The National Committee on Monuments and Sites (NCMS) of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) has expressed its opposition to the controversial Binondo-Intramuros Bridge project, saying it violates a number of Philippine laws.
NCMS is composed of experts in architecture and heritage conservation policies and laws. It is headed by architect Reynaldo Lita from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
NCMS submitted a position paper to the NCCA Board of Commissioners last October, but so far, NCCA has not issued a cease-and-desist order to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which will construct the bridge said to be funded by Beijing.
NCMS said the bridge would encroach on the buffer zone of San Agustin Church in Intramuros.
The buffer zone is a requirement under the rules that the Philippine government had supposedly subscribed to when the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) declared it a World Heritage Site along with three other Spanish-era Baroque churches—Paoay in Ilocos Norte, Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur, and Miag-ao in Iloilo.
If the buffer-zone requirement is violated, San Agustin and the three other churches will be dropped from the prestigious Unesco list, NCMS has warned.
The construction as well would violate Philippine laws such as Republic Act No. 10066, the National Heritage Law of 2009, and the earlier Presidential Decree No. 1616 of 1979, which created the Intramuros Administration (IA).
“Intramuros is a Grade 1 site that deserves the full and unwavering protection of the State as it is a National Cultural Treasure (NCT) and it forms the buffer zone for the San Agustin Church and Monastery which is a part of the World Heritage Property Baroque Churches of the Philippines,” it said.
In PD No. 1616, NCMS pointed out, the buffer zone for San Agustin was part of the statutory protection of the Walled City. This was reaffirmed in the 2014 declaration by the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) of Intramuros as an NCT based on RA No. 10066.
Under Section 30 of the same law, any infrastructure project should obtain first an Environmental Impact Assessment, which should include anthropological, archaeological, historical and heritage site conservation concerns.
“The NCMS has not received copies of any impact assessments, considering the site which is in the mouth of the Pasig River and is one of the richest archaeological sites in the Philippines given its continued habitation from the 15th century,” it said.
Furthermore, NCMS said PD No. 1616 and its implementing rules and regulations state that the 1891 urban scale of Intramuros shall be observed.
“The Western ramp of the bridge which links it to Soriano Street will be built a few meters from the Intendencia building, which will permanently alter its scale and setting,” NCMS said. “It will also effectively cut the access from Intendencia to Maestranza and disrupt the very urban layout that PD1616 protects.”
NCMS added the 19th century Puente de General Blanco and the historic Estero de Binondo will be affected.
“It is because of these that the NCMS reiterates its plea to the NCCA BOC (Board of Commissioners) to consider all means to halt the ongoing construction of the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge,” it said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has filed Senate Resolution 944 urging an inquiry on the controversial bridge project, which giant billboards around the Pasig river put up by the Department of Public Works and Highways said would be funded by the Chinese government.
The Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture was directed to conduct the inquiry.
In the resolution, Drilon said Unesco heritage sites and NCS should be “subject to the highest standards of conservation and management in order to ensure the safeguarding and sustainability of its outstanding universal value over time.”
He said the inquiry would aid in the “crafting (of) remedial legislation for the proper conservation and preservation of our National Cultural Treasures (NCT) and World Heritage Sites.”
Meanwhile, a meeting was held at the Biblioteca de San Agustin inside the San Agustin Church complex last Nov. 21.
Organized by the Augustinian friars, the meeting was attended by ecclesiastical heads of the Baroque churches, and representatives from the NCCA, NHCP, NMP, IA and Kaisa Heritage Foundation, a Chinese-Filipino group.
Augustinian regional vicar Fr. Peter Casiño, who convened the meeting, said participants agreed not to disclose to the press what happened. –CONTRIBUTED