This is how some heritage sites are coping amid COVID-19 pandemic

Rosette Adel - Philstar.com
This is how some heritage sites are coping amid COVID-19 pandemic
This 2017 photo shows Plaza de Roma and the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros, Manila.
Judgefloro via Wikipedia

MANILA, Philippines — On National Heritage Month, some heritage sites shared how they are adapting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Tourism last Thursday hosted its 16th webinar titled “Paraparaan: Redefining the Use of Heritage Places for Covid-19 Survival” where participants discussed how the COVID-19’s impact would reshape tourism, sustainability and conservation programs at the country’s heritage sites under the so-called “new normal.”

Shift to virtual tours, online activities

During which, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat shared how some heritage sites turned to technology to “keep the traditions and stories alive” and maintain the public’s interest by giving free virtual tours of heritage sites on social media sites.

“Our e-Pamamang Turismo series is much aligned with this year’s theme, Mga Kwentong Pamana: Stories of Heritage, which highlights the social and cultural impact of sharing knowledge, experiences and stories of Filipino heritage in the preservation of our country’s legacies,” Puyat was quoted as saying in her keynote speech.

“While COVID-19 has closed down our heritage sites and put many aspects of our culture on hold, we’ll remember 2020 as the year we observe the visita iglesia tradition virtually, thanks to the 360-degree photos of our beautiful baroque churches online. We’re keeping our traditions and our stories alive with whatever means we can because this is how we will survive as a people,” Puyat added.

Among the cultural heritage sites that turned to technology was Intramuros which conducts online learning sessions, online museum and last month Visita Iglesia Tours.

Early this week, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines encouraged the public to take on a virtual museum tour at 27 Philippine history museums across the country via Facebook in celebration of the International Museum Day.

Aside from these, UNESCO World Heritage San Agustin and another historical church Manila Cathedral are now conducting daily online masses to reach out to the other greater communities.

Other anti-COVID-19 initiatives

Meanwhile, the University of Sto. Tomas is also stepping up by providing a COVID-19 triage, virtual tours of cultural heritage facilities and sites, and securing a rooftop garden for the benefit of not only the university but also the Sampaloc community.

Historic city of Vigan, on the other hand, is also coping the pandemic by providing jobs to LGBT community through hair cutting for frontliners. It is imposing social distancing and installed transport waiting area, and additional hand washing corners in public markets.

“To make our heritage meaningful, we have to make sure that we are in the equation of making our time in COVID meaningful,” Eric Babar Zerrudo, director of the UST Graduate School Center for Conservation of Cultural Property and the Environment in the Tropics (USTGS-CCPET) and faculty member of the Cultural Heritage Studies Program said.

During the webinar, Zerrudo also discussed the following matters:

  • Heritage and Conservation, Concepts and Significance;
  • Redefining the use of heritage sites in COVID-19;
  • Concept of Cultural Landscapes and;
  • Heritage Case Studies
  • Integration to sustainable living heritage. 

Redefining function, significance of heritage sites

The associate professor, also the national coordinator of the CBCP Episcopal Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and faculty member of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts–Philippine Cultural Education Program, cited the “overtourism” phenomenon in world landmark sites such as Angkor Wat, Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China, Dubrovnik, and Venice before the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It is the importance, the significance that you are trying to conserve that’s being expressed in many different ways,” Zerrudo said.

Under the new normal, he said the public should consider the healthy ecosystem, sanitation and well-being as well as food security to “add on a higher level of function significance” for heritage sites.

He said “physical or on-site, oral, and archival investigations are critical efforts that need to be done.”

In view of this, Puyat concluded the webinar by calling on the Filipinos to keep the stories alive.

“When we keep the stories alive, we understand where we come from. When we know who we are, we strengthen our national identity and deepen our sense of pride. And when we have a solid national identity that we are proud of, we can face all kinds of challenges the future will bring,” the tourism chief said.

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