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Calle Real in a restored Intramuros is a scene from centuries ago.


Art and Law
Intramuros, Manila

By Rose Beatrix C. Angeles
First Posted 10:58:00 07/09/2008

Filed Under: Culture (general), history, Legislation, Politics, Monuments & Heritage Sites

Ang tangi kong pag-ibig
Ay minsan lamang
Nguni?t sa iyong akala
Ay hindi tunay
Hindi ka lilimutin,
Magpakailan pa man?

Ang Tangi Kong Pag-ibig
Lyrics by Constancio de Guzman

During the governorship (1571-72) of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the founder of Spanish Manila, the only fortification in the city enclosed what had been Rajah Sulayman?s palisade of palm logs and banked earth ? though even then the city limits extended well beyond the Malay settlement to encompass what is today the Manila Cathedral site and adjoining land up to where San Agustin Church still stands.

Historical Background, from Bastion de San Diego, monograph by Esperanza Buñag Gatbonton

When Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim began dismantling some of former Mayor Joselito Atienza?s projects, I did not raise my voice in protest. Of special interest to me was the dismantling of restaurants on the Roxas Boulevard bayside.

Mayor Lim was well advised in that instance ? the area?s attraction is not the entertainment provided by restaurants and bars, but Manila Bay?s famed sunset. All the paving and fireworks could only gild the lily of that daily nature show.

The concept of tourism, which Mayor Lim?s actions espoused at the time, is that the view itself must not become a mere backdrop to facilities provided. In fact, some of the restaurants obstructed the view of the sunset, violating a long-standing city ordinance prohibiting such obstruction.

To my mind, the return of joggers and promenaders to Roxas Boulevard signified a return to sanity and organization ?

heritage presented for what it is, without the bells and whistles, the better to be savored. Restaurants and bars should go back to Malate, whose establishments had suffered financial drawbacks from the cheap competition that used to be provided at the bayside, leaving the sunset as main attraction.

The reopening of the Muelle del Rio in Intramuros also made for better management of a heritage site. Heritage must be viewed and experienced. Turning the Maestranza into a walking area that leads nowhere was a failure of city planning; instead of the park-like atmosphere envisioned for the place, it became a haven for drug dealers and users as well as criminal elements. Without access to the rest of the city, it degenerated like a clogged artery attracting refuse human and man-made. Re-opened, the riverside is once more put on view, and Intramuros has regained another access point for people to enter a heritage site.

It is when Mayor Lim?s actions emulate those of ex- mayor Atienza that I take pause. For the past few months Lim has been issuing statements not unlike Atienza?s none too subtle past attempts to take over Intramuros.

Lim has said Intramuros cannot be fully developed unless the city takes over its restoration and management. He has made public his plans to build a mall in the Intramuros golf course ? shades of former Philippine Tourism Authority Robert Barbers? failed experiment that has been ordered dismantled by the courts at a cost of millions in taxpayers? money.

In line with this, Intramuros Administrator Bambi Harper has disclosed that Congressman Amado Bagatsing is attempting to push a bill through the House of Representatives that will return Intramuros to the administration of the City of Manila ? without consultation.

According to the Intramuros Administration (IA), they received notice on 08 May 2008, of a hearing on House Bill No. 2571 to be held on 14 May 2008. Since Ms. Harper could not attend, she sent restorations architect Aug Rustia and one other representative to allow the IA?s position to be heard.

Upon arrival at the hearings, however, the IA representatives were not allowed to present their side, nor were they allowed to submit a position paper. Instead they were pointedly informed that since Mrs. Harper could not attend, IA could no longer be heard. Thereupon, the hearings were terminated and the bill considered passed at committee level.

Hold it. For legislation to be enforceable, it must reflect the needs of its constituency. Law must emanate from the people, who will be expected to conform to the values encoded in the legislative act.

Despite the representative capacity of our legislators, it is necessary for them to make sure that consultations are conducted to ensure that the crafted law embodies what the constituency needs. For special laws that require expertise, expert opinions must be sought to ensure precision in the draftsmanship and identification of the interests to be protected by the law.

This being the case, the passing of House Bill 2571, requiring all transactions in Intramuros to clear through City Hall, has clearly not passed through the requisites of consultation. No heritage experts were asked; the Intramuros Authority, which has been managing the site since 1972, was barred from giving its opinion.

Even more mystifying is why the City of Manila would want Intramuros back. Under current laws, Intramuros is managed by the Intramuros Authority under the Department of Tourism. IA is responsible for, among others, peace and order, safety, restorations, managements of the sites, zoning and land use, and has its own permit system.

These powers do not remove the mandate of the city government to collect real estate taxes, building permits, business licenses, etc. In other words, the city government is relieved of management and administrative duties without any loss in income. So why does it want Intramuros back?

Mrs. Harper has a theory that some city government officials look at Intramuros not as a heritage site with a unique and important history, but as an increasingly tempting piece of real estate where high rises and malls can be built. Removing the Intramuros Authority will also put the management of heritage sites and other property within the area into the hands of city officials neither equipped nor inclined to include restoration and reconstruction in their own visions, if it can be called that, of the place.

Seen this way, one can only conclude that allowing a local government-managed Intramuros would amount to the same kind of damage from World War II carpet bombings that left only San Agustin Church standing. This time what would obliterate history and its priceless ambience would be billboards, fast food restaurants, high-rises and an ever-growing, vote-rich slum area.

Square foot for square foot, no other site in the country holds as much national historical interest as Intramuros. Even its very ground is unique as it holds artifacts that recount the ages of trade even prior to Spanish conquest. Every single conqueror of this country flew its flag over the Intramuros, and all ? except the Americans ? retreated to the safety behind its walls prior to ejection.

The oldest fortified city in the country needs help. It needs increased funding to provide, among others, more restored sites, an appropriate museum for the Intramuros Administration?s collection, removal of informal settlers, further archeological assessment and so on ad nauseam.

The IA has been doing a valiant job despite its myriad internal problems but much of its work had been delayed by lack of funds and political will, just like nearly every other government agency. The last thing it needs is to keep fending off covetous government officials whose minds are far, very far, from heritage.

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