Paco Park centuries-old trees

Paco Park is a 4,114.80 square meter recreational garden area and was once Manila   municipal cemetery during the Spanish colonial period. It is located along General Luna St. and at the east end of Padre Faura street in Paco district  of the southern  part of Manila.

The park  was originally planned as a municipal cemetery of the rich and established aristocratic Spanish  families  who resided in the old Manila, or the city within the walls of Intramuros  during the Spanish colonial era.  Most of the wealthy families interred the remains of their loved ones inside the municipal cemetery in what was once the district of Dilao (former name for Paco). The cemetery was built in the late 1700s but was completed several decades later and in 1822.  The inner wall erected according to the plan of Maestro de Obras Nicolas Ruiz was originally constructed exclusively for the Iberian dead . The cemetery was used to inter victims of a cholera epidemic that swept across the city. The cemetery was enlarged in 1859.

The cemetery is circular in shape, with an inner circular fort that was the original cemetery and with the niches that were placed or located within the hollow walls. As the population continued to grow, a second outer wall was built with the thick adobe walls were hollowed as niches and the top of the walls were made into pathways for promenades. A Roman Catholic chapel was built inside the walls of the Paco Park and it was dedicated to Saint Pancratius.

Governor General  Ramon Solano was   interred at the chapel inside the Saint Pancratius .

Century-old acacia trees within Paco Park in Paco , Manila

Acacia ( Samanea saman) trees were planted in the park in the later half of the 19th century imported from South America were added in order to further beautify the park. These trees witness the interment of Dr. Jose Protacio Rizal y Realonda days after his execution at Bagumbayan ( Rizal Park). Relatives of Dr. Jose Rizal  purposely inverted his name to avoid the Spanish officials to detect  his whereabouts . 2 years later , his remains were exhumed and placed in an urn kept in his mother’s home in Calle Magdalena  Binondo.

inverted name of Jose P. Rizal inside the Paco Park

In 1912, burial or interment at the Paco Park ceased. It had been the burial ground for several generations and descendants of those who were buried in the park had the remains of their ancestors transferred. During the  outbreak of the second world war , Japanese forces used Paco Park as a central supply and ammunition depot. The high thick adobe walls around the park was ideal for defensive positions of the Japanese. The Japanese just before the liberation of Manila in 1945 , dug several trenches and pill boxes around and within the Park with three 75 millimeter guns to defend their fortification . The park was converted into a national park in 1965 during the term of President Diosdado Macapagal . Paco Park’s grandeur was slowly restored after the war and since then has remained as a public park and promenade for many teen age sweethearts who could spend quiet moments along the park’s benches and private alcoves.

Dendrobium orchids mounted on a live  tree

Paco Park and its care was placed under the responsibility of the National Park’s Development Committee (NPDC) during the regime of President Ferdinand E. Marcos , through the efforts of former First Lady Imelda R. Marcos, culture  and arts was given emphasis and priority in the country and Paco Park was one of the few venues chosen to host events related to culture. On February 29, 1980 , then Press and Cultural Attache of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in the Philippines, Dr. Christoph Jessen with then NPDC Vice-Chairperson Mr. Teodoro Valencia started a classical concert within Paco Park as part of the celebrations for the “Philippine-German Month,” and the program became a tradition, a weekly fare held every Friday afternoons and called the, “Paco Park Presents.

native Dischidia ionantha drapped the trunks of this tree

Some of the historical trees were eventually toppled  down by  Bagyong Rosing (Typhoon Angela)in 1995 and Bagyong Milenyo ( Typhoon Xangsane) in 2006.

What remains of the old heritage trees inside the park needed rehabilitation.