The template

As early as 1573, King Philip II prescribed the conditions for laying out the Spanish grid — the Quadricula —  in all the colonial possessions of the Spanish kings. Curiously enough, the Quadricula is not Spanish but Roman and I use it deliberately because,   after all, the Portuguese arrived first in this archipelago.

The central plaza is the heart of the Quadricula from which emanate four main avenues. The grill pattern allows one to traverse the roads in straight lines from all the four cardinal points. It was a versatile urban planning devise because towns could expand by adding more squares to the existing grid pattern without demolishing existing structures. The trigger-happy road expansion programs of today could save a lot of heritage trees and edifices by adopting the Quadricula.

Once implemented in Spanish colonies in the Americas, the Caribbean and the rim of the west Pacific, the Quadricula became the physical framework of Spanish domination, a vigorous administrative device for the reduccion where the conquered Christianized natives were ordered to settle.

When next you go to Intramuros, take note of the Quadricula. The Manila Cathedral, Palacio del Gobernador and Ayuntamiento are built around the Plaza Roma, the central square. When I visited Bucay, Abra, about a decade ago, I immediately noticed that it was built using the Quadricula template, like many other towns and cities all over the Philippines.

Next Sunday, 15 September, the National Museum of Fine Arts will inaugurate the QUADRICULA exhibition at Galleries 27 and 28 on the 4th floor. The painting “Quadricula” will greet the visitors. It shows a conquistador in battle regalia and a mustachioed friar laying out Intramuros after the defeat of Raja Sulaiman, the ruler of Manila. Angels descend upon them, bearing symbols of the conquest: a sash with the names of Legazpi, Salcedo, Goiti, Lavesares, the four pillars of colonization; the Spanish crown, sword, and sea lion; the letter Ñ which is unique to the Spanish alphabet, a laurel wreath of victory; the skull of mortality; and the emblems of the Augustinian, Franciscan, Jesuit, and Dominican Orders. An Oriental-looking angel waves the baraja Española as if foretelling that the construction of the massive walls of Intramuros would be financed with the taxes imposed on playing cards.

QUADRICULA is HOCOUS 2. The first HOCUS was held in April to October, 2017, also at the National Museum of Fine Arts. HOCUS is the acronym of HOFILEÑA AND CUSTODIO who, in effect, are the co-authors of the paintings. Saul Hofileña Jr. is a lawyer-historian who can neither draw not paint, but is obsessed with Philippine colonial history haunted by how “the lowly indio was tied to the Spanish escutcheon and the Cross.”

For his part, Guy Custodio, the painter, is totally oblivious  of history like most Filipinos, although he is a bonafide restorer and conservator of ecclesiastical treasures. He studied in Barcelona and worked there for 20 years. When he visited Bohol for the first time, he was enthralled by the colonial churches and decided to stay. When Hofileña met Custodio, the latter “was hanging precariously like a bat” from the ceiling of Albuquerque church, totally impervious to danger.

There is a unique synergy between Hofileña and Custodio. The former has nightmarish visions of our colonial history, which the latter expresses on antique wood and canvas. The co-authors do not sign their names on the paintings, I am still trying to convince them that they should do so for posterity. Hofileña devised the icon HOCUS which is a Filipino angel reading a book to keep himself out of trouble. Angel de cuyacuy he is called because as he reads, he is jiggling leg, a very Filipino habit.

See you all at the Quadricula! It is a Sunday, 15 September,  so come with family and friends.