If you are traveling in the capital of the Philippines and now the world’s most densely-populated city, you may come across landmarks such as Taft Avenue and pay no heed to whom it is named after. Three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule brought Hispanicized surnames, words, and an alphabet that became part of the native tongue over time. Then those few centuries ended abruptly with an American occupation and government. Anglo-Saxon names and words have appeared all over the country but they have not integrated in the same way as their Spanish counterparts. Most American surnames still sound more alien than foreign to Filipino ears. Nevertheless, non-Hispanic figures in history have immortalized their legacy through some spots in the capital city of Manila named after them.
For many, Ferdinand Blumetritt seems an obscure historical character. He did not rule a country, led in battle, or invent a piece of technology. Yet the Blumentritt Station of Manila’s Light Rail Transit (LRT) was named after him.
Jose Rizal, deemed as the national hero of the Philippines, had been a good friend with Ferdinand Blumentritt. The latter hailed from Prague in what is today’s Czech Republic, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Blumentritt studied about the Philippines extensively as a scholar while living in the town of Leitmeritz. When Rizal was traveling in Europe, he learned about an expert in his homeland who could also speak his mother tongue, Tagalog. The two met in 1887 and soon exchanged not only letters but also academic material after parting ways. Then the rest became history. Rizal wrote subversive literary works, got arrested, then met his fate through firing squad in 1896. This served as one of the factors of the Philippine War of Independence, which was followed by a military defeat in the Philippine-American War. Regardless, Blumentritt still supported the country’s bid for sovereignty and spent the rest of his life a scholar. He passed away in 1913, just one year before World War One that ended with the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Yet Blumentritt’s memory still lives on in the form of a light rail station in the country he adored much.
Henry Ware Lawton
Some buses going to Manila display placards written with ‘Lawton.’ The name stuck that most Filipinos have been unaware that what used to be Lawton Plaza is now officially called Liwasang Bonifacio. This place marks the location of the Manila Central Post Office and the gateway to Quiapo district, famous for its places of worship and stalls with affordable merchandise. In fact, Lawton is the last name of an American general during the time the Philippines lost its newly-won independence from Spain.
Henry Ware Lawton’s military career began during the American Civil War (1861-1865), when the United States stopped being ‘united’ with the secession of the Confederate States. He rose in rank progressively from private to captain. With the civil war over, his country turned towards westward expansion. This result in conflict with various Native American tribes, among them the Apache. Discontent with living in so-called reservations, a small group of these people of the arid Southwest fought back under the leadership of Geronimo in 1885. He succeeded with raiding while evading capture. Lawton was among the US military forces tasked with tracking down Geronimo. Following pursuit through high mountains and canyons under scorching heat, Lawton’s party eventually forced Geronimo to surrender. The captain got promoted as years passed.
At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Lawton assumed command as a brigadier-general. He led US troops into Cuba. Lawton won at the Battle of El Caney, paving the way for the United States to win the war in just three months. Simultaneously, American troops also landed in the Philippines and achieved victory with the help of Filipino rebels. The Filipinos yearned for a country of their own but the Americans had other plans. Spain sold the archipelago in the Treaty of Paris. The Philippine-American War, where Lawton also saw action, broke out. During the Battle of San Mateo in rainy weather, he was issuing orders to soldiers before getting fatally shot. In a twist of irony, the Filipino sharpshooters were under the command of Licerio Geronimo, who shared the name with the Apache leader Lawton apprehended. With the nature of this conflict, no wonder Lawton Plaza got renamed for the almost first President of the Philippines.
William Howard Taft
Anyone visiting the city of Manila itself may find himself or herself at Taft Avenue. This place can be described as the capital city’s jugular vein. Government buildings, medical facilities, and universities line this notable road. It does not seem to slumber. Countless pedestrians make Taft Avenue even more alive. This place also shares the name of the currently southernmost station of the capital’s Metro Rail Transit (MRT) system. Arriving at the Taft Avenue Station is like going to the gateway into Metro Manila. “Taft” has sounded too familiar to Filipinos that most do not even know the person who lent the name.
William Howard Taft served as the 27th President of the United States of America. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1857, he took up law and practiced it throughout the rest of his life. His career progressed from being a humble lawyer to a state judge, then getting appointed as US Solicitor General in 1890. During the presidential term of William McKinley, Taft was assigned as Governor-General of the Philippines in 1901. War had been raging on but the American military already gained the upper hand against the Filipino revolutionaries. It was time to rebuild the Philippines. To begin with, Taft did not mistreat and abuse Filipinos with laws containing racial segregation. He saw them as more socially equal. Taft even encouraged the local populace to participate more with running the government. The Governor-General also enacted reforms in infrastructure, education, and agriculture. It was a two-year legacy that soon became largely forgotten. Yet Taft’s name lived on. He got elected in 1909 as President, serving his term until 1913. Later in 1921, Taft was Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court until he passed away nine years later. He also gained prominence as the heaviest US President in terms of weight so far.