The Rizal monument up close | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

The Rizal monument up close

Knowing that the Rizal monument was being spruced up for Independence Day (June 12) and Rizal’s 160th birthday (June 19), I requested the National Historical Commission of the Philippines’ permission to examine the monument up close. Attached to a safety line, I was assisted up a scaffolding to stand next to Rizal’s figure; I was able to see the two signatures of the Swiss sculptor, Richard Kissling, which are not normally visible from the ground. To check on the figure’s supposed 1:5 scale, I set my hand close to Rizal’s while studying the applied patina, wondering how much of it had changed from its original sheen in 1913 due to age, pollution, and repeated deep cleaning to the image we are familiar with today.

If Rizal could speak, he would have enumerated all the holes in the granite base and obelisk as well as each pockmark that has scarred the bronze figures, separating those inflicted on the monument during the 1945 Battle for Manila from those arising from the installation, in 1961, of a stainless steel (some accounts say aluminum) pylon designed by Juan Nakpil. The pylon sought to update and “modernize” the staid-looking monument for the advent of the 21st century.

Sitting on the base to admire Rizal’s view of the iconic Manila Bay sunset, his view of the sea partially obscured by the Quirino Grandstand and the H2O Hotel, I was happy to note that Rizal does not see the controversial Torre de Manila behind him, hashtagged as the #nationalphotobomber. The construction of the condominium, which was suspended by a temporary restraining order issued in June 2015, was lifted by the Supreme Court in April 2017. Six justices expressed their dissent in a court of 15 justices, which ruled that the condominium was not a nuisance and that its construction broke no existing laws against sightlines or backgrounds for selfies. The most compelling argument of all was that Rizal himself supposedly did not want a monument.

Not many people know that the present monument, “Motto Stella” (Guiding Star), by the Swiss Richard Kissling was the second prize winner in an international design competition for the Rizal monument that ran from 1905-1907. It is unclear why the first prize winning entry, “Al Mártir de Bagumbayan” (To the Martyr of Bagumbayan) by the Italian Carlo Nicoli, was not awarded and executed. From photographs, the Nicoli monument is best described as a wedding cake fantasy so different in approach and style to the simplicity and clean lines of the Kissling monument.


As with most public monuments, people either like or hate the Rizal landmark. Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, eminent Philippine historian and friend of Rizal, said of the monument:

“To me it appears devoid of any artistic value. You have a kind of pylon weighed down by the statue of a man wearing an overcoat which more nearly represents a German or a Pole, than it does a Filipino. It is neither Rizal, nor is it worthy of representing his name. On one side is a big figure of a woman, who is absolutely of a foreign type and could never be called a Filipino woman. That is what I think of a work which had no excuse at all for being erected to commemorate the name of Rizal.”

Spanish poet Salvador Rueda likewise did not mince words: “That is the ugliest monument I have seen in all my travels.”

Austin Craig, eminent historian and biographer of Rizal added to the fray:


“I know it for a fact that the original contract for the monument called for an obelisk in only one piece. However, when it arrived here the pillar was found to have been cut in four parts. I really do not know why the committee in charge chose this design, which is inartistic and unsuitable for this country. Perhaps it was because the committee had an idea that the Philippines might enjoy some fame if it chose this design, as it is the work of the same man who designed the Swiss National Monument. I also know for a fact that Governor-general Forbes spent a considerable sum out of his private funds for the steps around the platform, as provision for this construction was omitted in the contract. He was responsible for the erection of the monument on the present site. The site was chosen, not because it was the spot where Rizal died, but because it was considered most suitable for the purpose.”

The Rizal monument has since become part of Filipino life, the backdrop for Independence Day and the geographic navel of the Philippines, being close to the reference point from which all distances in the archipelago are reckoned.


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TAGS: monument, Rizal, Rizal Monument

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