NHCP asserts its authority against Alimodian Mayor

Finally, we have good tidings in favor of built heritage conservation (a rarity nowadays)! 😃

Two months ago, news broke out that Mayor Geefre Alonsabe of Alimodian, Iloílo Province was planning to desecrate their centuries-old town plaza by constructing a ₱4.6-million multipurpose building which will take up about ¼ of the area. This, of course, didn’t sit well with the townsfolk, heritage advocates, and even concerned netizens, not to mention that the planned structure is a violation of Republic Act No. 10066, otherwise known as the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009. But the mayor was stubborn, claiming that the plaza is not even half a century old, and that majority of Alimodianons are backing him up on the planned building.

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How Mayor Alonsabe’s multipurpose building would have eaten up considerable space of his town’s plaza had its construction pushed through (image: Raymond Deza).

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) stepped in to enforce the said heritage law to protect Alimodian’s town plaza from being disrespected by its own mayor, thus putting a halt to the construction of the building. Mayor Alonsabe made a formal appeal early last month. On September 20, the NHCP finally released its decision regarding the matter…

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Copy of NCHP letter furnished by Nereo Cajilig Luján, chief of Iloílo Provincial Government’s Public Information and Community Affairs Office.

The NHCP decision, signed by its chairman, Dr. René Escalante, proved to be a major blow to the mayor and this project’s contractors, but it is a huge victory nonetheless for Alimodian’s heritage and history. It is even a much bigger victory for our country’s struggle in conserving its built heritage considering the alarming fact that we have been losing several heritage structures to both greedy and apathetic people through the years: the Manila Jai Alai Building in Ermita, the Alberto Mansion in Biñán, the Michel Apartments in Malate, and the list just goes on and on. I haven’t even mentioned the countless ancestral houses or bahay na bató all over the country that have been lost to wear and tear and total neglect.

And even as I write this, several more heritage structures such as El Hogar Filipino in Binondo,  the Puente de Barit in Laoag, and Life Theater in Quiapò just to name a few are in grave danger of disappearing to give way to “progress”. And while some structures were saved from the wrecking ball, others were not as fortunate as they still suffered the shame of defacement (remember the sorry state of the Church of Calumpit when it was turned into a “wedding cake”?). And whatever happened to the people behind the demolition and/or defacement of our few remaining historic structures? They remain free from the penalties of R.A. 10066. That could be one major reason as to why the said law is still being flagrantly violated. That is why this recent move from the NHCP is a cause for celebration as this could be the impetus that tired heritage advocates have been waiting for. At last, R.A. 10066 is now showing some teeth!

Protecting a town plaza, no matter how cumbersome looking it may be to the general populace, is not a derisory activity. Same thing goes to protesting the planned demolition of a rickety looking bridge over a polluted river, or an old toppled-down jailhouse in the midst of a slum. Remember: built heritage is another facet of our national identity. It tells a locality’s story. These cultural treasures are remnants of a once glorious past that even today’s progress could never equal.

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The town plaza of Alimodian, Iloílo is in grave danger

Last week, I was explaining to my son Mómay the importance of the Spanish language to us Filipinos by using this latest irritating news from Alimodian, Iloílo…

Alimodian mayor tells NHCP town plaza not a historical site

Published 

By Tara Yap

Iloílo City— Mayor Geefre Alonsabe of Alimodian town challenged members of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) to reconsider their decision questioning the municipal government’s decision to build a multi-purpose project in the town plaza because the site is a heritage property.

The plaza of Alimodian town in Iloilo province is the controversial site for the construction of a multi-purpose hall.  The plaza has been declared as an Important Cultural Property. (Tara Yap/ MANILA BULLETIN)

The plaza of Alimodian town in Iloílo province is the controversial site for the construction of a multi-purpose hall. The plaza has been declared as an Important Cultural Property. (Tara Yap/ MANILA BULLETIN)

“I challenge them. They should come and check,” Alonsabe said.

The NHCP earlier advised the municipal government of Alimodian to find a different site for the multi-purpose building and not build it inside the town’s plaza, which has been declared as an Important Cultural Property (ICP). The commission’s decision came after a group wrote to NHCP chairman René Escalante that the project site is within the town plaza, which they consider to be part of their heritage.

Due to the complaint, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)-Iloilo 4th District Engineering Office) temporarily halted the project to coordinate with NHCP and other agencies.

Despite being told to find another local, Alonsabe is firm that majority of Alimodian residents want the multi-purpose hall to be constructed within the plaza. He also reiterated the General Welfare clause of the Local Government Code. “We need a covered court for our activities. This will benefit our people,” Alonsabe said.

Alimodian official are not fully aware of how the plaza is an ICP. “On behalf of the LGU, we do not have papers declaring the plaza as heritage property,” Alonsabe said.

Alonsabe added that the marker of the then National Historical Institute (NHI) does not indicate the ICP status. Alonsabe also reiterated that the current plaza is not 50 years old.

Mayor Alonsabe wants to construct a multi-purpose hall right within the town plaza. If he does that, the town plaza will be transformed beyond recognition. There might not even be a town plaza anymore. Thankfully, the NHCP is blocking the project because the plaza is a heritage property. But the mayor insists that it isn’t, even saying that the plaza is not yet 50 years old!

To students of history, it is common knowledge that all Spanish-era towns (then called poblaciones) include plazas. Whenever a parish church was built during that era, it was almost unthinkable not to construct a plaza right in front of it.

We then consulted an old book, the “Diccionario Geográfico, Estadístico, Histórico de las Islas Filipinas” (Volume 1), published in 1850 by Fr. Manuel Buzeta and Fr. Felipe Bravo, to check if Alimodian is a Spanish-era town. On pages 287 to 288, we found what we’re looking for…

Alimodian was founded in 1784 with only 1,602 houses. Its church, dedicated to Santo Tomás de Villanueva, was under the diocese of Cebú. Aside from the church, the town already had a convent, a public cemetery, a court (of justice), and even a jailhouse. In short, it was already a completely functioning town.

Could you just imagine a completely functioning town during those days without a plaza?

It’s pure tomfoolery on the part of Mayor Alonsabe to say that the plaza is not even 50 years old in order to justify his dimwitted plan of setting up his multi-purpose grotesquerie within a heritage site. But then again, he might make another excuse saying that he doesn’t know Spanish, that’s why he’s ignorant of his own town’s history.

What a shame. Because of the Spanish language, my 14-year-old son and I now know more about Alimodian’s history compared to its own mayor. And since we now know its historical background, we have come to appreciate it as well. And to think that we haven’t even been to that beautiful historic town of his that he wishes to desecrate in the name of… what?… contracts?

Sin vergüenza.