Hold the wrecking ball.
Heritage conservationists have asked Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim to stop the impending demolition of the old Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) building right next to the city hall, as well as that of two Spanish-era structures in the Binondo area.
In a May 8 letter to Lim, the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS) said the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 (Republic Act No. 10066) states that the modification or demolition of properties aged 50 years old and above needs the consent of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
“That means that this year, buildings built in 1962 or earlier are protected by law and that the NCCA needs to evaluate its significance first before a permit (to demolish) is granted, if ever it is granted,” HCS said through its vice president Ivan Henares, a travel writer and tourism consultant.
HCS president and former tourism secretary Gemma Cruz-Araneta, whom Lim appointed as cultural adviser, is also against the demolition of the old GSIS building. The campaign to save the structure has also gone online through an e-mail drive and a Facebook page.
Located on Arroceros Street, the old GSIS building was designed by architect Federico Ilustre and was constructed between 1952 and 1954.
Ilustre was also the designer of the main building of Manila International Airport, the Philippine College of Commerce compound in Sta. Mesa, Manila, and the Quezon Memorial Monument.
The GSIS building used to house the main office of the then Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, and of the Office of the Ombudsman. Some of its outer rooms currently house the office of city election officers and several branches of the metropolitan trial court.
Henares had also written about the campaign to save the building on his blog: “[It is virtually] abandoned and needing repair, but still a beautiful, elegant and intelligent response to climate and site, eminently suitable via adaptive reuse for whatever new purpose comes to bear.”
Another blogger, theurbanhistorian, said “the building symbolizes the start of the shift of civic architecture (in the country) from its neoclassical-colonial trappings to the development of a separate Philippine modern architecture.”
In its letter to Lim, the HCS also said it had received word that
old structures in Binondo, particularly a house on 529 Elcano St., and another on Jaboneros corner Camba streets, were also being demolished.
“Aside from being built during the Spanish colonial period and surviving the Second World War, the details of these houses may be architecturally significant,” the group added.
The HCS said the demolition of the Binondo houses should be “halted immediately before any more damage is done to them.”
The HCS also found it “bewildering” that the city’s building official had been issuing these permits for the demolition of prewar heritage sites without the written approval of the NCCA.
“As we all know, ignorance of the law excuses no one. Or as the good mayor puts it, ‘The law applies to all, otherwise, (to) none at all!’ In Manila’s case, looks like it’s ‘none at all,’” it said.
The HCS said the planned demolitions would add to the “long list” of heritage sites that had disappeared in Manila in the first half of the year alone.
Among the most significant of these were the old Meralco head office building on San Marcelino Street and the Laperal apartments on Recto Avenue, the HCS added.
Trixie Angeles, legal counsel of the NCCA, said the body had not received any communication from the Manila city government about the impending demolition.
“Considering that Gemma Cruz-Araneta is Mayor Lim’s adviser on cultural matters, we are confident that the mayor will comply with RA 10066,”
Angeles told the Inquirer.
The law empowers the NCCA or its member agencies to deputize the police and other law enforcement agencies to stop a demolition.