Our Ignorance, Our Failure – Manileños and Threatened Heritage

Our shallowness causes us to see no alarm in what is happening at a national shrine.  Photo by Joel Leporada/Rappler

Our shallowness causes us to see no alarm in what is happening at a national shrine. Photo by Joel Leporada/Rappler

What do you call a people ignorant of its heritage?

How do you approach a society that is apathetic on things related to its culture and history?

R. Hidalgo is a good example of how urban life in Manila has degenerated due to countless factors. This street used to be the poshest residential street in the country before. Now it is a den of thieves, criminals and countless urban dwellers.

R. Hidalgo is a good example of how urban life in Manila has degenerated due to countless factors. This street used to be the poshest residential street in the country before. Now it is a den of thieves, criminals and countless urban dwellers.

You get shallowness, materialism, poor taste – you have stupidity. In the metropolis we live in, the general daily human experience has evolved into a deeply banal routine bereft of any immersion or exposure to a living cultural heritage. Traffic, pollution, billboards, the inanities of local TV and radio shows, our lack of parks, open spaces, our dead river and polluted bay, why even our language and practices (especially our malling culture) – these all contribute to the “bobo-fication” of our people.

Our parks are inhabited, unsafe and smell of urine and feces.

Our parks are inhabited, unsafe and smell of urine and feces.

Wala na ba tayong ginawa kundi mamili? Kumain ng ramen? Manood ng sine? Makinig ng contemporary music?
Wala na ba tayong nagawa kundi pag-usapan ang traffic at ang MRT? Wala na ba tayong nakita kundi mga nakahubad na katawan sa EDSA?
Will we live our lives continuously seeing the same celebrities’ gigantic smiling faces on our thoroughfares?

What could have been a postcard-worthy vista of Ermita Church is now an impossible dream due to the buildings.

What could have been a postcard-worthy vista of Ermita Church is now an impossible dream due to the buildings.

What is the key that will break us free from all these symbols of our kababawan?

Culture. An appreciation, an embrace of our cultural heritage, integrating it into our urban planning and our public policies will break the chains of our ugly metropolitan experience.

The Manila Metropolitan Theater, the jewel of Philippine Art Deco, is now in squalid condition. What used to be the site of many plays and parties is now a scary place to go to at night.

The Manila Metropolitan Theater, the jewel of Philippine Art Deco, is now in squalid condition. What used to be the site of many plays and parties is now a scary place to go to at night.

These recent weeks, however, Manila’s cultural heritage has again been making news not for anything positive but because of various threats that continue to deride its important place in society.

The grand Manila Central Post Office is now threatened with closure. Lord, help us if we demolish this neoclassical masterpiece.

The grand Manila Central Post Office is now threatened with closure. Lord, help us if we demolish this neoclassical masterpiece.

We have lost so many countless structures and art works due to wars, poor urban planning and natural calamities. But we have also elected/selected persons or patronize organizations and companies that proactively destroy or alter our heritage as a people. What is more distressing is the passivity of the great population! Alas, we have entered into the vicious cycle that will be so difficult to break.

What will be the chances of our city saving its heritage structures when you have a generation of citizens born into a city with no sense or indication of heritage?

There is hope, there is inspiration. The Padilla Mansion, which has recently been restored and opened as a multi-functional art gallery by Manny Padilla is a beacon of hope in R Hidalgo, Quiapo and to the rest of downtown Manila.

There is hope, there is inspiration. The Padilla Mansion, which has recently been restored and opened as a multi-functional art gallery by Manny Padilla is a beacon of hope in R Hidalgo, Quiapo and to the rest of downtown Manila.

Examples of desecrating, tampering or blatantly destroying our cultural heritage speak of our incapacity to elevate our appreciation for loftier ideas or causes. It describes what we are as a people: shallow.

The Roces-Legarda-Tuason-Prieto-Valdes clan is doing a great act of service to the district of San Miguel through their two restaurants, Casa Roces and La Cocina de Tita Moning, inspiring more Manilenos to appreciate their heritage. Friends, it can be done!

The Roces-Legarda-Tuason-Prieto-Valdes clan is doing a great act of service to the district of San Miguel through their two restaurants, Casa Roces and La Cocina de Tita Moning, inspiring more Manilenos to appreciate their heritage. Friends, it can be done!

It is a dream indeed for many to fight against corruption or to fight poverty. It is a noble cause to work hard, spending countless hours in the office for one’s self or for one’s family. Through your own hard work, you are able to travel, try new restaurants, buy the latest gadgets and clothes and buy houses or condominium units that have filtered environments.

Where does cultural heritage play in all of these? Well, in our current situation, none.

