaced markers. One of the most memorable were two in the Cordilleras, both relating to the end of World War II in the Philippines.


Many years ago, I traveled up north to Hungduan to unveil a historical marker on the site where Gen. Artemio Ricarte Vibora (Viper) was buried. It was a sad and lonely death for a man whose reputation was forged in battles fought during the Philippine Revolution against Spain and the Philippine-American War.

Captured by the enemy and exiled to Guam, Ricarte was not returned to the Philippines like some of his companions, because he refused to pledge the oath of allegiance to the United States. That refusal resulted in additional years in exile—first in Hong Kong, and then in Japan where

he taught Spanish, opened the Karihan

Luvimin, the first Filipino restaurant in Yokohama, and worked part-time in a porcelain factory.

Ricarte was tarnished when he was brought back by the Japanese military during the war. He is now remembered, at best, as a collaborator. At the end of the war, afraid of the vengeance of his own people, Ricarte died in the company of the retreating Japanese military.

After I had officially unveiled the marker, I was dismayed to discover that the actual burial site was much farther into the mountains. The mayor insisted that, for tourism purposes, the marker had to be installed in a more accessible or convenient spot.

On that day, I was to discover that Ricarte’s burial site was not the only misplaced historical marker in the area. The Kiangan War Memorial that commemorates the surrender of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita in September 1945 is a large and well-maintained historical complex, but it is  not the exact site where Yamashita actually surrendered. For that, you need to go farther into town, to a small schoolhouse where he surrendered and was taken prisoner.


The Kiangan War Memorial was built and is administered not by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) or the Military Shrines division

of the Department of National Defense (DND), but by the Department of Tourism. It is not well-known that national landmarks and some historic sites and monuments related to World War II are not administered by the NHCP but by the DND, specifically its Military Shrines division, which maintains or has oversight over the museum and theme park in Corregidor; the shrines in Mount Samat (or the Dambana ng Kagitingan—Shrine of Valor) and in Capas; as well as modest museums dedicated to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Army, Navy and Air Force.

The bronze figures created to represent the 1945 Leyte landing of Douglas MacArthur are far from the waterline for practical reasons, and some wags maintain that this arrangement was meant to ensure that the statue of the diminutive Gen. Carlos P. Romulo, who returned to the Philippines with MacArthur and Sergio Osmeña, will not disappear during high tide.

These examples prove that we should not take all historical markers at face value, because everything must be validated to teach critical thinking.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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