Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City was first developed in the late 1960s, and links the northernmost district of Novaliches, with the rest of the city. The road was named after the Commonwealth Era (1938-1942) of the American Occupation of the Philippines, which was supposed to be a transitory period of economic and political ramifications that would lead to the eventual independence of the Philippines from the United States of America. However, these plans were cut short with the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in World War II (1938-1945), as the Commonwealth Government, led by President Manuel Quezon, lived in exile.
Commonwealth Avenue spans 12.4 kilometers (7.7 miles), from the Quezon Memorial Circle in the south, and it ends at the intersection with Pres. Elipidio Quirino Highway (1890-1956) in the north. The road was formerly named Don Mariano Marcos Avenue, after the father of the late dictator, Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos (1917-1989). Pres. Marocs had the road first constructed to link the Quezon City Hall district with the Batasang Pambansa (the new parliament house) being constructed at the end of the avenue. The original Don Marian Marcos Avenue stretched from boundary of Quezon City and the City of Manila, at España Boulevard, and all the way to the Batasan Pambansa. After the 1986 EDSA Revolution, which ousted Pres. Marcos, the road was divided and renamed Quezon Avenue from the Memorial Circle to España Boulevard, and Commonwealth Avenue from the Memorial Circle to the Batasan Comlplex. By the 1990s, the northern Fairview Avenue was annexed to the Commonwealth Avenue, adding to its length. It can also be noted that in some areas, the Commonwealth Avenue is 18 lanes wide, making it the widest road in the Philippines.
Commonwealth Avenue branches out from the Elliptical Road that surrounds the Quezon Memorial Circle. The “Circle”, as it is sometimes referred as, is a national park where the 2nd President of the Philippines, Manuel Luis Molina Quezon (1878-1944), is buried along with his wife, Doña Aurora Antonia Aragón Quezon (1888-1949). The park was created by a presidential executive order, by then Pres. Sergio Suico Osmeña, Sr. (1878-1961), to give honor to his predecessor. The central structure houses the mausoleum of Pres. Quezon and was designed by Arch. Federico S. Ilustre, with sculptures by the Italian Fracesco Riccardo C. Monti. The park has become a favorite haunt by Quezon City locals, for a day of rest and relaxation.
Arch. Federico S. Ilustre (1912–1989) is a graduate of the Mapua Institute of Technology, and later worked as a draftsman under Juan Nakpil. Ilustre later took extra work as a furniture designer under Puyat and sons, before working for the Bureau of Public Works in 1936. Ilustre later obtained his license in 1937, and would become instrumental in the redevelopment of Manila after the destruction of World War II (1938-1945). He would become the supervising architect of the U.S. Army Forces, Western Pacific (AFWESPAC), in its rehabilitation efforts after the war. In 1947, Ilustre was appointed as the supervising architect of the National Housing Commission, but he would later return to the Bureau of Public Works in 1949, until his retirement in the 1970s.
From the elliptical road of the Quezon Memorial Circle, Commonwealth Avenue starts with the Philippine Coconut Authority (PHILCOA, formed in 1973) building at the corner of the intersection and continues past the commercial establishments of the Citi Mall, and the 1970s residential projects for low-and-middle-income families called Bagong Lipunan Improvement of Sites and Services (BLISS). The first intersection along eastside of Commonwealth Avenue is the entrance to the University of the Philippines (U.P.), the University Avenue, which was constructed in 1949 along with the U.P.’s move from Manila to Quezon City.
Continuing the northbound rout of Commonwealth Avenue, there is the large commercial/business facility on the western side called U.P.–Ayala Land TechnoHub, which was first opened in 2006, and inaugurated in 2008. Covering an area of 20 hectares (49 acres), the TechnoHub is a joint venue with the Ayala Land company and the University of the Philippines, to develop the northern property of the school as an envisioned “integrated community of science-and-technology companies creating a dynamic learning and entrepreneurial laboratory”. But to most people, the TechnoHub is a Business process outsourcing (BPO) center, with great restaurants.
After the TechnoHub, is the U.P. Asian Institute of Tourism (AIT), which is the university’s school of tourism management and a training center for its students with the AIT Hotel. Established in 1976, the AIT was a collaboration between the University of the Philippines, the Department of Tourism (DOT), and the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA). In the 1980s, the AIT Hotel became the choice venue for events hosted by organizations in the university, but it has fallen to disrepair and neglect by the late 1990s. Presently the AIT is under renovation, with the Microtel Group of Hotels leading the joint project to revitalize the AIT.
