Starweek Magazine

Too late the hero

SINGKIT - Notes from the editor - The Philippine Star

Now that the former BIR building next to our office here in Port Area has been knocked down to about just two or three floors, there is an order to stop the demolition. The order comes from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), which says the former Philbanking Building is an “important cultural property” since it was designed by a National Artist (the late José Maria Zaragoza) and is over 50 years old, as per the 2009 National Heritage Law (RA 10066).

The building had passed from Philbanking to the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) for its regional district office, but some years ago it was found to be structurally unsound and condemned, and the BIR moved out. Before long though, enterprising folks moved in and in no time it was a thriving “condominium” of illegal/informal settlers, complete with warehousing facilities for reconditioned TVs, washing machines, refrigerators, etc.

The building towered over our office, and every time there is talk about earthquakes, we wonder if it will come tumbling down – on top of us. 

The NCCA said it had recommended to the owners, the Philippine Ports Authority, that the building be adaptively reused, retrofitted and repurposed, and the PPA had supposedly “promised” to “seriously consider” saving the building. I guess in the end the PPA did not take the recommendation, for late last year preparations started for the demolition, a rather major task that involved huge cranes hoisting backhoes to the top of the building, thundering sounds that literally shook the ground and a constant rain of concrete dust that coated all our vehicles like ashfall from Mount Pinatubo’s eruption.

So now there is a cease-and-desist order on the demolition, but what do they intend to do with the one-fifth of the building that is left? The PPA said that both the Department of Public Works and Highways and Manila City Hall had “strongly recommended” and even “ordered” the demolition, but NCCA said it was not cleared with them and they did not give the go signal.

Now we have a stump of a building that is quite the eyesore, and the surrounding area is a mess. The building is now way, way beyond saving. I am by no means arguing against saving heritage structures, but “too late the hero” efforts such as this cease-and-desist order make no sense. Demolition work had been going on for months; why didn’t the NCCA, which has office just a stone’s throw away in Intramuros, raise its objections earlier, when some sensible, workable solution could have been arrived at to save the building. It was the same situation with the “photo-bombing” Torre de Manila behind the Rizal Monument; complaints were only filed when the building was already near or had reached its full height. Construction of that building was eventually allowed to continue after a long time in the court; I hope this mess of a demolition will not have to wait that long to be cleaned up.

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