Monday, July 23, 2007

Manila: Heritage updates from Manila

So much has happened the past few days. I've been so busy with work, school and all my organizations. Anyway, here's a run-down of some developments in the news:

1. Rizal Avenue old-timers welcome reopening (Phil. Daily Inquirer, 07/19/2007)
Many people have been asking about the stand of the Heritage Conservation Society regarding the reopening of the pedestrianized portion of Avenida to vehicular traffic. In all honesty, HCS does not have a stand as of yet. And admittedly, many in the HCS Board had not seen the pedestrianized Avenida for us to say something about it. So we asked Archt. Dinky von Einsiedel for his comments, he being the urban planner in the HCS Board. Here is what he said:

"I was still living abroad when I learned of the pedestrianization of Rizal Avenue. Since that time, I have been trying to get a copy of the study that led to the 'Buhayin and Maynila' program of Mayor Atienza which the Rizal Avenue project is supposed to be part of. I've been wanting to understand the background for it and whether there had been any stakeholder consultations for it. But I have not had any success. It appears that there has been no such study. And that there has been no consultation either.

"The concept and practice of pedestrianization is well-entrenched in other cities in Europe, USA, and in more recently even in China. Its a popular approach for inner city revitalization. I assumed the Rizal Avenue case had the same set of objectives. But it seems that it was purely a beautification effort. Concededly, the construction of the LRT 'killed' businesses along the avenue especially during construction. After it was completed, the structure made the avenue dark and, while business resumed, it was not as brisk as before. I interpret this to be the reason for the need to beautify the area - to make it more pleasant for shoppers. I thought it did a good job, at least when I saw it after it was inaugurated.

"But I learned later how the project was decided. The story was narrated to me by the contractor who undertook the beautification works. They were driving down Rizal Avenue one day and Atienza asked his advice on what can be done to beautify the avenue. He suggested to pedestrianize it, put in benches and plants, beautify the columns and put in lights to brighten up the underside of the LRT structure. He added that he had a lot of leftover materials from his other projects that could be used immediately. Atienza agreed and the project proceeded.

"I understand the Baywalk was similarly decided like that, as well as other projects under the 'Buhayin ang Maynila' program. There has been no comprehensive study, no plan, no consultation, nothing; just pure and simple impulsive decisions on a project-to-project basis. That's why it's prone to be derailed especially when the principal stakeholders (e.g. business owners) don't support the idea."

2. Court issues TRO stopping work on Intramuros project (Phil. Daily Inquirer, 07/20/2007)
Kudos to Secretary Joseph Durano for seeking a TRO versus Dean Barbers' illegal project in Intramuros! As the article notes: "The court said Barbers had violated the provisions of Presidential Decree No. 1616, as amended, and its implementing rules that prohibit any form of construction or repair in Intramuros without a development permit from the IA. The decree declares the entire Intramuros area as a major historical landmark."

3. Demolition of condemned Manila buildings sought (Phil. Daily Inquirer, 07/21/2007)
The Sangguniang Panlungsod of Manila passed a resolution calling for the demolition of all condemned buildings and infrastructure in the city. At face value, the resolution seems to be the right thing to do. But the problem is, many heritage buildings were inappropriately condemned by the Manila City Engineer's Office which has no appreciation whatsoever for heritage.

As Prof. Butch Zialcita mentions: "I'm afraid that the list will include [heritage] buildings. Right beside the Nakpil house is the beautiful but dilapidated Boix House which the Jesuits have inherited. City Hall engineers claim this is unsafe. But Archt. Mico Manalo, who inspected it, says it is perfectly sound except for the azotea. I am quite sure they have included other 1900s houses in Manila. Their engineers are ignorant about or are prejudiced against earlier types of buildings."

He adds, "Tourism on the North Bank of the Pasig has increased thanks precisely to these antique, but dilapidated, buildings. Carlos Celdran, Ivan Mandy, Tess Obusan and myself bring tourists (both local and foreign) around the old quarters of Manila. Regularly, members of the different embassies, French and Spanish, for instance, call us up because they want to see these 'dilapidated' but charming houses."

It would be a great loss to the City of Manila if these dilapidated heritage buildings are included in the call for demolition. It would be best if Manila restores these charming old buildings, just as other capital cities all over the world are doing.

