WITH MODESTO P. SA-ONOY
Recently the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and the tourism offices of Occidental Negros and Bacolod came out with a list of the historical and cultural heritage of the province. There were towns not listed among those with much valuable legacy of our past. I learned the list did not reach a hundred structures. It was admittedly incomplete.
Surely there are more than 500 in this province, not just structures, sites and intangible traditions. In La Castellana alone for instance I listed 36, not including those that had already been destroyed. Bacolod would have more than 50 at my last count.
Oftentimes our heritage is lost through ignorance of their value and preference for commercial gain. I refer one, for instance – Puerto San Juan in Bacolod, popularly known as the Provincial Jail which was its last function. Until it was demolished it was the lone historic government structure of the Spanish era. Now to serve a commercial need for space, the building owners, 888, simply hammered its last remaining structure and covered the ground on which it stood for 127 years. With that, a portion of Negros history was lost, buried under a mall and never to be seen again.
I am making this Puerto as an example of wanton and mindless destruction of our heritage because this year, we are commemorating the 100 th year of the death of its builder, Recollect Fr. Mauricio Ferrero. Although he was parish priest of Bacolod from 1871 to 1909, with a few years gap for sabbatical leave, he was also the man who did a lot for the island, aside from the imposing San Sebastian Cathedral.
The Puerto served as the headquarters of the Spanish military forces and jail for Negros. I will not discuss here the history of this stone fort that then looked out towards the Guimaras Strait as a guardian of Bacolod and the important personages in Negros history that were incarcerated there. That will be for another time.
The most important matter at hand is to lament its demise because the architects and the owners of 888 and some provincial officials failed to protect the last historic government structure.
There are legal accountabilities of this demolition. Did 888 secure a clearance from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines?Did 888 comply with the condition of its contract of lease to preserve the structure?
When the area where the remains of the fort stood was leased to 888, there was assurance that its remains would be preserved. If privately owned The Ruins in Talisay City, and constructed only during the American period became a tourist attraction despite its nebulous claim to being historical, the more the fort should have been preserved.
We were made to believe that 888 will preserve the remains of the fort but before we knew it, 888 demolished it. The company had no regard for its historic value as our heritage. The company was concerned only with the commercial space.
When the lease was revealed, lawyer Joe Valencia of the provincial government asked me to pinpoint which of the remaining portion of the fort should be preserved. I identified the main portal and the two sides of the portico that served as the administration office. The portico opened to the wide prison yard which was riddled with pieces of bricks.
These bricks are important in that they have markings as to their source and the year they were made. I was told that the marker was already kept in custody so I suggested that whatever bricks could be salvaged should be kept and used in the restoration. I was assured by Valencia that the architects of 888 will talk with me so I can identify the areas for preservation and how they could be preserved and incorporated in the mall structure. The architects never did.
I only learned that the structure was demolished when it was already flattened. The picture of the rubble was published and drew anger from several sectors. Did 888 care? It seems not, but apparently to comply with lease contract it constructed elsewhere a small structure to install the marker of the fort.
There is no preservation or restoration. What 888 constructed is an entirely new one that does not represent what 888 destroyed. Did the people who approved it know what they did? The 888 structure is not even a poor imitation of the fort's portal. *
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