Blatant disregard for heritage continues among real estate developers, as evidenced by the ongoing demolition of the Capitol Theater in Escolta. In 2020, most of the pre-war art deco building was demolished, with only the tower retained and set to be part of a new high-rise building that will be constructed on the theater’s old site.
However, the destruction of the theater’s remnants continues today.
Heritage advocacy group Renacimiento Manila posted today on its Facebook page a video of ongoing demolition of the remaining facade.
This demolition continues despite instructions from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), and National Museum to preserve the said feature.
NCCA issued a cease-and-desist order on the demolition today, according to Renacimiento Manila. The order comes after NCCA found that the developer had violated “Section 48 (A) of Republic Act No. 10066,” or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.
The aforementioned section states that anyone who “destroys, demolishes, mutilates, or damages any world heritage site, national cultural treasures, important cultural property, and archaeological and anthropological sites,” violates the heritage law.
The art deco Capitol Theater, designed by the first National Artist for Architecture Juan Nakpil in the 1930s, features a facade with bas-relief sculptures. Formerly believed to have been designed by Italian sculptor Francesco Monti, the bas-relief sculptures were found to have been designed by artist Severino C. Fabie, according to Stephen Pamorada of The Heritage Collective. Fabie also designed several sculptures of muses that used to be located at the old theater’s lobby.
Crimes against heritage and history
When considered alongside the enduring attacks on our history, it’s alarming how, as Renacimiento Manila puts it, “we don’t care about our heritage,” too.
In 2020, it was reported that NHCP received cuts to their 2021 budget, which was supposed to be allocated for heritage site restoration. While the budget was reallocated into a higher priority (the government’s pandemic response, the efficiency of which is subject to much contention, too), it begs to note: Heritage is not a priority.
It’s disheartening to see heritage structures—ones that used to define Manila’s landscape—be reduced to rubble in exchange for “faceless” urban buildings. And when we’ve seen what restoration can do and how people can still appreciate and enjoy the architecture and structures of decades past, it becomes even more frustrating to see these landmarks be given up.
Aside from the Capitol Theater, other heritage sites that have suffered demolition, disrepair, and neglect include the Hospicio de San Jose, the Manila Port Terminal, and Manila’s San Nicolas district.
We still have many sites that have been part of our rich history, but their value has been diminished through time and lack of care.