Behind the government compounds and sprawling hillside residential subdivisions of the Batasan Hills district of Quezon City, there is Barangay Bagong Silangan (new horizon), which is nestled at the foothills of the Commonwealth/Quezon City plateau. Bagong Silangan was once part of the Municipality of San Mateo, of the Rizal Province, but was annexed to Quezon City in the 1960s. Situated beside the Marikina River, Bagong Silangan was once known as an agricultural community, this would later end with the rapid expansion of residential development.
Bagong Silangan is best known are the site of the Battle of San Mateo (a.k.a. The Battle of Payne), which occurred on December 19, 1899. On that day, Major General Henry Ware Lawton (1843-1899), led the 11th Volunteer Cavalry and 29th Battalion of the United States Army against the Gen. Licerio Gerónimo (1855-1924) and his 1000 man-strong Morong Command battalion and the Tiradores de la Muerte (a.k.a The Luna Sharpshooters). Amidst the muddy rice fields and a pouring monsoon, Gen. Lawton’s forces were pushed back the Filipino fighters. In the end, Gen. Lawton was killed by a bullet in the chest, by a certain Bonifacio Mariano. This made Gen. Lawton the highest ranking officer killed during the Philippine-American War.
“Taking into account the disadvantages they have to fight against in terms of arms, equipment and military discipline, without artillery, short of ammunition, powder inferior, shells reloaded until they are defective, they are the bravest men I have ever seen…” Henry Ware Lawton, on the Filipino soldiers
In front of the Bagong Silangan Barangay Hall, there is a memorial to Gen. Licerio Gerónimo and the Battle of San Mateo, which was complete and installed by Jose Giroy, in 2009.
Jose “Al” Rabino Giroy (1962) is a noted sculptor, who started his career by participating in art competitions as a teen, in the 1970s. Eventually entering the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts, Giroy would first delve into painting, before finally deciding to take sculpture and train under noted artists such as Froilan T. Madriñan Jr. (1941-2008) and National Artist for Sculpture, Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (born 1930). After graduating, Grioy had participated group exhibitions, but soon focused on commissions for public art. A master of the classical sculptural created many noted monuments for government and private institutions, including churches; which are found all over the country.
Another memorial at the Bagong Silangan Barangay Hall plaza is the Ondoy Commemorative Marker, which reminds the residents of the death and destruction wrought by Tropical Storm Ondoy (international name, Typhoon Ketsana) on September 26-27, 2009. Although a Category 2 storm, Ondoy dumped a maximum recorded 454.9 mm precipitation, creating massive flooding. Due to the large volume of water, several dams released its contents, causing a great flash flood that washed away many homes. Barangay Bagong Silangan was hit hard, with the Marikina River rising quickly and swamping the area. According to some the reports, the rivers rose more than 6 meters (20 ft). The officially recorded death toll through the country was at 671, but there were many cases of missing people that were never added to the official tally.
From the damage brought upon Bagaong Silangan, many of the residents refused to leave their homes and slowly rebuilt their community. And in the reconstruction of their community, the local officials were able to improve the facilities of the local government offices, such as the Barangay Hall, Police Station, Library and Daycare Center.
Aside from the government offices, Baragangay Bagong Silangan officials pushed for more social spaces for the community, such as several plazas and sport centers.
In developing the schools, more help poured in from the outside, with Coca-Cola bringing in its “The Little Red Schoolhouse” program to help the Bagong Silangan Elementary School. As for the Bagong Silangan High School, their building also began to expand along with the rest of the other structures, as the community once more bustled with life.
But in the heart of Bagaong Silangan’s residents, the deep sense of community and faith have always been the driving factors in their daily lives, and helped them rebuild after the tragedy of Ondoy. I went to Bagong Silangan to document their church and historical monuments, and came back witnessing that strong community spirit.