Nestled on the ridge of Quezon City’s Batasan Hills district is the former seat of the Philippine Parliament, the Batasang Pambansa Complex. The complex is presently the home of lower house of the Philippine Congress, the first buildings were designs by Arch. Felipe Marcelo Mendoza, and completed between 1977 and 1978.
Arch. Felipe Marcelo Mendoza (1917-2000) graduated from the Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT), where he later taught, from 1946-1965. Mendoza would later teach at the University of the Philippines, but his stint would last only two years. Mendoza served two terms as president of the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP),where he would draft the Architect’s National Code and the UAP General Conditions. Mendoza also served as president of the Philippine Institute of Architects in 1965, the United Technological Organizations of the Philippines in 1965, and the Philippine Federation of Professional Associations in 1981. Medoza was also active with the Architects’ Regional Council Asia. Mendoza received the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award from the City of Manila in 1976, and the first recipient of the UAP Likha Award and Gold Medal of Merit in 1982.
The history of the Batasang Pambansa extends long before its 1970s construction, as it’s the location of the proposed Philippine Capitol Building, when the city was declared as the new capital of the Philippines, in 1948. The area then was called Constitution Hills, and in there the cornerstone of the capitol building was laid, in 1949. This vicinity would have been part of the National Government Center, however the changing of architects from Federico S. Ilustre to Anselmo Alquinto, and the lack of funds left the place with just a few concrete foundations in the 1960s.
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.
Anselmo T. Alquinto was part of the first wave of Landscape architects, who had studied in the USA. Alquinto took his initial studies at the Harvard University, and later took a masters degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. Upon his return to the Philippines, Alquinto started working for the National Planning Commission (NPC), and moved up its ranks to be NPC’s director in 1956. Alquinto spearheaded the designing to the Quezon Circle Park as well as the 1950s version of the National Capitol in Diliman.
After Martial Law was declared in 1972, Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos revived the plans of the legislative complex, which would be heralded with the establishment of the 1973 Constitution, changing the 1935 bicameral Congress of the Philippines, into a parliamentary system.
When the bicameral Congress was restored in 1987, the complex was set aside as the home of the House of Representatives. The Main Building of the complex is often referred to as the Batasang Pambansa.
Walking through the Batasang Pambansa, there is a sense of airiness to the structure, with its wide halls and large windows. At the South Wing of the edifice is an exhibition of various artworks, from the collection of Art Gallery Manila. This exhibition was formally launched in 2010, called “Art @ Congress”, as a means to promote awareness of Philippine art and culture among government officials. In the collection are works of National Artists, as well as other modernist masters and young artists. During the opening night, the artists featured in the exhibit were Anita Magsaysay Ho, Arturo Luz, H.R. Ocampo, Ramon Orlina, Cesar Legaspi, Ang Kiukok, Juvenal Sanso, Arnica Acantilado, Amante, Kevin “Gripo” Balboa, Biwan, Malyn Bonayog, Nelson Bosita, Salvador Ching, Budz Convocar, Rene Cuvos, Don de Dios, Mael de Guzman, Anna de Leon, Edeguz, Caloy Gabuco, P.J. Jalandoni, Ronald Jeresano, Maia, Josue Mangobrang Jr., Roel Obemio, Fred Ramirez, Omi Reyes, Jeffrey Salon, Jerson Samson, Fidel Sarmiento, Aner Sebastian, Tala, Julmard Vicente and Migs Villanueva.
Outside the West Hall is a large steel sculpture by the National Artist, Arturo Luz. Entitled “Anito”, the sculpture is undated, but was erected on site in the 1980s.
Arturo Rogerio Dimayuga J. Luz (1926) was born in Manila; and he was a Neo Realist, whose abstracted works gave a play to everyday objects and scenes. His Luz Gallery has helped launch the next generations of artists. Arturo has held many important positions in the world of art, such as president of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) in 1952, executive director of the Design Center of the Philippines (1973-1987), director, Metropolitan Museum of Manila (1976-1986), and director of Museum of Philippine Art (1977-1985). Luz represented the Philippines in various exhibitions abroad, including the Arte de America y España in Europe in 1963, Sao Paolo Biennale in 1974, the Tokyo International Print Biennale in 1974, and the eighth British International Print Biennale in 1984. Aside from local and international exhibitions, Arturo also received accolades such as the Republic Cultural Heritage Award for Painting (1966), the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award for Painting (1980), the Order of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from the French government (1978), the Gawad CCP para sa Sining (1989), and the National Artist for Visual Art in 1997.
Right across street from the West Hall, there is the Legislative Library, Archives and Museum; which was opened in 2016, and is still under development as of this writing. While the e-library is already running, supplying the necessary information for the need for legislation and research. The museum will soon be opened, and it will display artifacts from the Philippine legislature history, as well as memorabilia from the Speakers of the House of Representatives.
On the walls of the main lobby of the Legislative Library, Archives and Museum, there are three murals depicting the formation of the “Malolos Republic of 1899”, the “Katipunan Revolution of 1896”, and “Inang Bayan” (Mother Land). The murals were completed in 2017, and the project was spearheaded by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), under the guidance of Eghai Roxas.
Edgardo “Eghai” Roxas (b.1955) is a painter, musician, performance artist, and curator. Roxas first took his collegiate studies at the Philippine Women’s University (PWU), before continuing at the University of the Philippines (U.P.), and started painting social realist works. But after an exposure to the contemporary art scene in Europe and America, Roxas soon developed his illusionary abstract paintings. Roxas has worked with many artists’ groups and has served as an officer of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP), heads the Visual Art Department of Dakila’s Climate School Project, the Erehwon Art Collective, and is a founding member of Kaisahan. Roxas has garnered recognitions in various competitions, and he has represented the Philippines at the 22nd Art Biennale in Sao Paolo, Brazil, in 1994.
Around the Legislative Library, Archives and Museum’s lobby are three abstract wooden sculptures by Jose Mendoza. Untitled and undated, these works are a breakaway from Mendoza’s classic style.
Jose M. Mendoza is a classicist sculptor; who is most known for his monuments in Makati City, such as the Gabriela Silang along Ayala Avenue, Pio del Pilar at Paseo de Roxas, and Sultan Kudarat at Makati Avenue. Mendoza first graduated with an advertising degree, from the University of Santo Tomas (UST), and started working for a printing press. Mendoza’s color blindness proved to be a hindrance to his work, and he decided to continue his studies at the University of the Philippines (U.P.). Mendoza didn’t complete his studies in U.P., as he focus on his apprenticeship under the National Artist, Napoleon Abueva. When Mendoza struck out on his own, he gained the patronage of the Ayala family, who commissioned him to create the iconic monuments of Makati City. Later on, Mendoza travelled to the USA, where he apprenticed under Prof. Elden Deft of Kansas University, and learned ceramic shell casting. Mendoza usually avoids art competitions and exhibitions, and focuses on his public sculptures and other works.
At a park beside the Legislative Library, Archives and Museum, there is the Heritage Tree. A Molave tree (Diospyros Blancoi), it is the oldest tree in the compound, and it is estimated to have been planted in 1940.
There are many other buildings in the Batasang Pambansa Complex, including a Sports and Fitness Center, a fire station, a daycare center, and a club house. However, most of these facilities are closed to the public, and are only accessible for employees and the congressmen.
Despite the modernity and beauty of the Batasang Pambansa Complex, one cannot shake of the stark contrast of the poverty that clings to the periphery of the compound. From squatters’ colonies to the nearby 13 hectare Payatas Landfill, one wonders how detached are our legislators from the plight of our countrymen.