Saving the Patria building

CEBU. Initial sketch of Patria de Cebu coexisting with new buildings rising behind it. (By Architect Melva R. Java)

(Note: Architect Melva Rodriguez-Java, FUAP, is a member of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts – Task Working Group (NCCA TWG) for the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the NCCA-Vatican Concordat; member of the Icomos [International Council on Monuments and Sites] International Committee for Places of Religion and Ritual; and Deputy Officer for Cultural Property of the National Museum of the Philippines.)

THE proposed new development at the Patria Compound to enhance Cebu’s historic urban fabric, revive the area and provide needed recreational and dormitory space for Cebuanos and visitors to the city is highly commendable.

However, it should be undertaken with due consideration for the protection of a significant heritage resource in the compound, namely the Patria de Cebu building.

The Patria is valued for the following reasons:

1. Its architectural and engineering significance - The Patria building is one of the earliest examples of earthquake-resistant construction in Cebu whereby beams tied to the post foundations render them sturdy enough to counter seismic vibrations. The building has remained strong and serviceable through six decades of existence.

2. Economic significance – The Patria building’s economic potential goes beyond its material value (which today can already run to millions of pesos). Economic benefits of a heritage resource can achieve multiplier effects for people through vendors, tourist guides, souvenir shops, eateries, etc. Heritage resources provide some of the most equitable forms of economic development available to poor countries.

3. Less environmental impact – The adaptive re-use of heritage structures such as the Patria building limits additional carbon footprints generated by new developments and mitigates negative impact on the environment. In studies made, UNESCO found that man-made developments involving demolition account for the greater loss of heritage sites than natural disasters like floods and earthquakes.

4. Legal protection - The National Cultural Heritage Act of the Philippines (Republic Act No 10066) protects buildings of more than fifty years old. These culturally significant structures are presumed Important Cultural Properties and must be conserved.

The internationally accepted imperative in the revitalization of historic zones is “no to demolition,” unless the heritage structure is found to be unsafe by structural experts. The Patria building stands in Cebu City's oldest heritage precinct.

A number of heritage buildings are already being enhanced and re-purposed successfully, giving new life to Cebu City’s urban fabric. Examples include the Prince Hypermart occupying the old MCWD building, La Nueva store that is operating in a former warehouse, the Ho Tong Hardware site owned by the Sy family within which is a Jesuit House built in 1730 that is being restored. The Ong Kin King family is undertaking moves to protect its 1920s warehouse.

The Patria building, if saved from demolition, can be another admirable example of good conservation. This would revitalize the historic ecclesiastical center in old Cebu by repurposing the old Patria building and incorporating it into the proposed new development by Cebu Landmasters Inc. Respect for the heritage building can be shown by protecting its integrity, its history, its scale and the design intent of its original authors and builders.

5. Intangible capital – This is the Patria building’s MOST SIGNIFICANT VALUE. The structure is rich in emotional meaning. The Patria building is infused with the combined efforts, skills and talents of college students of the University of San Carlos who made the “Ave Maria” blocks by hand. They worked closely with Cebuano citizens, architects and engineers who volunteered their services in order to give Cebu a place for wholesome rest and recreation. Indeed, the Patria can well be said to be “Mama Mary’s building”!

6. Memory is a gift - His Excellency Right Reverend Jose S. Palma, Archbishop of Cebu, said in his Nov. 26, 2018 keynote address delivered during the Bishop Pedro de Agurto International Conference in Cebu City: “What we are enjoying today are products of history. They shape us into what we are today ...we are enjoying the fruits of the past.” This was stated in reference to the pastoral work of Bishop Agurto and companions in the 16th century. It also becomes very relevant to the narrative of the Patria.

To save this important building is to honor the youth, professionals and citizens of the previous generation for this legacy handed down to us and to future generations. “Remembering is very important,” Archbishop Palma said, “and so is the gift of memory.”


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