True to its pledge to “re-create” the past for future generations, the current city government under its “Big Three” leaders – Mayor Arman Dimaguila, Vice Mayor Gel Alonte, and Representative Len Alonte – has turned the historic Plaza Rizal in its downtown district, once again, into a “magnet” for local and foreign tourists.
For Filipinos, "downtown" or "Poblacion" meant more than simply a town or city's social, economic and political hub.
It is the town's "heart and soul" where people from all walks of life gather not only to do business but also to share a common heritage and a common identity.
For decades, the Plaza Rizal at Biñan City in Laguna has served this very purpose.
It was not only a place to mark Biñan City’s Poblacion (with historical landmarks surrounding it such as the San Lorenzo Parish Church, the old Municipal Hall – now the Sentrong Pangkultura ng Biñan – and the Alberto Mansion, restored in 2019), but it has also served as a silent witness to the city’s rich history and culture.
And true to its pledge to re-create the past for future generations, the current city government under its “Big Three” leaders – Mayor Arman Dimaguila, Vice Mayor Gel Alonte and Representative Len Alonte – has turned Plaza Rizal, once again, into a magnet for local and foreign tourists.
Since the newly-renovated Plaza Rizal was officially opened to the public during the Araw ng Biñan festivities last February 2, it has become one of the city’s top-drawing venues.
The reason: “Nakakatuwang pumasyal dito, dahil kapag nakita natin [ang Plaza Rizal], para tayong dinala sa nakaraan. At nakakatuwa sapagkat na-preserve natin ang ganda ng plaza ng ‘Old Biñan',” was how Laguna Vice Gov. Karen Agapay put it.
Residents and visitors were also drawn not only by the enchanting beauty of the Plaza Rizal, surrounded by other historical landmarks in the city, but also by the wide assortment of food and other products offered by 24 food stalls around the plaza – a testament to Biñan City’s enhanced reputation as a “market town.”
“Mas maganda na ngayon ang Plaza Biñan – may guwardiya na sila tapos wala na talagang sasakyan, puro tao, kaya maganda ang experience namin,” Ruby, Mila, and Gigi, a group of visitors from San Pedro City, told OpinYon Laguna.
Photographers, such as Jery Jimenez of Biñan City, also gained prominence with their “Instagrammable” posts of Plaza Rizal and its surroundings, which in turn drove up the curiosity of tourists who wanted to visit Biñan City.
The influx of visitors at the Plaza Rizal has also resulted in a boom of local businesses who were actually encouraged by the local government to set up their stalls near the park, according to businesses interviewed by OpinYon Laguna.
"Nakaka-encourage ito ng maraming tao, and since maraming nagpupunta na rito sa bayan, mas maraming costumers ang nakakakita sa small businesses na gaya namin," April Joy Catanghal of BLK24 Cafe, one of the stallholders near the Plaza Rizal, said.
"Also, si Mayor Arman talaga ang nag-encourage sa amin na maglagay kami ng pwesto rito. As far as I know, may listahan na kasi sila ng naiisip nilang kilalang businesses dito sa Biñan, so siya na mismo ang nagsabi sa akin na maglagay ako rito ng stall ng BLK24 Cafe," she added.
However, restoring the Plaza Rizal to its former glory and beauty is only part of the city government’s overall program to encourage tourism and economic growth in Biñan City through heritage preservation, according to BJ Borja, head of the Biñan City Culture, History, Arts and Tourism Office (BCHATO).
“Ang nais talaga namin ay maitampok hindi lamang ang ganda ng kasaysayan at kultura ng Biñan kundi pati na rin ang mayamang talento ng mga Biñanense,” Borja told OpinYon Laguna.
Even as construction of the Sentrong Patanghal na Sining ng Biñan near the plaza has kicked off, the Los Maduros Bandstand, a 1950’s stage at the Plaza Rizal that was also declared a local heritage site, has become the venue for top-drawing performances by Biñanense talents during the Araw ng Biñan festivities.
