Thursday, November 16, 2006

Pampanga: Pio Chapel and the ethics of transferring heritage structures

It's time to post again about my Philippine travels. Today, I visited Porac, one of the towns of Pampanga. Although Porac is more known for its natural sites such as Dara and Miyamit Falls as well as the Porac Highlands, it also plays host to some of Pampanga's important cultural heritage structures. One of these is the last intact (meaning unrenovated) hacienda chapel in the province which is located in Barangay Pio.

I have been to Pio several times before but we decided to visit today after it had been rumored that someone had purchased the chapel and will be transferring it to Bagac, Bataan! To give you a backgrounder on the Bagac project, check out this PDI column. As a result of the news, the Pio Chapel is fast becoming a rallying point for Pampanga in the fight to preserve its heritage and is now sparking a debate on the ethics of transferring heritage houses and structures.

Heritage structures must remain where they are because they are part of the historical fabric of the communities they are located in. There may be some cases however when transferring a heritage structure may be better than leaving a structure where it is, especially when it is highly likely that the structure will be lost or demolished in the near future.

But, when you go shopping for heritage houses and structures, especially in places where they are an important part of the historical fabric of the community, is that right? I was told that many of the houses were purchased from Bulacan, including one from the heritage town of San Miguel de Mayumu (which now serves as the house of Bishop Soc Villegas) and another house in Bustos which was ironically featured in the heritage house calendar of Shell. I wonder if Governor Josie dela Cruz knows about this.

In Pampanga, the grand old Reyes House of Candaba, which was the oldest surviving house in the province and the house where Noli Me Tangere was shot several decades back, is now in Bagac. News circulating is that Mayor Jerry Pelayo is not happy and is making moves to protect what is left.

We got to chat with the parish pastoral council president and a barangay kagawad while we were in Pio. Mass is said at the chapel every Saturday at 5 p.m. It was built in 1861 as part of the hacienda founded by Don Felino Gil (who also founded the Escuela de Artes y Oficios, the oldest trade school in Asia, which is now DHVCAT) and his wife Dona Eugenia Toledo. Their descendants include actress Rosemarie Gil. But the property is no longer theirs since it was sold to someone from Bulacan who was said to have donated the chapel to the local community.

We were told that the Gils visited several times to cart off the antique furniture and artifacts inside their hacienda house and chapel. Nothing was spared including the piedra china flooring around the chapel and the house. The most infamous of these visits was in the 1980s when actor Dante Varona, who accompanied them, climbed the belfry of the chapel hoping to get the centuries-old bell. He was mobbed by the local community and they were chased away with tabak, an agricultural-based cutting bolo.

The chapel is very important to Pampanga because as I mentioned earlier, it is the only intact visita in the entire province of Pampanga. Aside from that, it is a circular chapel built during the Spanish colonial period, pre-dating the UP Chapel (which some claim to be the first circular church in the country) by 145 years!

The people of Barangay Pio in Porac are now up in arms after word reached them that their chapel was reportedly sold by a still unknown person and would be transferred to Bagac soon. The municipal government and the local community are now vigilantly guarding the chapel. And if and when the demolition crew comes to get it, they said they will protect it with their lives. Quoting them, "They could not even get the bell, what more the entire chapel!"

Now with that situation, is it still ethical to transfer a heritage structure to someone's private property? And even more so when news is going around that the structure is being transferred to serve as a decoration for their daughter's debut?

A moratorium on this Bagac project should be done until further studies are done on the location in particular since there are a lot of issues on the safety of the houses being built so close to the sea, and until the heritage community has fully digested this unusual project and threshed out the ethics of transferring heritage structures. Again, heritage structures are best kept where they are so that they are appreciated in the proper context vis-à-vis the environment they are built in.

Actively shopping for heritage houses for use as scrap material for homes or transferring them whole, and even worse, using coffee table books featuring heritage homes as shopping catalogues is simply detestable. The best way to save a heritage house is by educating the local community about the value of a heritage house, the significance of its architecture or former inhabitants to the local community, and its potential as a symbol for the community to strengthen local identity and pride of place.

Photo credits: Tonette T. Orejas (2nd, 3rd and 5th photo)


  1. Anonymous19.11.06

    This is a very interesting issue -- when a heritage structure should be transferred versus when it should be left in its original location. I have heard of that "heritage village" in Bagac, Bataan and while the idea fascinates me, it also seems a bit eerie and surreal to realize that all these heritage structures from all over the country are slowly disappearing and being scooped up for relocation there.

    There is at least one grand old mansion in my hometown, Malolos, that will eventually have to be relocated because of a much-needed road-widening project. (See .) I just hope that this too does not wind up in Bagac -- save some for us!

    It's time we came up with guiding principles to help us navigate through unavoidable issues like this one.

