Hot heritage issues

This afternoon, heritage advocates will gather at the Roxas Hall of the National Museum of Fine Arts to discuss hot heritage issues, the beginning of a series of monthly lectures related to the HOCUS exhibition at Gallery XXI. The latter was inaugurated last 18 April and is open to the public until 29 October, a fitting closure of museum month.

Lecturers from the Heritage Conservation Society will recall “massacred” cultural properties and vista corridors destroyed by structures like the “Torre de Manila.” We will bring up the case of the adoration chapel of the St. Martin de Tours basilica of Taal and that Spanish masonry aqueduct of San Juan City. This lost relic was part of the Carriedo water system built by Genaro Palacios of the Inspeccion General de Obras Publicas. Ironically enough, its sudden disappearance in early 2000s was due to a court order of the Department of Public Works and Highways prohibiting its destruction. Apparently, the then mayor of San Juan had other plans so the historic aqueduct-bridge was demolished, somewhat surreptitiously.

What a pity, that aqueduct which had supplied potable water to Manila and environshad survived more than a century of revolutions and wars could have been preserved, if only for its touristic value. It had six arches of adobe and was an essential part of the Carriedo system that had supplied Manila and environs with water from Montalban.

At around the same time, another vintage water system, almost a century old, was severely endangered–the water tower of San Fernando city, in Pampanga. That was built during the American colonial period and since then become a veritable landmark of the city. To improve on what Spain had left behind, the American colonial administration established a modern water supply system to distribute the precious liquid directly to end-users through a complicated network of pipes. The water tower could distribute as much as a hundred thousand gallons when it was in full use. Lamentably, it was decommissioned in the late 1990s after a foreign consultant said the structure had become “unsafe.”

The San Fernando water tower tilts several degrees to the southeast, which is why residents fondly refer to it as their “leaning tower of Pisa”. Roundabout 2005, the officials of Barangay Lourdes passed a resolution to demolish it ostensibly to protect an elementary school located within crumbling distance. Surprisingly enough, it was the San Fernando Water District Office that deferred action in order to conduct public consultations, which involved the University of the Philippines Urban Design Laboratory. If memory serves, the conclusion was that the “leaning tower” could be stabilized with injections of “concrete slurry” at its base, a sophisticated and pricey process readily available in the Philippines.

There are similar water towers all over this archipelago constructed during the American colonial period and those that have survived the wrecking ball are threatened with demolition. Why can’t these be re-purposed and given alternative use?There was one in Cagayan de Oro City, I wonder if it has survived the onslaught of real estate developers.

The HOCUS “hot issues” will include: “Decoding Deco, introducing Manila’s Art Deco heritage” by Ivan Man Dy; “Whose story is it anyway” Interpreting local heritage,” by Kara Galileo; “Parks and Plazas” by Paulo Alcazaren. You are all most cordially invited.