Heritage and hope
FIGHTING WORDS - Kay Malilong-Isberto (The Freeman) - March 27, 2013 - 12:00am

“Do you think there is hope for saving Philippine cultural heritage?”

A teacher asked me this question after I talked about cultural heritage and the laws protecting it before a group of college students. He explained that he had been working in that field since the 1990's and he did not understand why, even with the new law, heritage buildings continue to be torn down without anyone being held accountable for it.

Being the eternal optimist, I answered that things are a lot better now compared to how they were in the 1990's. I wrote a paper about cultural heritage back then and I had a feeling that my teacher in law school did not understand what I was talking about. These days, we have young people blogging about heritage and sending pictures of heritage sites in danger to heritage organizations. Real estate developers, the usual villains in the fight to preserve heritage, regularly send their representatives to forums discussing heritage law.

Republic Act No. 10066 or the National Cultural Heritage Act turned three years old this month. Since the law was enacted, I have not heard of anyone sent to jail or fined for violating its provisions. While I've heard complaints about the law lacking teeth hence no one has been punished, this fact does not bother me since the reason for the law was not to create additional reasons to punish people but to promote the preservation of Philippine cultural heritage.

I am happy that when I talk about cultural heritage before different groups, there is always someone in the audience who volunteers that his or her family has an old house and that he or she is interested in preserving it. I'm less certain of my answers to the inevitable series of questions that come after: How do we go about doing it? Can we obtain government support for fixing up a heritage house? My answers would include more questions: has your building been declared as a heritage structure (meaning, a National Cultural Treasure, an Important Cultural Property, or a National Historical Landmark) by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines or the National Museum? If not, would you be willing to nominate it as such and do the research for the nomination? With regards funding, I'd ask if the local government of the place where the structure is found has a program for preserving heritage structures.

Fifty-year old heritage structures, while presumed to be Important Cultural Property for a limited purpose (such as sending someone who demolishes it to jail), are not entitled to the same kind of protection as declared National Cultural Treasures or Important Cultural Property. The government simply does not have the resources to preserve all the old buildings the way heritage advocates would want it to do.  There are also no tax incentives for owners of heritage property who voluntarily restore their property. It has been suggested that local government units enact ordinances giving owners discounts in real property tax if they preserve heritage structures.

There are success stories of heritage being saved even if they do not get told loudly enough. A few weeks ago, I spoke with an NGO worker who talked about how T'boli women in Lake Sebu continue to weave tinalak. In the community she worked with, the women had strict standards with their products and were able to command a higher price per meter for the cloth. This meant financial independence for some of them, which in turn meant having the power to refuse to be part of an arranged marriage.  That's cultural heritage preservation and women power. After hearing this story, I know that the next time I get asked about hope and heritage preservation, I will give a more confident “Yes!”

***

Email: lkemalilong@yahoo.com

CULTURAL HERITAGE IMPORTANT CULTURAL PROPERTY LAKE SEBU NATIONAL CULTURAL HERITAGE ACT NATIONAL CULTURAL TREASURE NATIONAL CULTURAL TREASURES NATIONAL HISTORICAL COMMISSION OF THE PHILIPPINES NATIONAL HISTORICAL LANDMARK NATIONAL MUSEUM REPUBLIC ACT NO
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