Friday, March 18, 2005

Street names

Street names

Posted 00:47am (Mla time) Mar 18, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the March 18, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

WHEN there is yet another change in street names, historically conscious people usually turn to the National Historical Institute (NHI) first to complain. Under existing rules, prior consultation with the NHI should be made before a street name can be changed. The same principle also applies to proposals to rename public school buildings.

While the buck often ends with the NHI chair, the complete staff work and recommendations are made by the NHI research division under Dr. August de Viana and Carminda Arevalo. They go through the paperwork, look for precedents and other connections, resulting in a decision for or against the proposed change.

As a matter of principle, the NHI objects to changing street names that have been in existence for a long time and can be deemed "sanctified by usage." However, we have seen recent changes like Aduana in Intramuros now changed to Soriano or Pasay Road in Makati now changed to Arnaiz. I'm too young to remember the debate over the change from Azcarraga to Recto, but as a historian I realize that street names are not just signs to help us find an address, but also a way of remembering the past. The unsuccessful move to rename the Rizal Memorial Stadium as Benigno Aquino Stadium is an example of recent history overlapping with something older. Is there form, pattern, or logic to all these changes? The answer is worth a doctoral dissertation.

In the past 15 years, there have been repeated moves to rename Taft Avenue to either Aglipay, Aguinaldo or Diokno Avenue. They all failed because there was enough public opinion to oppose the change, but what about smaller, lesser-known streets?

Instead of blaming the NHI for changes in street names, people should vent their ire on government officials or legislators who initiate such moves because the NHI's opinion is consultative rather than deliberative. In simple language, this means that the NHI's opinion must be sought and, in principle, followed, but if the proponent is bull-headed, there is very little the NHI can do unless it is supported by public outrage.

Last year, there was a move to change España Boulevard to Arturo Tolentino Boulevard. Dr. De Viana, who also teaches at the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas (incidentally founded by Spanish Dominicans, whose main campus is along España) came up with a position paper that should be taken in consideration in case another proposal is made to rename the street:

"Historically, España belongs to a series of streets that had something to do with Spain. There are street names such as: Galicia, Algeciras, Extremadura and Catalu¤a, which are Spanish provinces. One street, Dos Castillas, refers to Leon and Castille that are represented in the Spanish flag. Another, Maria Cristina, was named after the Queen of Spain who served as regent during the minority of King Alfonso XIII. There is also a street named Don Quixote, the main personality in the novel by Miguel de Cervantes. Other streets carry the names of virtues in Spanish: Economia, Trabajo, Prudencio and Constancia. The rest were apparently the names of relatives of the former estate, such as Eloisa, Adelina, Paquita, etc. Near the boundary of Quezon City the streets straddling España have names that relate to Jose Rizal: P. Leoncio (Rizal's godfather), Craig (after Austin Craig, one of Rizal's biographers), Basilio, Sisa and Ibarra (characters in 'Noli me tangere'). The pattern of these streets shows an aesthetic unity that could be easily destroyed by the renaming of even one of these."

Dr. De Viana then continues his lament:

"There are cases when the renaming of streets was pushed through even if the NHI interposed objection. Some renaming have taken place even without consultation with the NHI ... To my knowledge, there are already some streets along España [that] have been renamed without [prior] consultation with the NHI. These are: Constancia (now Cristobal), Pepin (now Marzan), and Forbes (now Arsenio Lacson). Earlier, P. Leoncio was renamed Antonio Quintos, Cataluña (now Tolentino), Economia (now Manuel de la Fuente), Trabajo (now Vicente G. Cruz) and Washington (now Antonio Maceda)."

We can go on with historical and emotional reasons to retain España. Dr. De Viana dug up a little known fact that provides a legal basis:

"The land where España Boulevard is located was donated by Antonio de la Riva, owner of the Sulucan Estate Corporation, on the condition that it shall be named after the Iberian nation. In 1952 the City Council of Manila tried to rename the boulevard but the heirs of de la Riva reminded city officials of the conditions of the donation. Furthermore, España is classified as a national road, as indicated by its white street signs. City roads are indicated by blue street signs. National roads are not under the jurisdiction of local governments, therefore the Local Government Code cannot be used as basis for the renaming.

"Instead of renaming the boulevard, España should be improved and beautified since it recognizes the nation's Spanish heritage. It could [also] become the venue of celebrations of Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day now celebrated every June 30."

One must add that in Madrid, the place where the Rizal monument stands is Avenida de Filipinas. Heritage conservation is not just about old structures and antiquities but sometimes can be as commonplace as street names.


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