I’ve always been a big fan of colonial homes and old buildings. Maybe it’s the ‘lost’ Filipino identity in me, or I’m just being my overly sentimental self, but seeing colonial buildings turned to fashionable restaurants or boutiques, or preserved as residential homes in a modern neighborhood immediately restores my faith to my kababayans and businessmen who pushed through the idea of ‘reviving’ some sort of history in their establishments.
Manila, particularly, the walled city of Intramuros, has always been close to my heart. During my internship at the Manila Bulletin, I’ve had the fondest memories of wasting my time on top of its historic walls. The walls are oozing with an undefinable sacred ‘feel’, like being in the presence of something ancient, something that had witnessed the most cruel and triumphant moments in history. The rocks would whisper their secrets, and just by touching them, you are infused with memories of a thousand-year old history: Fleeting images of the richest Spanish families promenading inside its walls, the final walk of Jose Rizal from Fort Santiago to the park which will be later named after him, the Rape of Manila that signaled a new, cruel era of Japanese occupation in the archipelago during WWII, and the tragic Liberation by the American forces that almost erased the whole Manila on the map.
Even way before that, Intramuros was part of the Islamic Kingdom of Manila during the 14th century, ruled by various Datus and Rajas, constantly involved with countless skirmishes against its neighboring kingdoms across the island of Luzon.
Despite Intramuros’ rich history in the heart of Manila, The Global Heritage Fund identified Intramuros as one of the 12 worldwide sites “on the verge” of irreparable loss and destruction on its 2010 report titled Saving Our Vanishing Heritage. That’s why when a friend invited me to a talk discussing the plans for the revival of Intramuros, I quickly accepted the invitation.
The talk doesn’t only involve Intramuros, but the Philippines’ other historical and cultural heritage as well. It was organized by the Heritage Conservation Society Youth, a group of young people dedicated to the preservation of our country’s worn-out buildings that are much older than your grandparents.
As I made my way to the venue, which is at the Manila Collectible located behind the Manila Cathedral, I stumbled upon excited groups of tourists gearing up for their tour inside the walled city. It struck me then how valuable Intramuros is to the tourism driving the City of Manila and the country as a whole. Intramuros is like the Philippines’ answer to UK’s Bloomsbury Square, or France’s Paris. Whether it looks splendid or terrible, the tourists would immediately include Intramuros in their itineraries because of its important role in this fascinating, almost-Hispanic-but-quite-Asian country’s history.
Intramuros Administrator Atty. Marco Sardillo was the first one to speak. He is a rather excitable man whose words about his grand vision for Intramuros, at first, seemed ‘too good to be true‘. But as time goes by, his energy seemed to infect us as he discussed the 1973 Tourism Plan sponsored by the Spanish government to revive Intramuros’ former glory. Over the years, phases of the Plan had long been delayed, but new officials are doing their best to sustain and improve the plan in these changing times.
In a somewhat ambitious plan, sir Marco talked of ‘democratizing’ Intramuros’ largest and major streets, almost like that in Netherlands or France where you share the road with the cars or bicycles. In his own words, the streets of Intramuros will be considered pedestrian-friendly when a 6-year-old kid will be safe to walk around it. Also part of the overall face-lifting is the establishment of underground cabling, thus eliminating the electric posts and bulky, tangled wires ruining the view of the buildings.
The major phase in the development is the redesigning of Plaza Roma, in front of the Manila Cathedral. During the Spanish times, the Plaza Roma is actually built as the center plaza of whole Intramuros. Think of Vatican Square or the Trafalgar Square. Sir Marco and his team are pushing for the idea of earth-balling the trees and turning the place into what it was originally meant to be.
There’s also the talk of plans involving the former moat surrounding the walls. Because the moat is now a golf course, Intramuros officials planned on installing magnificent lighting on the walls to signify the importance of the moat. Although if I were given the authority to do so, I would happily get rid of that stupid golf course and transform this into a public park or some sort of a water reservoir to divert floodwater from Lagusnilad and other nearby areas.
My actual message in this blog post is: Get rid of that damn golf course!
One of the parts I’m excited about is the reintroduction of tram buses inside Intramuros! The administrators are already finalizing an acquisition of two tram cars which are currently being modified to run through electric power without the use of cables.
Okay, I know these plans may seem to be too far-fetched. I’m a dreamer, as well as a realist, but this is definitely something I could look forward to. For starters, there are already plans in motion for renovations of buildings around Plaza Roma like the Manila Cathedral and Ayuntamiento area. We all hope the revival of the ferry system later this year would also improve the tourism around the Pasig River area along the Maestranza. Cultural advocates like Sir Carlos Celdran, Manila Collectible Co. and the Heritage Conservation Society Youth team are doing their best to highlight the importance of the city in representing our 7, 107 islands bounded together by a colorful, indigent history. Let’s show our support too!
There are also great things I’ve learned from the other speakers, and they all opened my eyes to the importance, real importance, of our cultural heritage. As the Austrian art director and guest speaker Kratochwill said, “When you grow up in a heritage architecture, you will start to appreciate it. They (Filipinos) don’t have contacts in it.” Heritage buildings do not only add ‘culture’ or ‘beauty’ in a place, or serve as a historical reminder. It also awakens a cultural and national consciousness among the people, that somewhere in their hearts, they found a shared connection with history that has long been lacking in their identity as a nation. And I hope someday, we can be truly proud of that heritage, no matter how painful our history as a people may be.