And last February 14 (Valentines Day), talents from the Biñan City Centre for Performing Arts used the Plaza Rizal as a backdrop as they performed song-and-dance numbers celebrating the Day of Love, while the Biñan City Fitness Club is now conducting Zumba dance sessions at the plaza every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Borja added that BCHATO is now finalizing a series of events in celebration of Women’s Month this coming March.
Keeping The Peace And Order
With the sudden rise of visitors trooping to downtown Biñan City, the city government has also made proactive measures to ensure peace and order in the area, Public Order and Safety Office (POSO) chief Rommel Lim stated.
Among these measures included a vehicle ban and traffic rerouting scheme along the perimeter of the Plaza Rizal from 5:00 p.m. to 12:00 midnight, ensuring that the plaza will be a “pedestrian-only zone".
“Maganda na po ang feedback natin mula sa mga motorista,” Lim reported to OpinYon Laguna. “Noong una, may mga disappointed, na hindi naman talaga natin naiiwasan. Pero ngayon nakapag-adjust na po sila kasi ngayon lang sila nakararanas ng consistent implementation ng traffic rules.”
POSO officials have also coordinated with the City Community Affairs Office (CCAO), the City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (CDRRMO), and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to ensure the safety and security of visitors.
"So far, wala pa naman po kaming naitatalang insidente ng nadukutan o nanakawan," he added. "Mayroon po kaming mga CCTV cameras na naka-antabay sa lugar 24/7, at sinisigurado po natin na malawak ang presensya natin sa lugar. Kabilang po sa mga tauhan nating nakabatay ay yung mga 'Los Caballeros' na nakasuot ng sinaunang uniporme, plus mayroon tayong mga pulis na laging nakabantay sa lugar."
New Traffic Scheme
The City Community Affairs Office, on the other hand, has designated parking areas around the perimeter of Plaza Rizal to ensure a smooth and orderly traffic situation in the area, especially during market days.
"Nag-designate po tayo ng pay parking area sa A. Gonzales St. malapit sa terminal ng jeepney, kung saan pwede po ang one-side parking," CCAO head Ron Roscain explained.
Jeepneys are now also required to stop at the jeepney terminal instead of proceeding directly to Plaza Rizal due to the vehicle ban.
“In fact, natuwa pa po yung mga jeepney drivers sa bago nating re-routing scheme, although understandably ay medyo nanibago po yung mga commuter," the CCAO head recounted.
Roscain added that the city government is now planning to permanently "pedestrianize" Plaza Rizal, although they will offer free e-trike services for senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs).
While city officials said they understand the concerns of motorists who were affected by the new traffic scheme, they believe that the long-term benefits will prove to be more advantageous for Biñanenses.
“Kaya namin ginawang pedestrian-only ang Plaza Rizal ay para maranasan talaga ng mga nagpupunta rito ang ganda at yamang kultural ng pook na ito,” Roman Carencia, Biñan City Public Information Officer, said. “Parte ito ng tourism strategy ng lungsod na ‘Experience Biñan’ – na hindi lamang sapat na makita mo lamang kundi marining, maamoy at matikman rin ang yaman ng ating lungsod.”
A Prime Example
Biñan City’s leaders now hope the success story of the Plaza Rizal can be a prime example for other local government units in Laguna province, especially with the tourism industry making a comeback after two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.
No one said it more eloquently than Mayor Dimaguila himself, who reiterated in his speech at the Araw ng Biñan festivities his belief: more than restoring the city’s landmarks, his administration believes in restoring the city’s “soul” for future generations.
“Ang project po natin na ito ay hindi lamang pang-Pasko, hindi lamang pang-Araw ng Biñan, kundi para sa kasaysayan ng ating lungsod,” he declared.
“Ito po ay sinimulan para pagbigyan ang mga taga-Biñan na makita ang kanyang kasaysayan at hindi na malimutan pa. Sinisimulan natin ito noon pa pero ang mga beteranong taga-Biñan ang sentro nito. Ang bandstand na ito ang magiging saksi kung paano pa natin paayusin, pagagandahin, at lilinangin ang ating kasaysayan.”