By Joseph Almer Pedrasjas
MALATE, Manila — Residents remember the Paraiso ng Batang Maynila—a 1.5-hectare park which was once a witness to Carlos Yulo’s humble beginnings—at the time it still had its former glory.
Barangay 721 chairman Arnel Rebucan said that “Paraiso used to be a training ground for young athletes and sports enthusiasts because it was once equipped with playground equipment and sports facilities, including a basketball court and soccer field.”
In fact, he added, Yulo, who bagged the 2019 World Artistic Gymnastics championship, “had spent his childhood here. He was playing with other kids, tumbling and doing stunts, among others.”
However, for Rebucan and other residents, the park’s beauty is now only a distant memory.
“Paraiso is no longer a paradise,” he stressed, “It has already become a parking lot for cars, a farm for stags and cocks, a home for the homeless; and no longer a park for residents and sports enthusiasts” as it once was.
According to Ibalik ang Paraiso Facebook page, “At various times,” the Paraiso ng Batang Maynila “has housed a covered basketball court, gateball and tennis courts, a soccer field, a swimming pool, daycare center and playground equipment.”
It added that: “It is an area that used to be patronized by hundreds of people every day and locals testify as to how the playground has formed an important part of the childhoods of many generations of children.”
Rebucan said that like Carlos, the 1.5-hectare Paraiso was part of his and his friends’ happy childhood.
“I remember, there were still monkey bars, swings and other playground equipment here. And there was also a pathway for running,” he said.
“There were also grasses here where we would lay and picnic. My friends would take whatever they had inside their refrigerator and they would bring them here,” Mark Manalo, Barangay 721 councilor, added.
“We also used to build treehouses because there were still lots of trees here,” Manalo said.
But gradually, Rebucan said, “after several years and terms of various mayors, the park started to lose its beauty because it was no longer being given attention.”
“It began when part of the park was converted into a Children’s Road Safety Park sometime in 2013,” he said, “Some of the park’s equipment was destroyed and removed.”
Ibalik ang Paraiso Facebook page added: In 2017, another 20-30 percent of the space was fenced off and was converted into an impounding area, making it as an “eyesore.”
Although the barangay chair had removed the impounding area when he assumed office last year, in 2018, he said that car owners took advantage of the space it left and “started parking their vehicles there.”
“So now, [a] big part of the park becomes a parking lot,” he said. The rest of the park gives space for the recently-built tennis and basketball courts, a barangay chairman’s office and a daycare center.
However, Rebucan expressed hope that the whole park, with its lush trees, playground equipment and sports facilities, would be rebuilt; and that Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso would help them as it will not only serve as a training ground for young athletes or a green space for residents but will also help them earn revenue.
“Actually, some films were being shot here,” he said.
Rebucan bared they are putting their trust to the local government to help them rebuild the park, but assured that residents of nearby barangays are willing to help.
“Actually, we had our own plans. The adjacent Our Lady of Assumption Parish had laid out their own plan because they also want to promote the church again,” he added.
“When the old Paraiso was still operating, there were a lot of churchgoers,” he explained, “And after going to the church, either they would go to Manila Zoo or organize a picnic at the park with their families.”
J Kurby Co, 13, also said that he wants to see the old park again so that children like him “will have a place to hone their skills and a place to play.”
“We want to follow Yulo’s path,” the young Basketball player said.
“I also want the old soccer field back because it’s my sports and I want to improve from it,” 12-year-old Geanne Delgado added.