NHI declares Rizal statue in Nueva Vizcaya as national shrine

June 24, 2011 3:57 am 

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, June 23 – The National Historical Institute (NHI) recently declared the giant statue of Dr. Jose P. Rizal in Barangay Casat here as national shrine.

The Rizal Shrine and Livelihood Complex which was formally opened on July 6, 2009 was a pet project of former Jordanian Mahmoud Asfour who is known in the province and Cagayan Valley for his generosity and love for Filipinos.

National officials of the NHI, officers of Knights of Rizal and local officials of this town officially unveiled the complex marker last June 18, a day before the nationwide commemoration on the 150th birthday of Rizal.

Asfour said the shrine is a symbol of his love and admiration for the values of Dr. Jose Rizal and other Filipino heroes.

Towering over a 7.5-hectare complex, the 12-storey high, three-arch Romanesque structure covers the 16-meter high statue of Dr. Jose Rizal, claimed by Asfour as the world's biggest Rizal monument.

At the shrine's entrance is a 10-meter obelisk where the province's history is etched while the main shrine is surrounded by 14 other heroes and an unsung hero.

Other amenities of the shrine are children's skating rink, water fountain, nine-meter flagpole, two-storey buildings for cultural, livelihood and medical services for indigent patients, conference rooms, a modern library, a computer resource center, basketball and tennis courts and two helipads.

Asfour settled in this town in 1991 with wife Marriam and their children Abdullah, 23; Hakim, 21; and Abeer, 12. Abdullah and Hakim are taking up computer engineering courses at the St. Mary's University here while Abeer is on her 2nd year high school.

In 2001, the provincial board here recognized Asfour's deeds and services and passed a resolution adopting him as a son of Nueva Vizcaya.

For Asfour, funding livelihood projects and sponsoring scholarship grants were his ways of repaying a debt of gratitude to one Filipino.

His good impression of Filipinos began when his car bogged down in the middle of a desert in Saudi Arabia before the Gulf War. Stranded in the desert for two days, he said he was already dying from hunger and thirst when a Filipino truck driver found him and gave him water, shared a sandwich and then brought him home.

Since then, Asfour started to repay the kindness by helping Filipino overseas foreign workers, sponsoring scholarship grants, provided livelihood projects, donated pump wells, farm implements, built houses for the poor and gave financial aid to fund raising projects.

He also pays salaries of several teachers, health workers and hospitalization of sick indigent families in the province.

A former vice president of Citibank International and a former official of the International Monetary Fund, Asfour was a member of the IMF team that studied the country's application for a P128-million loan.

In July 2005, Asfour's bid for a Filipino nationality was issued by President Gloria Macapagal–Arroyo after it was concurred by both houses of Congress.

"If I see abandoned children and their parents, I help them. I reconstruct families by giving them something to work with for their income," Asfour said. (PNA) LAP/LAM/SCD/BME/mba

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