TEXT YAZHMIN MALAJITO

It’s disheartening that natural disasters aren’t the biggest threat to our country’s heritage sites anymore: it’s replaced by the pervasive wrecking balls ordered by big corporations, sometimes unconstitutional but still approved by local authorities, in the name of “urbanization.”

We have a law on heritage conservation called the Philippine Cultural Heritage Act or Republic Act 10066, but it’s hardly implemented. We have government officials we elected to manage over our country but care less about our nation and heritage. It’s a sad reality, but from here, unless those who are in power become cultural heritage literate, we’re just going to see more structures of rich history torn down.

If you’re wondering what significant structures are under threat today, here are seven of them.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Noted as the only all-steel church in the country, the San Sebastian Church may soon experience what the Rizal Monument does—get “photobombed” by a high-rise residential and commercial building.

In September last year, blogger Ivan Henares posted on Facebook about the possible “TORRErism.” Univercity Home Recto, he wrote, “will ruin the plans to have the San Sebastian Basilica inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.”

Although there are no laws that specifically ban the establishment of high-rise structures, conservation and heritage advocates argue that these constructions disparages heritage sites’ aesthetic qualities and most importantly, their dignity.

Photo courtesy of Shubert Ciencia via flickr.com

A Binondo-Intramuros bridge is set to be constructed soon, but heritage advocates oppose the plan as it will desecrate “several heritage sites, ongoing conservation efforts, and current and future tourism efforts,” writes the UNESCO.

One of the sites that will be affected is the San Agustin Church and its buffer zone. The others are Aduana Building, which used to house several government offices during the Spanish occupation, the American-era Chamber of Commerce Building, Ayuntamiento Building, and Plaza Mexico. All of them are in the walled-city of Intramuros.

Photo courtesy of Joel Vivero Rico

The Capitol Theater, designed by national artist Juan Nakpil, was demolished November last year to make way for a high-rise residential building. However, the pre-war art deco building’s facade was spared, as per the instruction of national cultural agencies.

But the facade, with its Francesco Monti bas reliefs, might soon meet the same demise as the developers of the high-rise structure claimed that they couldn’t fit construction equipment in the facade openings.

The heritage advocates, on the other hand, argue that the demolition isn’t necessary because the equipment could fit via two access points: via an empty lot beside the Capitol and via the empty city-owned Philippine National Bank lot, which is also right next door.

Photo by Argyl Leones

Built in 1949, Ramona Apartments was designed by Cesar H. Concio who also designed University of the Philippines Diliman’s Palma Hall and Melchor Hall, Baclaran Church, and the Insular Life Building in Makati among others. It used to be a luxurious apartment building, which housed Luz Gallery owned by national artist Arturo Luz and his mother, who was an interior designer, national artist Leandro V. Locsin’s office, Rene Knecht, and others.

It had a colorful past, but it seems like its time is up as it will be demolished to make way for a high-rise condominium.

Photo courtesy of Eduardo Davad via pixabay

The University of Santo Tomas (UST) is a National Historical Landmark housing four National Cultural Treasures: the 91-year-old Main Building, Arch of the Centuries, Central Seminary, and the university’s open spaces.

What’s possibly going to happen to San Sebastian Church and San Agustin Church has already been done to UST—towering condominiums have ruined the skyline of the  quaint university. As time goes by, we wouldn’t be surprised if skyscrapers multiply around the university.

Photo courtesy of Arlene Cejar

The Ides O’Racca building is an eerie yet stunning backdrop to the fruits and dry goods stalls in the Divisoria area. It was built in 1935 and used to be a base for the Japanese, barracks for the Americans, and soon, offices to some government agencies. It’s currently under the management of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

It’s been rumoured, for the past few years, that it’s in line for demolition to make way for a shopping mall.

Photo courtesy of Ana Baja Taga Maasin

The Maasin City Watchtower was set to be torn down in March to make way for school buildings of the St Joseph College. However, it was temporarily saved from demolition as the National Historical Commission of the Philippines intervened and cited that the watchtower is a presumed important cultural property, according to the National Heritage Law of 2009.

The 248-year-old watchtower was dedicated to San Carlos Borromeo. According to Inquirer.net, it is “one of at least two Spanish colonial edifices in the city.” It served as a lookout point against assailants during the Spanish colonial rule.

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