Two hundred or so years ago, a military band might be performing in front of the Palacio Del Gobernador—now the Commisson on Elections headquarters—as carriages disgorge their well dressed passengers out for an early evening promenade. Plaza de Roma was the center of the city, dominated by the Manila Cathedral and not too far away was the San Agustin Church, the oldest stone church in the country, built in 1607. Religious processions were frequent in the streets of Intramuros during the day, and at night, parties and fiestas were held. This was the way of life in the walled city, Intramuros, which literally means “within the walls” in Latin. This relaxed and slow pace of life has long been a thing of the past, but the structures, artifacts and relics that remain, help paint a picture of how life was during the glory days of Intramuros, the precursor of modern day Manila.
But even Intramuros, the country’s historical heart and soul, is not immune to the threats now being faced by the country’s heritage sites. The threat is the first flagship infrastructure project to be funded by China under President Duterte’s ambitious Build Build Build program: the Php 4.23 billion Bindondo-Intramuros Bridge, one of two bridges to be built across the Pasig River.
Last July, the project broke ground in Intramuros led by the President himself. Construction is now in full swing, despite opposition from various groups including ICOMOS Philippines. It is the recognized national committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, the association that works for the conservation and protection of all cultural heritage places around the world. ICOMOS Philippines has written the Department of Tourism and the Intramuros Administration, outlining the hazards of the construction of the bridge to Intramuros and Binondo.
Intramuros is host to the San Agustin Church and Monastery, a declared UNESCO world heritage site since 1993. At the heart of the ICOMOS’ opposition is the infringement of the bridge’s route and ramps on the buffer zone of the San Agustin. The ICOMOS position paper states, “While it may be remote, there is a possibility that UNESCO, (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) may itself raise concerns about the proposed bridge. As experience has shown, this is not merely a theoretical scenario, the historic city of Dresden (Germany) was delisted as a World Heritage Site in 2009 due to the construction of the modern Waldschlosschen Bridge.”
In addition, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) has listed Intramuros for possible inclusion in the Philippines’ Tentative List for future declaration as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The bridge may negatively effect Intramuros’ chances. ICOMOS points out the immense tourism potential that will be lost from a heritage site listing.
Obtaining the UNESCO seal as a heritage site offers prestige and international recognition of its outstanding and exceptional features. A country may also receive financial assistance and expert advice from the UNESCO to support activities for the preservation of its sites. Another advantage is that the site becomes protected under the Geneva convention from destruction or misuse during war.
Click on the image below for slideshow
Raising the American flag over Fort Santiago, Manila, on the evening of August 13, 1898. G.W. Peters on Wiki Media Commons
The sketch of the Plaza de Roma Manila by Fernando Brambila. Fernando Brambila on Wiki Media Commons
Plaza Santo Tomas is where the Santo Domingo Church, Colegio de Santa Rosa and the original University of Santo Tomas were built during the Spanish Colonial Period. Sarahli on Wiki Media Commons
Map of Old Manila in 1851. Bria Fallen on Wikimedia Commons
Intramuros in the 1700s. Nostalgia Filipinas on Wiki Media Commons
Puerta de Santa Lucia gate of Intramuros in front of Augustinian Convento. John Tewell on Wiki Media Commons
The Gate of Fort Santiago during the American Period.
A former UNESCO commissioner cites the merits of recognition, “Basically, it gives a site opportunities to access grants and technical assistance from national and international agencies and organizations to support its conservation efforts. San Agustin as well as the three other Baroque Churches in the country have benefitted from this. “
The erstwhile UNESCO commissioner adds, “Imagine how difficult it will be for churches like Santa Maria or Miagao (two other UNESCO world heritage sites) to fight for government grants if they were not world heritage? It puts them in the same position as countless other national cultural treasures vying for competitive grants. They also won't be the tourist destinations that they've become after the WH (World Heritage) listing and the towns and cities that they are in benefit from the tourism.”