Friday, April 01, 2005

Protecting San Fernando's Heritage

It was a painful lesson for San Fernando. Way back in 1999, the City of San Fernando lost one of its most important heritage houses, the Abad Santos House. Ironically, Fernandinos remained silent. No one fought to save the house, apart from the Office of the Mayor, which found itself powerless amidst the bigger threat of lahar.

The second residence of the Abad Santos siblings, children of the couple Vicente Abad Santos and Toribia Basco, in that house at one time or another lived: Pedro (founder of the Socialist Party of the Philippines and Assemblyman); Jose (Secretary of Justice, Justice of the Supreme Court, Patriot and Martyr); Antonio (Municipal President of San Fernando); Quirino (Municipal Councilor of San Fernando) and his son Quirino, Jr. (Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals and Secretary-General of the House of Representatives); Salvador (Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals); and Agapito del Rosario, son of their daughter Emilia, (Mayor of Angeles, Patriot and Martyr). It was an abode where great people once lived. And nothing was done by San Fernando or even the national government to save it.

San Fernando has to learn from this experience before more of these structures are lost. That is why the City of San Fernando Historical and Cultural Society, together with the City Government of San Fernando, had pushed for the creation of the City of San Fernando Heritage District since 2001. This heritage zoning in San Fernando was already enacted through City Ordinance No. 2004-003.

In 2003, the National Historical Institute acceded to our request to send a survey team to San Fernando to determine which sites could be considered for national recognition. Among those which were considered top priorities for markers were the City of San Fernando itself, the Cathedral of San Fernando, the old Pampanga High School Building, the San Fernando Train Station, PASUDECO, and several heritage houses. To date, four heritage houses have been declared by the NHI; the San Fernando Train Station was declared a historical site as well.

We call on the Sangguniang Panlungsod to continue helping us in this effort. More local legislation is needed to protect the poblacion area. It is ironic that several members of the Sangguniang Panlungsod are even first to call for the demolition of a heritage structure, the 83-year old San Fernando Water Reservoir. Nothing out of the ordinary and leaning precariously as it may seem, the said water tower is part of the San Fernando story and an integral part of its industrial heritage.

As we safeguard our historical structures, we must also ensure that any new building put up must not destroy the beauty of these old edifices. Many heritage conservationists complain that the trend in Filipino architecture, for quite a while now, is designing new buildings without taking into consideration its surrounding structures. Thus, almost all the time, modern-looking buildings destroy the elegance of areas dotted with century-old houses. Why not make even just the exterior of these new buildings look old? Or at least exist in harmony with old edifices that surround it?

The sad news is that San Fernando can no longer be declared a national historical landmark. And the reason behind that is that fact that there are already so many alterations, unsightly buildings sprouting here and there, destroying the elegance of our historic core. We may not be a Vigan, but if heritage conservation was done early on, we could have found ourselves at the level of other heritage towns such as Taal in Batangas, Silay in Negros Occidental, and San Miguel de Mayumu in Bulacan.

The town of San Fernando was founded in 1754. Last year, in 2004, we celebrated our 250th founding anniversary. Another celebration was the centennial of the transfer of the capital of Pampanga from Bacolor to San Fernando in 1904. And many activities were lined up to commemorate these events. But that is not enough as more heritage sites need to be protected for future generations of Filipinos. And the success of these endeavors will mainly rely on the amount of support that Fernandinos are willing to give to keep the culture and history of the City alive.

The business community could also make projects of their own, to revitalize our historic core. The Pampanga Lodge, for example, could be converted into a first-class bed and breakfast facility. In fact, cultural tourism is the trend in other countries. The PASUDECO Sugar Central could improve its facilities in order to be an educational destination as well. If done, students as far as Manila could be invited to visit, in order to learn how sugar is made, as well as the history of sugar farming and its contribution to the province and the nation. A museum could even be created to augment these educational trips.

The San Fernando Train Station could be converted to a Death March Museum and Memorial. It is ironic that when American veterans fly back to the Philippines, they visit Bataan and Capas, but rarely pass by San Fernando, despite the fact that it was a major transit point. And this is mainly because the train station was left to rot.

That is why we laud the efforts of the Foundation for Lingap Kapampangan, Inc. for their efforts to restore the old Pampanga High School Building, to become the future Kapampangan Cultural Center. In fact, once completed, the Museong Kapampangan in Clark will be transferred to this historic building.

Currently, the Heritage Conservation Society is restoring another Gabaldon school building, the current Pampanga High School Main Building along High School Boulevard as part of the Heritage Schoolhouse Restoration Program of the Department of Education.

Monuments, fountains, and small parks can also be erected around the historic core. And we thus call on the city's architects, artists and landscapers to assist us by offering their services and help us actualize these dreams. In the end, all these projects cannot be realized without funding, so we call on all civic groups such as the various Rotary Clubs in San Fernando, the Cabalen Jaycees, Quota International Pampanga, Soroptimist International Pampanga, Homeowners Associations and other professionals groups, to help by adopting a project. Some have already adopted projects and have in fact completed them such as the San Fernando, Pampanga Heritage Foundation, San Fernando Jaycee Senate and the Council of Women. We hope more would follow suit.

Finally, the celebration of our heritage will not be complete without awareness among Fernandinos of our rich cultural and historical heritage. We thus call on the ordinary citizen to join our efforts even just by understanding and learning what our City has stood for during these past 250 years. Only when we look back and value our rich history and heritage can we finally make real our vision of a progressive city that will be a catalyst for development in Central and Northern Luzon, and a major contributor to the global community.

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