Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The impact of San Fernando's heritage conservation program

In the belief that heritage should be used as a tool towards progress, the City Government of San Fernando enhanced the poblacion area which was still suffering from the effects of the 1995 devastation. And with competition from nearby shopping malls like SM City Pampanga and Robinsons Starmills, the poblacion needed a new environment to remain alive and bustling. And that new environment was the revival and restoration of the old heritage structures which eventually became new attractions for the City.

Of the proposed projects in the original City of San Fernando Heritage District Development Proposals of 2001-02, several projects were already implemented and completed such as the restoration of Baluyut Bridge in February 2003, the installation of period lamp posts and sidewalk pavers along Consunji Street, the restoration of the City Hall of San Fernando in October 2003 and the Clock Tower in February 2004. An imposing thirty-foot bronze monument by renowned artist Abdulmari “Toym” Imao, Monumento Fernandino, was also inaugurated in December 2004 which now serves as a landmark welcoming visitors to the poblacion.

The history of the City is also depicted in artworks found in the City Hall of San Fernando such as the Pasbul ning Kasalesayan, the main entrance of the City Hall, which has five bas-relief panels depicting different historical and cultural scenes, as well as images and symbols of the City; and the imposing 14 feet (average height) by 48 feet (total length) staircase mural, depicting the history of San Fernando. At the center of the City Hall Compound is the newly-constructed Plaza de Arrozal, named after the first gobernadorcillo of San Fernando in 1755, Don Vidal de Arrozal. City Historical Markers have also been installed to mark heritage and historical edifices. People can now read the history behind each building or residence as they pass by.

On legislation, the ordinance creating the City of San Fernando Heritage District and its governing body proposed in May 2002 was unanimously approved by the Sangguniang Panlungsod in February 2004 further increasing the socio-cultural impact of the heritage conservation aspect of the program, which will definitely bring back the former elegance of the poblacion in the coming years.

The immediate changes seen in the poblacion in just a period of one year (February 2003 to February 2004) were praised by several sectors in the City. Together with the current heritage conservation legislation as well as other pending heritage-related ordinances in the Sangguniang Panlungsod, these were indeed moves towards a higher level of consciousness and political maturity on the part of the City Government as a whole. As a result, several of the candidates for local chief executive in the coming elections have included arts and culture in their proposed programs of governance.

These observed changes will also serve as a measure for the next administration. The concurrence of the business community in the belief that heritage must be used as a tool for progress is seen in an August 2003 column of Ram Mercado in SunStar Pampanga entitled “Levy Laus’ quest for a new leader.” Mercado writes, “With its achiever mayor on the way out in 2004, a replacement of City Mayor Rey Aquino is the biggest problem confronting San Fernando residents.” Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman Levy P. Laus was quoted to saying “It’s a tall order finding the mayor’s successor.” Mercado adds, “But LPL is dead serious in the search for a new city mayor who will lead Fernandinos to the future, move the city to its premier status as a first class community, and retrieve its lost glory as the economic and cultural center of the emerging Kapampangan megalopolis. Laus said a master plan, based on the storied culture and past history of San Fernando, with a perspective of forward-looking initiatives, is the collective dream of Fernandinos.”

The cityhood anniversary celebrations also featured more cultural and historical activities, as well as new festivals. In 2003, the theme of the 2nd Cityhood Anniversary Celebrations was “Panyulung ning bukas, balikid king milabas” which means “moving forward by looking back at the past.” This year, the 3rd Cityhood Anniversary Celebrations had the theme “City of San Fernando: Celebrating 250th years of history and progress.” Two ideas are always seen side by side, the past and the future, since the City at present sees its past as an instrument in achieving a great future.

In the social context, the program uplifted and continues to elevate the spirits of the residents of San Fernando, most especially the senior citizens who are delighted to see that the current generation of Fernandinos has learned to value the legacies left behind the past. Local and national media have become partners in relaying to the public the status of the different historical sites, and problems encountered along the way so that citizens become emotionally involved in the plight of the remaining architectural heritage of the City. These include the looting of the old Pampanga High School building in May 2003, the public disappointment on the negligence which resulted to the fire which gutted Abad Santos Hall, one of the four Gabaldon schoolhouses in the City, in October 2003, and the latest being the proposed renovation of the Pampanga High School Main Building in March 2004, which all came out in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

This vigilance in the protection of the heritage of the City is a strong indicator of the effect of the program on the identity and sense of pride of the Kapampangans in San Fernando.

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