HERITAGE advocates on Tuesday, November 27, appealed to Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma to save the Patria de Cebu building from demolition and push for a redevelopment design concept that would incorporate the old structure into the envisioned modern, commercial structures.
In a letter sent to Palma Tuesday morning, Architect Melva Rodriguez-Java and Eileen G. Mangubat stressed that "no other church-owned property in Cebu has this rich and personal story of sacrifice by modern day Catholic youths whose proof of faith is the Patria de Cebu itself."
"As heritage advocates and volunteer lay members of the Archdiocese, we plead with your office not to allow the demolition of the Patria de Cebu as there are alternative designs that can preserve the building at the same time reap the maximum economic benefit of its location with modern, commercial structures," they stated.
Java and Mangubat are both members of the Archdiocese Commission on Cultural Heritage of the Church. More members of the commission are set to join the call to save Patria, said Mangubat, an independent editor.
In their letter, they quoted Palma himself who underscored the importance of heritage in his keynote address during the Bishop Pedro Agurto, OSA Conference. “I can’t be more grateful for the past... We are reaping the fruits of yesterday’s planting," Palma was quoted as saying.
"Heritage is the memory of identity. If the Patria is demolished today, what does that say of the capacity of Cebuanos and the Archdiocese to learn from architecture built by another generation with a pure spirit of service?" the letter added.
The Patria de Cebu building, a 64-year-old former Catholic youth recreation center that was built with the so- called Ave Maria hollow blocks made by Student Catholic Action members and college students from the University of San Carlos in 1954, is set for demolition in early 2019.
The present occupants of the building have been given until the end of December this year to vacate the premises.
Cebu Archdiocesan spokesperson Monsignor Joseph Tan said the plan to demolish the Patria is already a "done deal." He said, however, that concerned sectors can always seek an appointment with Palma or with the Archdiocese’s Administrative Board to discuss their concerns.
Jose Soberano III, president and chief executive officer of Cebu Landmasters Incorporated (CLI), was noncommittal on whether the company would consider an alternative design that would not require the demolition of the old structure.
"The decision to have the existing old structures of Patria demolished is with the Cebu Archdiocese, (it) being the owner of this property," Soberano said in a text message.
Asked whether his company was open to a dialogue, he said, "the Cebu Arcdiocese or Church should be the right party to dialogue on this matter." CLI was awarded the contract to lease and redevelop the 6,670-square-meter Patria de Cebu property. Soberano and Palma signed the lease contract on October 29, with CLI remitting an initial P50 million to the Archdiocese to cover the rent for the construction phase in the next four years.
Read: Making and remaking Patria de Cebu
Under its redevelopment plan, CLI intends to construct a 14-story building that will be operated as a hotel with retail spaces and a six-story structure that will house a supermarket and office spaces, including those allotted rent-free for the Archdiocese.
Soberano has vowed to blend the Patria heritage with contemporary design as well as put up a marker to commemorate how the building was constructed.
In a position paper attached to her and Mangubat's letter to Palma, Java cited at least five reasons to support her stand that "demolition is out of the question" for the Patria building.
She also attached an initial sketch of an alternative design that would preserve the old structure, re-purpose this and integrate this into the new structure.
Read: Saving the Patria building
Java's position paper cited the Patria's architectural and engineering significance, given its "earthquake- resistant construction whereby beams tied to the post foundations render them sturdy enough to counter seismic vibrations".
She also cited its economic significance, noting that as a heritage resource, the Patria could catalyze the development of services establishments such as souvenir shops and eateries.
Java further said the "adaptive re-use" of the Patria building would minimize the carbon footprint of the new development and mitigate its negative impact on the environment.
The Patria building is legally protected through Republic Act No. 10066, or the National Cultural Heritage Act of the Philippines, which protects buildings of more than 50 years old. Unless "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," Java said.
She pointed out that other old buildings in Cebu City are being restored and re-purposed, such as the old MCWD building which now houses the Prince Hypermart, an old warehouse that now houses the La Nueva store and the Jesuit House inside the Ho Tong Hardware site.
Java also pointed out that the descendants of Chinese immigrant Ong Kin King are undertaking moves to protect their 1920s warehouse.
The Patria's most significant value, according to Java, is its intangible capital.
"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," she said.
The students and their mentor, the late Father Bernard Wrocklage, SVD, "worked closely with Cebuano citizens, architects and engineers who volunteered their services" to build a recreation center for the Catholic youth.
Java said saving the Patria "is to honor the youth, professionals and citizens of the previous generation for this legacy handed down to us and to future generations." Java is a member of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts – Task Working Group for the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the NCCA-Vatican Concordat.
She also sits in the Icomos International Committee for Places of Religion and Ritual. Icomos, or International Council on Monuments and Sites, works for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places around the world.
Java is also the deputy officer for cultural property of the National Museum of the Philippines.
She stressed that instead of being demolished, a heritage building like the Patria should be the starting point of a redevelopment concept and the new building should respect the characteristics of the old structure.
"We are a Third World country and that building is still worth millions (of pesos). You don't throw away buildings that are very sturdy. It was the first earthquake-resistant building in Cebu," she added. (With a report from Justin K. Vestil)