On the west side of Commonwealth Avenue, right after the U.P. AIT Complex, the Philippine Social Science Council Center (PSSC) is located. Established in 1968, the PSSC is a “private, non-stock, non-profit organization of professional social science associations and social science research and instructional institutions in the Philippines”. Rising from the defunct National Social Science Council of the Philippines (NSSCP), the PSSC was first housed at the Ateneo de Manila, and later moved offices in two other locations in Manila and Quezon City. The PSSC found its new home, when the Japanese government agreed to fund the creation of PSSC Center, with an agreed free use of a lot in the University of the Philippines. Designed and built by Japanese contractors and architects, the PSSC Center formally opened in 1983.
Across the PSSC on the eastside of Commonwealth Avenue is the U.P. Gym, which is home to the U.P. College of Human Kinetics (CHK) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) SAAC Building. The CHR is an independent government office that was originally formed in 1986, under the office of Pres. Corazon C. Aquino (1933-2009), after the ouster of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos from the Philippines. Headed by former Senator Jose W. Diokno (1922-1987) and former Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose Benedicto L. Reyes (1902-1994), the CHR was formally founded with its inclusion in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. The CHR’s primary programs are the Human Rights Protection Program, the Human Rights Education Teaching Exemplars, and the Human Rights Linkages Development and Strategic Planning.
Back on the Westside of Commonwealth Avenue and the corner of Central Avenue is the Central Temple of Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC or Church of Christ). The INC was formed in 1914, by Felix Y. Manalo (1886-1963) as a reaction against the questionable teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. Now the INC has more than 2 million followers, all over the Philippines and the world, and making it the 3rd largest Christian group in the country. The Central Temple was completed in 1984, and was designed by Arch. Carlos A. Santos-Viola. The temple is considered to be the largest church in Asia, and can accommodate up to 7000 people inside. The Central Temple, as well as other INC churches, can be described as Neo-Gothic in style, with the distinctive spires representing “the reaching out of the faithful to God”.
Arch. Carlos Antonio Santos-Viola (1912-1994) was part of the first batch of graduates of the School of Architecture of the University of Santo Tomas in 1935, where he was taught by noted architects and engineers such as Tomas Arguelles, Tomas Mapua, Juan F. Nakpil, Fernando H. Ocampo, and Andres Luna de San Pedro. After graduating, Santos-Viola training was further enhanced by working in the office of Juan Nakpil. Although a devout Catholic, Santos-Viola is noted to have designed the primary style of the Iglesia ni Cristo’s temples, and he was the principal design for most of the churches throughout the Philippines, until his death in 1994. His designs are said to be a modernist approach to the Gothic Revival and Neo-Baroque architecture. Santos-Viola was one of the founders of the Philippine Institute of Architects in 1938.
The Central Temple is part of the INC Central Office Complex, with was first built in 1969. Part of that complex is the INS’ own school, the New Era University (NEU), which was founded in Manila, in 1975. The collegiate campus first opened in Quezon City in 1968. Other schools found along Commonwealth Avenue are the National College of Business and Arts (NCBA), Our Lady of Mercy School (founded in 1996), Diliman Preparatory School (established in 1969), Lux Domine Academy (formed in 2009), the St. Joseph School of Fairview, and the BESTLiNK College of the Philippines (founded in 2002).
Just further westward on Central Avenue, and across the New Era University campus, is the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute; which is a government research center on peaceful uses of nuclear technology. The facility was constructed in 1963, with its PRR-1 TRIGA reactor; which has been shut down since 1988.
Many of the establishments along Commonwealth Avenue are a mix of small scale industries and big corporate businesses. From small furniture craft shops to gigantic malls and hardware stores, there is much to find for anyone’s wants and needs. One of the shops that I regularly visit is the Human ♥ Nature Flagship Store of Gandang Kalikasan Incorporated. A brainchild of the sisters, Camille Meloto and Anna Meloto-Wilk, Human ♥ Nature offers food, household and beauty products that are made from local plants, and produced by small local communities. Launched in 2008, Human ♥ Nature is a Pro-Philippine, Pro-Poor, and Pro-Environment company. The Flagship Store opened in 2012, and its beautiful interiors were designed by Arch. Maureen H. Adraneda and Interior Designer Joyce Anne T. Angara.
