Not many know that in the middle of Manila, our capital city, lies a park that is not just filled with rare greenness but also history.
Arroceros Forest Park, also known as “Manila’s Last Lung,” is an urban forest park occupying more than two hectares in the City of Manila.
Bounded by the Pasig River on the southwest and Quezon Bridge on the northwest, it was opened during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos with the intention of providing Manileños a space for environmental education and relaxation.
Visitors enjoying this breath of fresh air in the middle of the city may not be aware that the area is historically significant; it has recovered artifacts dating back to the late 16th century.
This much was discovered in the rescue archaeology excavation conducted by the Katipunan Arkeologist ng Pilipinas, Inc. in July 2005.
The mission was conducted as a prerequisite to the granting of a Certificate of Non-Coverage and Clearance Exemption that eventually allowed the construction of a two-story building at the park.
The objectives of the Arroceros Forest Park Rescue Archaeology Project were as follows: the recovery of archaeological material threatened by construction-related earthmoving activities; the documentation of any immovable features unearthed at the site which may be indicative of past site uses; the reconstruction of the site’s history in order to come up with a more comprehensive picture of Manila’s past; and the evaluation of the site’s significance in order to make recommendations and propose mitigating measures that would best serve the interests of archaeological resource stewardship (KAPI, 2006).
As it is, the various finds are currently in storage, as shared by Nida Cuevas of the National Museum of Anthropology’s Archaeology Division.
A recommendation to create an exhibition space containing these finds would be a great way to give flesh to the narratives behind them.
Arroceros Forest Park’s location played an important part in Philippine history.
This was the site of a Chinese trading post along the Pasig River in the days of the Parian, between 1595-1693 and between 1645-1792.
The Parian referred to the assigned residential quarters of the mostly unassimilated Chinese and was the center of trading activities during those periods.
This is also where the historic Fabrica de Cigarillos was situated from the second half of the 19th century to the early 20th century.
A government monopoly on tobacco was considered to raise revenues and tobacco production flourished as a result of this priority.
The park also contained a Capital a General (a military authority representing a division of the Spanish Viceroyalty in Mexico) from 1893 to World War II, and a Department of Education, Culture and Sports Compound from the post-war era to 1993 before finally becoming the Arroceros Forest Park we know today.
Underneath the trees
Some of the archaeological finds unearthed by the said excavation include the following:
Iron nails in various sizes from the 18th and 19th centuries;
A Ch’ing Dynasty coin with a K’ang-Hsi reign mark (1662-1722);
A Ming Dynasty coin with a Wan-Li reign mark (1573-1619);
Possible 19th century/Spanish period coins;
A whole white stoneware beer bottle probably dating to the Japanese period;
Hand-crafted buttons made of ivory or animal bones, shell and stoneware probably from before the 19th century;
Shards of flower pots that could be dated to the late 18th and 19th century;
Shards from Manila Ware (a term for a type of buff hard pottery dating from the mid-16th to mid-18th century) vessels that were part of goblets and cups;
European porcelain wares from the late 18th to the 19th century;
Thai porcelain wares from the late 16th to early 17th century, including a Sawankhalok bottle; and
Bones with cut marks of cattle, young and adult pigs and domesticated chickens.
These artifacts offer clues that the park had been occupied from the early 17th century to the second half of the 20th century.
Given Arroceros Forest Park’s significant place in history, it is vital that the information collected from the 2005 project be preserved and shared with future generations.
In Volume 4 of its Proceedings of the Society of Philippine Archaeologists, KAPI notes that “this property represents several of the most important episodes in our country’s historical trajectory and, together with the archaeological material excavated from it, should be given adequate recognition and attention” (2006).
Almost 15 years since their discovery, these archeological finds deserve a little space to breathe history into the last green space of Manila.
(The author thanks Ms. Nida Cuevas of the National Museum of Anthropology and the Education Facilities Department of the Division of City Schools-Manila for their help with this article.)