MANILA, Philippines—Finally, families and couples visiting the 54-hectare Rizal Park in Manila will have a decent place for a picnic.
To mark its 50th founding anniversary, the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC) formally opened to the public the Binhi ng Kalayaan Garden, on Monday, the latest attraction at the Rizal Park named after the bronze sculpture “Binhi ng Kalayaan” installed during the Philippine centennial in 1998.
Then a bare and dull spot that was a likely target for garbage dumping, the garden has been spruced up to serve as the “No. 1 picnic area” for Filipino families and foreign park-goers, and as a reception venue for special occasions such as birthday parties, weddings, product launching and art exhibits.
According to NDCP Executive Director Juliet Villegas, the agency spent roughly P10 million to renovate the area, which has been neglected for many years.
“To be very candid about it, this used to be a site for dumping garbage. But there are many trees, it’s very lush so we find it more appropriate to make sure that this is enjoyed by the public,” said Villegas in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Monday.
The garden, nestled in the eastern section of the sprawling park, also known as Luneta, is now dotted with stone tables and chairs and barbeque grills under copses of trees.
At the entrance stands the monument dedicated to unnamed Filipino men and women who fought for the country’s freedom against the Spanish colonial rule. A two-story function facility and comfort rooms have also been erected in the garden.
Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. commended the agency’s move on Monday, saying that Rizal Park was becoming the country’s “prototype” for public park development.
“Because it is simpler, less cement and more plants,” said Jimenez, who attended the opening along with Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, Intramuros Administrator Jose Capistrano Jr., Tourism Infrastructure Enterprise Zone Authority Chief Operating Officer Mark Lapid, among others.
Continuing efforts to make the park, where the historic Rizal Monument also stands, more attractive is important to help draw local and foreign tourists to the capital, according to Jimenez. For this year, the Department of Tourism is aiming to draw more than 5 million visitors from abroad.
“This is very rare for Asia, 54 hectares of a public park in the middle of the city. This is very important and we will continue to develop and redevelop it,” he said in a separate interview.
“This is also a very fitting move to mark the anniversary [of the agency] because of its efforts to make the park greener and friendlier with using less of the people’s money,” he added.
Early last year, the agency converted the park’s lampposts from the traditional lighting system to LED to make the park brighter at night while easing the impact of skyrocketing electric bills on the park’s meager coffers.
It also installed close circuit television cameras around the park to boost park-goers’ security.
The NPDC was founded in 1963 to oversee national parks in the country. It is currently managing Rizal Park and Paco Park in Manila and Pook ni Mariang Makiling Park in Laguna.