OF COURSE, you’ve already read about the buzz created by conservationists regarding the construction of a mall in downtown Laoag. They claim that there are two Gabaldon buildings in the compound where it is to be built, and that the structures must be preserved on account of their historical and cultural significance.
It started when Ivan Henares—a travel blogger, heritage conservationist, and fraternity brod of Provincial Board member Kris Ablan—visited the province last December to deliver a lecture on blogging. Incidentally, he got wind of the issues surrounding the Laoag City Central Elementary School where the shopping monstrosity is to rise.
He immediately blogged about it at www.ivanhenares.com, and his post generated a moderate amount of comments. Here are some excerpts:
Herdy: What we need is a careful balance between conservation and development. If it is any consolation, there’s a Gabaldon in almost every town, so that architectural delight won’t really missed.
You preserve some, you lose some. This world thrives on compromise. Material culture evolves, and this is mainly a zoning issue. No more ‘black or white’ fallacies, please.
While I feel for conservation, I strive, as Aristotle would urge, for the golden mean.
Ivan Henares: Herdy, while I agree with you that some structures will inevitably go, I do not agree that heritage should be sacrificed in the name of development. Have you been to Europe or even our neighbors like Singapore and Malaysia? Look at the way they preserve heritage in prime real estate. As an urban and regional planning major, I believe that heritage conservation plays a strong role in the development and progress of any urban area. Sadly, many politicians in the Philippines are blind to that reality.
On the Gabaldon in particular, we fight to preserve the best examples in the country. And LCES is one of the best! It’s not the ordinary Gabaldon you just see in every town. So your argument does not hold.
Herdy: Ivan, I agree that heritage should not be sacrificed in the name of development.
Yes, have traveled to Europe and to our neighbors, and understand what you mean.
Unfortunately, there are times when art becomes a baggage so heavy to be borne by a third-world nation struggling for survival.
Yes, it does not help that we have a dearth of thinking politicians.
Let me make it clear where I stand. I am not for the mall construction in the Central lot, but my opposition is not fueled by the conservation advocacy this time. I think it’s so burgis.
I am against it for three reasons.
1. I don’t believe it will deliver what it promises–More revenues, more jobs. It will only favor big business and promote exploitative job contractualization.
2. I love downtown Laoag’s maaliwalas feel, something the mall will rob us of. (And no to more pollution,too.)
3. Third and most important–I abhor the message it sends: that the church meddles with things so material. It’s bad enough that the spiritual-political divide is a blur. Don’t add “commercial” to the picture as well.
“Of course, it’s about the money.” the Bishop Utleg was candid enough to tell me.
The other year, they built a swimming pool in the bishop’s residence. What do their hearts yearn for this time?
Ivan Henares: Thanks Herdy! One of our advocacies in the HCS is bringing down heritage conservation to the grassroots, taking away the burgis tag from it.
Cultural tourism has become a powerful tool for poverty alleviation worldwide. So to say heritage conservation is a burgis advocacy is not fair. I am giving you a copy of the Hue Declaration on Cultural Tourism and Poverty Alleviation which you might like to read for your reference.
Then Banjo, another blogger, picks up from the exchange…
Banjo: When people are jobless, desperate, hungry and sick, saving a building is the least of immediate concerns. NSO reports more than 40% poverty rate, and more than 60% underemployment – all these support the view that jobs take precedence over aesthetic values of physical structures such as this school.
It is easy to shout “save this school, this building, etc.” when one can afford the basic necessities of life. but for those who are hungry, saving a building is the least of his concern – no matter how precious that building is.
Ivan Henares: Now tell me how the new mall in downtown Laoag will help with the unemployment problem. Ah yes! The mall will bring a lot of new jobs! But how about the jobs that will be lost because of the small businesses that will close as a result? How about the businesses themselves? You want to throw them into the unemployment margin?
How about the school children that will be displaced? How about the quality of life that will be diminished as a result of the loss of this heritage?
Sad to say, ang ibang Pinoy, mababaw mag-isip, lalo na kung pera ang katapat. Mas mabuting masaya ngayon, bahala na kung sira ang buhay bukas basta kumita ng pera ngayon.
Throw that mall in an undeveloped area to spur development there. Now that’s what is logical! Unless people are thinking of campaign kitties this early or building another swimming pool, I don’t see any decision wiser than placing the new mall in a new development to spur progress.
Herdy’s Riknakem: The conservation argument is weak. In fact, Ivan is even more convincing when he employs urban planning and economic arguments.
Some years back, I met Bambi Harper, founding president of the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS), and discussed with her about one missing element in their crusade: popular support. They were then fighting for the conservation of the Jai Alai building in Manila, a playground by the rich and glamorous in the 1940s. They were pushing for the preservation of memories, but the memories of who? The elite. The poor had no business safeguarding souvenirs of ostentatious parties and rendezvous of the Manila’s 40.
Today, HCS is led by beauty queen Gemma Cruz-Araneta, and I understand that they have channeled the group’s energy into preserving Gabaldon buildings which are, by no means, burgis. These are structures that have nurtured the masses, the clientele of the public education system. Today as then, however, the group has not gained the support of a critical mass.
In a thirld-world country at a time like this, burgis advocacies don’t succeed.
Read the Philippine Daily Inquirer Feature