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Demolishing Fort San Pedro horror story

First Posted 14:04:00 07/23/2009

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The Cebu Historical Society or CHS used to be a very active organization that often pitted its members against the modernizing tendencies of local government and church officials. I remember attending a forum it organized in the late 1980s---the topic of which I can no longer recall as my youthful memories fail me now---but that seemed to be the last time I heard of it.

And so it came as a welcome surprise when in the midst of inventorying the voluminous pre-war and post-war documents diligently kept by the late CHS member Jovito Abellana, I came upon copies of the corporate papers of CHS. Also accompanying them was a dazzling treasure of information albeit brief , penned by the late artist Julian Jumalon (famed for his butterfly garden and mosaics made of butterfly wings) regarding its successes---and a few letdowns---in the budding campaign to save historical structures in Cebu.

One of these was the late mayor Sergio Osmeña Jr.?s plan to demolish Fort San Pedro in order to build a new city hall on its premises. Let me quote directly from the CHS report: ?1957. Mayor Sergio Osmeña Jr. jolted the public with his announcement to demolish Fort San Pedro and erect on the spot a new City Hall. This started a movement against the demolition idea. Articles voicing opposition appeared in the local dailies and magazines here and at the capital?Finally, confronted by civic leaders and society heads at his City Hall office, he gave up his idea and said he will use instead the space behind the fort.?

Apparently some people never learned from this experience and so Jumalon reports of two more important developments, this time horror stories that came true: the 1964 demolition of the old Recoletos Church and the 1967 demolition of the Little Flower School building owned by the Archdiocese of Cebu. Here are the details: ?1964. This year, the Recoletos Fathers decided to modernize by destroying the old Recoletos church. Unlike Osmeña, the Rector did away with public opinion and had the old church demolished hurriedly. This act spread a wave of regrets and shock but nothing could be done anymore.

Regarding the former Little Flower School building, Jumalon writes: ?The CHS failed to save the old Spanish house near the Cathedral church (Little Flower)?because Archbishop Rosales ?was interested in its demolition?? The demolition happened on April 11, 1967, the very day that the Cebu Archaeological Society held its very first meeting. This was the heyday of archaeology in Cebu City, a far cry from what we see today vis-à-vis the lootings at Plaza Independencia in 2007. Exactly thirty years before this, in 1967, the University of San Carlos was carrying out archaeological excavations on the streets of the old city. More importantly, then city mayor Carlos Cuizon was keenly interested in Cebu?s past, even accepting the position of vice-chair to USC president Fr. Rudolf Rahmann, SVD in the Cebu Archaeological Society.

This list of CHS successes amidst some horror stories make for an interesting proof of the colorful beginnings of the heritage movement in Cebu. Fortunately, a resurgence of this movement has been going on over the past five years under the leadership of Gov. Gwendolyn F. Garcia and the Provincial Tourism and Heritage Council. By ordering all cities and municipalities of the province to establish their own equivalent councils, Cebu is not only leading in tourism, it has also led in the nation?s desire to look back to the past and ensure that both tangible and intangible heritage are conserved for all to appreciate and to bequeath to the future.

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