The Quirino Grandstand in Manila City

Right in the heart of Manila City lies a historical site, surrounded by other landmarks of equal historic importance. Intramuros, the Rizal Park and Manila Hotel, just some of the surrounding structures. We’re talking about a venue which followed the name of the Filipino President who first held his inauguration ceremonies therein — the Quirino Grandstand. Right off the bat, before proceeding any further to read the entire article, what comes to  your mind when your hear “Quirino Grandstand”?

There are two possible events that would come to mind. First, this is the usual gathering place for prayer rallies of certain groups, principally the El Shaddai. Second, this is the site of a bloody hostage-taking. Let’s talk about that later. We’ll start with what traditionally makes the Quirino Grandstand a historic site.

Formerly called the Independence Grandstand and built in 1949, it was the site of a number of Presidential inaugurations. The first was President Elpidio Quirino, after whom the grandstand was renamed. Other presidents followed: Ramon Magsaysay (1953), Carlos P. Garcia (1957), Diosdado Macapagal (1961), Ferdinand Marcos (1965 and 1969), Fidel Ramos (1992) and Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III (2010).

What about Presidents Joseph “Erap” Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, you ask? They may have appeared at the Quirino Grandstand on the day of their inauguration, but that is to deliver their respective inaugural addresses. They took the oath of office somewhere else. President Estrada took his oath at the Barasoain Church and President Arroyo took her oath at the EDSA Shrine.

The Quirino Grandstand is the site of many important political, religious and cultural events, principally because of the size of the grandstand and the surrounding open area. The national Independence Day celebrations are done here. The 1995 World Youth Day, which included a mass officiated by the late Pope John Paul II and attended by an estimated crowd of millions, was done at the Quirino Grandstand.

Opposite the grandstand, erected near the Roxas Boulevard (formerly Dewey Boulevard) where the 0 Kilometer marker lies, is a statue of a man, standing with his head painfully turned towards the heavens, with half-outstretched arms that signify offering one’s self to a higher power (if the hands were stretched further upwards, it would look like the UP Oblation).

The caption at the statue’s base reads: “Si yo tuviera miles de Vidas las Daria por mi fe. – Lorenzo de Manila” Not everybody knows Lorenzo de Manila, because we’re more familiar calling him San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila. He is the first Filipino Saint, the beatification of whom was made by no less than the Blessed John Paul, also better known to us as the late Pope John Paul II. The quote, if the online Spanish-English translation took is working fine, means: “If I had thousands of lives, I would give for my faith.” (If you know Spanish, perhaps you could help us out by translating it properly, with thanks).

Mr. Paulo Alcazaren, writing for the Philippine Star, has a concise history of the Quirino Grandstand:

With a budget of P 120,000, architect Juan Arellano designed a grand Independence Grandstand in ornate Neo-classic style. He incorporated a triumphal arch with two “wings” that shaded the main galleries. The centerpiece in front of the arch was a stage in the form of a ship’s bow with a carved figurehead of a maiden representing freedom. Two other figures, representing a Filipino and a Filipina stood about 10 meters tall behind the stage and the central gallery. The whole composition was placed facing west a few meters in front of the Rizal Monument and not across the lawn near the breakwater where we now have the Quirino Grandstand.

When Roxas died suddenly at Clark Field, Elpidio Quirino was sworn in at Malacañang Palace. He won the presidential election in 1949, by which time a replica of the original Arellano Independence Grandstand was built as a permanent structure where it stands now. The design was prepared by Federico Illustre, who was chief architect at the Bureau of Public Works. The structure incorporated the triumphal arch but did without the boat prow stage and the tandem statues behind.

There was no budget to build the wings for the Quirino ceremony but the succeeding inaugurations saw the gallery expand every four years until it reached close to the present size in the ‘60s. Each event also was cause to clean and fix up the structure, which saw intermittent use as a venue for Independence Day rites.

There is hardly doubt, indeed, that the Quirino Grandstand played host to important events. However, yin has its yang. Light has darkness. And a new painful twist was added to the historic significance of the Quirino Grandstand.

In the morning of 23 August 2010, a Monday, Rolando Mendoza boarded a tourist bus and held hostage more than 20 tourists in front of the Quirino Grandstand. Many hostages were released, while many died during the ensuing assault on the bus. It’s tempting to sweep this ugly incident under the carpet, but we promised to always remember. This is an event that we should not forget, so that it won’t be repeated, but this is also an event that must be placed in its proper perspective when gauging the significance of Quirino Grandstand.

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