Sic transit gloria mundi
Embotellamiento is the descriptive Spanish word for traffic jam. A bottleneck was caused by the Spanish National Day celebration on McKinley last Wednesday, stretching from the Forbes Park Banyan gate to Bonifacio Global City on one end, and onto Ayala Avenue on the other. Village security was not prepared for the deluge of guests, insisting on one lane entry for all vehicles without intervillage stickers. It was fair that no exceptions were made, even for an ambassador in a limousine sporting diplomatic plates and a flag. I pressed on, despite the inconvenience, looking forward to meeting the new Spanish ambassador Miguel Utray Delgado and the giant paelleras by the poolside that fed everyone in previous feasts.
Guests taking selfies by the large tapestries with the coat of arms of Spain reminded me of a curious event in Intramuros in 1825. It is not well-known that when Filipinos declared their independence from Spain, it was one of the last Spanish colonies to do so. Most of Spanish America separated during the complicated reign of Ferdinand VII, who decided to send a token of gratitude to the “distinguished and ever loyal” City of Manila. This was a portrait that he decreed should be welcomed in Manila with all the pomp and honors as if he was physically present.
Documents and watercolors on the event preserved in the Biblioteca del Palacio in Madrid were written up by Justa Moreno Garbayo in a 1977 monograph, “Fiestas en Manila año 1825,” that makes for interesting reading. The king’s portrait by the court painter Vicente López was transported to Manila on the ship “Victoria” inside a wood crate, lined with black oilcloth and secured by two locks. Mariano Ricafort, governor-general designate of the Philippines, entrusted with this precious cargo, sailed from Cádiz on April 22, 1825, escorted by the warship “Perla” until the Islas Canarias. In more contemporary times, a Philippine president onboard a plane is escorted to and from Philippine airspace by Air Force jets.
Ricafort arrived in Manila on Oct. 9, 1825. Much happened in the voyage of five and a half months; there were deaths onboard. There were births too: Sons were born to the governor-elect of Fort Santiago and an infantry officer. On May 30, the Feast of San Fernando, the king’s namesake, the portrait was brought out, Mass was held, a splendid lunch served animated by music, artillery fire, and shouts of “Viva! For the king, the kingdom, and the eternal union of Spain and the Philippines.” Two presentations were made: One was a comedia entitled “Mas vale tarde que nunca” (Better later than never). A good time was had by all onboard.
Upon arrival in Manila, Governor-designate Ricafort was housed in the Casa de la Real Renta de Vino Binondo for three days, after which he was fetched by government and church officials and brought to the cathedral in solemn procession, and after a “Te Deum” was sung, he was brought to the Palacio del Gobernador in Intramuros. This palace was destroyed during the 1863 earthquake, and the governor’s residence moved to the former vacation house now Malacañan Palace. The same routine was given the king’s portrait that was first enthroned in a salon of the Administracion de la Rentas del Vino in Binondo, before it was fetched by Governor Ricafort and brought in solemn procession to the cathedral, where a long sermon was delivered by a Dominican, before it was moved to the nearby Ayuntamiento, all the while heralded by the tolling of bells, artillery fire, bands, and fireworks. The portrait was accorded full honors, and Ricafort made an obviously exaggerated crowd estimate of 400,000. Amnesty was granted civil and criminal prisoners. In gratitude for the royal portrait, a diamond-encrusted pectoral cross on a gold chain was sent to Madrid, on it was inscribed, “To our King from the Consulado de Manila.”
Where is the portrait today? It must have been destroyed during the 1945 Battle for Manila. Fernando was succeeded by his daughter, Isabel II, and this much-valued portrait consigned to a loft in the Ayuntamiento. It was last seen in 1853, covered in dirt that had to be washed off with water. This footnote in Philippine history does not mean much except to remind us that fame and power, intoxicating while you have them, can be fleeting.
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