Pride of Place

Shocking state of heritage in the Philippines


WHERE in the Philippines is this? City centers, like this ugly one, have become
interchangeable all over the Philippines.

Dominic Galicia, an architect and new editor in chief of BluPrint Magazine, sent a descriptive e-mail encapsulating the shocking state of heritage in the Philippines.

Despite the many shocks, so surprising are the strides that have come into being to prevent endangered heritage from vanishing, Galicia discloses.

His text is reprinted with permission:

“I am shocked by the disappearance of heritage houses from key heritage districts and their transfer to the Bataan shoreline.

“I am shocked that while the President speaks of heritage tourism as an anchor of the new Philippine economy, the very sites that anchor tourism in various towns and cities of the country have been rendered toothless by rapacity.

“I am shocked to recall Hidalgo Street when the Enriquez Mansion was still there, and shocked to see Hidalgo Street today, with the looming excrescence that replaced it [the Enriquez Mansion, founding location of the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts], without thought of setting the excrescence a few meters back toward the middle of the site, to preserve at least a modicum of the streetscape.

“I am shocked to [discover that] the Ordoveza Mansion [is] no longer [near] Majayjay Church [in Laguna].

FEW PHILIPPINE cities guard their special identities from deteriorating into generic cityscapes like Zamboanga does.

“I am shocked that the Jai Alai is gone.  I am shocked that after more than a decade, the lot [where it once stood remains] empty.

Indomitable Escolta

“I am shocked by the state of Taft Avenue in Pasay.  Once the enclave of well-designed abodes for the well-heeled, I am shocked that the stately homes have been demolished to make room for bus depots and talipapas.

“I am shocked by the decimation of New Manila, and shocked by the lack of creativity among architects and developers there who are unable to harness the existing structures to be part—one way or another—of the new development.

“I am shocked that [a television-media interviewer] puts ‘destroyed’ and ‘transformed’ in the same vein, not realizing the (saving) impact of the latter.  (‘We are trying to gather shocking stories po of heritage sites that are being sold and destroyed or transformed into a different thing.’)

“I am shocked that the house of Rizal’s mother [the Alberto House in Biñan, Laguna] was sold.

“I am surprised to see the passion that Escolta has elicited in the City of Manila.  I am surprised at how much affection the metropolis actually has for its former downtown.  I am genuinely touched by the perseverance and unassuming indomitability of the Escolta property owners.

CRUMBLING BANAUE. Once heritage goes, it never returns. The identity of a place vanishes.

“I am surprised to see more and more people realizing the importance of heritage conservation.

“I am surprised that the Tomas Mapúa House on Taft Avenue survives, by dint of will of the hardy Mapúa-Lim clan.  The same goes for the Pablo Antonio House in Pasay, by dint of will of Malu Veloso.

“I am surprised that the metropolis has its first heritage zone in Santa Ana.  I am impressed that in the same way that Manila was the fountainhead of the metropolis in the first place, Manila is the fountainhead of the metropolis’ second act.

“I am still amazed that the Heritage Bill—warts and all—is now a Republic Act [RA 10066, National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009].”

Ephemeral heritage


If there were to be a balance sheet for the state of heritage in the Philippines, it would most probably read that heritage in the Philippines is ephemeral: Here one day, gone the next.

Heritage that is here today is sometimes (usually) gone tomorrow, but for the upsurge of heritage enthusiasts and professionals who have begun to make a difference, rather than waiting for the government to act.

These private organizations and individuals, despite their commitment to conserving heritage, are often rendered ineffectual when pressured by development forces which ultimately come in to play.

Dialogue is needed.  Heritage designation does not mean a property cannot be developed.  However, financial expectations must change from the sky-being-the-limit in development to expectations closer to the ground, which are hopefully assisted with government incentives.

Until the dialogue and an understanding of the interconnectivity of heritage, development, government assistance and that elusive quality of national pride, is reached, we shall probably continue to lose our heritage, further diluting what remains today.

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  • Joie

    Agree.  Please check the Heritage Village in Vigan.  Been there two weeks ago and noticed the invasion of fastfood restos in sheep’s clothing. sayang!

    • mnlmad

       I think we as a nation has lost our sense of aesthetics. I read in many travel blogs comments about Manila ranging from “oppressive”, “ugly”, “chaotic” to “uninteresting”.
      Sad to say but I have to agree with them.
      BTW, do we have to change street names all the time? There should be a law
      prohibiting this practice.

  • dragz

    I totally agree with your “shocked” observations with the wanton disregard to edifices that shaped our childhood imaginations and helped us become appreciative of our surroundings. However, let me just point out that the1st photo in this article is not at all very ugly. I know the place. There never was any heritage bldg there. It used to be a gasoline station in the 70’s. I’m just curious how you got hold of that photo. 

  • MnlaBoy

    There might be a misconception that preserving the heritage buildings is having colonial mentality. Bahay Kubo after all is the epitome of “Original Pinoy”.

    Poor Bahay na Bato – they’re just left to there to rot for Horror movies.
    Can you imagine if Europeans adopt the same mentality?

  • Billy Reyes

    Very Sad.. its a damage culture, we don’t value history, our own music, arts. Kinahihiya natin ang sariling atin. Look at the quality of TV shows we have in the Philippines its all very shallow.

    A country with damage culture would never progress.
    Ang intamuros with full of squatter, pasig river, sta. cruz, plaza Miranda dapat heto ang City Center ng Manila as capital city with caffes & restaurants, cobble stones road like the European Cities. Dapat lamang na lamang tayo compare than other asian cities kung na preserve natin to..

  • babygo

    I am just an ordinary person, tell me how I can help.

    • cuban dude

      read nick joaquin’s manila my manila, if you haven’t yet. once we understand our heritage, we understand who we are and we see our environment as our extension. so we  don’t spit on the street. we don’t litter. we start to care.

  • Kat Palasi

    i think we need to sit down these LGUs and tell them how heritage is enriching economically/financially to a city, a certain location. that they will NOT lose in any way. we must introduce to them the idea of culture and love of country. LGUs do not get it. they would “develop” a place by welcoming a mall, a commercial high rise and forget the old streets, buildings and landmarks that make a city unique…I would like to say more but i too am shocked by the information stated in the article even if i have been aware of much of Manila’s fast deterioration…

  • Maykatmon

    Just imagine the city centers of Prague, Florence, Venice making way for modern structures, including stores, stalls. They make everything functional, you can find high end shops, like Prada, Gucci occupying the ground level of old houses in Venice and Florence, and government offices are housed in these heritage structures. In Prague, they are removing their asphalt roads placed by the Soviets and restoring their cobblestone laid streets. This is what tourists are looking for, finding a simple old town charm, something they are not used to, because of the rigors of city life. 

  • glittersmoke

    Ad in this vein, someone should give SM a nice big slap for ruining Baguio by putting that disgustingly ugly block of concrete which now, sadly, is a main focal point for Baguio at night. Some focal point. It stands as a monument of tastelessness and greed

  • hustlergalore

    filipinos of todays have no sense of arts and culture. look at how manila is now. it is dirty, ugly, cramped, smelly and commercialized. LOL

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