Plaza of Mayor Rama’s childhood

Until recently, the only reason you’d be running in Plaza Independencia was for your life. Or to chase a snatcher.

But go there today and you’ll find a changed place.

When I was still new to Cebu 15 years ago, I used to dread being downtown. Friends who had been here for years would tell me never to bring anything valuable there. In my mind’s eye, a robber lurked at every street corner.

Plaza Independencia was in that list of you-know-where–places you don’t ever want to find yourself in. “Tulison ka diha, du (you’ll get robbed there)” was the serious warning of a hometown acquaintance who gesticulated, twisting an imaginary knife.

But I’ve been there three times in recent weeks and found the area quite beautiful. More important, the Plaza Independencia is now a good and scenic place to run.

The area now has a walking path that’s about 700 meters, excluding the portion still being worked on near the ALU-TUCP office. The path, however, is made of concrete slabs so running can be painful after a few kilometers.

The place has its unique charm–a religious debate happens there daily. I passed by a group of men 300 meters into my run and caught a gap-toothed man wearing shorts mocking his debate opponent in Bisaya, “What kind of God can be vindictive?”

By the snippets of conversation I was able to catch, the group was apparently debating divine punishment. But these religious debaters never go beyond raised voices and mocking, I was told.

Epiphany, however, isn’t with the religious debates. It’s something you experience after completing round after round after round in an area of such historical significance.

On one side, you can find Fort San Pedro, which Leon Kilat and his army of Cebuano revolutionaries attacked. On the other side you can see Malacañang sa Sugbo, the old Bureau of Customs building converted into then president Gloria Arroyo’s office in southern Philippines.

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, the architect of the renovation, spoke proudly of the historic area when he hosted Ungo Runners there last Friday. Rama said he wanted people who would love the plaza to gather there with their families to walk, run and enjoy the place.

Rama said he has good memories of his father taking him to the plaza.

When asked whether the Plaza Independencia today is closer to the plaza of his childhood, Rama and former college classmate Sheila Colmenares blurted out at the same time, “This is better.”

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