On the northbound route and past the Tandang Sora Flyover, and a few hundred meters off the main road, in the Old Balara area, there is a hidden hub of creativity called the Erehwon Center for the Arts. Founded by the businessman Raffy Benitez in 2012, the Erehwon is an emerging hub for promoting and engaging Philippine Art with the rest of the world. Aside from conducting exhibitions, the Erehwon has a dance studio and music studio for an orchestra, dormitories for visiting artists, and an art tour service.
At the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Holy Spirit Drive to the west and Don Antonio Drive to the east, there are many residential villages along the two roads. There are the Don Antonio vilages, Tivoli Royale, Capitol Homes, Vista Real, Don Enrique Heights, BF Homes, Veterans Village, the Mapayapa villages, Silverland Village, Ferndale Homes, and Fern Village. In the Mapayapa area there are two major educational centers: the Far Eastern University Diliman Campus and the School of the Holy Spirit of Quezon City, at the western side.
Aside from the INC Central Temple, there are also many religious and necrological establishments along Commonwealth Avenue. Among these are the St. Peter’s Memorial Chapel, the Loyola Columbary, the INC Commonwealth and Capitol Temples (different from the Central Temple), the nearby St. Joseph Parish of BF Homes and Saint Michael the Archangel Parish, Kristong Hari Parish (Christ the King), Islamic Mosques (Mubarak, Kasunduan and Al-Hijrah), Islamic Musallas (Commonwealth Market, Riverside, NCMF, and Dar), the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom and Assembly Halls, and the Novaliches Alliance Church (founded in 1984). However, the most eye catching religious edifice outside the INC Central Temple is the St. Peter Parish: Shrine of Leaders. Constructed and completed between 1995 and 1999, the church was designed to replicate the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome, Italy. Although not as big as the original, the St. Peter Parish is large enough to accommodate 800-1000 people. Situated on a hillside, the two lower floors of the church serve as the columbary. The third basement floor has an exit to the Batasan Hills Subdivision.
At the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Batasan Road is the Sandiganbayan Centennial Building, which was completed in 1999. The Sandiganbayan is an appellant court, which is equal to the Court of Appeals. The Sandiganbayan, or People’s Advocate, was established by a presidential decree in 1978, by Pres. Ferdinand Marcos.
The last major structure along Commonwealth Avenue is the Commission on Audit (COA) Complex, right after the Sandiganbayan. First established as the General Auditing Office (GAO), in 1935, the institution’s primary function to examine, audit and settle all accounts and expenditures of the funds and properties of the Philippine government. The GAo changed its name to the COA in 1973, along with a transfer of homes from Manila to Quezon City. At the garden in front of the COA is a sculpture of accountants running through the papers, which seems to be the creation of Napoleon Abueva in the early 1970s.
Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (born 1930) studied at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, under National Artist, Guillermo Estrella Tolentino (1890-1976), who was then the director of the school. Although trained in the classical style of sculpting, Abueva broke from its mold and began experimenting on modernist styles and techniques. Soon he became known as and Godfather of Philippine Modern Sculpture. Aside from the many historical monuments that are found all over the Philippines, Abueva has also been commissioned to create sculptures around the world. In his youth, he was awarded the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) award; which would herald more awards and distinctions in his life. He was proclaimed National Artist for Sculpture in 1976, making him the youngest recipient of this distinction. And just like his mentor, Abueva also served as dean of the U.P. College of Fine Arts.
To the regular commuter or drive, traveling along Commonwealth Avenue may seem an insignificant event in their lives. Although some beautiful structures, such as the INC Central Temple and the St. Peter Parish, may catch their sight; many are concerned with the long ride home, and are equally careful of the mad game of patintero (a Filipino children’s game of tag) played on that road. From motorists zooming and zigzagging on the wide lanes, to pedestrians suddenly darting across the street, even if there is an elevated walkway nearby; the Commonwealth Avenue has become one of the Philippines’ deadliest roads. With that perception, it is sad that people fail to see the wealth of history and cultural importance found in the many edifices along the road.