Last week, two sculptures of La Madre Filipina were returned to their original plinths on the historic Jones Bridge in Manila. The first statue is a replica of the original that was destroyed in World War II, while the second statue was repatriated from the Rizal Park. Department of Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat and Manila mayor Isko Moreno signed a memorandum of agreement for the statue’s turnover and reinstallation on the Jones Bridge.
“This is not just a restoration of a monument. It is the placement of a silent witness to the history of Manila, from the American Occupation until the end of the Second World War. We entrust back to the City Government this piece priceless of art and history for Filipinos to preserve and appreciate,” Puyat said.
Despite the buzz surrounding the return of the La Madre Filipina statues on Jones Bridge in Manila, few people are talking about why they were originally put there, and most importantly, that the bridge itself is more than a bridge, but a monument to Philippine independence.
In 1916, the U.S. government in the Philippines decided to build a new bridge in Manila to replace the Puenta de España (Bridge of Spain), which was damaged by a typhoon. They commissioned Juan M. Arellano, who also designed the Manila Post Office and the Metropolitan Theater, to design a new bridge to be called the William A. Jones Memorial Bridge. It would be known simply as Jones Bridge. Its construction started in 1918 and was completed in 1920, and the bridge was finally inaugurated in 1921.
The Jones Bridge is meant to be a memorial to William Jones and the Jones Law, which was enacted by the U.S. Congress earlier in 1916 after a series of vigorous campaigns by Filipino and American statesmen. The law is the first formal declaration of the U.S. to grant independence to the Philippines after a number of years. It also provided for the first fully elected Philippine legislature.
The Jones Bridge’s design was replete with meaning
Seen from old photographs, the Jones Bridge had an elegant neoclassical design that is rich in detail and symbolism. Arellano embellished the bridge with lampposts, balustrades, finials, and moldings with elaborate features, including statuaries of boys on dolphins installed on the piers. Its most important features are four sculptures of La Madre Filipina installed on four plinths on either side of the bridge.
Arellano himself wrote about the Jones Bridge’s design:
“The original architectural designs called for plain surfaces; however, these were changed to provide for a more elaborate design and a fitting memorial in honor of the late United States Congressman, the Honorable William Atkinson Jones, the author of the Jones Law.
The Jones Bridge will be decorated by pylons and statuary and will be interposed and embellished by graceful bronze candelabra. The buttresses will be adorned by ornamental figures. Both approaches to the bridge will be decorated by pylons serving as the basis for the entire group of allegorical statuary representing democracy, justice, gratitude, and progress.”
Decoding the La Madre Statues
According to the April 1920 issue of the Bureau of Public Works Bulletin, the four La Madre statues that once adorned the Jones Bridge are not merely decorative, but had very specific purposes for public instruction. “The four statue groups are one with the other sculptural ensembles of the bridge at its piers and spans, but themselves represent, as was published at the time: democracy, justice, gratitude, and progress, which must be taken in the context of the Jones Law of 1916,” it stated.
Below is the meaning behind the four La Madres that used to stand sentinel at the opposite sides of the Jones Bridge.
The first La Madre Filipina was located on the southeast of the bridge. It symbolizes the Filipinos’ aspiration for democratic rule. According to history enthusiast Lorenzo Bukas, this La Madre is depicted holding a torch, which symbolizes truth and enlightenment, on her right hand and a bouquet of flowers in her left arm. Kneeling in front of her are two young Filipinos holding a laurel wreath that symbolizes triumph. “The statue is a reminder that the Filipino people will triumph through education,” said Bukas. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the Battle of Manila and its ruins are lost at the bottom of the Pasig River.
The second La Madre Filipina was located on the southwest side of the bridge. The mother is seen comforting a crying man on one side while embracing a child holding a dove to her right (this dove has since been lost). “This statue instructs the younger generation to be grateful to the older generation who suffered so that the next generation may live a rewarding and peaceful life,” said Bukas. The statue was displayed in Rizal Park and recently reinstalled on the Jones Bridge.
The third La Madre Filipina was located on the Binondo side of the bridge on the northwest. La Madre Filipina is depicted with an exhausted man holding a hammer, which symbolizes labor, and a child holding an orb, which represents power. The La Madre holds a torch, which symbolizes truth and education, while looking at the child. According to Bukas, the statue gives a powerful message that children will have power over their future through the hard work of their elders who provides them with education. This statue is located at the entrance of the Court of Appeals.
The fourth La Madre Filipina was located on the northeast side of the Jones Bridge. La Madre is depicted sitting in a stately manner with two children genuflecting on her sides. According Bukas, the child on her left is depicted with a fasces, the symbol of collective governance, while the child on her right is depicted with a key and the tablet of the 10 Commandments, which represent law and order. The equal height of the two youths and the symmetry of this particular statue represents equality under the law. This statue is located at the entrance of the Court of Appeals.
Reconstructing the Jones Bridge after the War
Sometime in February 1945, the Jones Bridge and all the other Pasig River bridges were blown up by the Japanese to hamper the retaking of Manila. It was rebuilt by the U.S.-Philippine War Damage Commission in 1948, and completed in 1950.
On March 23, 1950, the Official Gazette reported the inauguration and turnover of the new Jones Bridge:
“Filipino-American relationship was reiterated on March 23 with the symbolic transfer of the newly reconstructed Jones Bridge by the American Government to the Philippine Republic. Vice-President Fernando Lopez, representing President Quirino who was in Baguio, and U. S. Ambassador Myron M. Cowen presided over the impressive ceremonies marking the formal turnover of the bridge.
In his speech, the American envoy expressed the hope that not only Filipinos but Americans and other nationalities as well, may be reminded of the simple principle of justice and goodwill between two friendly peoples, as memorialized by the Jones Bridge.
Vice-President Lopez assured that the bridge would remain a lasting symbol of the mutual friendship and congenial cooperation between the peoples of the Philippines and the United States.”
Esquiremag.ph. Minor edits have been made.