The grandstand has witnessed such momentous occasions as presidential oath-takings, the Philippine Centennial, the turn of the Millennium, sporting events, mass movements for national advocacies and freedom of expression, and large religious assemblies, among many others.
Today, another extraordinary amassing will take place at the open auditorium, as His Holiness Pope Francis celebrates a Eucharistic Mass for the Filipino people at 3:30 p.m.—the grand culmination of the five-day papal visit to the country that is expected to draw millions of faithful to this focal part of the capital.
To be exact, the last papal mass held at the Quirino Grandstand was on January 15, 1995—20 years and three days after that of the pontiff and now St. John Paul 2nd during the fifth World Youth Day Celebration.
And while St. John Paul 2nd’s mass was attended by five million Filipinos—the biggest recorded audience in papal history—Pope Francis’ presence today is expected to gather a mammoth crowd of six million, according to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
In this issue, The Sunday Times Magazine revisits other significant occasions witnessed by the Quirino Grandstand in the modern history of this great and blessed country.
For the Filipino
The Quirino Grandstand was built for the Filipino.
Originally called the Independence Grandstand, its first official purpose was to mark Philippine independence from the American regime. It accommodated the turnout of people who celebrated the inauguration of the Third Philippine Republic at the nearby National Legislative Building, which is now the National Museum.
However, the original open auditorium, designed by architect Juan Arellano and constructed just in front of the Rizal Monument was soon demolished, only to be transferred to its present location along the Manila Bay. The rebuilding of the grandstand was led by architect Federico Lustre, then head of the Bureau of Public Works, and took three years to finish in time for the oath taking of the sixth president of the Philippines, the late Elpidio Quirino. It was also at the grandstand where he delivered his inaugural address on December 30, 1949.
And because Quirino was the first president who officially used the venue to address the nation, the Independence Grandstand was duly renamed after him.
Quirino’s successors—namely Ramon Magsaysay (1953), Carlos Garcia (1957), Diosdado Macapagal (1961), Ferdinand Marcos (1965, 1969, 1981), and Fidel Ramos (1992)—continued the tradition of taking the Presidential Oath and inaugural address at the grandstand.
However, due to the unique circumstances surrounding their ascension to the highest office of the land, former female presidents Corazon Aquino took oath at Club Filipino in San Juan (1986), and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at EDSA Shrine in Quezon City (2001).
Former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada also decided to hold his oath-taking at the Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan (1998); while Macapagal-Arroyo chose Cebu City as the site to formally begin her second term in office (2004).
President Benigno Aquino 3rd resumed the tradition, which was broken for 18 years, when he took his Oath of Office at the Quirino Grandstand on June 30, 2010.
Besides these presidential oath-takings, the grandstand has also remained to be the landmark for Independence Day celebrations and parades, most notable of which was the Philippine Centennial on June 12, 1998.
The 100th year anniversary of the Declaration of Independence from the Spanish occupation, the grand commemoration was organized by then outgoing President Ramos. One of the most significant duties Ramos carried out on the momentous occasion was to transfer the seat of power to incoming President Estrada.
And while Estrada took his oath in Bulacan, he immediately joined the centennial celebrations at Quirino Grandstand to deliver his inaugural address to the Filipino people. (Wikipedia)
A venue of faith
Besides witnessing national history, the Quirino Grandstand is also the chosen venue of various religious sects in the country, foremost of which is the predominant Roman Catholic Church.
A week before Pope Francis’ arrival in the country, the grandstand, which was still being renovated and prepared for the papal visit welcomed thousands of devotees of the Black Nazarene for the “Pahalik.”
A tradition that allows devotees to touch and kiss the image, which was brought to the country in a Spanish galleon in the 17th century, the Pahalik takes place on the eve of the procession itself. As such, the Traslacion Procession begins at the grandstand and ends at the Quiapo Church.
