The Plaza of Silang
Silang’s plaza is the largest open space in the heart of the poblacion. Today, it can be divided into two sections: the memorial side and the civic use portion. The memorial area of the plaza is dedicated to the national hero while on the other side of the road is the civic portion now called, Patio Medina. Its multipurpose use allows the local to hold public affairs and meetings, performances and even sports events.
On its origin, we do not have an exact date on its construction. The earliest we have on record are entries from journeys relating histo-anthropological data like those of Ellis and Foreman.
But what we know is that the plaza was institutionalized by the Spaniards as part of their urban planning system. In colonial architecture, we know this as the plaza complex. “The complex is composed of a grand church, a convent, a government or official house and surrounded by large houses of stone and wood. Houses became less grand in scale and décor as it moved far away from the center. The urban center became a colonial system of space. Being at center, defined the level of economic access and prestige creating social stratification of the locals, and being inside the bayan, provided security from pestilence and misfortunes, a perceived advantage when one is baptized by the church” (Medina:71).
This creation of a plaza as center created roads crisscrossing the central space of colonial power: the church and town hall. And, this is a tool for their colonial administration. Note that the bell tower was always the highest structure in any colonial town. According to Arch. Gerard Lico in his book on Philippine architecture such is a “…panoptical device for surveillance, gazing into the affairs of the native population arranged conveniently along the cuadricula (plaza grid system) for easy identification of the colonized body” (Lico: Edifice 22). This structural identity of colonial architecture is present in all areas of the Philippines.
One of the earliest descriptions of Silang’s structure can be read in Diccionario, Geografico, Estadistico, Historico de las Islas Philipinas of Fr. Manuel Buzeta and Fr. Felipe Bravo of 1850. It said, “SILANG: town with priest and governor, on the island of Luzon, prov. of Cavite, under the archdiocese of Manila situated in 12° 40′ 30″ longhitude 14 ° 13′ 40″ latitude. It has 2,074 houses. There being the main buildings of the town: the church parish, which is served by a regular priest, the Community house, where is the jail, and the house (convent) Parish church that is next to the church. There are a Primary school, and away from the school and the town is the cemetery. It has population of 12,248 souls, and in 1845 they paid 1,958 tributes or 19,580 in silver” (Buzeta:Vol 2, 428-429).
In 1859 the travel accounts of Henry Thomas Ellis written in the book “Hong Kong to Manilla” printed 1895, he mentioned some structures in Silang: “a few fairly good houses, a large church and convent… and a civil guard station” and even a town square where a crowd can watch a show; Silang was a fairly organized community with decent infrastructures. Further, he described “Silan” as a place of “…unusual air of neatness, cleanliness, and comfort, with little railed gardens in front of the nipa houses, and footpaths on either side of the regular, well-laid roads forming the streets…” (345). Ellis’ narration fits the Monteverde’s sketch map of 1896.
In 1897, Silang was razed to the ground by the Spanish force led by General Lachambre. Residences and businesses were all burned even the wooden Antillan-style houses of the principalia in the plaza. Only the stone church and its convent remained untouched by the fire (Unabia: 155). Spatial and social stratifications after the 1898 revolution were revolutionized by the urban planning system of the Americans from shifting a church-centric planning to prioritize education, commerce and sanitation improvements in the town.
In 1920, civic leaders gathered funds to build a monument in honor of Dr. Jose Rizal in the town plaza fronting the church. What used to be part of the church grounds, the land was publicly appropriated to be part of the public plaza. The monument was designed in a typical neo-classical style. Also note that in the 1920s, the municipal building behind the monument was not yet constructed.
Fronting the churchyard, major clearing was made to accommodate the new plaza, a new public space aside from the church. The photo on the right was taken during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Rizal monument in 1918. Here, one can see the guests of honor and public officials at center all dressed in white, uniformed band at the right side with the front drummer facing the camera and another uniformed band at the left side of the photo. Three bamboo arches marked the celebration. The center arch leads to a street, Calle Anunciata. The Kiamzon-Gemanil house at the left side still exists in 1996 until a fire razed it to the ground. Unfortunately, the structure also housed the civil registrar records and the library. Due to this catastrophe, no public document exists before 1925 (Gemanil Interview). The seemingly vacant lot across the house now stands a 1900 wooden house decorated with colored glass. These are the few remaining houses from the period.
Other milestone construction include the request to then Senate President Gil J. Puyat by then Silang Municipal Mayor Enrique Asuncion for a Bandstand and Public Stage through Republic Act 2093 dated July 7, 1958. This is now the stage incorporated within the multipurpose area now called as Patio Medina. The bronze marker on the left side of the stage bears the names of the official of the time.
In recent years, the incumbent mayor, Hon. Omil Poblete, placed a functional cover for the Patio Medina area to protect the people from the elements.
Ellis, Henry Thomas. Hong Kong to Manilla. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1895.
Foreman, John FRGS. The Philippine Islands. A Political, Geographical, Ethnographical, Social and Commercial History of the Philippine Archipelago and its Political Dependencies Embracing the Whole Period of Spanish Rule. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899.
Gemanil, Antolin. Personal Interview and Presentation with the Silang Historical Society by Araceli-Medina. 10 February 2008.
Lico, Gerardo. Arkitekturang Pilipino: A History of Architecture and Urbanism in the Philippines. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2008.
____________Edifice Complex: Power Myth and Marcos State Architecture. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2003.
Unabia, Teresita. Silang: Kasaysayan at Pananampalataya. Dasmarinas, Cavite: De La Salle University, Dasmariñas, 2000.