Baguio execs defend landscape work, fencing around City Hall
BAGUIO CITY—Stung by attacks over social media, city officials on Monday said they were pursuing landscaping work and a fencing project around City Hall grounds without violating the law protecting historical buildings.
Crews have started excavation work to extend a viewing platform and build a small museum in the grounds, despite reservations aired last year by Dr. Ronaldo Paraan, chair of the Baguio Heritage Foundation Inc.
Paraan wrote architect Johnny Degay, the city building officer, on Aug. 12 last year to ask for a suspension of the project pending a review of the plans, as prescribed by a law covering national historical structures.
Paraan told Degay that the city hall is protected by Republic Act No. 10066 (National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009), which requires all modifications or alterations to historic structures to be overseen and approved by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
The summer capital was designed and built by the American colonial government at the start of the 20th century, and its first city hall rose in 1910 to house its first administrator, E.W. Reynolds, according to a memorial plaque set outside the city building.
Construction work at City Hall sparked online commentaries and criticisms, targeting Mayor Mauricio Domogan.
Some of the comments were hurtful, Domogan said during this week’s executive-legislative session.
“These commentaries speculated that I proceeded with the rehabilitation to pocket kickbacks, when this was planned and approved by the city council years ago. I am very upset,” he told councilors and other officials.
The project does not modify the building, which is the historical structure the law is protecting, Domogan said.
Councilor Peter Fianza, a former city administrator, said City Hall had already been declared a historical facility before RA 10066 was enforced.
“The local government has not yet undertaken the procedure to submit the City Hall for listing as a historical facility under the new law,” Fianza told the officials.
Granting that RA 10066 applies to City Hall, which was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt in the 1950s, the development work there is “clearly beyond a designated five-meter buffer zone from the visible perimeter of the monument or site as required by law and therefore does not need NHCP permission,” Domogan said.
The city government’s primary concern at the moment is the land status of the compound, said Councilor Leandro Yangot Jr., chair of the committee on lands.
“City Hall still has no land title. It remains a public lot and I have been inquiring with the Land Management Service of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources about finally getting City Hall a land title,” Yangot told Domogan.
In 2013, lobby efforts by heritage conservationists managed to stop the Mt. Province government from completely demolishing its old provincial capitol in Bontoc town. The NHCP issued a cease order preventing the provincial government from destroying the original building that hosted the government of the Mt. Provinces which was formed in 1907 by the Philippine Commission.
Only a third of the wooden building had been spared. The provincial government intended to replace it with a concrete structure. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
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