Exclusive by Raïssa Robles
I’d like to share with you guys today an excerpt from my second book, Trianggulo, which narrates how the People Power monument by noted sculptor Eduardo Castrillo ended up along EDSA. It wasn’t supposed to be there but inside Malacañang Palace. The book Trianggulo is a short biography of businessman Antonio Evangelista, known to his friends by his nickname “Anteva”.
I took on the project in 1993 because it was intended to be read by his grandchildren and the late archivist Crispina Reyes had asked me to do it. The story of how the Edsa People Power monument got built is Chapter 29 entitled –
The wandering monument
The new political order, brought about by an astonishingly bloodless uprising, required fresh symbols. Magdangal Elma, the chief legal officer of the newly-installed President Corazon Aquino, phoned his friend Anteva to come over.
Malacanang Palace, now dubbed the People’s Palace, had for over a decade been closed to the general public and bulletproofed to the max. Elma wanted fresh landscaping to reflect the newly won freedoms then transforming the political landscape.
He envisioned an elegant esplanade to usher in the endless stream of gawking visitors. This public walkway would be lined with the bronze busts of all the presidents of the Philippine Republic.
Anteva caught Elma’s enthusiasm for the project. And despite the absence of a written contract, Anteva went ahead and hired renowned sculptor Ed Castrillo and landscape architect Ildefonso Santos to sketch out the dream.
“Tita Cory has to see the plans,” Elma said, arranging a briefing with her.
Anteva proudly showed her the sketches of the promenade graciously lined with the presidential busts, like an ancient Roman walkway.
“When she saw Marcos’ bust standing beside hers, that was the last time I heard from Tita Cory,” he recalled laughing.
“Problem was, I had already enlisted the services of Castrillo and given him a down payment,” he disclosed. Anteva became worried that the Commission on Audit would question the fund use for a yet-unapproved project.
He and Castrillo therefore scrapped the busts altogether. Instead, they decided on a variation of the people power theme. They would call the sculpture “Mother Philippines” and mount this beside the newly built Department of Budget building in the presidential palace complex.
Castrillo soon finished casting the monument. But just as they were about to go public, a scandal erupted over the budget building, after one senator claimed it was overpriced and a gross extravagance for a nearly bankrupt government.
Anteva quickly shelved plans for the sculpture’s unveiling. For months he scouted around for another site. Ironically, he could not find one that could host an art piece meant to celebrate people power amid attempts by adventurist soldiers to install military power.
The bloodiest coup attempt of December 1989 had resulted in the shelling of the military’s general headquarters (GHQ) building inside Camp Aguinaldo. Anteva won the contract to rebuild GHQ.
During his frequent visits to Camp Aquinaldo, located along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue or EDSA, Anteva had an idea. They could put the homeless monument in the very heart of the action – in the middle of EDSA where the popular uprising had taken place in 1986.
But he was told the symbol had to give way to progress. A mass rail transit was to run through EDSA.
“Finally, we decided to put it on the corner of the Corinthian Garden along EDSA,” he said. President Corazon Aquino’s public works secretary Jose “Ping” de Jesus, who had accompanied him to inspect the site, signed the presidential executive order regarding the monument “right there on EDSA, right on my back,” he said.
At last the monument was home.