WikiExpedition helps preserve heritage sites

(The Philippine Star) - February 23, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Old towns have a quiet charm that stems from their history. Sariaya, in Quezon province, nestled between the Tayabas Bay and the foothills of San Cristobal, is famous for its heritage houses.

Three grand ancestral houses, in particular, embody the town’s rich heritage, and bear historical markers from the National Historical Institute (NHI).

Sariaya was recently chosen by Wikimedia Philippines as the site of its second Wikimedia Philippines Cultural Heritage Mapping project led by Joel Aldor. Also known as WikiExpedition, this digital mapping project is conducted in partnership with Smart Communications, Inc. to preserve an area’s cultural heritage.

Some 25 volunteers participated in a day-long WikiExpedition in Sariaya last November, documenting sites of historical and cultural significance, including lesser known ones.

One of the sites covered was the two-story Gala-Rodriguez Mansion, built in the early 1930s and designed by Dr. Juan Nakpil, who would later be honored as National Artist by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts for being “a pioneer and innovator of Philippine architecture”.

The house was built as an expression of love by Dr. Isidro Rodriguez to his ailing wife, Doña Gregoria Gala, daughter of the town’s gobernadorcillo.

She had wished for a dream house for their seven children.

As fate would have it, she did not live to see it finished. She died two days before it was completed on May 4, 1935. The family moved in, and life went on for Carmen (Isidro and Gregoria’s eldest child) and her siblings.

During the war, the Japanese Imperial Army officers occupied the mansion, which was partly damaged by bombs during the Liberation.

A few years later, Carmen, who had married Judge Vicente Arguelles, had the house restored. In the backyard, she had a swimming pool installed to cover a 20-foot crater left by a bomb explosion.

“A lot of old towns are neglected; and society, in general, puts little importance to protecting our cultural heritage,” laments Aldor, an IT professional-turned-heritage- conservation-advocate. “Great works of the past are under threat of demolition, renovation, and unguided restoration. This is what the cultural heritage mapping project seeks to address.”

He cites Sariaya as being exemplary for its showcase of art nouveau, art deco, and eclectic architecture. “It is one of the best places to explore and study Philippine architecture in the American era,” he says.

Today, visitors can marvel at the grandeur of the Gala- Rodriguez House and its French provincial furniture designed by Don Gonzalo Puyat.

A point of interest is the cellar, which has been converted into a museum of the family’s mementos and personal belongings. During the Japanese Occupation, the cellar was a hiding place for Carmen, who had caught the eye of a Japanese officer.

During its glory days, the Gala- Rodriguez House hosted some of the country’s most prominent citizens, foremost of whom was President Manuel Quezon.

Today, the house continues to host visitors. Celebrations are held on the ground floor for newlyweds and debutantes who are drawn to the mansion’s revered beauty.

Sariaya is the second WikiExpedition site for 2014, the first being Santa Ana, Manila, where the historic Santa Church and Lichauco heritage house (built in the 1850s) are found.

Sariaya Heritage Council Inc. president Danny de Luna, who also took active part in WikiExpedition, expressed his appreciation for the digital partnership.

“Smart is bringing new technology to preserve the old (history of Sariaya),” he said. “I envision Smart to be a partner in bringing technology to our young generation, who can help kindle an interest in the heritage of Sariaya.”

Smart has also partnered with Wikimedia Foundation, a nonprofit organization that operates Wikipedia and its sister projects, to offer the global Wikipedia Zero program in the Philippines.

“Support for activities encouraging local content generation is part of Smart’s digital inclusion advocacy. We also complement this with offerings such as Wikipedia Zero because we want more people to use the Internet as a resource for learning and promoting heritage and tourism,” said Ramon R. Isberto, public affairs group head at Smart.

Aside from WikiExpedition, Smart has also collaborated with Wikimedia Philippines on the Tap & Learn project. It is an initiative that promotes the use of tablets inside the classroom. Primary and secondary teachers are trained on how they can maximize tablets for teaching and learning. And through free and unlimited access to articles and photos in Wikipedia via the tablets, the students’ learning experience is enhanced.

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