This year, however, the Pahalik at the grandstand caused a delay on the translacion when the huge volume devotees refused to allow the Nazarene’s andas, or carriage to leave the Quirino Grandstand. (“Traslacion slightly delayed after devotees blocked way of the andas,” The Manila Times, January 9, 2015)
The Quirino Grandstand has further hosted crucial gatherings of religious group El Shaddai, considered the biggest Catholic Charismatic Movement in the Philippines. The first time El Shaddai members congregated at the grandstand was in 1994 for the “10th Anniversary of the Foundation.” With over three million in attendance, El Shaddai broke attendance records at the grand stand, drawing members who came not only from Metro Manila but also from nearby provinces like Cavite and Laguna, as well as distant ones in the Ilocos and Bicol Regions.
The El Shaddai continued to gather its members at the grandstand on the occasions of its “Overnight Family Appointments,” Christmas parties, as well as the birthday celebrations of its founder Bro. Mike Velarde. Today, however, El Shaddai gathers its brothers and sisters at the Amvel Business Park in Parañaque City.
The Christian Movement Jesus is Lord has likewise held its Overnight Family Appointment at the Quirino Grandstand in recent years.
Yet another major Christian religion in the Philippines, the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), gathered its flock to the grandstand before building its own Philippine Arena in Bulacan in 2014. One of the most recent and significant INC events in Manila City was the 2012 Grand Evangelical Mission that recorded 600,000 members in attendance. (ABS-CBNNews.com.)
Yet the biggest religious gathering at Quirino Grandstand thus far remains to be the Eucharistic Mass of St. John Paul 2nd in 1995 for World Youth Day, which may soon be surpassed by Pope Francis’ Mass today.
By the turn of the 20th century, the grandstand continued to establish its historic significance for Filipinos.
A weeklong celebration dubbed “Pistang Milenyo Filipino” was held at the Rizal Park beginning on December 25, 1999 with events such as “Araw ng Pampalakasan,” “Araw ng Batang Pinoy,” “Araw ng Pistang Pilipino,” and “Araw ng Dakilang Bayani.” (newsflash.org)
Come the eve before the year 2000, the website further documented, “The highlight of the event [is]the Kapit-Bisig [linking of arms]ritual… led by no less than the President [Estrada] himself and the First Family together with other government officials.”
Five years later, another historic occasion took place at grandstand with the opening of the 2005 Southeast Asian Games. It was the first time in the games’ history that the opening ceremony was held at an open-air park instead of a closed stadium. (Wikipedia)
Unfortunately, the patriotic, religious and otherwise peaceful history of the Quirino Grandstand was been marred by violence on August 23, 2010 when a former police officer, Rolando Mendoza, held a busload of Chinese tourists at the site.
The stand-off lasted for over 10 hours tragically ended with the deaths of the hostage-taker and eight Hong Kong victims with many others injured.
Although the incident caused misunderstanding between the Philippine and Chinese governments, incumbent Manila Mayor Estrada is credited for apologizing to victims’ families, personally flying to Hong Kong in 2014.
Nevertheless, the infamous hostage taking failed to damage the grandstand’s reputation as a premiere venue in the capital, with such events as the three-year Shell Eco-Marathon Asia, which rolled out on the company’s centennial in 2014.
In shell.com.ph, Shell Eco-Marathon Asia is described as an international competition open to students from around the world “to design, build, and drive vehicles that exemplify smarter mobility, and to find innovative methods in addressing future energy challenges.”
For this year, the much-awaited car competition will take place from February 26 to March 1.
As part of the historical Rizal Park, Quirino Grandstand is undoubtedly a premier public space for the Filipino. So much so that landmark gatherings to pursue truth, justice and patriotism have been held in the area, including the open auditorium.
Proof are the last two mass movements decrying the Priority Development Assistance Fund (or Pork Barrel) Scam, which were held at Rizal Park—with programs staged at the Quirino Grandstand—in the last two years.
The first, dubbed “Million People March,” happened on August 26, 2013 with supporters coming from all walks of life, and from different sectors of society. There were rallyist, ordinary folk, celebrities and personalities, among enraged government officials.
According to estimates by the Manila Police District, over 75,000 Filipinos supported this People’s Initiative.
The following year, a similar movement advocating the same cause was also staged there, although with a lesser number. The Manila Times bannered: “Rallyists against pork sparse, but spirits high” (August 25, 2014).