In cities like Singapore (ironically more cosmopolitan than ours), Kuala Lumpur, Paris, Madrid, London, Montreal, and so many others, cultural heritage is a daily experience. From preserved edifices, classical concerts, dignified monuments, amazing vistas and even street signs, many aspects of urban living abroad touch on or optimize cultural heritage and patrimony.

La Cocina de Tita Moning makes diners and visitors experience life in genteel Manila through the recipes of Ramona Hernandez Legarda aka Tita Moning

La Cocina de Tita Moning makes diners and visitors experience life in genteel Manila through the recipes of Ramona Hernandez Legarda aka Tita Moning

The recent news of the construction of the Torre de Manila, a monstrosity that will now destroy the skyline that serves as backdrop to the Rizal Shrine, the demolition of portions of the Army Navy Club, and the eventual uprooting of the Simon de Anda rotunda (though this one is not really bad) all speak of our ignorance or apathy towards the finer details of heritage.

Students of Escuela Taller Intramuros help conserve Ermita Church. Escuela Taller Intramuros was founded by the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID).

Students of Escuela Taller Intramuros help conserve Ermita Church. Escuela Taller Intramuros was founded by the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID).

How will our country move forward if the first thing we impinge on “for the sake of development/progress” is the very soul of our country – our culture?

Enough is enough.

Urban Sketchers Manila sketches in Quiapo

Urban Sketchers Manila sketches in Quiapo

It’s also about time that the vanguards of cultural heritage preservation step-up their game. It’s no longer enough that we work within the comforts of familiar territory – our advocacy groups, the academe, social media groups. It’s about time we become more courageous enough to follow the footsteps of our first heritage conservationists, those who stood up for the Jai Alai Building, the Mehan Gardens, etc. Younger heritage conservationists or aficionados should distance themselves from developing images either of “elitism” or at the other extreme being “hipsters/indie” because both will not help the cause. Solid foundation – research, experience, continuous study – as well as the basic skills of corporate professionals (marketing, customer orientation, finance, strategic planning) can prove tactically helpful for the cause of cultural heritage preservation. Enough of the whim, enough of being reactive and enough of being “artsy” because the time will come when the places we love to simply take photographs or talk about or paint or draw will just disappear.

Giving a talk on Hispanic Manila at the Bahay Nakpil, Quiapo

Giving a talk on Hispanic Manila at the Bahay Nakpil, Quiapo

We need to do so much more to protect the tangible, and most importantly, intangible aspects of our story as a people.

About hechoayer

Things made yesterday still influence us until today. Things made today will influence us tomorrow. Things of the essence such as faith, culture, food, music and values should never disappear nor eroded by the times. Instead, these must be recorded, lived and shared. Something made yesterday - hecho ayer - can be tomorrow's saving grace. Never ignore the past.
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2 Responses to Our Ignorance, Our Failure – Manileños and Threatened Heritage

  1. Maia says:

    There should be another president as strict as Marcos who has a goal to preserve and bring back the beauty of our culture. Also, a president to that wants too the best from their people and economy. Just look at Japan, China, and now Thailand, their own government wants to see the new generation to be taller so they make sure the kids get a cup of milk in school.

    The cinemas makes a very big impact too on our society. Sampaguita Pictures made beautiful and classy movies hence Filipinos in that era reflected that. Now Filipino movies are about poverty, corruption, going overseas to be a nanny, domestic helper, poor immigrant. If you watch Bollywood, most of the time, the character either goes abroad to study or have their own corporation, big mansion, and other nationalities as their employees. These provide inspiration to the younger Indians to better themselves. Just look at how many successful Indians now.

    How about Filipinos? Always inferior, always just an employee.

  2. Gabe says:

    This is what most developing countries are experiencing. They tear away their heritage for the sake of so called development. How could they be developed if they don’t know their past? When other developed nations trying to salvage their heritage, we Asians are trying to do the opposite. As a half-Filipino, I have to say Malaysia is no good either. Old streets and building are being removed for the sake of redevelopment too. Don’t they know that a country without its history is the same as a person without its mind? It’s just like a zombie, losing it’s own identity.

    I remember some years ago I read that after Warsaw was being wiped out of the map under the command of Hitler, Poles did their best to reconstruct their beloved city. They took out all available sketches and plans that they had to rebuilt the city as it was before the war. And now, Warsaw is listed as a World Heritage Site.

    Manila was so beautiful, like a pearl, like a gem. War torn apart both Warsaw and Manila. But Manila keep deteriorating, but Warsaw keep rebuilding. So strong contrast, so different mentality. One party says “Live the past”; one party says “Good riddance.

    The government, society and people are to blame.

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