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Intramuros, the walled city, the glory and shame, in the face of tyranny and awakening

The imposing Manila Cathedral, the set of power of the influential Catholic hierarchy.

One of the most important heritage site in the country, it has reminded us of our colonial past, of shame and it’s glory, and of Filipino resilience in the face of tyranny. That’s Intramuros. Located in the western end of Manila.

Intramuros is known as the walled city which represents the old Manila district, the core of the old urban capital.

Intramuros was walled to protect the fledgling Spanish Imperial government from the marauding Muslim tribes, who descended from the great Muslim ruler, Rajah Sulaiman, that has settled outside of it in the waning years of 14th century.
It was also fortified to protect itself from other foreign powers such as the Dutch, the Portuguese and the British.

It was guarded by a fortified embankment now known as Fort Santiago, the fortress was then obscured by later land reclamation, and is now further away from Manila Bay, where it was once nestled.

Intramuros was once part of the Muslim kingdom of Brunei when it was ceded by the Bruneian King Bolkiah in the middle of the 14 century.

It was during the successful third wave of Spanish conquest under Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1565 that the Philippines ultimately succumbed to Spanish rule.

The Fort Santiago at present. The scar of the past is indelible.

It had first ceded the province of Cebu on February 13, 1565. When Legaspi heard of the rich Luzon kingdoms, he dispatches his deputies Martin de Goethe and Juan de Salcedo to seized the kingdoms for Spain.

The Spaniards arrived on the island of Luzon in 1570. After quarrels and misunderstandings between the Islamic natives and the Spaniards, they fought for the control of the land and settlements.

After several months of warfare, the natives were defeated, and the Spaniards made a peace pact with the councils of Rajah Sulaiman III, Lakan Dula, and Rajah Matanda who handed over Manila to the Spaniards. The colonizers then ruled Manila for the next 333 years.

During the wave of Filipino enlightenment in the mid 19th century, in which intellectual Filipinos began realizing that freedom can be fought and won in many ways, including in both violent revolution and peaceful persuasion through letters, prominent freedom fighters and advocates saw their fates entangled with the bars behind the walled city.

The cells of Fort Santiago became their cold abode, before their eventual executions. Including the three Filipino priests known as GOMBURZA ( Frs. Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora) who lighted up the cog of revolution in the 1870’s.

They earned the critical ire of the Spanish regime, arrested them, were incarcerated and tried in Fort Bonifacio and put to death through garrote in nearby Luneta on February 17, 1872.

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GOMBURZA inspired the activist spirit of Dr. Jose P. Rizal and other young Filipino intellectuals, who themselves were imprisoned and some were executed like Dr. Rizal himself.

His last walk was with the cobblestone streets of the walled city from Fort Santiago into Luneta where he sighed his last breath on December 30, 1896.

The set of power of the 16th Century Spanish colonial rulers. The Palacio del Governador.

The Fort Santiago also became the scene of horrific deaths among hundreds of Filipino and American prisoners during the Japanese occupation in World War II. It incurred heavy damage on the incessant aerial bombings that ensued from liberation efforts.

The Global Heritage Fund identified Intramuros as one of the 12 worldwide sites “on the verge” of irreparable loss and destruction on its 2010 report titled Saving Our Vanishing Heritage, citing its insufficient management and development pressures.

Filipinos seldom thought of the significance of past events, but this ubiquitous edifices inside Intramuros, like the Manila Cathedral and the Palacio del Gobernador, are a searing reminder that once, in our existence, tyranny and suppression have heightened our pursuit of independence.

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