Albay’s heritage saving efforts highlight observance of Heritage Month

The Inbox

By Pablo A. Tariman, VERA Files

The fate of historic El Hogar Building in Binondo, the few remaining months of Philamlife Theater, the nomination of Cagsawa Ruins in the UNESCO heritage list are just some of heritage subjects that come to mind as the country observes National Heritage Month with assorted programs all over the country.

Facing eminent demolition is the El Hogar Building built in 1914 and certainly one of the eminent financial buildings that symbolized architectural beauty during its time. Conservation experts noted that the building was conceptualized by one Antonio Melian and was built as a wedding gift for the union of a Zobel daughter and a Peruvian count. It is described as a “beautiful beaux-arts building” and “having combined some Romanesque features”

Also endangered of being erased from Manila’s cultural map is the 780-seater Philamlife Theater sold last year to SM Development Corporation. Theater was built by Bolt, Beranek & Newman, which also did the acoustics of the Sydney Opera House, United Nations Assembly Hall in New York, Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, Cultural Center of the Philippines and Baltimore's Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

The Philamlife building was designed by Filipino architect Carlos Arguelles and built in 1961 and has since then associated with first-rate performances of pianist Cecile Licad, tenor Otoniel Gonzaga, Italian opera icon Renata Tebaldi and American mezzo Marian Anderson. The idea of the theatre being turned into a shopping mall has alarmed the classical music community. PPO’s music director Olivier Ochanine has launched an online petition asking the theater’s new owner to spare the auditorium.

Heritage consciousness month opened last March 31 with the 493rd commemoration of the first mass in the Philippines in Limasawa, Southern Leyte.

The Bicol celebration started opened last May 1 at the Daraga Church in Albay with related observance in Masbate and Sorsogon now part of the tourism triangle of ALMASOR.

Present were Gov. Salceda, Legaspi Mayor Noel Rosal, Daraga Mayor Gerry Jaucian and NCCA chair Felipe Padilla de Leon, Jr. and NCCA Commissioner Fr. Harold Rentoria, OSA.

The NCCA borrowed the Ilocano word for heritage “Taoid” as the centerfold of the nation-wide celebration and subsequent events all over the country have been referred to as the “Pamanang Pinoy Taoid 2014.”

As part of the celebration, the NCCA cultural heritage committee said it will conduct extensive assessment of different cultural properties and institutions of Daraga, Legazpi City, Sorsogon, and Masbate City such as museums, historical markers, heritage houses, artist organizations and galleries, libraries, and the Cagsawa Ruin.

The observance of Heritage Month was mandated by Proclamation No. 439, signed on Aug. 11, 2003, declaring the month of May as National Heritage Month (NHM) “in recognition of the need to create among the people a consciousness, respect, and pride for the legacies of Filipino cultural history, and love of country.” In 2009, the government formally made heritage conservation a legal mandate, by ratifying and implementing Republic Act 10066 or the National Heritage Act of 2009, empowering NCCA and its affiliated agencies in their policy-making and implementation of conservation programs.

Like it or not, Albay may rank as number one in the promotion of its heritage sites the most famous of which is the Cagsawa Church Ruins which has been nominated as a cultural heritage site with UNESCO.

Salceda said that if the Cagsawa Ruins nomination is validated, it will join the five World Heritage Sites of UNESCO in the Philippines like the Banaue Rice Terraces, Vigan Old Houses, Tubbataha Reef, Baroque Churches and Underground River of Palawan.

Earlier, the province has earlier set aside some P35 million for the protection and preservation of its vast cultural heritage sites.

Albay Governor Joey Salceda said the destruction of heritage sites in Bohol and Cebu caused by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake and the remaining ones in Samar and Leyte caused by Typhoon Yolanda are to him the biggest lessons on how to conserve historic heritage sites.

Salceda said the destruction of heritage site in the Visayas is the basis for the P35 million outlay for the protection of Albay’s century old churches and sites.

“This initial amount is our initial investment in cultural heritage preservation which started last year. These cultural assets provide the empirical, tangible and qualitative basis for uniqueness, ethnicity and pride of a place and more so, they are our comparative advantage for attracting tourists, investors and traders,” Salceda said.

Apart from the Cagsawa ruins and its Iglesia, Casa Real and Ayuntamiento; the other heritage sites in the province include the Porteria Church on top of a hill in Daraga town; the Sinimbahanan Ruins in Tiwi town ; the Convento Ruins in Malinao; the Tabaco Church in Tabaco City; the ancestral house of writer-poet Angela Manalang Gloria in Tabaco City; the Bacacay Ruins in Bacacay; the double belfry church of Santo Domingo; the Budiao Ruins in Daraga; the colonial houses of Daraga and Camalig; the Camalig Church; the Oas Church; the Colegio de San Buenaventura in Guinobatan; the Gen. Simeon Ola Museum; the Cathedral de San Gregorio Magno in Albay District, Legazpi City; and, the Nuestra Senora de Salvacion in Joroan, Tiwi town.

In his message to the NCCA Taoid program in Daraga town, Salceda said heritage conservation has been the focus of the yearly Daragang Magayon Festival with its revivals of Bicol dance, poetry and music and the preservation of Albay’s culinary heritage.

In the same manner, the festival’s spirit of Daragang Magayon has enabled the province to preserve the spirit of constant kindness. “This spirit helps us focus on the positive and that is the reason we are the first to respond to victims of Typhoon Yolanda through our Team Albay which has helped other provinces equally in distress from the flood victims of Marikina to the earthquake victims of Leyte and Bohol, the typhoon victims of Davao del Sur to the cholera victims of Catanduanes.”

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)