A Walk into the Washington Sycip Park

On my way to the Legazpi Sunday Market last week, the beautiful sound of chirping birds and crickets along Gamboa Street lured me to walk into the Washington Sycip Park. I wanted just a whiff of fresh air, but I got more than that. I saw things I’ve not noticed there before, which heightened my respect  and admiration for the man the park was named after.

The pocket park was presented to Mr. Sycip in June 2006 on the occasion of his 85th birthday, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the Philippine business community. The park was developed jointly by Ayala Land Incorporated, the Makati Commercial Estate Association, the City of Makati, Barangay San Lorenzo, and SGV & Co. Mr. Sycip is the founder of Sycip, Gorres, Velayo & Co., the largest and most prestigious accounting and consulting firm in the Philippines and Asia. I consider the 16 years I spent in this company as the best part of my professional life.

The park can be accessed three ways: from Gamboa, Rada, or Legazpi Street. This Gamboa entrance makes some no-nos clear: No Dogs and No Smoking.

A stone turtle stands guard by the entrance. The turtle is one of three animals closely associated with Mr. Sycip. It symbolizes tenacity and longevity. The other two animals are the rooster, his Chinese zodiac sign; and the owl, which symbolizes wisdom and which has become SGV’s icon for service excellence.

This giant urn that adorns one of the gateways is a throwback to Mr. Sycip’s childhood years in Shanghai. In his biographical book, the business icon shares that similar huge jars were found in his family garden and he used to peek at the fish swimming inside them.

Tall mahogany and eucalyptus trees provide cool comfort and shield visitors from the bustle outside. There are gazebos and stone benches for those who want to relax, read, or spend some time in quiet reflection.

Inscriptions on metal tablets drilled into some of the benches reflect the wisdom of the man who likes to refer to himself as ‘only a bookkeeper.’

There are several Sycip quotes all over the park. Some of the ones I like are the following:

“Our country can be criticized for so many things, but in the end, we must give back what we can.”

“Take it from someone who has been through a world war, 14 Philippine presidents, and countless board meetings all over the world: nothing can ever replace the loyalty of a grateful client.”

“If there is one and only one message I would like you all to remember for the rest of your lives, it is this: be a person of integrity!”

In this part of the pond, koi fish are camouflaged by fallen petals from a nearby fire tree. Ducks used to swim in the pond to show that fish and fowl can coexist in harmony. The presence of ducks in the park was likely a tribute to Mr. Sycip’s first real job in New York as a junior auditor in a duck cooperative.  Sadly, there are no traces of the quackers anywhere in the park today. The park guards say they had caught a certain disease and died.

A sungka table inside one of the gazebos.

The Mangrove—Nature’s Embrace, an interactive sculpture dedicated to Mr. Sycip by artist Impy Pilapil stands tall at the center of the park. Excerpts from the dedicatory plate:

“On the physical level, mangrove roots grow into a dome-like pattern. This symbolically brings to mind ideas like shelter protection and safety, which comprise the needs of all living things. On another level it evokes an embrace, ‘a holding close’ that provides the most basic emotional need of man from the time he is born.

The chart of a family tree uncannily resembles the way roots grow, as a metaphor of human life, each one of us is deeply rooted to a race, family and culture. This invites us to reflect on man’s innate craving to be loved and belong.”

Another art installation provides interesting contrast to the lush greenery.

Musical rocks? Soothing music seems to come from inside these landscaping rocks. At close inspection, the piped-in music is made possible through underground cables.

The Wish Stone, another installation by Impy Pilapil, urges visitors to “pick up the brush, dip it in water and write your wish or prayer on the stone…and then let the cosmic forces take it to heaven.” No brush was available but a twig works just fine, so on sheer instinct I wrote my wish for longer life for the Great Bookkeeper. Then I quickly wrote a similar prayer for funnyman Dolphy, another charismatic icon albeit from a different field, who still lies critical at a nearby hospital.

It’s been a week since I wrote my wishes. I continue to pray for these two great men to be kept in heaven’s loving and healing embrace. Dolphy is reportedly showing signs of improvement. And the Great Bookkeeper is turning 91 today. Happy birthday, Mr. Washington Sycip!

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