Citing the “massive negative impacts” it will create on the historic districts of Binondo and Intramuros, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) Philippines expressed its opposition to the planned Binondo-Intramuros Bridge, which is part of the “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program of the Duterte administration.
Icomos is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) advisory body on its World Heritage Committee, which inscribes sites to the prestigious World Heritage List.
The four-lane, 734-meter bridge, which will reportedly be funded by China, will span the Pasig River, connecting San Fernando Street in Binondo and Solano Street in Intramuros.
“Icomos Philippines strongly discourages the construction of a vehicular bridge between Intramuros and Binondo due of its anticipated negative impact on several heritage sites, ongoing conservation efforts and current and future tourism efforts,” Icomos said.
It cited the case of Loboc, Bohol, where a bridge was constructed that threatened to demolish the ancient San Pedro Church. The project was abandoned due to protests and the bridge has become an eyesore and a lesson on poor planning and government infrastructure greed and corruption.
Icomos stressed that “proper heritage, environmental and archaeological impact assessments must be conducted prior to the commencement of any work.”
Icomos Philippines said it has conducted an heritage impact assessment on the proposed project and identified sites and structures which could be affected.
In Intramuros, to be affected are Intendencia or Aduana Building, which will likely be affected by piling given its soft foundation, Ayuntamiento Building, American-era Chamber of Commerce Building and Plaza Mexico, with its monuments of the Legazpi expedition and Mexican president Adolfo Mateos.
In Binondo, the sites to be affected included the historic Estero de Binondo, which will be covered over by the bridge, and Puente de San Fernando or Puente Blanco, which will be demolished to give way to the project.
“The resulting noise, fumes, blocked views and potential dangers to pedestrians will diminish tourist experience, restrict their movement and lessen (the) tourist income potential” of Intramuros, Icomos said. The project will endanger the remaining heritage houses in Binondo, particularly in San Nicolas, and result in “massive traffic jams.”
San Agustin Church
Icomos Philippines also contended that the ramps of the bridge on the Intramuros side would affect the buffer zone of the San Agustin Church and Monastery, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
“While it may be remote, there is a possibility that Unesco itself may raise concerns about the proposed bridge,” the group said.
Icomos added the proposed bridge may negatively affect Intramuros’ chances of becoming a World Heritage Site given that it has been nominated by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). It cited the case of the Waldschlösschen Bridge in Dresden, Germany, which resulted in the delistment of the City of Dresden in the World Heritage List in 2009.
It added that the bridge would cut through where the original walls in the Maestranza area once stood, impeding the reconstruction of the walls demolished during the American period. The reconstruction would allow easy access of goods from the Pasig River.
“A well-designed, state-of-the-art pedestrian-only bridge which will reduce the negative impacts” to both districts has been suggested by the organization as an alternative to the vehicular bridge.
In this case, there is no need to demolish heritage structures plus it will have a minimal impact on San Agustin’s buffer zone, Icomos explained.
The pedestrian bridge can also be a conduit for heritage interpretation and exhibitions, which will foster and promote understanding between the Philippines and China, it added.
Meanwhile, the Heritage Conservation Society also opposed the project with its president, Mark Evidente, saying “it’s another issue of settings.” He did not elaborate.
Another heritage group, Advocates for Heritage Preservation (AHP), did not oppose the construction of the bridge but said it should properly fuse with the Spanish colonial appearance of Intramuros.
AHP chair Tito Encarnacion said that “while we are glad for the new bridge, which will connect the two historic places, the design of the bridge should blend with the overall look of Old Manila.”
“The proposed design is too modern for the place,” he added. —CONTRIBUTED