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The Brutal History Surrounding Arroceros Forest Park

Arroceros Forest Park was the site of a huge massacre over 400 years ago.
IMAGE Adrian Biblanias for Wikicommons
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Every so often, Arroceros Forest Park makes headlines when attempts to have it levelled or developed by the city government leak to the press.

As a forest, the park offers little historical value, since it was only developed into a forest park in 1993. Most of the trees here are not even past 40 years old. The reason why historians and conservationists rise up in arms when plans to commercialize the park is that the two-hectare forest is the site of an ancient settlement called Parian, which gave birth to Manila’s bustling commercial center in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The first two Parians were damaged during the 16th century Chinese massacre by the Spaniards. The first one was located in what is today Arroceros Forest Park, and it was called Parian de Arroceros. The second was in what is now Liwasang Bonifacio. The third and last one is in Binondo, where the first Chinatown in the world emerged.

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In 1574, when the notorious Chinese pirate Limahong attacked Manila, the Chinese residents of Intramuros helped Limahong by attacking friars, burning churches, and ransacking Spanish residences. The Spaniards eventually defeated them and sent them to live on the outskirts of Manila. This marked the deterioration of Spanish-Chinese relations in precolonial Philippines, and is the root cause of the massacre that would take place at Parian de Arroceros.

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Parian de Arroceros

In 1581, all the Chinese in Manila were expelled and forced to live outside its walls in an area called Parian. The segregation made it easier for the Spaniards to abuse the Chinese, who were forced to pay a number of fees: a yearly license fee, tributes, house tax, and other arbitrary taxes. The Manila Chinese were also required to do unpaid labor as a form of yearly tax paid to the Spanish colonial government.

According to historians Patricio Abinales and Donna Amoroso, the Chinese were able to make a flourishing commercial center of Parian despite the high taxes. The area where they resettled is now the Lawton area in Manila. The first Parian was at Arroceros Forest Park situated on the banks of the Pasig River.

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In 1603, when the Spanish colonial government was preparing for a Chinese pirate invasion that never came, the Chinese residents of Parian rose in revolt in anticipation of an attack from the Spaniards—fearing a repeat of their expulsion in 1574. They were correct, because the Spaniards massacred 20,000 Chinese in the Parian surrounding what is now the Arroceros Forest Park.

 

Arroceros Forest Park During the American Occupation of the Philippines

After destroying the Chinese settlement at the Parian de Arroceros, the Spaniards built a tobacco factory on the former settlement, many years later in the 19th century. The factory was called Fabrica de Arroceros, owned by the Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas, the country's first private tobacco company.  

The construction of the factory at Arroceros was a landmark event in Philippine history because it signified the start of the long period of Spain’s tobacco monopoly in the country.

When the Americans defeated Spain in the Spanish-American war and invaded the Philippines, they used the factory as a military garrison in the 20th century. After World War II, the same building was used as the headquarters of the Department of Education.

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Arroceros Park Today

In 1993, the government decided to cultivate a forest in what was once the Parian de Arroceros, in an effort to preserve the 150-year-old tees that survived the intense bombing of Manila in World War II.

Since then, Arroceros Forest Park has been considered an important landmark in Manila, being the only forest in the city, with an estimated 3,000 endemic or native species of trees are found.  The forest has constantly been put under threat of destruction when previous Manila mayors proposed projects to develop the area. In 2003, a proposal to construct a school building on the forest was met with tough opposition. In 2017, the park was again threatened with a proposal to construct a gym on its grounds.

On February 27, 2020, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno designated Arroceros Forest Park as a permanent forest park and no longer an ordinary city property.

 

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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