We hate space

In our dear country, space is probably the most abused element (for lack of a better word). It can be argued that far too many human beings within our national territory have a low regard for space. There is also wanton disrespect for time because it is intangible and inedible, so it is mindlessly squandered, as if totally bereft of material value. On the other hand, space is visible to the naked eye, even it there is nothing there,  you know that space exists. Take note that this is not about that thing called “vital space” of which we are so jealously protective.

Although we Filipinos never say “killing space” (like “killing time”) we have shown a morbid propensity for slaughtering space, especially in recent times. Euphemistically, tt is called development of the real estate type, a drive towards progress, a passion for modernity.  Wherever we encounter space, we  feel compelled to slaughter it; whether open or enclosed,  there is a national mania to  obliterate space with structures that should not be there at all.

Last Tuesday, the eminent landscape architect Paulo Alcazaren expounded on the massacre of space during the “Hot Heritage Issues” lectures at the National Museum of Fine Arts, sponsored by the HOCUS team and the Heritage Conservation Society. Paulo  showed us slides of the Burnham Plan for Manila which was meant to be the iconic “city beautiful” with extensive green parks, a network of boulevards, avenues, and side streets with logical connectivity, a pedestrian-friendly metropolis with specific areas destined for a government center and a cultural historical core.

In fact, the National Museum, which we refer to as the “old legislative building,” was really meant to be the national museum, according to the Burnham plan. Then, for shock value, Paulo Alcazaren suddenly flashed aslide, a drone’s eye view of Manila and you could hear a horrified, collective gasp from the audience. From the air, our Manila, the former Pearl of the Orient, looks like an inhospitable crackling slab of drab concrete. Bereft of zoning,  with hardly a speck of green,  infrastructure in a jumble, and beside a darkening bay no longer shaped like a luneta,  Manila does not seem suitable for human habitation.

A “hot heritage issue” is the Rizal Memorial Stadium Complex  (RMSC), which the current mayor of Manila and city council want to convert into yet another commercial mall. The cultural agencies mandated to preserve our historical landmarks, architectural treasures, and built heritage are invoking RA 10066, the “Heritage Law” to save the RMSC and its open spaces from the wrecker’s ball.

Space as an essential element of heritage brought to mind the St. Martin de Tours cathedral of Taal, Batangas, a neo-baroque edifice built more than 200 years ago, one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. It may not be the longest, a distinction held by a church in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, but it is definitely the widest. Beside the Taal cathedral, on the right side if you are facing it, there is a  convento, a 2-story antique structure with massive wooden beams. Between the convent and the church there was a garden, a space approximately 16 meters square, in direct proportion with the height of the convento. According to Dom Rodrigo Perez (may he rest in peace), that space is an essential part of the design of a neo-baroque church complex; it was meant to be there.  For the past 2 centuries it was a garden until a parish priest (may he also rest in peace) constructed an adoration chapel with a bizarre style. That is an ongoing  “hot heritage issue.” A local cultural group in Taal, led by architect-sculptor Ramom Orlina, sued the priest; the case was won but after 10 excruciating years. However, the adoration chapel still stands.

This has nothing to do with the separation of church and state, we Filipinos just abhor open spaces.