Sunday, April 03, 2005

The rationale of preserving San Fernando's heritage

Preserving Heritage for Progress


The year 1995 was a demoralizing one for San Fernando. The Municipality was hit by floodwaters and lahar from Mount Pinatubo leaving the town submerged for several weeks. In following years, aggravated by the annual floods, there was rampant destruction to property, with it the architectural heritage of the City. Progress also posed a threat. But the climax of this destruction was the loss of one of the symbols of San Fernando’s rich history, the Abad Santos Ancestral House.

The property was privately owned. At that time, the Municipal Government did not have the funds to purchase the property because it was still facing problems brought about by the annual floods. Despite the strong efforts of the Municipal Government to lobby for funding with the NHI, DOT, the National Centennial Commission, and other agencies; the effort was rendered helpless in saving the structure from the demolition ball. The experience left a thorn in the soul of the Fernandino culture and spirit.

Architect Augusto F. Villalon, in his regular Philippine Daily Inquirer column on heritage conservation, described clearly the problems which the urban renewal program of the City Government of San Fernando, Pampanga wants to address: “Driving through the center of San Fernando in Pampanga last week was depressing. The place was another of those generic, typical, nondescript Philippine cities. All around us was the same urban chaos that the Filipino now takes for granted. It must have become a national karma, our turning the opposite way to avoid seeing the dismal conditions that we are forced to live in. In San Fernando, absolutely no clue exists of its former grandeur; no hint is present of the special quality of life that its residents are supposed to enjoy. But things aren’t that bleak. San Fernando Mayor Reynaldo B. Aquino is carrying out a recovery program. He seeks to recapture the city’s former glory as the capital and as a center of excellence of Pampanga.”

To add to the problems was the fact that Kapampangan and Fernandino culture was fast disappearing because of the close proximity of San Fernando to Metro Manila. There was also a lack of local cultural and historical awareness among the citizens. Few knew that many of the local personages made contributions which changed the face of the entire nation. Moreover, no one realized that the City would be celebrating its 250th founding anniversary in 2004. Thus, there was a need to strengthen local history and culture, and honor the many unsung heroes of the City.

After 1995, it was an upward battle for San Fernando. Mayor Rey B. Aquino was just a few months in office. And for the next three years, it was a struggle for survival. The three years which followed was a struggle for progress and cityhood. And when it became a City in 2001, the next three years became a struggle to save the very heart and soul of the City, its rich history and heritage. That is when the urban renewal program of the City on the lines of heritage conservation and cultural revival became most relevant.

This program has several objectives, among which includes the preservation and restoration of the architectural heritage of the City as well as ensuring its protection for future generations of Filipinos, increasing the awareness and knowledge of its citizens on local history and culture, honoring the unsung heroes of the City, strengthening advocacy among all sectors to ensure that the Abad Santos experience will not happen again, and finally, creating an identity for the City in order to unite its citizens through its rich history and culture.

In the same column of Architect Villalon, his last statement regarding the proposed Kapampangan Cultural Center at the Pampanga High School Building could very well speak of the objectives of the entire urban renewal project of the City. He writes, “The project seeks to keep the San Fernando story alive before what little is left of the town sinks into the lahar that covers most of the city. It keeps the hope that heritage will be rediscovered and conserved for the future in San Fernando.”

In order to achieve its objectives, the urban renewal program reached out to all sectors of society. From young students in the different public and private schools to senior citizens who really wanted to see the heritage preserved as a legacy for all, to the various civic, professional, sectoral and religious organizations, the local media, and the business community, the program tried to affect the way of thinking of each Fernandino. The fact that the program raised the very consciousness of each Fernandino about his cultural heritage makes this program noteworthy given the uncontrollable circumstances the City had to face.

It did this through actual large-scale restoration projects to small but meaningful cultural activities and competitions. Aggressive historical research is also ongoing to bring back to life unknown facets of the local history. Several executive orders and ordinances were also released to reinforce this cultural revival in the City. But most significant of these strategies was the commissioning of Palafox Associates to create an urban renewal master plan on the lines of heritage conservation. And in just a span of a few months, several of the proposed projects were implemented and completed.

Note: The program "Preserving Heritage for Progress" of the City Government of San Fernando, Pampanga was among the Top 10 Best Practices for 2004 of the League of Cities of the Philippines, and the twelve Trailblazing Programs of the Galing Pook Awards 2004.

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