CITY OF MANILA—The running joke is that one has never been to Manila if you failed to secure a photograph with you at Luneta, with the imposing Rizal Monument as the background. For probinsyanos, it is considered the supreme proof of one setting foot in the nation’s capital; a bragging right for some who are illusioned to the bliss of braving the polluted air and pestered with trash in the environs of the Luneta.

For starter, here’s the usual scene: Ironically, the ones being fascinated by Rizal’s tomb are not Filipinos. Maybe it comes with the familiarity of the place that Filipinos are accustomed to seeing Rizal with a book standing in full might, as if naghahanap ng saysay. Horde of foreign tourists, mostly Chinese, often come in droves in large buses paying homage to the country’s foremost hero, or in the other end of the spectrum, it could be because this park fronting the Manila Bay is just another stop in the usally-packed itinerary prepared by local tour operators. Beyond the monument offer the myriads of life: people jogging, children playing, sweethearts picnicking even at soaring temperatures made bearable by the canopy of trees scattered beautifully in what the Creoles will name as “Luneta.”

Last week, upon the invitation of the Philippine Historical Association to attend its annual conference in Manila, we had a chance to rediscover Luneta and Rizal Monument in a new light. With renowned Historian Xiao Chua at helm, the morning walking tour had given us fresh insights on the importance of this public park, and how it became an integral part in shaping the history of the Filipino nation. I must admit that it transformed my mindset about this park—from a mere usual stop for tours in the capital into an important piece of history every Filipino should cherish and which memories we need to preserve.

Highlighting this walking tour, part of the activities of our three-day conference gathering historians, researchers and history teachers, is the wreath-laying ceremony at Rizal Monument. It got us excited as not all have been given privilege to stay close to the base of the monument where Rizal’s monuments are interred.

Here’s a monument, in all its grandeur, honoring Rizal and his works and life, standing before right before our very eyes. The obelisk bearing the three stars is an imposing structure, which will definitely render one speechless once standing at the base. It’s a hair-raising moment, made even more solemn by our singing of “Pilipinas Kong Mahal.”

You just stand there rendered speechless, feeling the goosebumps, and overwhelmed by the very history of the nation which Rizal helped to build. This monument can very well be described using the name given by the second prize-winning Swiss sculptor of the international design competition set up by United States Philippine Commission to commemorate the memory of José Rizal.

There could be no single phrase to describe this monument’s place in the never-ending work of writing the narrative of Philippine history that can equal Swiss sculptor Richard Kissling’s “Motto Stella,” — a fitting reverence of Rizal’s place in our history: “Guiding Star.”