Residents say no to town hall in heritage site | Inquirer News
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Residents say no to town hall in heritage site

/ 11:08 PM September 07, 2011

Residents of San Jose town in Batangas are opposing their municipal officials’ plan to build a new town hall right at the center of their old plaza, saying this would ruin “history and the poblacion’s beautiful architecture” that has been preserved for over 200 years.

The Municipal Development Council (MDC) decided to construct the P60 million modern building on Aug. 31 despite a declaration of the National Historic Commission (NHC) that the site is historic and hence should not be “converted or changed.”

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The MDC is composed of representatives of the municipal council and the 31 barangay chiefs, and is chaired by the mayor.

“We are not against the construction of the new building, but (it should not be) on the plaza,” said Emma Alday, a resident, in a phone interview on Tuesday. Alday heads the Sandiwa multipurpose cooperative that serves as a watchdog on good governance.

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“The building site is not an issue worth dying for. What is alarming is the unscrupulous attitude of our local officials in violating a national policy like this one.”

Tony Briones, the municipal administrator and brother of the mayor, said in a phone interview that on Aug. 31, majority of the MDC members voted in favor of the town hall project on condition that the NHC would allow it.

In a letter, Sandiwa asked Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto to step into the controversy.

NHC position

Alday cited a July 5 letter of NHC Chair Maria Serena Diokno to San Jose Mayor Entiquio Briones, which read: “Historic town plazas like this one of San Jose, Batangas, should remain open and green to serve as breathing space of the town. Its open area should not be diminished and its land use and zoning category should not be converted or changed.”

“For these reasons, we are not in favor of the proposed construction of any structure on the park and urge you to keep the town plaza an open space,” Diokno said.

But Briones said “the NHC (in its letter) said it is ‘not in favor.’ It did not say ‘it’s illegal.’”

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In reply to the NHC letter, the municipal government provided the agency with a study of the proposed town hall, hoping it could be convinced that a new office building is necessary, he said.

The plaza, which has an area of less than 1,000 square meters, serves as a public park shaded by trees. Recognized by the Department of Tourism as a heritage site, it is surrounded by the Shrine of St. Joseph the Patriarch, which was built in 1788, a school, and the existing municipal hall.

Nostalgia

According to Gracia Ona, secretary of Barangay Poblacion IV, keeping the plaza will preserve “nostalgic memories” of the town, whose former name was San Jose de Malaking Tubig because of the river at the back of the shrine.

“Even the existing town hall is a heritage (structure) about more than 50 years old,” Ona said.

Based on earlier meetings of the MDC, Ona, who attended as a village representative, said the construction of another municipal hall aimed to expand government offices and its services.

The proposed project, however, drew flak even on the Facebook page of residents. who commented that “it is not timely” and that “the government should focus on other priority programs (instead).”

The parish priest, Ed Carandang, said “they are building a new (town hall) right in front of the existing (town hall). I just don’t see the logic of development there. Why not just improve the existing one?” he asked.

Briones said the town plaza, being the only available government property, is the most “viable and practical” site for a “government center” due to its proximity to existing offices.

He said it would also cost the municipal government “more than double” if the new building would be constructed elsewhere. Maricar Cinco

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TAGS: Batangas, heritage site, History, San Jose
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