The Case of the Ayuntamiento: A Costly “Restoration”?

Recently, the Urban Roamer came across an interesting news item through one of Facebook groups dealing with Philippine heritage news and issues. The news item was actually part of a series of reports broadcasted on CNN Philippines last February that talked about the “restoration” of the old Ayuntamiento de Manila building to become the new home of the Bureau of the Treasury.

It would have been an interesting read, had not it been for the maliciously anti-heritage slant put forth by the report of Fiona Nicolas, which put the restoration as “costly” and that the Php 1.188B spent on this project would have been better spent elsewhere like poverty alleviations, housing, the usual stuff. As you can see, I am flustered and irritated with such commentaries. So let me devote space here to enlighten the people with the matters at hand.

First things first, the work that was done to the Ayuntamiento was not actually a “restoration.” Restoration involves fixing many elements of an edifice which is otherwise still intact as a structure. The work being done at the Malate Church and soon at the Metropolitan Theater qualifies as restoration.

Ayuntamiento reconstruction work, 2011

In the case of the Ayuntamiento, what was done here was a “reconstruction.” There was no Ayuntamiento building to restore of for 50-some years after its destruction in World War II except for hollowed-out facade which otherwise meant nothing. In fact, during those 50-some years, the hollowed space of the former interiors of the building was used as parking lot, I think even a basketball court too a few times. Thus, when the plan was set to revive the Ayuntamiento, it was to be built from the ground up: the interiors, the roofing, and other details, making sure they conformed to what the Ayuntamiento looked like before it was destroyed during the war. In a way, it was like building a structure anew, and we know how more expensive it is compared to just a “restoration.”

The Marble Hall inside the Ayuntamiento (courtesy of CNN Philippines)

Secondly, what we are talking here is an important heritage structure. This is the Ayuntamiento we’re talking about, the old city hall of Manila during the Spanish colonial era, the first home of the American military governor of the Philippines, the first home of the Philippine legislature, one of the first offices of what is now the Department of Justice, as well as that of the Supreme Court. While the new Ayuntamiento is not the same as the old one that housed those offices over the centuries, it still respects the history of the structure, bearing its legacy for present and future generations to appreciate.

Thirdly, work involving restoration and reconstruction of built heritage is itself expensive. It is not just renovating or reconstructing some building. It involves more effort and dedication as these structures provide a link to our past, and they deserve better treatment than some haphazard effort. Come to think of it, with all the details put into the reconstruction of the Ayuntamiento, it is not even considered a really faithful one since some of the materials used are less pricey substitutes to the elements the old Ayuntamiento was built out of which are either expensive or hard to source from these days.

The Sala de Sessiones of the Ayuntamiento (courtesy of AXL Powerhouse Productions)

The Sala de Sessiones of the Ayuntamiento (courtesy of AXL Powerhouse Productions)

With all these things considered, yes, the cost in the Ayuntamiento reconstruction is pretty much justified. It is sad that heritage restoration/reconstruction is being pitted against delivery of basic services. This is not to say delivery of basic services is not important, but making such comparisons is an apples and oranges type of comparison. Lest we forget, the government is mandated to be an advocate of our culture and heritage. That is why we have agencies like the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, National Historical Commission of the Philippines, National Museum, and Intramuros Administration among others, not to mention the various local government units that have their offices that pertain to heritage.

As I mentioned earlier, heritage restoration and reconstruction is an expensive undertaking. If people will complain about it and say things that the money should have been spent in basic services, then we might as well abolish all those above-mentioned bodies and let our heritage rot into oblivion. Let’s also stop teaching history and heritage to students while we’re at it. Let’s forget we have a Philippine culture  and be just people with no national identity to speak of.

With the sad state of heritage and heritage conservation in the country, it’s even sadder to note that heritage has been ignored and sneered at throughout that time, no thanks to the lack of appreciation especially among some elements in the media in this case. If our country is to progress, we must put an end to such attitude on our heritage and work on helping preserve or bring back, in one way or another and in any way we can, whatever heritage we have left. Let’s be thankful that there are entities like the Bureau of the Treasury that helped in the efforts for Philippine heritage like the reconstruction of the Ayuntamiento de Manila. And it would be of great help if we all at least be aware and supportive of those efforts, for the sake of our country and of future generations to still be able to see and appreciate them.

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On a personal note, it is the hope of the Urban Roamer to be able to visit personally the new Ayuntamiento de Manila building and check out the work that has been done. I hope the good folks of the Bureau of the Treasury would be gracious to open their doors to the public so many can appreciate the history of the edifice that stood there before.

3 thoughts on “The Case of the Ayuntamiento: A Costly “Restoration”?

  1. In more progressive countries such as Korea, reconstruction of heritage structures destroyed by the Japanese occupation and the Korean War were being rebuilt, with meticulous attention being given to the details. Even the original construction methods and original building materials were being used as much as possible. In the Philippines, it’s not even that, probably due to financial constraints, but great care is being made to make the reconstruction as close to the original as possible. Ayuntamiento is just a piece of Intramuros rebuilt; much of Intramuros is yet to be rebuilt to its original prewar condition, including the Fort Santiago if the NCCA or the NHC permits it, as well as the walls itself. I also do not know if Ateneo or the UST would also consider rebuilding their original school buildings in Intramuros for some other use, like museums, once rebuilding of Intramuros comes in full swing.

    One of the closest thing in Asia on rebuilding Intramuros is the rebuilding of Gyeongbukgung in Seoul, where it once housed the royal family and hence, the seat of government during the Joseon era. As we know, almost all the buildings in the complex were deliberately destroyed the Japanese with the General Government building defiling the place and photobombing the Gwanghwamun gate. But compared to the Philippines, Korea has all the money to rebuilt historical structures where actually no money can equal their historical worth. Alas, Korea’s care of heritage structures are more astounding compared to the Philippines, even on their own people. When the Sungnyemun gate — the oldest structure in Seoul then — was deliberately burned in 2008, people mourned its loss as if a beloved president or an actor has died.

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