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Why preserving old buildings is important

By Paulo DS. Papa NAGA CITY--- “We have social and moral obligation to preserve our heritage for the next generation because what we are taking for granted now may be precious tomorrow,” thus said Alec Francis A. Santos, the chief of the Arts, Culture, and Tourism Office in an interview with this reporter only recently. Heritage buildings have significant value in history and culture, which can at the same be re-used for economic activity such as tourism, Santos added. He elaborated that structures aged 50 years and above are automatically protected by the law under the R.A. 10066 or the National Cultural Heritage Act which provides that old buildings should not be renovated, modified, or demolished unless it is officially permitted to do so by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Santos said that the Local Government Unit concerned must be officially informed by any citizen about any potential violation for appropriate action, which may include preventive measure. He admitted that it will depend on the NCCA to determine if a certain structure is of cultural value and thus request for a direct cease and desist order from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that shall accordingly secure the premises. “Nangyari iyan sa Iriga. Idtong old city hall. Pig-demolish na mayong permiso sa NCCA, nag-issue nin cease and desist order, tapos pig-orderan an militar tapos PNP tanganing bantayan su building.” (That happened in Iriga. Operators were demolishing the old city hall without permission from the NCCA which caused the latter to issue cease and desist order and for the Army and the PNP to secure the building), Santos said. He added that if the above concerned government agency (the NCCA) does not see an edifice of any cultural value, the demolition or preservation of such edifice will depend on the owner of the property, just like what happened to a preserved Spanish colonial entrance arch at what is now Que Pasa along Barlin Street fronting the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral. R.A. 10066 gives exemption to the destruction of an old building if such structure already pauses a threat or hazard to persons living inside it or nearby. When asked about the fate of the vacant lot along Penafrancia Avenue in Bgy. San Francisco where the Spanish-era provincial jail is situated, Santos replied that the property is still under litigation between the provincial government that sold it and PhilAm Life insurance company that bought it due to a question of lot boundary. The site would in any case be an ideal site for a museum and preserved structure of an old era. He stated that it is ironical that local business establishments are not conscious about using old structures without demolishing or altering them when other tourism-conscious localities are very much willing to preserve their old buildings as tourist attraction.. Santos said that city hall conducts regular heritage walks in coordination with the Department of Education (DepEd) to explain to students the historical significance of these existing landmarks. He stressed that more than just a matter of law, heritage conservation is what we owe to ourselves and into the next generation because if we don’t know where we came from, we will never know where we going; and this is the essence of heritage conservation. “Who we are right now as people, as a city, and as a community is because of what transpired in the past where the only concrete evidence of our ancient landmarks. If we erase those, we will erase physical reminders of our struggles and more importantly our victories,” Santos concluded.

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