Himugso Heritage Feature: 114 Years of History – The Legacy of PLAZA DIVISORIA

Jun 9, 2015

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If the old trees of Plaza Divisoria could talk, they would be busy regaling the crowds with tales of its storied past, and how it often played a major role in the city’s local history.

Plaza Divisoria circa 1962.

Plaza Divisoria circa 1962.

Plaza Divisoria was constructed in 1901 by Tirso Neri y Roa, a rich merchant who was then municipal mayor of Cagayan de Misamis, the old name of the city. Much of the site used for the plaza was donated by Neri to the town.

 

“The purpose of this plaza was to serve as a divider for the town. Divisoria is a Spanish word which means divider,” said local historian Dr. Antonio J. Montalvan II. “At that time, Cagayan de Misamis, as the town was then called, was continuously razed by big fires. So, in order to contain such kinds of conflagrations, Tirso Neri built this fire break known as Plaza Divisoria.”

 

However, due to its central location, Plaza Divisoria soon became the socio-political and cultural center of Cagayan de Misamis.

Oriental Bazar in Divisoria in the 1930s from the book of FIlomeno Bautista, Sr.

Oriental Bazar in Divisoria in the 1930s from the book of FIlomeno Bautista, Sr.

On September 10, 1916 it was the scene of a big parade celebrating the passage of the Jones Law, which granted a bicameral congress to the Philippine Commonwealth.

 

On June 19, 1917, the patriot Porfirio Chaves and his wife Fausta Vamenta turned over one of the earliest monuments in the country of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal which still graces the center of the plaza.

 

To the east is the old monument to Andres Bonifacio, where the bones of local revolutionaries who died in the Battle of Agusan Hill on May 14, 1900 were once interred.

 

At the center of the old plaza used to be a structure known to all Kagay-anons as the Kiosko (and earlier, the Tribuna). In the 1950s, people gathered here for important social and cultural occasions, such as the annual celebration of National Heroes Day. By the 1960s, people were regularly gathering in the area which is now occupied by the Cagayan de Oro Tourist Assistance Center to discuss the burning issues of the day.

The old Kiosko was previously known as the Tribuna. No one knows where its two guardian lions ended up to this day.

The old Kiosko was previously known as the Tribuna. No one knows where its two guardian lions ended up to this day.

This group of residents became what is now known to old-timers as “The Plazans” and included many of Cagayan de Oro’s finest like Councilor Pio Roa, Yo Amon Fuentes, Dr. Jose Montalvan, Jesus Roa, Anastacio Gabor, Ramon Echem, former Governor Paciencio Ysalina, Aquilino Pimentel, Sr., Tawag ng Tanghalan National Champions Tata Neri and Rizal “Boy” Ortega, the late police chief Melo Esguerra, Carlos Yamut, and former RP Ambassador to the US Raul Ch. Rabe, to mention a few.

 

The “Kiosko” was for a time replaced by the  “Bandstand” built by City Mayor Justiniano “Tiñing” Borja in the 60s, who also restored the central significance of Plaza Divisoria by building another structure, known to Kagay-anons as the “Ampi” (for amphitheater).

 

“All Philippine presidents who came to town, addressed the people of  Cagayan de Oro in Plaza Divisoria,” Montalvan recalls. “So in a sense, this is the Plaza Miranda of Cagayan de Oro.”

Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo visited Cagayan de Misamis on Oct. 5, 1924 (courtesy of Carmen Almendrala Torres)

Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo visited Cagayan de Misamis on Oct. 5, 1924 (courtesy of Carmen Almendrala Torres)

Borja’s Bandstand has in turn been replaced by the “Kiosko Kagawasan”, built by the past administration of Mayor Vicente Y. Emano. It recalls the architecture of the original Kiosko sans the skylight and the two lions which remain missing to this day.

 

During the last term of the past administration, the Plaza underwent a major facelift. Besides the band stand’s replacement with the new Kiosko Kagawasan, the “ampi” also underwent a similar renovation, which thankfully left it in better shape than it was before, now it is the new home of Police Station 1 or the OKK (Operation Kahusay ug Kalinaw). The old OKK has been demolished to give way to the better looking Cagayan de Oro Tourist Assistance Center” and two public toilets were erected in an effort to stop the Plaza from degenerating into a public toilet. Unfortunately, the old Amphi was demolished during the previous administration and never replaced.

Calle Mindanao looking south (present-day Tiano Bros. St.) The building on the right was the old Municipio which came about after the old Casa Real was demolished after 1910. Cagayan de Misamis actually had no municipio. Casa Real where the present city hall is now was the residence of the Gobernadorcillo. But in the shift to the American regime, the Casa Real became the office of the provincial governor. So there was no building for the town mayor. When Apolinar Velez was governor, he proposed that the Casa Real be demolished and the property be ceded from the province to the town. Hence, a municipio was built along Divisoria, where the Veterans Bank is now. That was the site of the 1950 Casino of Mr. Anastacio Gabor..

Calle Mindanao looking south (present-day Tiano Bros. St.) The building on the right was the old Municipio which came about after the old Casa Real was demolished after 1910. Cagayan de Misamis actually had no municipio. Casa Real where the present city hall is now was the residence of the Gobernadorcillo. But in the shift to the American regime, the Casa Real became the office of the provincial governor. So there was no building for the town mayor. When Apolinar Velez was governor, he proposed that the Casa Real be demolished and the property be ceded from the province to the town. Hence, a municipio was built along Divisoria, where the Veterans Bank is now. That was the site of the 1950 Casino of Mr. Anastacio Gabor..

There’s also been mixed reactions to other “improvements” such as the controversial lights which will lighting up what used to be a dimly lit plaza, have also been lambasted for its “barriotic” or garish looks. There’s the controversial Masonic monument crowding a section of the fire break, as well as an unfinished section of the boulevard started by former Mayor Constantino Jaraula but not completed by his successors.

 

“Perhaps a better way of regarding Divisoria and its future is in order now,” Montalvan said. “We now have a national law in place, RA 10066, the National Cultural Heritage Law. Government is now capable of declaring sites and landmarks so that these can be protected. There is one classification there called the Heritage Zone that I think is the most appropriate way of ensuring the future of Divisoria. Soon we shall pass from this world. But what assurance do we leave behind?”

Divisoria circa 1939 showing Cagayan de Oro Hotel owned by the Bautista-Avancena family. This photo was taken in 1939 and is found in the book of Filomeno Bautista Sr., "Glimpses of Mindanao." The name precedes the name of the city from its 1950s charter. Documents in the Archivo de la Unibersidad de Santo Tomas (AUST) show students from Cagayan enrolling in the Ateneo de Manila and the UST from 1890s and listing their place of origin as "Cagayan de Oro." So there already was a tradition for such name.

Divisoria circa 1939 showing Cagayan de Oro Hotel owned by the Bautista-Avancena family. This photo was taken in 1939 and is found in the book of Filomeno Bautista Sr., “Glimpses of Mindanao.” The name precedes the name of the city from its 1950s charter. Documents in the Archivo de la Unibersidad de Santo Tomas (AUST) show students from Cagayan enrolling in the Ateneo de Manila and the UST from 1890s and listing their place of origin as “Cagayan de Oro.” So there already was a tradition for such name.

Residents and visitors remain hopeful that, in time, these transient problems are resolved and that Plaza Divisoria with its fruit stands, monuments, benches and trees would be there for the next hundred years or so for their afternoon paseos, paradas and procesiones to mark important and historic occasions in this city’s history.

 

-INDNJC-

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