Saving Old Biñan
After finding itself in a legal tug-of-war over the 200-year-old Alberto House, the city government of Biñan has declared its centuries-old houses and structures as heritage sites in a bid to restore the city’s 19th century backdrop.
Founded in 1571, Biñan in Laguna province became a city in 2010. Many “bahay na bato” (stone houses built during the Spanish period) still stand along the streets of J. Gonzales, V. Ocampo and P. Paterno leading to the plaza.
According to the city registry, over 50 houses were built in the 1800s. Their original structures are preserved except for some minor renovations like the addition of a terrace or metal window grills.
The “mass declaration” of heritage sites under City Ordinance No. 14-2017, authored by Councilor Alexis Desuasido, was meant to preserve pieces of Biñan’s past.
It covered 17 structures — the houses of Jacobo Gonzales (Casa Biñanense), Vicente Ocampo, Pedro-Isidro Cariño, Iluminado Valencia, Amoranto-Baylon, Francisco Almeda, Jacinto Francisco, Alberto Yaptinchay and Filomena Belizario Hernandez, the statue of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal at the plaza, the old municipal building, School of Rizal site and museum, Los Maduros Bandstand, San Isidro Labrador Church along with its meditation garden and belfry, Biñan “camposanto” (Roman Catholic cemetery) in Barangay Canlalay, and the cursillo house or “casa parroquial.”
Alberto House case
“We do not want (the issue with the Alberto House) to happen again,” said BJ Borja of the city’s culture, history, arts and tourism office.
In 2012, Biñan woke up to the collapse of the Alberto mansion after a huge chunk of its roof caved in. It was only then when the city government learned that the house, declared a local heritage site in 2011, had been sold by its owner a few years earlier.
Scrambling to take over whatever remained of the 1,197-square-meter structure, the city resorted to expropriating the house. The house has historical significance because Rizal’s mother, Teodora Alonso, was said to have spent her teenage years there.
The expropriation proceeding is ongoing.
“Speaking as an advocate of heritage preservation, there may have been lapses on the part of the local government. But then again, during that time (Republic Act No.) 10066 was still in the advent,” Borja said, referring to the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.
Some residents support the city government’s action and its planned makeover of the plaza into something like Vigan City’s popular Calle Crisologo.
“Restoring the ‘old Biñan’ brings back memories of a small town where everybody knows everyone,” said Laurie Dionisio, 60, whose family owns the Francisco Almeda House.
Dionisio said the house, which her great grandfather acquired from the original owners in the 1900s, had remained intact, though the family had one of the rooms expanded in the 1970s. She said her family would never sell the house.
But Borja said other owners were “apprehensive,” thinking the heritage declaration would mean losing control over their property to the government.
He said the city government was concerned only about major renovations or sale, stressing that ownership would remain with the families.
It will also extend financial help for preservation or repair if a house is damaged by natural calamities, he added.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.