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House to probe cultural sites’ devaluation

MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives committee on Metro Manila development is set to conduct an inquiry into the reported devaluation of several historical and cultural sites and properties in Manila due to neglect or demolition for multibillion-property development.

The inquiry, which is expected to start when Congress resumes session on Jan. 18, was prompted by House Resolution 1566 filed by Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, who said the Army Navy Club, the old Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) building, the Anda Circle, the Philippine Post Office (PhlPost), the Manila Metropolitan Theater (MET) and El Hogar Filipino are among “the cultural properties in Manila that suffer from cultural and historical devaluation.”

He said the weak implementation of laws contributed to the devaluation of these projects.

“Loose preservation, conservation and restoration plans and actual work on national treasures and cultural properties makes these vulnerable to deterioration. Congress must act as a steward for the protection and preservation of cultural properties by ensuring that laws intended for such purpose are enforced and violations and violators held liable,” Ridon said.

Destroyed

The internal structure of the Army Navy Club along Roxas Boulevard, established in 1909 to serve as an exclusive social haven for US soldiers during their occupation, was demolished to pave way for its redevelopment into a boutique hotel, Ridon said.

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The demolition, denounced by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), is a clear violation of the National Heritage and Cultural Act, the lawmaker said.

The building was made a national historical landmark by cultural agencies in 1991.

The Oceanville Hotel and Spa Corp. is in charge of developing the Army Navy Club building while AMH Philippines is responsible for the structural assessment of the building.

Ridon said the old Meralco building on San Marcelino street, which was more than 50 years old and considered an important cultural property, was demolished in 2013 despite a clamor by heritage activists for the adaptive reuse of the building.

“The building was designed by Juan Arellano and featured the art deco style. Aside from the architectural craftsmanship, the façade of this building used to house the bas relief ‘Furies’ sculpted by Italian artist expatriate Francesco Riccardo Monti,” he said.

Plans

In the same vein, Ridon said the Department of Public Works and Highways plans to demolish the Anda Circle, located at the boundary of Intramuros and Port Area, and transfer the monument to ease the traffic congestion in Manila.

The monument was constructed in 1871 upon the orders of then governor General Carlos Maria dela Torre in honor of Simon de Anda, who served as the governor general of the Philippines from 1770 to 1776.

Anda was said to have rebelled against British invaders and led a resistance movement when he fled to Bulacan and Pampanga. He likewise denounced the King of Spain for subjecting the Philippines to deplorable conditions.

As for the PhlPost Office in Lawton, there is a plan by a construction firm that built the Fullerton Hotel in Singapore to redevelop the building into a hotel under Public-Private Partnership program, he said.

“Fronted by the iconic structure of national hero Andres Bonifacio, the building served as the main administrative office of PhilPost for 86 years. It boasts of a neoclassical style and was built in 1926 and survived World War II,” Ridon said.

As for El Hogar Filipino, the NHCP has been pushing since 2012 for the adaptive reuse of the building constructed in 1914 at the corner of Juan Luna and Muelle de Industria streets in Binondo, Ridon said. News of the demolition of El Hogar Filipino came out in February 2014 when tenants were asked to move out of the building.

Ownership dispute

The MET, formerly known as the Grand Old Dame of Manila theater, was once the center of cultural arts in the country and etched its name in history as the home of Zarzuelas in the 1930s.

“The restoration of the MET, hailed as a national treasure by the National Museum in 2010, has been impeded by a dispute regarding the ownership of the cultural property between the local city government and the Government Service Insurance System. Because of the sluggish dispute settlement, the MET is compelled to sit idly, its beauty and cultural prestige withering away through time,” Ridon said.

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