A Bright Day and A Grim Truth at Paco Park, Manila

I’ve lived in Metro Manila all my life, but lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in the city of Manila, exploring what the center of my hometown has to offer. I’d seen most of these places before, but the whole experience has been different lately, because I’m looking at it all with a new pair of eyes. I’m not on a school-sanctioned field trip; I’m going on my own accord.

It was a first to be at Paco Park. I’ve eaten at one of its surrounding restaurants — My Kitchen, by Chef Chris — a couple of times (enjoyed it immensely), but i’ve never actually been inside the park. I also didn’t realize how close it was to the inn and diner that my grandmother runs along Padre Faura. I felt like I owed it a visit.

And so I did go one random day, after Spanish class. It wasn’t going to be too much of detour to go, so it was going to be no obligation. I went in there, and paid P10 to enter, not really knowing what to expect, except some nice greenery and a chapel.

I was right about the greenery and the chapel, but little did I know that Paco Park holds one a couple of the most historical tombs in Filipino history: the tombs of Filipino martyr priests Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora — collectively, and widely known as the portmanteau GomBurZa, whose execution profoundly affected the Philippine revolution against the Spaniards; and of Filipino National Hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal.

The park was built in 1807. Apart from it being the burial site of these four famous people, it is lined with crypts of rich and famous people Filipinos. Later on, it was expanded to accommodate the victims of the cholera outbreak in 1820.

I wandered thoroughly around its perimeter, and entered a curious but nondescript court, again, not knowing what to expect. Small half-moons lined the walls, without giving me much of a clue about what exactly they were, until I looked behind a bush, and found four small mounds that resembled little skulls, embossed on the ruin walls. Then I realized: this was an infant cemetery.

It was high noon, but I felt a chill go up and down my spine, and the hairs on my arms stood on end. Eventually, I found a couple of marked tombstones, of baby girls who were so tragically lost so soon.

Now, the park serves as a venue for Sunday mass, pre-nuptial photo shoots, and weddings.

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