Sunday, December 16, 2007

No lip service for Manila Mayor Lim

Mexico D.F.-- From across the Pacific Ocean,I have
been able to follow closely the denouement of the
Luneta Hotel case, thanks to the internet. What a
relief that the venerable edifice, probably the only
one in the country reminiscent of Italian Renaissance,
has escaped the wrath of the wreckers ball, unlike the
lamented Jai-alai and the oldest police station in
Asia, the Meisic.

A couple of years ago, rumors were rife that the
Luneta Hotel was doomed because it sits on premium
real estate which was up for grabs. The modus
operandi then was to let heritage structures decay and
rot so the city administration in power could justify
demolition and award these to the highest bidder who
would then construct yet another lackluster shopping
center or a nondescript high-rise building. That was
what happened to the Manila Jockey Club, designed by
National Artist Juan Nakpil and declared a landmark by
the National Historical Institute. In the same
mindless manner, we lost Manila’s historic downtown
theaters, notably the Grand Opera House. So, until
recently, heritage advocates, history buffs, art
lovers, tourism promoters, even the general public
lived in dread of losing yet another irreplaceable
landmark—the Luneta Hotel.

A couple of months ago, there was a signboard on top
of the hotel´s main entrance which read “ Ïnternet
Casino”, but when asked, the PAGCOR (Philippine
Amusement and Gaming Corporation) denied knowledge of
any such plan. Then in October, a menacing building
permit, in blood red letters, was nailed on the
façade as construction materials started piling up on
the sidewalks around the Luneta Hotel. However, the
City Engineer insisted that there were no plans of
demolishing the Luneta Hotel, no matter how damaged
the structure; in fact, the new owners were starting
to repair it, that is why the building permit. It was
alarming, nevertheless, because no one knew the
property had changed hands.

The good news is that the Luneta Hotel will not
be demolished. Evidently, Manila´s built heritage
resources now have a better chance for survival
because Mayor Alfredo S. Lim ´s interest in
restoration is not merely lip service. When he was a
senator, he saved a vintage public school named after
Jose abad Santos from the wreckers ball. He believes
that traditional Filipino values can be revived
through history, culture and heritage, that is why
these are promoted in his 11-point agenda.

Last July, Mayor Lim signed Executive Order no.
10 which reconstituted a historical commission
established in his first tenure, it is now the Manila
Historical and Heritage Commission (MHHC) which works
closely with the City Engineer and City Planning
Office. The Museo ng Maynila at the former Army & Navy
Club is open once again. There is a “patrimonial
properties “ committee led by the Mayor´s Chief of
Staff and City Administrator, which meets weekly to
evaluate all city properties and their appropriate

Under Mayor Lim, the City Engineer´s Office has
become open and straightforward in its dealings with
NGOs like the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS)
which it has asked to liaise with the new owners of
the Luneta Hotel. This time, their pleas for
restoration and protection of built heritage resources
have not fallen on deaf bureaucratic ears, according
to HCS trustees Archs. Dominic Galicia and Bettina
Bonoan and past presidents Ms. Bambi L. Harper and
Arch. Augusto Villalon. Since Mayor Lim was easily
accessible, so sincerely concerned about the
preservation of the Luneta Hotel, the city engineers
and the new proprietors have to pay more than just lip


Anonymous said...

Thank God for Mayor Lim! And kudos to you for continuing to write about heritage conservation, even as heritage writers need salvation from extinction themselves!

Robby Tantingco
Center for Kapampangan Studies

Bert M. Drona said...

Hi Gemma,

As far as I know, it seems we're the only country and people who do not treasure our national history/heritage in all its forms. Spain, our former colonizer, is very active in preserving, reminding and teaching about its national history: its heroes, its battles/wars, etc. to its people and especially its young.

I want to believe that maybe for a valid reason such as the lack of funding, we can not afford to have a similar approach, however minuscule... for our national heritage; in turn due to lack of nationalism, ergo lack of appreciation of our national past.

However I suspect that on top of this lack of nationalism, with the ever increasing thievery going on for the last 2 generations in our homeland, the concern for "Patria" has practically disappeared from our rulers and among many of us so-called educated Filipinos.

We concerned Filipinos can still help reverse such attitudes and behavior -however difficult and long process it really is -by fighting and educating formally and informally- for Filipino nationalism.

All the rest, including respect for our national heritage will then fall in their proper places.