Special Feature

History in Asphalt

Posted on February 25, 2012

Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (Edsa) is the longest road in Metro Manila. Peter Uckung, senior researcher at the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), explains how this thoroughfare came to be.

In an interview, he said that the avenue was constructed in 1940, during the presidency of the late Manuel L. Quezon. The engineers behind the major road were Florencio Moreno and Osmundo Monsod, and it was initially called 19 de Junio, to commemorate the birthday of Jose Rizal.

Later, the route was renamed "Highway 54" by American administrators. A common misconception is that the road stretches 54 kilometers, when it is actually just about 24 kilometers long.

"When we talk about the history of Highway 54, we also talk about the history of Quezon City," Mr. Uckung said. Quezon City, the largest city in Metro Manila, was relatively new in 1939 and still being developed. It was intended to be a suburban escape from the busy area of Manila, and Highway 54 would soon provide an alternative route to and from the two cities.

Moreover, the transfer of government offices from Manila to Quezon City added to the road's importance. Yet nowadays, Mr. Uckung said
that this change in urban planning has contributed to the heavy flow of traffic along the highway.

Mr. Uckung also said that Highway 54 used to be the most convenient way to get to the Nielson Airport in Makati. Established in 1937, the
facility once had Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas as its runways, before relocating to what is now the Ninoy Aquino National Airport in 1948.

In 1959, under Republic Act 2140, the road was renamed to honor Filipino intellectual and historian Epifanio de los Santos. Former Senate President Eulogio Rodriguez Sr. started this movement, and upon his death, Atty. Juan Francisco Sumulong completed the campaign. Besides NHCP, groups that approved of the name change included the Philippine Historical Association, the Philippine Library Association, and the Philippine National Historical Society.

However, Mr. Uckung noted that when the People Power revolution occurred on the streets of Edsa in 1986, this significantly affected how the road is remembered today. Three years later, Edsa Shrine was created on the corner of the highway and Ortigas Avenue as a tribute to the
event. In 2001, the road was also the site for People Power II. Hence, Mr. Uckung said, "When people say Edsa, we often think of the revolutions that happened there, and not Epifanio de los Santos himself."

Last November 23, house representative Rene Lopez Relampagos filed House Bill No. 5422 in an attempt to again rename the highway, this time after the late President Corazon C. Aquino, whom the People Power revolution helped put in power.

Today, Edsa has become a major route for the delivery of trade products. Beginning in Caloocan with the Andres Bonifacio monument and ending in Pasay at a roundabout near SM Mall of Asia, the highway comprises a big portion of C-4, one of the five circumferential roads in the metropolis. In all, it cuts through five cities: Caloocan, Quezon City, Mandaluyong, Makati, and Pasay. — Gianna B. Villavicencio