City of culture for all
The designation of Cebu City as the first Asean City of Culture by the Ministers of Culture and the Arts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) should be welcomed by every Cebuano in Cebu City and all over the country.
The designation comes in recognition of the creative talent that Cebu has nurtured for some three decades now in the fields of furniture design and manufacturing, fashion design and the hugely successful Sinulog Festival.
This singular accolade, however, should not be seen only as a vehicle for spurring growth in the creative industry. It should also be used as a yardstick to see what remains to be done in the city as it wears this coveted crown, for it cannot be avoided that outsiders will scrutinize this city to see whether it deserves this title.
When it comes to the creative industry, there is no doubt that Cebu (as much as Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu) so richly deserves accolades for nurturing the furniture industry. Cebu City also continues to wow the fashion world with the likes of award-winning designers Cary Santiago, Philip Rodriguez, Jun Escario, Salvador Malto and Arcy Gayatin, among many others, who have inspired the next generation of designers. There is no doubt that the best of them are found in Cebu.
The city is also blessed with young filmmakers who have garnered national and international accolades like the young Remton Zuasola, for example.
Beyond the creative field, however, are issues that confront Cebu City in terms of heritage conservation, heritage interpretation and cultural tourism.
For starters, there is as yet no published official history of the city. It is, in fact, the province of Cebu that has caused one to be so written as part of the 55-volume “Cebu History Project.” Even Colon Street, which we all bandy around as the oldest street in the country, remains a topsy-turvy commingling of garish, ill-thought of building facades amid a sprinkling of art deco buildings that have escaped aluminum cladding that seems to be the craze today as owners attempt to “modernize” these architectural exemplars of the street’s past commercial glory.
To be sure, there are beacons of hope that few can doubt the city is perhaps finally on its way to harnessing its past in order to capitalize on this for its economic future. While this is not yet in the grand scale of Singapore’s conservation and preservation efforts of the 1980s and ’90s, the rehabilitation of Osmeña Boulevard leading to the Capitol, for example, is a most welcome respite from the long neglect of Cebu’s historic beauty, ironic for something that prides itself as a queen, the Queen City of the South.
The reopening of the relandscaped Plaza Independencia is also an important step in this direction, as was the redesign of Plaza Sugbo in front of City Hall.
It is, however, in the field of cultural mapping and heritage documentation that Cebu City is found wanting. There was some news in the past few months that the city would soon begin marking its historic places. I wonder how that will be done if there is no community-based heritage inventory and documentation, an all-important first step. Thus, whereas most, if not all, of the towns and cities of the province have already been trickling down to the barangay level all cultural mapping and heritage documentation work that they began some seven years ago, Cebu City has not yet produced a definitive inventory of its heritage and historic resources, especially of the old Spanish quarter of the city comprising barangays Parian, San Nicolas, Tejero, Sto. Niño, Tinago, San Roque, Mambaling, Pardo, etc. We have no idea what has been left of the old houses and historically significant places as well as the stories and historical tidbits local residents used to bemuse their children with when movies were still a novelty and storytelling by the old was the norm. As I stated in the “Tres de Abril” episode of my “Kabilin” TV show, there is even no single monument commemorating the valiant uprising of Cebuano Katipuneros that fateful afternoon of April 3, 1898. It is as if Cebu City has forgotten its heroes.
And as Cebu City and all of us, its residents, bask in the limelight of being and living in a City of Culture, let this also be a challenge to the city officials, especially those concerned with heritage and history: At the end of the day, it is when an ordinary Cebuano on the street can speak eloquently and with pride of his or her place—of its past, of its pains and successes—that one can really say that this is truly a city of culture for all.
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