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.
Arch. Anselmo T. Alquinto (born 1905) was a landscape architect, who was known as the head of the post-World War II rehabilitation of Philippine cities during the term of Pres. Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay (1907-1957). Alquinto took his initial architectural studies at the Harvard University, USA. After his studies, Alquinto returned to the Philippines, working in different firms to build his reputation, until his appointment as the Assistant to the Director of Regional Planning of the National Urban Planning Commission under Pres. Sergio Osmeña Sr. (1878-1961), in 1946. After years of government service, Alquinto finally appointed by Pres. Magsaysay as the Director of the National Planning Commission (NPC) in 1954. On the same year, Alquinto took on the responsibilities of planning the rehabilitation of the historical Intramuros district of Manila, which was severely damaged in the war. As director of the NPC, Alquinto was also tasked to lead the International Federation for Housing & Town Planning of the World Health Organization, also in 1954. In the same year, Alquinto was tasked to the design the layout of the Quezon Memorial Park, while the Director of Public Works, Arch. Federico S. Ilustre (1912–1989), designed the Quezon Memorial. In 1955, Pres. Magsaysay appoints Alquinto as part of the Tagaytay Development Commission. After the death of Pres. Magsaysay, Alquinto returned to America to take his master’s degree in landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. Upon his return to the Philippines, Alquinto was selected by Pres. Diosdado Pangan Macapagal Sr. (1910-1997) to continue the design of a new national capitol in Quezon City, which was previously assigned to Arch. Ilustre in 1963. However, Alquinto did not complete the project due to budgetary constraints. Afterwards, Alquinto accepted the position of Dean of the School of Architecture at the Mapua Institute of Technology. And in 1977, Alquinto would join other landscape architecture pioneers to organize the Philippine Association of Landscape Architects (PALA) in 1977.
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), with Edgar “Egai” Talusan Fernandez (born 1955) as project director, conceptualized by Emmanuel Nim (born 1981) and Benjamin Joseph Chua, and rendered by “Mabini Artists” and students Eladio Santos (born 1952), William Encinares, Efren Arcega, Arjay Nikki Lacanienta, Isaac Oliver Sion, and Roman James Soleňo.
Edgar “Egai” Talusan Fernandez (born 1955) is a renowned social realist, who made his mark during the Marcos’ regime’s Martial Law era. A graduate of the Philippine Women’s University College of Music and Fine Arts, Fernandez started actively painting in 1974, and slowly developed his classically rendered images in juxtaposed layers of scenes in the background montage and Filipiñana symbols, which include the ancient script called the Baybayin. Frenandez’ activism has led to his co-founding the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), and joining other cause-oriented groups such as Center for the Advancement of Young Artists and “Kaisahan”. Aside from participating in activist organizations, Fernandez has be an active member and officer of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP), the Christian Art Society of the Philippines, AGOS KULAY (a watercolorist group), and the National Committee on Visual Art of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA). For all his work, Fernandez was awarded the 13 Artists Award by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), and the Araw ng Maynila Award for Painting in 2006.
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 traveled 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.