'Sound of demolition' at Binondo's El Hogar reported

By James P. Ong, Coconuts Manila

Posted at Nov 06 2014 06:16 PM | Updated as of Nov 07 2014 03:13 AM

Owners ordered to remove barricades

El Hogar in Binondo. Photo by Coconuts Manila

MANILA -- An official of the Manila City Hall's city building office has ordered the owners of El Hogar building in Binondo to remove the barricades it mounted overnight covering the sidewalks in the perimeter of the heritage building.

El Hogar is located on 117 Juan Luna Street cor Muelle dela Industria Streets, and faces the Pasig River.

According to Romel Leal Santiago, head of the Escolta Revival Movement, their source says an "Engineer Legaspi" visited the site Thursday afternoon and it discovered that El Hogar's new owners do not have a building permit allowing them to cover the sidewalk.

Architect Benjamin Empleo, a representative of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, also visited the site Thursday afternoon for ocular inspection and will file a recommendation to the NHCB board of directors within the day.

Things are moving too fast, say concerned conservationists.

The Beaux Arts building is rich with architectural and historical significance — it was built by the Spanish priest credited for the country's first earthquake-resistant building.

It was occupied by Japanese troops during World War II.

Early this week, concrete barriers similar to those placed in highways to divide lanes were placed along the perimeter the 1914 heritage building.

Earlier Thursday, according to Heritage Conservation Society member Leon Cruz Araneta, blue GI sheets were erected onto the concrete barriers, effectively shielding the entire ground floor of the building from the public's eye.

"I am in the construction business so I would know. These movements in the past few days make me realize that they're mobilizing for demolition," says Araneta, who has been observing El Hogar the past one year and a half since he is restoring the Cobankiat Building (formerly SJ Wilson) nearby on 231 Juan Luna Street.

"They" is the anonymous group that bought the heritage building and kicked out its tenants early this year. In February, real estate company Megaworld was rumored to have bought the property, but denied it.

"Megaworld has not acquired or purchased the El Hogar property in Manila. The company fully supports efforts to preserve cultural heritage sites," Harold Geronimo, director for strategic marketing and communications, told Cocounts Manila.

Coconuts Manila also reported that a time capsule, originally stored in front of the building, had been removed from El Hogar. Sources say the contents of the time capsule — a photo of the building's inauguration and a copy of the speech given by the owner, Don Antonio Melian — are now in the safe hands of the building's former owners.

On Thursday morning, upon seeing the blue GI sheets covering El Hogar, Santiago, the head of the Escolta Revival Movement, started taking photos. "I heard strange sound coming from the fourth floor of El Hogar, it's like someone's beating every walls of the old building. A sound of demolition."

But as of 2 p.m. on Thursday, according to Araneta, who was standing outside El Hogar when Coconuts Manila reached him on his mobile phone, said he could not hear any movement inside the building. "But these people usually work in the evening or on the weekends," he says. Araneta has not seen any construction crew entering or leaving the building.

Early this week, according to Santiago, "our source saw strange happenings around El Hogar."

The construction barriers that were used to cordon off the area bore the initials NGCB, which he says stands for New Golden City Builders & Development Corporation.

"They tried to remove the letters NGCB by putting cement....Aside from their attempt to 'cover' those letters, we noticed some windows on the Juan Luna Street side (close to HSBC) were now covered by G.I. sheets, as if they're covering something from inside. Our source also told us that the night before, they saw people getting some things outside the buildings, said those stuff are the things left by one of its previous tenants," says Santiago.

Coconuts Manila has contacted NGCB to confirm if the company is responsible for the barricade but have not received a reply as of this writing.

This article was originally published in the Coconuts Manila website.