Explore Manila! (San Juan)
Have you ever seen Metro Manila from above in the evening?
Whether you are aboard a plane or just along the mountainside of Antipolo, you will be amazed at the glitters of lights of the metropolis. You get to see the lights twinkling like a thousand stars in the night sky. The only thing is that the lights are all underneath or below you. It is quite a sight to see and enjoy and it is quite relaxing.
But behind the lights and glitters is the chaos and buzz of Metro Manila to which we all get to experience on a day-to-day basis. It takes its toll on some and yet majority of us have managed to adapt to these quirks of living in Manila. We probably got to adjust so much that we have already managed to just brush it off as a usual occurrence that when things get a little better, we get quite surprised.
But Metro Manila is more than just a city and it is the melting pot of different cultures from the different regions in the country. Not to mention, Metro Manila has a rich and colourful history to boot. That is what we aim to discover with our current project Explore Manila!
Our goal is to discover how we see Metro Manila and what we can discover about the metropolis by going to its different cities and walking around like regular city folks.
Explore San Juan!
The sprawling grounds of Pinaglabanan Shrine greeted us when we started our exploration of San Juan. It was refreshing to see a big park in the middle of the city, one that we seldom notice as city dwellers. I think that this is one of the things that I am starting to appreciate with our “Explore Manila!” project – park appreciation. On the contrary, Metro Manila do not lack park facilities, it is just that we do not notice it as we run through our day-to-day routine.
San Juan City is one of the cities where Philippine history unfolded. San Juan’s land area was bigger than what it is now. It previously included Caloocan and parts of Quezon City. It is the site of the first battle between Filipino Katipuneros and Spanish forces. It is also known as the “Town of Philippine Pesidents” having been the home of four former Presidents of the Philippines – Diosdado Macapagal, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Ferdinand Marcos, and Joseph Estrada.
Join me as we walk and explore San Juan City!
Dambana ng Pinaglabanan / El Deposito
Originally the place was called El Deposito as this was the underground water reservoir of Manila during the Spanish period. It later became the site of a bloody encounter between Katipuneros who fought for Philippine freedom when Spanish forces retreated to the El Deposito after losing the initial battle with Bonifacio’s men. The water reservoir was still used during the American period until the Balara Filter station was commissioned.
Presently, the water reservoir was converted into a sprawling park that would be known as the “Dambana ng Pinaglabanan” to honor the heroes of the first battle between Filipinos and the Spaniards. The open field is highlighted by a monument of a man reaching out to the sky, symbolic of the Filipinos cry for freedom.
The place is frequented by locals where they can do their fitness runs and by neighbourhood kids who enjoy its space for practices or to just play around.
San Juan City Hall
The new city hall of San Juan started operations in February 2013. Its new location is closer to the iconic park of the city – the Dambana ng Pinaglabanan. The new whitewashed building sits in one corner of the park making it more accessible to its constituents.
The good thing about the new building is that it does not dwarf the Pinaglabanan Monument.
Simbahan ng San Juan del Monte
Every June 24, the streets of San Juan City burst in both laughter and water. This is the “Watta Watta Festival” – a water festival in honor of their patron saint St. John the Baptist. On this day, locals are given the permission to douse people with water to celebrate the festivities.
The Simbahan ng San Juan del Monte, or also known as the “Pinaglabanan Church”, was first established in 1894 but was destroyed during the armed struggle of the Katipuneros. It was later rebuilt after the Philippine-American War and went through a number of renovations to what it is today. Much of its original structure was retained.
The church is a mute witness to the armed struggle during the Spanish period that it was later on declared as a national historical landmark in the city. The belfry was added in 1994 when the church celebrated its centennial.
The façade of the church is simple. The main door is part of original design of the church and the two adjacent front doors were added during its renovations. One will also find the historical marker at the church’s façade. The simplicity of its exterior contrasts that of its interiors. From the outside, it may seem that the church is small but once you get inside, it reveals wide high-ceiling interiors.
The altar is highlighted by two stain glass windows and an image of Jesus Christ on the Cross. The altar is also flanked by images of saints on both sides. What is amazing is the flower decorations that adorn the altar that makes it look really beautiful and elegant.
“Walang kalayaan kung walang pinaglabanan."
It was an appropriate caption that would best describe the role played by San Juan in the quest for freedom against Spanish oppressors. The Pinaglabanan Shrine was the site of the battle against Spanish forces that started when Katipuneros attacked the El Polvorin and then later on capturing El Deposito, Manila’s water reservoir. It is considered to be the first uprising against Spain.
Although the uprising eventually failed despite its initial wins at the start, the “Battle of Pinaglabanan” had a domino effect sparking subsequent uprisings in Central and Southern Luzon.
The monument now stands as a memorial of that fateful day when Filipinos finally took a stand to be free.
Post Explore Manila Notes
San Juan City is the smallest city in the country and yet it cradled a huge part of Philippine history. This was where the Philippine revolution against Spain started and the city has invested quite a lot to keep the memories alive in the psyche of Filipinos through its parks and monuments.
I really fell in love with the sprawling Dambana ng Pinaglabanan, It gives Metro Manilans a place to escape the confines of the city within the metro while giving its visitors a taste of Philippine history.
A lot of places remain to be discovered in San Juan – the San Juan Bridge, the old City Hall, Ronac Center, etc. I will find time soon to walk the streets of this historic city and discover more of what this city has to offer.
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Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.