IN THE late 1980s, University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu students enrolled in a recreation games class had their weekly bowling session at the Patria de Cebu. As the school had no facilities for this Physical Education class, students used several bowling alleys in Cebu City.
Jonalyn, now in her 50s, said UP Cebu bowling students benefited from the Patria’s accessibility and affordability. Following online the campaign waged last year by members of civil society to convince the Archdiocese of Cebu to back down from its plan to demolish the Patria to create a modern mixed-use commercial structure, Jonalyn learned more and appreciated the Patria’s role in history, particularly how students volunteered to solicit and help construct what was first used as a recreation center for the youth in 1954.
“The Patria blends with the historical and religious character of this part of downtown Cebu regarded as the core of the birth of Christianity,” she said, pointing out how the Patria is within walking distance of other local touchstones: the Magellan’s Cross, Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, and Archdiocesan Museum of Cebu.
Jonalyn thinks the developer Cebu Landmasters Incorporated (CLI) should pursue the alternative proposed by heritage advocates and the church’s own heritage advisers, the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, to retain and restore the front part of the Patria building, creating around this the rest of the commercial complex.
“Modernization is needed but should it be at the expense of our history and culture?”
Deciding the fate of the Patria de Cebu is engaging more members of civil society who have joined the ranks of heritage advocates urging Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma to reconsider his decision to demolish the Patria.
Last Feb. 1, SunStar Cebu reported the submission of a petition seeking the preservation of the Patria, which was signed by over 600 students and faculty of the University of San Carlos (USC) School of Fine Arts, Architecture and Design (Safad), led by their dean, Joseph Michael Espina, a member of the United Architects of the Philippines-Datu Lapu-Lapu Chapter of Cebu.
On the official Facebook page of Cebu Heritage Society, Jose Eleazar Bersales posted on Feb. 1 that, aside from the Safad petition, other petitions are being circulated among the faculty and students of the USC School of Arts and Sciences and the USC Downtown Campus. Bersales is a member of the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church.
The proposed demolition of the Patria has been referred to the Cebu City Legal Office and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines for these offices’ recommendations. “As a 64-year-old edifice, (the Patria) is legally protected through Republic Act 10066, or the National Cultural Heritage Act of the Philippines, which protects buildings of more than 50 years old,” reported SunStar Cebu.
The mobilization of civil society to protect and preserve Cebu heritage is no minor victory. As Espina wrote in the Safad petition, “we have taken responsibility in educating and training our students on the importance of heritage conservation. We seize opportunities to show our students examples of what can be preserved as heritage structures.”
Educating citizens about the adaptive reuse of urban spaces to enable the built and cultural heritage unique to a locality to co-exist with modernity and progress is crucial for preparing them for greater participation in the planning and development of their communities.
The harmonious fusion of the old and the new is crucial for identity, relevance, and livability. Institutions, public and private, must exercise sensitivity and accountability in their role as caretakers of built and cultural heritage.
Only a citizenry educated and appreciative of their heritage can demand that institutions be accountable in this collective stake.