4. Arroceros Forest Park regained (The Manila Times, 07/06/2007)
Arroceros welcomes visitors again! As Maribel Ongpin writes in her column, "For the Winner Foundation and its friends among the general public, the reopening and taking back of Arroceros Forest Park under the newly elected city administration was a bittersweet experience last Sunday, July 1. That justice has prevailed and that the public has its park back is indeed a sweet vindication of all their work and the vicissitudes they had to put up with in the past. But the changed circumstances of the park of 2.2 hectares which lost approximately 70 percent of its forest cover (as estimated by its landscape architect) to a building and a travesty of a garden was woeful."

She adds, "In this whole sorry business Mayor Atienza was the mastermind but the teachers who played the flunkeys are just as guilty for the carried out their deeds for self-serving reasons. 'There are no tyrants where there are no slaves' as Rizal acutely and sadly observed of some of his countrymen. Now the Winner Foundation picks up the pieces and moves to the future even as it rebuilds what was destroyed."

5. Resistance growing vs Atienza as DENR chief (Phil. Daily Inquirer, 07/20/2007)
After reading Maribel Ongpin's column, need we ask why? The "Butcher of Arroceros" is now DENR Secretary. Oh brother!

6. Adopt a lighthouse (Phil. Daily Inquirer, 07/23/2007)
According to Archt. Toti Villalon, there are "21 surviving Philippine lighthouses located in the deserted extremes of the Philippine archipelago, all rendered obsolete by 21st-century satellite or sonar navigational system." The answer of the Philippine Coast Guard to preserve them is the 'Adopt a Lighthouse' program.

As Villalon notes, "The Philippine lighthouses are Bagacay in Cebu; Bagato, Sorsogon; Batag, Northern Samar; Bugui Point, Masbate; Cabra, Mindoro Occidental; Calabasa, Iloilo; Canigao, Leyte; Cape Bojeador, Ilocos Norte; Cape Bolinao, Pangasinan; Corregidor, Manila; Cape EngaƱo, Cagayan; Melville, Palawan; Cape Santiago, Batangas; Capones, Zambales; Capul, Northern Samar; Donsol, Sorsogon; Jintotolo, Masbate; Malabrigo, Batangas; Pasig River, Manila; San Bernardino, Sorsogon; and Siete Pecados, Guimaras." Care to adopt one?

7. Pasig River runs through them (Philippine Star, 07/21/2007)
Paolo Alcazaren writes, "The Intramuros, or the walled city of Manila, is a national (and Asian) heritage site that was almost lost to the ravages of war and the post-war invasion of informal settlers. It has been slowly recovering its fabric in the ‘70s to today, hanging on desperately despite recurring threats from commercialization.

"Today, another threat is emerging, actually already rising in concrete and steel — a sports complex by the storied walls of Old Manila! The monstrous encroachment is reportedly the project of Dean Barbers, Philippine Tourism Authority general manager. Costing P85 million, the complex is being built in the Club Intramuros driving range area (itself already a blight on the landscape) and very close to the walls. The project, say sources, was rammed through despite the disapproval of the PTA board. How GM Barbers was able to do this seems incomprehensible to everyone but the contractor and workers at the construction site. Even the Intramuros Administration has issued an order for the work to stop but to no avail.

"Tourism Secretary Ace Durano apparently also seems powerless to prevent the disaster from happening. He had reportedly sent a memo to Barbers to stop construction, reminding Barbers that the project has no approval from the PTA board.

"I wish the P85 million had been spent on improving the parks and plazas of the Intramuros. The money could also go a long way to make the destination friendlier to local and foreign tourists by providing better street lighting, more security, an ikot type hop-on, hop-off shuttle inside the walls, or simply contribute to the whole areas upkeep, garbage collection and general maintenance.

"The DOT, to which the PTA is supposedly attached, has to act now or take command responsibility for this madness. The metropolis is replete with sports complexes and, correct me if I’m wrong, building these facilities is not a core function of a tourism body. Otherwise, it should be renamed the DOST, the Department of Sports and Tourism and its adjunct office, the PSTA, the Philippine Sports and Tourism Authority.

"Wow, only in da Pilipins!"

8. Mayor Lim creates Manila Historical and Heritage Commission
This is not yet in the news but I'm happy to announce that Mayor Alfredo Lim revived the Manila Historical Commission and renamed it Manila Historical and Heritage Commission. Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil will serve as chairperson. I'll send updates as soon as the group convenes. Kudos to Mayor Lim!

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