Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bulacan: Bulacan heritage groups react to imminent transfer of Mercado House

I have not seen the Bagac project personally. But from several friends in the Heritage Conservation Society, I was able to get the following: there are already about eight to ten heritage houses that have been transferred to the property in Bagac, Bataan. Many of them are reportedly from Bulacan. From Pampanga, there are two namely the Reyes House from Candaba, which was said to be the oldest and one of the grandest homes in Pampanga before it was transferred, and an unidentified house from Mexico. Also purchased was the Enriquez Mansion on Hidalgo Street, Quiapo which will be transferred soon.

Another home rumored to have been purchased is the Mercado House in Bustos, Bulacan which was ironically featured in the 2006 heritage homes calendar of Shell. Obviously, this house does not need to be “saved” and is best kept where it is standing right now.

Bustos, Bulacan has a very unique architectural style found nowhere else in the country. Because of its proximity to the forest and mountains, the Mercado House was built like a fortress. This unique type of 19th century house found only in Bustos is characterized by its all stone exterior since it was unlike the regular bahay na bato which was stone below and wood above. There are said to be about 2 to 3 of these houses left in Bustos and the Mercado House is arguably the best and grandest example of these.

It has carved stone corner pillars and carved stone garland and crucifix motifs in the entrance. The house also had peep holes for rifles to aim at tulisanes. The town thus has a different air and taking the house out would leave a large vacuum in the historical fabric of the community.

After hearing of the news, the Pamanang Bulacan Foundation immediately called for an emergency meeting of its Board of Directors. They have also alerted Governor Josie dela Cruz about these developments and we will get her response soon. I spoke with the chairman of the foundation who voiced out his strong opposition to the move. Maybe for the less-signifcant houses, it would not raise too much of an alarm. But for a house as prominent as the Mercado House in Bustos which is significant not only to the town but to the entire province of Bulacan, that is a different question. It just shows that when you go around shopping for the best examples of Philippine heritage and uproot them from their communities, a lot of ethical questions arise.

The problem is the fact that the purchases are sometimes kept from the local community, especially the local heritage foundations. And thus, they are caught off guard. When they find out, it is already too late. Watch out Bulacan since they're also after the Constantino House in Balagtas (Bigaa).

On the Bagac property, it was also discovered that there are many issues regarding the location and there is a large possibility that transferring them may do more harm than good in the long-term. First, no lime plaster was used to protect the stones. And given that the houses were reconstructed right beside the sea, the strong winds could easily wear out and weather the delicate adobe. The air will also cause salt encrustation on the stone which would lead to the disintegration of the adobe. Damage to the adobe would thus be faster because of its location by the sea.

Second issue is the fact that the person tasked with reconstructing the homes is not a trained restoration architect. As a result, the reassembling of the houses is not correct, proportions are wrong, unnecessary embellishments were added, and the setting is just not right so houses look funny and out of context. The way the “town” is laid-out does not follow any Spanish colonial tradition in the Philippines and is not authentic to any period of our history.

Some homes are from urban areas where in the natural setting, they are supposed to stand side-by-side and close to the street. One example is a house from Binondo which is a row house. It is funny to see a row house without the row and even a garden in front!

Issues of flooding also came out. The houses should have been reconstructed further inland. It is reported that the Bagac Church which is already one kilometer inland is still reached by flood waters especially when the waves are high. Moreover, we all remember the West Luzon Fault which became news when the issue of the safety of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in neighboring Morong was raised. Thus, the proximity of Bagac to a faultline makes the property prone to earthquakes and more so, because of its seaside location, to tsunamis.

Again, we repeat our call for a moratorium on this project until it is discussed in length in the proper forum.

OT: Congratulations to Manny Pacquiao on his victory! Thank you for lifting up the spirits of the Filipino nation. But Santa Banana! I will have to agree with Emil Jurado on his spending and gambling spree. As he writes "somebody like Pacquiao who is idolized by millions of Filipinos also has an obligation not to indulge in conspicuous consumption while millions languish in poverty." Check out the full column here.

Photo credits: Philippine Ancestral Houses (by Fernando N. Zialcita, et al)
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