With over two dozen identified heritage buildings in downtown Iloilo – the most popular of them being the now iconic Eusebio Villanueva Building along Calle Real, heavily featured in the city’s tourism pamphlets and souvenir paraphernalia – the vibrant locale has been touted a gleaming example of a city that puts a premium on cultural conservation in the Visayas region.
This image has been largely bolstered by the efforts of the local government and the Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council (ICCHCC), responsible for the implementation of the rules of the Downtown Central Business District (CBD) Heritage Zone, whose main agenda is to revitalize and conserve these invaluable edifices thru retrofitting, restoration, and maintenance.
On the outskirts of the city, however, in Jaro District, a legacy building designed by the late National Artist for Architecture Leandro V. Locsin is in danger of losing its Important Cultural Property (ICP) status and may soon even face demolition.
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Claims of structural damage
In a notice to the public dated July 17, 2019, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) announced a petition to remove the Important Cultural Property (ICP) designation of the Filipinas Life Assurance Co. Building, or the Ayala Life Assurance Building along MacArthur Drive in Barangay Tabuc Suba in Jaro District, Iloilo.
The ICCHCC conducted an on-site inspection of the building in April, escorted by the son of the owner Gerald Siochi. The site check was prompted by the owners’ claims of structural damage, faulty electrical lines, and frequent flooding — the owners’ grounds for the proposed removal of the property from the city’s list of heritage buildings.
However, the inspection team led by Architect Gemar Emmanuel, Architect 1, City Engineer’s Office found no proof to support the building owners’ claims — citing “no signs of structural damage” in their submitted report. Instead, the team recommended an in-depth Structural Analysis of the Filipinas Life Assurance Co. Building, if its owner’s wanted to substantiate their claims.
The building history
The Filipinas Life Assurance Co. Building, built in 1969, abides by Locsin’s signature brutalist aesthetic. The structure’s design is highlighted by severe geometric exteriors and bare-faced concrete features.
Locsin was proclaimed National Artist of the Philippines for Architecture in 1990, and is known for his work on the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Tanghalang Maria Makiling at the National Arts Center in Los Baños, and distinct edifices in several University of the Philippines campuses, among others.
The ICCHCC, headed by its Chairman Kristin Treñas, has led the charge in opposing the reversal of the Filipinas Life Assurance Co. Building’s status as an ICP, seeing dangerous precedent in the striking of the structure from the NCCA’s protected Philippine Registry of Cultural Property (PRECUP).
‘The Past and the New’
“When the [Filipinas Life Assurance Co. Building was constructed], it was envisioned to represent the past and the new,” explained Architect Manuel Tingzon Jr, cultural conservation advocate, noting its stark contrast to the historic beaux art aesthetic of the Lizares Mansion built in 1937 (now the Iloilo Angelicum School), which stands across the street from the Locsin-designed structure.
“Both structures complement each other in the context of conservation and development,” continued Tingzon, also Vice Chairman of the ICCHCC and former head of the architecture department in the University of the Philippines Visayas graduate studies division. “With both heritage structures maintained on-site, it will create a micro heritage zone that will further boost the tourism circuit of Iloilo City.”
The ICCHCC, in resolution No. 2019-05, has resolved that the Filipinas Life Assurance Co. Building be immediately declared an Important Cultural Property and be included in the Iloilo City Inventory, or Registry of Cultural Property.
Under Iloilo City Regulation Ordinance No. 2000-054, or the Local Cultural Heritage Conservation Ordinance, the ICCHCC is given the authority to identify and inventory cultural heritage or legacy buildings in the city.
The Filipinas Life Assurance Company Building is already listed as a Grade II Level Important Cultural Property (ICP) in the NCCA’s Talapamana List for Visayas and is declared as a tangible-immovable work of National Artist Locsin. The edifice is protected by Republic Act No. 10066, or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, which recognizes the need to protect against the modification or demolition of important cultural properties like works by the National Artists.
Architect Tingzon has already filed a complaint with the NCCA, against the reversal of the Filipinas Life Assurance Co. Building’s status as an ICP.
“The National Heritage Law stipulates that works of national artists cannot be demolished, altered or subjected to any procedure without proper clearance from the NCCA which has the sole jurisdiction over national landmarks, sites, monuments, buildings and public thoroughfares included in the national registry,” noted Tingzon in his complaint submitted to the NCCA.
“I strongly recommend that the [Filipinas Life Assurance Co. Building] be preserved and restored. While it was made a commercial building in the past, adaptive reuse is likewise recommended allowing a certain degree of flexibility in terms of adjustments in its interiors. However, the entire facade of the heritage structure should be retained and/or maintained,” he concluded.
In its notice, the NCCA said any person adversely affected by the petition to lift the Filipinas Life Assurance Co. Building’s designation as an ICP may file their written opposition with the office not later than August 1, 2019.