SPAIN’S Ambassador to the Philippines Luis Antonio Calvo Castaño on Wednesday turned over the original plan of Paco Park to Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. at the historic cemetery in Manila where Dr. Jose Rizal was laid to rest after he was executed on Dec. 30, 1896 at the nearby Bagumbayan, now called Luneta Park.
The government of Spain handed over the electronic copy of the original plan, which was archived in the Archivo Històrico Nacional in Madrid, after learning that Paco Park will undergo a multi-million restoration that may last for at least two years, according to Architect Elizabeth Espino, executive director of the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC).
The park, a popular site for concerts and weddings, was conceived in 1807 and it was inaugurated on April 22, 1822. It was originally designed as a cemetery for the affluent Spaniards but it was closed in 1912, the year when Rizal’s bones were transferred to the base of his monument at Luneta Park.
The two turned-over plans were sketches of the chapel floor plan, facade, and the dome.
Espino said the restoration project will be handled by Escuela Taller de Filipinas, a vocational school that trains out-of-school youth on the traditional methods of construction and restoration of heritage structures.
Asked how much the restoration will cost, Espina said the budget is still being deliberated. It could cost millions, according to Dr. Jaime C. Laya, former minister of education, who is also the chairman of the board of trustees of Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation.
Inscribed on the tomb of Rizal were his initials in reverse (RPJ). The story goes that when Rizal’s sisters discovered the site, they bribed a guardia civil to mark the spot with the reversed initials.
Paco Park was also the burial site of the three priests known as Gomburza (Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora) who were accused as agitators of Philippine independence. They were executed on Feb. 17, 1872 at Bagumbayan. Their deaths inspired Rizal to fight the abuses of the Spanish invaders.
Paco Park has a domed chapel named after Saint Pancratius. It was originally run by the Dominicans, but is now under the Vincentian Fathers.
During World War II, Japanese forces used the park as supply and ammunition depot. It was closed during the American occupation in 1912. In 1960, the cemetery was opened and it was declared a National Park in 1966.
Laya told The Manila Times that the fire station fronting the gate of the park used to be where the house of the park’s caretaker was located. It was in this house where the original plan of the park was discovered.
Yesterday, three agreements were inked between the Department of Tourism and the Government of Spain, NPDC and the Escuela Taller de Filipinas, and the Ambassador of Spain and the NPDC.
Paco Park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance fee is P10.