  2. First time I heard about transfering a heritage structure...
    Quite crazy idea if you ask me.
    Who wants to buy the Eiffel Tower next? ;-)

  3. Hi Leo, where in Malolos is the house? Remember that the "Malolos Heritage Town" was declared a National Historical Landmark. Therefore, no street widening can cause its relocation.

    In my opinion, unless something like Abu Simbel will be happening, there is no justification to relocate a heritage structure.

    Hi Sidney, yes I agree. It's a crazy project that only satisfies the whims and caprices of some rich people who try to justify their moves by saying they are saving the structures!

    The best way to save a structure is to educate the local community about its significance and the need to preserve it as a symbol of the community, to strengthen local identity and pride of place.

  4. Anonymous19.11.06

    Hi, Ivan. The Lino Reyes House is on F. Estrella Street, right across the side entrance of the Malolos Cathedral. I think the plan is to substantially widen F. Estrella Street. But if, as you say, Malolos has already been declared a "heritage town" and a National Historical Landmark (I didn't even know that!) so that no heritage structures can be moved, then that changes everything completely.

    How do we obtain more information about this, so that we Maloleños may become more aware?

  5. You can check with the NHI. Make sure to inform them of the plan of DPWH I presume, since the NHI is the agency tasked to protect the declared area of Malolos.

    On your part, be vigilant. The law, particularly PD 1505, is on your side.

  6. Anonymous4.12.06

    Looks like the dome has been preserved as it was before. I wonder if the the domes of Santa Cruz and La Loma Chapel looked like this before the war ? The chapel still has the azulejo tiles and the tombstones. This should really be preserved at its original site.

  7. Anonymous4.12.06

    The dome of the Sta. Cruz church as well as the church was destroyed during the the Second World War. I believe only some part of the walls where left. The present La Loma church dome looks different from the old photos of the church.

  8. Anonymous9.12.06

    Hi Ivan,

    I don't like the idea of a heritage structures being relocated.

    There is something very '1984' about taking something that's been in a community for 50, 100 years and moving it without good cause.

    Original is best when it comes to restoring a heritage structure. I think that goes double for original location unless there is an urgent reason for a move.

    Heritage structures almost have a life of their own and are important anchors for community identify and pride.

    Plunking heritage structures out of a community is like ripping apart the community's collective soul. It's a loss and it hurts everyone.

    I hope that never happens in my hometown of Carcar, Cebu. What is Carcar without our Dispensary, Rotunda and heritage houses.

  9. Hi Jerry! I agree with you one hundred percent!

  10. Anonymous22.12.06

    My name is Maria Isabel Gil Dimando, daughter of Dona Dolores Gil, and sister of Rose Marie Gil. I live in San Antonio, Texas USA. We were informed of the situation concerning our family property, the Chapel in Pio, Porac Pampanga. I have read the article on you blog and I am outraged that "persons" think they have the right to claim and sell property that legally belongs to my family for many generations. I would appreciate your assistance and cooperation for you to contact me via email or telephone <->.

  11. Hi Ms. Maria Isabel Gil Dimando, this is Reggie Rubi Tiongson. I am the grandaughter of Federico Rubi, known to your family as Apong Dikong. Just like your family, I also have the same concern about the Pio Chapel. My family roots from this place and I think a stranger from this place cannot just relocate a structure without the consent of the people who live there. Maybe you and your family and the other wealthy family of Pio should work together to restore its beauty and preserve what was left of the chapel.

  12. omg,i used to go there when i was young. i hope they'll preserve it!hi Reggie Rubi Tiongson. so you're a rubi from pio? am i somehow related to you? because my family is also rubi from pio.

  13. Anonymous5.5.08

    Hi Maridol! Well, if your mother's name is Doly and you're Liza's sister, I think we're cousins. My relatives stays in Pio and my family are here in manila. Please email me at

  14. Anonymous2.6.08

    Kawawang Pinas. we really are and have always been an oppressed pipol since time immemorial. api sa mundo. api sa at ng mga dayuhan, ng mga colonizers, ng mga mayayaman at mayayabang.

    weder weder lang. folly of follies, vanity of vanities. will these guys never learn? their unquenchable desire for fame, honor, prestige, acquisitions will someday wind up in the dustbin of oblivion. why cant these pipol just donate their excess wealth to some worthy causes?

  15. Anonymous23.10.11

    Such a sad news to hear but it is happening everywhere. well... C'est la vie! blame the agrarian reform.

  16. Anonymous8.12.12

    Hi, I'm currently doing a genealogical project on the Claverias of Buhi, Camarines Sur and their relatives by blood or by marriage. My research may be found at

    I saw a comment from Ms. Maria Isabel Gil Dimando here almost 6 years ago, I'm hoping she reads this in the hopes of finding a lead a Dolores Gil in our database, married to Don Roberto Toledo II of Pampanga. Roberto Toledo II son of Don Roberto Toledo of Valencia, Spain.

    I maybe contacted through e-mail - karl @ karlclaveria . com


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