Paco Park is really a cemetery and a National Park.
Paco Park; who would ever have thought that an old cemetery would become a national park and one of Manila's hot venues for garden weddings?
In the heart of an industrial/warehouse zone in old Manila lies the reclusive Paco Park. Time has not been kind to its environs. Most locals would be hard put to find the park. All around are open-air cargo container depots, truck garages, medium-rise office buildings long past their prime, lower-middle-class housing and the odd horn or two.
Traffic on two of Manila’s busiest streets, Taft Ave. and United Nations Ave., crawls with blaring horns just two blocks away. But neither national events nor concerts are held here any longer.
There are too many other larger plazas and open spaces around the metropolis.
For all that, coming to Paco Park is like finding a large, well-maintained garden to call your own. Or a jewel in a quarry, if you will.
The partnership between government as owner and religious order as caretaker of chapel and churchyard works. You can stroll the narrow pathways around well-manicured lawns, or walk on the grass, if you want; most times, there is nobody to stop you.
Take your time to breath in the spirit of the place, in the shadow of slender date palms, moss-clad acacia trees, or a massive banyan.
Ponder the dome-roofed Chapel of St. Pancratius and why fern sprout from every corner of the roof and on some surprising niches at ground level.
Take in the purple and orange shades of the ever-riotous bougainvillea. Turn a corner and catch the lovely scent of a sampaguita bush, the national flower of the country.
In need of a break from the oppressive humidity?
Or a sudden squall bursts upon you during the wet season?
Cross the street to what was once an authentic Swiss inn/restaurant, now enjoying a revival as a boutique hotel. The San Miguel is cold in a cozy bar with cable TV and the latest international publications.
Nicotine freaks prefer the poolside tables, where they can smoke to their heart’s content.
Late in the day, you can return to Paco Park because the fountain starts running at twilight. There are people around now, usually student couples from nearby schools. Filipinos being a largely modest people, prefer to hold hands in the darkest corners away from everyone and pretty much leave you alone.
If it’s a weekend, there might be Mass or a Wedding.
Do indulge your curiosity, you never know you may get invited to the wedding reception!
Walk around the weather-beaten flagstone paths, there are no hordes of picture-taking tourists to ruin the illusion that Paco Park is all yours, because right now it is!
Coming across the occasional grave or niche resting place brings to mind all those who had tramped this hallowed ground before you: the Spaniard “Guardia Civil”, the elite “ilustrado’s” burying one of their own, U.S. Scout Rangers from 1898 onward, the swaggering Japanese Kempetai in World War II and G.I.’s on R&R from the Korean and Vietnam wars.
In Spanish times, Paco Park was just a cemetery, safe enough to bury victims of the great cholera epidemic of 1820.
It is bounded by what are now General Luna and Padre Faura Streets in the Paco district of Manila.
Paco Park was the municipal cemetery of the district of Dilao, the former name of Paco, Manila. Aristocratic Spanish families who lived within Intramuros and old Manila were interred here. A Catholic chapel dedicated to St. Pancratius still stands and yet, its biggest claim to fame is that National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal was interred here after his 1896 execution by musketry for the crime of sedition. All he had done was write two allegorical novels about oppression by the Spanish and the right of Filipinos for a role in governance of the islands.
Japanese occupation of Paco Park
During the Japanese occupation, Paco Park was used as a weapons and supply depot. The adobe walls that encircled the park made for an ideal defensive position for the Japanese when Gen. McArthur returned in 1945.
During the liberation of Manila, the Japanese dug trenches and fought ferociously house-to-house. As a result, the city was well and truly devastated on a level with the fates of Warsaw and Berlin.
By the term of Diosdado Macapagal, the ninth president of the Republic of the Philippines, Paco Park was designated a National Park.
Paco Park was restored to its former glory.
The apex of Paco Park as community cultural venue came during the term of Ferdinand Marcos. Needing to give his pushy and avaricious spouse some showcase or other, he had Paco and every other park in the city brought under the aegis of the National Parks Development Committee. This was chaired by Imelda whose cultural inclinations found expression in orchestra, song and even amateur ballet presentations in Paco Park and most other parks as well.
Paco Park also became a venue for the promotion of German-Filipino ties. This extended to plays presented during the month of February, as well as solo performances by Filipino and German artists. But these were by no means mainstream activities.
Today, Paco Park merits mention mainly as a splendid garden setting for receptions and weddings. The chapel where the weddings are held is now under the care of the Vicentian fathers, the same priests who administer the nearby Adamson University. Nonetheless, its placid atmosphere resonates with the reputation of Jose Rizal.
Paco Park is both an oasis in industrial Manila and a perennially green memorial to all the historic developments that propelled the country to its shining moment as the first republic in Asia.