Latest Stories

The race to save La Union’s ‘baluarte’


THE SPANISH-ERA “baluarte” (watchtower) on the shore of Barangay Victoria in Luna, La Union, is getting much needed help from the government, the community and the private sector to save it from the elements. RICHARD BALONGLONG

The phrase “one degree” is a bit disturbing, ominous even, for residents of Luna town in La Union province, which is known for its beach of colorful stones and the “baluarte” (watchtower).

Just a degree more of tilting and the baluarte, built during the Spanish era and which put the town on the tourism map, would collapse.

This was the finding of AMH Philippines Inc., the engineering consultancy firm that conducted a feasibility study on the preservation of the town’s famous historical landmark facing the West Philippine Sea.

The baluarte is leaning at a 20-degree angle, a dangerous inclination for the centuries-old structure, said Egbert Abiad, AMH project manager, who presented the study to Luna officials and residents on Saturday.

The feasibility study is the first professional move to preserve the structure built on the scenic beach of Barangay Victoria, where stones of different colors and shapes are gathered and sold by residents. Like most Spanish structures, it is made of adobe and coral blocks held together by lime and egg whites.

The baluarte was a fortress or a structure used for defense. It was used by Spaniards to warn residents of pirates, according to historical accounts.

Imee Villalba, a civil engineering associate at AMH, said the accounts had not established the structure’s actual age, whether it is 400 or 150 years old.

Tourism trademark

But whatever the age, the baluarte reminds the town of its history and it must be saved, Mayor Victor Marvin Marron said.

“We have the watchtower which is the town’s tourism trademark. We do not want it to become a ‘washed out tower’ and lose this important heritage,” Marron said.

La Union Gov. Manuel Ortega said he was capitalizing on the participation of the community and the private sector in preserving the baluarte as a reminder of the majestic past of the province, and in protecting the stone-picking industry of the town and the environment.

How AMH, an academe-industry linked engineering consultancy firm based in the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, came into the picture is a story in itself.

When La Union native Victoria Liban, a long-time resident of the United States, returned to the province, she saw the baluarte, fell in love with it, and wondered how it could be saved.

Liban told Ortega about a friend from way back, Dr. Victor Pulmano, an engineer who graduated from the UP but is now based in Australia. They contacted Pulmano who contacted AMH.

But baluarte’s grandeur won AMH over that it waived professional fees and conducted the feasibility study as part of the company’s corporate social responsibility project.

Band-aid solutions

It is a race against time and tide to save the baluarte. The structure would have collapsed more than 10 years ago, had it not for the intervention of the provincial engineering office, which propped it with piles (concrete columns used in building bridges) and covered its perimeter with gabion mattress in 2007.

The provincial agriculture office also prohibited the picking of stones 50 meters around the baluarte to check erosion.

But all that were done were “band-aid solutions.”

If left on its own, the baluarte would tilt by one more degree after a strong typhoon, AMH engineers said. They recommended more permanent solutions to preserve the structure as it is—split in the middle, with each side precariously leaning.

Geogy Vizcarra, AMH assistant engineer, said both split portions of the 5.6-meter high baluarte should be tilted 5 degrees inward. Then for structural stability, the bottom would be jet-grouted.

Abiad explained that jet grouting is the injection of cement slurry (a mixture of cement, sand and water), through high-pressure pumps, to fill spaces in the sand and stabilize the ground condition.

“We can’t do anything but accept that the structure is already tilted. Hopefully, we can make the tilting less or stop it from tilting more. [But] how long it will be preserved, assuming we can make it stand a little, we are not sure. If we can grout the bottom, that thing will still be standing there, it will be a tower standing on a rock,” he said.

If nothing is done, it will take only a big storm to destroy the baluarte as storm surges can reach up to 10 meters, towering over the structure already weakened by the elements, AMH engineers said.

What AMH did was only a feasibility study but the actual preservation falls on the shoulders of the local government and national agencies.

