This was my daughter Janna’s idea; I never wanted to go to Rizal Park at midmorning, when the sun’s rays piercing the skin without mercy. Yes, I woke up early so we wouldn’t get stuck in the hell of Manila traffic. I was lugging this bulky DSLR because I was the photographer of the day. Who knows, maybe the conversation last Thursday that led us to Kilometer Zero was all part of a plot hatched by Janna and her mom.
Janna had been studying in my working area, with her mom’s assistance, when I got home that night. The lamp was on, even though there was already sufficient light in the room. In their concentration, they did not even register my presence. From the door, I could hear that they were talking about Intramuros. I coughed to get their attention. Both of them looked at me then. My daughter stood up and ran to hug me.
My wife asked me to bring them to Rizal Park so she could photograph her project. I told her she could just download photos from the internet, but my wife interrupted me with a hug: “You know our daughter doesn’t ask to go out that often. Just give in. Let’s go on the weekend. Besides, we can eat at your favorite vegan restaurant near the park.” She kissed me on the lips, and that was that.
Who can turn down a hug and a kiss from one’s beloved, I ask you?
Back to the glaring midmorning sun in Rizal Park: A man in a black suit was standing in front of us, with a book in his left hand. At his right sat a woman with a child on her arm. Opposite them was a man with an open book, which a boy sitting by his side also seemed to be reading. They were all perfectly, haven’t moved at all, not even when they were set in front of the Kilometer Zero post. Beneath this tableau is fixed one word: RIZAL.
I asked Janna to stand in front of the monument so I could photograph her with it as a backdrop, but she refused. She said they only needed pictures of the place, not one that included her. I did not insist.
When I was about to take a shot, I found it difficult to not notice the eyesore called Torre de Manila behind the monument. It imposed itself in the view like the “national photo bomber” it has been called by some columnists. I just moved my perspective so I could take a slightly slanted picture and exclude this unwelcome guest from the shot.
While I was doing this, Janna was pulling her mom across the road. It took several shots before I got a photo I was satisfied with. By the time I turned to find them, my wife was already taking a selfie with Janna in front of the KM 0 marker across the street from me. I crossed to their side of the road when the pedestrian crossing light turned green.
A bigger marker stood just a few steps from where they were. I walked straight to it and they followed. There’s a clock atop this marker, one I wasn’t sure was working, but it looked like an old-style watch perched on a pyramid, like the one in the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, based on a story written by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Below the clock sits an aluminium plate with José Rizal’s signature. What truly caught my attention was a bigger plate, just a few inches below it with a signed statement from the 1998 Centennial Grand Master of the Masons, Enrique L. Locsin: This Memorial Clock is a capstone on a century of Philippine Masonry and on the Centennial of its highest achievement: the Philippine Revolution, the Philippine War of Independence and the first republic in Asia whose fighting standards carried the symbols of the Craft: the triangle, the sunburst and the golden eye—perfection, light and wisdom.
This reminds me of the conspiracy theory fiction by Arthur Conan O. Doyle and Dan Brown that I’d read. Those tales are mere fiction. My friend, a writer just like Brown and Doyle, told me that fiction can be used to conceal the truths humanity still cannot bear to hear.
I shuffled backward so I could take a more expansive shot of the Memorial Clock, while Janna was posing for her mom. Then I saw something on the side of the marker (I just realized that this marker had three faces), so I took a closer look. On the two other faces of the Memorial Clock are different logos of the Philippines’ Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons. The logo on the left side had a more interesting composition: Beneath it was a facsimile of a signed declaration from the First President of the Republic, Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy: The successful Revolution of 1898 was Masonically inspired, Masonically led, and Masonically executed, and I venture to say that the First Philippine Republic of which I was its humble President, was an achievement we owe, largely, to Masonry and the Masons.
While I am aware that many of our heroes were masons, these are things that I never expected to see at Kilometer Zero. I often pass this place on weekends, especially when we are dismissed early from our Master’s classes. Yet this is the first time I took a more intent and closer look at the historical markers surrounding the Rizal Monument. This makes me wonder if there are other markers like this sitting unread and unnoticed around the country.
I am very intrigued: If these markers exist in Rizal Park, why are schools not bringing these things to the attention of their students?
As teacher of Philippine History teacher, I rarely read any discussions, if there are any, about the country’s historical places and their markers. If there are such conversations, they may be limited by a lack of observation, as we’ve seen in Rizal Park, in Intramuros, in Ermita, and so on and so on—you talk of the historical dates, names and places, but don’t bother with “extraneous” details, like what text is written on the markers of these places about these people and events. That’s such a pity, because we miss the details that may truly matter, like who else supported the Philippine Revolution of 1896 besides the peasants and the landed gentry.
“Daddy, can I pee?” Janna interrupted my thoughts. Sometimes I wonder why she always asks me to accompany her, even when her mom is around. Some questions just don’t have answers. I looked at my wife, who nodded.
When we got across the road, Janna called out for her mom, who was following us. I asked a guard where the nearest toilet was, and he pointed his lips to the left while telling us the directions. We walked a few meters and saw two more guards manning a gate that opened onto what may have been the ruins of a Japanese-style structure. Again, I asked where the nearest restroom was. The lady guard said there was a restroom past the gate. Janna pulled her mom along behind her, walking to the right where the restroom sign was.
While waiting for them, I took a walk inside the area of the ruins. Spread before us were a garden and a pond, with another marker I could see from afar. I approached the marker, noting the change in temperature in the garden. Where it was warmer outside the gate, the periphery of the pond was cooler, perhaps because of the trees surrounding the garden, and the water of the pond.
The marker was for the Trece Martires de Bagumbayan. I was photographing the marker when I heard my daughter calling me. I turned to go to her, but, I was looking at the camera screen to check photo as I walked. Then I noticed this in the photo I’d just shot: Another Freemason logo to the side of the marker. I smiled. This was my daughter’s idea. G