The mess that is the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) is something that’s become obvious not so much because of its involvement in Paoay Church renovations, or questionable engagements with heritage site reconstructions, but more because there seems to be no effort at all on its part to be more transparent about its projects, ones that the National Commission for Culture and the Arts has no choice but give it some money for. And this is the thing: we’re talking millions in taxpayer’s money. It’s a surprise that the President himself has not insisted that his appointee be more forthright about how her office is spending the cash, or whether or not it’s needed at all.
But the President is not the only one letting the NHCP off easily. Say, the Senate investigation headed by Senator Pia Cayetano about Torre de Manila. It was clear to me from the get-go that NHCP had a hand in the continued construction of the condominium development behind the monument of Jose Rizal in Manila. Because this office has the power to stop developments like these from being started and continued.
But for reasons only its chairperson understands, the NHCP flip-flopped from condemning the development, to saying that it is not breaking any laws. The office then passed on the task of declaring a buffer zone around the Rizal Monument to the Manila City Hall.
This is the thing with the NHCP, it seems to care about certain tasks more than others, i.e., the renovation of churches and monuments without telling us why or how it’s needed, versus protecting monuments and structures that are endangered by demolition and development.
What has been called the September massacre of Manila’s heritage as such is really no surprise. It is obvious now that what ails heritage in this country is a government office like the NHCP making unilateral decisions declaring that structures have no historical significance and may be demolished and developed, when anyone would know that everything to begin with has historical significance. Even more so buildings from 50 years ago. But this historical commission seems dismissive half the time of the value of heritage sites and structures, as when it declared the Anda Circle held no historical significance only to realize that it’s part of the buffer zone of the World Heritage Site that is the San Agustin Church.
The boo-boos that surface about the NHCP at this point can only be the tip of the iceberg, and one can only imagine what’s truly going on with its other projects, the ones that it deems more important than saving these heritage structures and sites being destroyed before our eyes.
It’s clear what the Heritage Law says, it’s clear who should be responsible given this law, and there is money that may be spent on implementing this law. But with this NHCP headed by a PNoy appointee, nothing seems to be going well for heritage in this country.
With the NHCP’s historical omissions, the massacre can only continue.