Former San Fernando Mayor Mary Jane Ortega, whose husband, Rep. Victor Ortega, represents La Union’s first district, said funds for the project could not be sourced from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or from agencies involved in preservation of historical buildings because the baluarte had not been listed as a historical landmark.

To enable government agencies to fund the preservation project, the Luna municipal council passed Resolution 68-2013, which requested the National Historical Commission of the Philippines to declare the watchtower a national historical landmark, and Resolution 69-2013, which asked the National Museum to declare it a national treasure.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

west philippine sea

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: AMH Philippines Inc. , baluarte , Barangay Victoria , Colorful Stones , La Union , Spanish Era , West Philippine Sea , ” Watchtower

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. Estrada: Gigi Reyes won’t testify vs JPE
  2. Cagayan mayor shot dead after flag-raising ceremony
  3. Obama, family cause a small stir at Easter service
  4. Santiago sees Palace hand in Gigi’s return
  5. ‘Malang’ next crocodile attraction after ‘Lolong’
  6. Gigi Reyes’ only option: tell all
  7. Malaysia Airlines jet turns back after tire burst
  8. Ancient enigmatic carvings in danger of disappearing
  9. New plant to boost supply of clean energy
  10. More bodies from ship; transcript reveals wavering
  1. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  2. Suspect in Vhong Navarro mauling tries to leave PH
  3. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  4. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  5. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  6. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  7. ‘Mom, I love you,’ says text from student on sinking ferry
  8. Massive infra spending set
  9. Fr. Suarez says last Mass on Easter before returning donated land to San Miguel
  10. I’ll follow my conscience on Estrada, says JV Ejercito
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  4. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  5. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  6. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  7. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct
  8. Police rule out foul play in Helena Belmonte’s death as boyfriend is ‘traumatized’
  9. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  10. Hammer-wielding robbers cause chaos at Philippines’ Mall of Asia


  • Bernice Lee arrested by NBI team
  • Group: Bataan cop killed to stop him from exposing colleagues linked to drug ring
  • Chemical Engineer licensure examination
  • Troubled history fuels Japan-China tension
  • Palace: Our concern is to ensure MRT runs smoothly
  • Sports

  • NLEX fights off Derulo Accelero to remain unbeaten
  • Mayweather diehard Bieber eats pride, poses with Pacquiao for photo op
  • Power Pinays rip Singapore to enter quarters in Asian volley tilt
  • PBA D-League: Waves edge skidding Superchargers
  • Ilad’s last-second basket lifts Gems over Bakers
  • Lifestyle

  • Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  • Transitions and resurrection in the performing arts
  • ‘Archaeology tour’ of Cebu’s heritage of faith
  • Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  • ‘Imports’ from London, and play of the year
  • Entertainment

  • Arrest warrants out vs. Deniece Cornejo, Cedric Lee, et al over serious illegal detention
  • Lindsay Lohan says she had a miscarriage
  • Discovery network cancels Everest jump
  • ‘Captain America’ stays strong atop US box office
  • Easter musings
  • Business

  • Century Pacific Food sets IPO price at P13.75 per share
  • Oil prices down in quiet Asian trade
  • Asian shares mixed in holiday-thinned trade
  • BDO seen keen on bidding for Cocobank
  • Bataan freeport investment pledges up 1,302%
  • Technology

  • PH has slowest internet in Southeast Asia
  • Nintendo’s trailblazing Game Boy marks 25th anniversary
  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Opinion

  • Gigi’s home
  • Palace stonewalls on MRT inquiry
  • Couple of things too
  • There is plenty of water behind Wawa Dam
  • Triduum thoughts of a young boy
  • Global Nation

  • Balikatan could spoil peace talks, says militant group
  • DFA officers hold workshop on aiding human traffic victims
  • Canada in communication with PH on toxic wastes
  • Filipinos in Middle East urged not to panic amid MERS-CoV scare
  • Obama on mission to quiet Asia skeptics
  • Marketplace