In every town in the Philippines, once could not miss out the presence of a Plaza near the downtown area, the Catholic church or the main government hall. It is one of the Spanish Era‘s most tangible influence on our urban planning and even in towns or cities created after the Spanish, there would always be a space allocated for a Plaza. Plazas in towns created in the Spanish Era always has a piece of history attached to it being a witness to revolts and wars that plagued our entire nation’s history. Bacolod City Plaza is one of them for its very official name Plaza del Seis de Noviembre was from the date when Spanish Gov. Isidro de Castro surrendered to the forces of the revolutionaries under Republica de Negros.
The Plaza became witness to the formal inauguration of Bacolod City on October 19, 1938, a few months after it gained the cityhood status on June 18, 1938 when President Manuel Quezon signed the Commonwealth Act that created the City Charter in Malacañan Palace. A tindalo tree that he planted at the Plaza together with first Bacolod City Mayor Alfredo Montelibano, Sr. still stands with a marker as a tribute. For the Bacoleños, the sunken plaza became alive every Sunday after Mass at San Sebastian Cathedral since it was the primary place for leisure, football games for men and gossip for women. As I have mentioned in my previous article, the City Plaza served as a place for social media way before Facebook.
I spent my childhood days running around the Plaza after lunch in Snakee and later on Shakey’s that was once located in what is now the Negros Navigation Ticketing Office. At that time, I can still hear religious, political and social debates around the Plaza while traders of indigenous medicine and some honey traders explain about their products. Some snake charmers can also be seen but they are not like those in India, they were selling forest products. As I am an Evangelical Christian, I would spend time hearing the church bells and ask my Dad who was still a pastor in a Baptist Church at that time is inside San Sebastian Cathedral. Those were childhood memories of the Plaza still beautiful but is deteriorating.
My favorite childhood spot in the Plaza is Filipino-Japanese Friendship Garden where there was artificial falls with a rocks path above 3ft. water which I love to skip on while my yaya watches nervously. I was amused by gumamela flowers that once grew there and the coys that once swam there. It was the loveliest spot in the Plaza in my opinion but when the core group of Alliance of Negrense Tourism Stakeholders visited the Garden, it is now a desolate place with barely grass growing and the water with schools of coy gone, no sign of gumamela flowers too. The scene repeats in other component gardens with fountains not working. It was a dismal sight to behold with the sight of vagrants and prostitutes roaming.
Benches at the Plaza were all broken and garbage or scraps stuffed underneath while the waiting sheds intended for those unlucky to have been stuck in the Plaza during the rainy season were in a state of disrepair. There are ugly red and yellow guard rails that makes the area unsightly. For a Plaza designed to conform to European standards, it was awful and what is worse is that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bacolod with Administrator of San Sebastian Cathedral allowed ukay-ukay vendors and other stalls to stay months after Masskara Festival! Jurisdiction for the Plaza is divided between the Diocese of Bacolod and City of Bacolod but there has never been any consensus between City Government and Diocese.
There is hope though as sectors answered the plea for help in preserving the heritage Plaza and improvement is coming in slowly. As of present, the fountains have been repaired, painted and is now functioning though only at 7am to 4pm, just enough to ease the heat for plaza goers. The ukay-ukay has finally been removed from the premises of the Plaza and has helped in easing traffic in the area though I am not yet fully confident since that happened last year and they returned to the Plaza. Though cleaning has been done, it is not yet optimal while comfort rooms have yet to be repaired and the pay toilet system yet to be implemented. Little improvements have been done but is still a long way into returning the old Plaza.
I call on the City Government of Bacolod to give more attention to the Bacolod City Plaza for the very history of the city is intertwined with the Plaza. It is where Negrenses showed that they are capable of fighting for freedom, establishing a fully democratic government with full order and control. This is where Masskara Festival is traditionally held and all its worth should be retained. A call as well on the Diocese of Bacolod to cooperate with the renovation efforts of both the government and the private sector with finally putting a stop in tolerating ukay-ukay vendors that damages the heritage and causing traffic. It is time to stop thinking about income alone and consider heritage which mould our very identity.