I feel apologetic in saying this, but I’m always rather disappointed by Luneta Park. Particularly after the well maintained and immaculately tended gardens of Fort Santiago, Luneta Park (nowadays officially known as Rizal Park) feels tired and rather worn at the edges.
We were particularly disappointed by the Japanese Garden (entrance 5 pesos) which is a disgrace. They have even drained the pond, so all the garden has to offer is a walk around an area of mud. The path leads through a sort of tiled ‘pavilion’ which was very dirty and it was obvious the tiles had not been washed for months. Factor in the noisy traffic passing just outside and the group throwing around a ball and this was a definitely un-Zenlike experience.
Of the two other ornamental gardens, the Orchidarium was closed and we didn’t have the heart to pay to see the Chinese gardens, particularly as in a few days time we would be visiting Hong Kong and could see the ‘real thing’.
The rather sad gardens are, however, redeemed by the areas of the park dedicated to the memory of Rizal. To one side is the Site of Rizal’s Execution. At the entrance to the site Rizal’s final poem Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell) is carved in Spanish, English and Filipino on black granite. (The poem was smuggled out of the prison cell in the base of a lamp, which is one of the exhibits at the Rizal Shrine.) The site itself is dominated by larger than life statues depicting the firing squad executing Rizal, surrounded by tableaux of the final events of his life. Very dramatic.
Close to the execution site is the Rizal Monument, which features on picture postcards of Manila and is one of the city’s most recognisable structures. A bronze statue of Rizal stands in front of an obelisk on a pyramid shaped plinth, on which is inscribed the single word RIZAL. The monument, which contains Rizal’s mortal remains, is kept under guard – we enjoyed watching the sentries do a very slow march around the monument, followed by some fancy rifle drill as they came to attention.
On reflection, perhaps I am being unfair to Luneta. The crowds of families in the park were clearly enjoying themselves, eating picnics, playing ball, flying kites. This truly is a people’s park, and one of the few publicly open green spaces in an overcrowded city. I suppose I have been comparing Luneta unfavourably with the parks in London, but a better comparison would be with a public park in a British provincial town, such as a seaside resort. Despite its rich history, there is nothing pretentious about Luneta Park. Rich or poor, people were enjoying themselves – and what’s wrong with that?