Special Feature

The State of Philippine Heritage

As long-time readers and those who long been following the Urban Roamer would know, I have long been appreciating heritage. Over the years, I have been fortunate to meet a number of people who are passionate about it as well, thus helping me expand my knowledge and appreciation about our heritage and somehow become part of a continuing struggle to preserve what is left.

That struggle, sadly, is an uphill battle that is not easy to win. In fact, a number of these battles turned out to be bitter and devastating defeats on the part of heritage. While it is easy to pinpoint blame as to who are responsible for such sorry state our heritage is facing at the moment, let’s take a look closer as we find out that addressing these issues is not as simple as it seems. With that said, let’s first look at the situation we have right now.

the recent issue regarding the demolition of Admiral Hotel reflects the sad and endangered state Philippine heritage is facing at the moment

Firstly, we have business owners and developers who are not that keen in preserving heritage. Some of them may deserve to be detested with their way of thinking that they don’t see these structures are valuable enough to keep that would hinder their plans of building whatever structure they have in mind. But there are some who opt to demolish heritage simply because maintaining them is more expensive than building a new one. And if you’re a developer who needs to earn revenue, the choice isn’t that easy.

Then we have the local government who should be looking after these heritage structures. While there are notable exceptions like Vigan and Iloilo, the fact remains that a number of these local governments do not have the resources nor the capability to protect heritage. Heck, some of them don’t even know which of the structures located in their province/city/town are considered heritage.  Worse case would be if that local government is in dire need of revenue and this developer comes to “develop” what is known as a heritage structure, like what is happening at the moment in Manila under Mayor and former President Joseph Estrada.

National government agencies like the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, (NHCP) National Commission for Culture and the Arts, (NCCA) and the National Museum could only do so much as they rely on limited resources that have been given to them. While criticism against these agencies when something bad happens to our heritage is understandable and is warranted at times, one must also take into consideration the aforementioned matter. You cannot help but admire them in being able to do what they can in accomplishing some of its duties with what they have at the moment.

But the most telling situation at the moment is the sad fact that right now, there is not much investment made on heritage conservation. The current educational system for instance does not provide much in-depth on study conservation, as noted by the fact that we do not have architects who specialize in heritage conservation and are thus more knowledgeable on how to properly conserve structures. Thus, in a number of heritage conservation works, improper methods and materials are being used which endangers the structure’s state in the long run, not to mention making it less faithful to its original state. In addition, there are very few enterprises who invest in the preservation and development of heritage areas, in part due to lack of support and funding to undertake such ventures.

With these issues facing Philippine heritage, it is a challenge in finding something that will somehow address them. While it would be easy to say answers like education or provide more support for heritage, if you look deeper, the answers mentioned begs a more challenging question: how?

In the Urban Roamer’s humble opinion,one of the bigger issues that is understated here is funding. It is no secret that the government is having a hard time finding revenue, revenue which even becomes lesser when corruption is factored in. Given the many needs that government needs to address, there is a need for additional revenue to meet these demands.

But how can additional revenue be generated, aside from stepping up actions against corruption and tax evasion? The need for additional investments play a huge role in somehow answering this problem. Much more so if the efforts to amend the constitution that would allow 100% foreign ownership of businesses that wish to invest in the country would succeed. Let us not be xenophobic and paranoid about letting foreign-owned businesses come in as not all of them are coming in to exploit the country’s resources in a bad light. Some of them may have the knowledge and skill to do proper heritage conservation works that many firms here do not have at the moment. These firms would help spur development by challenging the existing developers who are not keen on heritage conservation and by engaging other developers with knowledge-sharing, thus more firms would become more knowledgeable in doing conservation work.

The other understated issue involves the present system of administration in the country. Let’s face it, governance in the country in general is hampered by a highly-centralized government which can only do so much administering a country of 7,107 islands. With the limitations of centralized agencies like the NHCP and the NCCA. local governments must be forced to step up its efforts in heritage conservation. Decentralization and empowerment of local governments, notably by federalism, would be beneficial not only for preservation of heritage but also for the administration of the country in general. That should also be coupled with imposing on local governments a bigger sense of responsibility in doing their job and make them more accountable to the people.

As you can see, what I have pointed out here are long-term ideas which I believe would be beneficial to heritage conservation. That being said, I am not saying applying these solutions would automatically solve the problem. Rather, these ideas would help make a lot of ideas for heritage conservation become possible. And given the situation at the moment, it would not hurt if we are open to try them out. This is not just about our heritage but our country’s future as well.

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