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09:53 PM September 21st, 2013

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September 21st, 2013 09:53 PM

The Leaning Tower of Pisa it’s not, but the Spanish-era baluarte (watchtower) of the town of Luna in the province of La Union is no less historic and deserves the preservation efforts of both local and national governments.

Already tilting at an alarming 20 degrees, the watchtower is in danger of collapse in the event of a powerful storm. All it needs for the watchtower to come crashing down is for it to tilt just one more degree, according to AMH Philippines Inc., the engineering consulting firm that is working to save the seaside landmark. In the report by Inquirer correspondent Yolanda Sotelo, AMH project manager Egbert Abiad concedes that conservationists should “accept that the structure is already tilted.” He is hopeful, however, that something can be done to “stop it from tilting more.”

Made of adobe and coral blocks held together by lime and egg whites—typical of the structures of the Spanish colonial era—the  watchtower served as a fortress and a lookout for pirates. No one is sure exactly how old it is, but Luna Mayor Victor Marvin Marron describes it as “the town’s tourism landmark” and an “important heritage.”

AMH has conducted a feasibility study on the preservation of the watchtower (and has waived its professional fees as part of its corporate social responsibility). Its findings show that the watchtower would have collapsed 10 years ago had it not been for some emergency structural repair. That was then; permanent restoration is required now. The La Union provincial government is looking for private help even as it marshals its resources to preserve the landmark.

Here is a project worthy of the pork barrel had government officials been mindful of history and the necessity of the people’s awareness of their past.

Many more landmarks nationwide are slowly crumbling because of a lack of funds to preserve and restore them. These landmarks are virtual hostages in the back-and-forth between the forces that seek to preserve and the forces that seek to demolish or build over. The city of Manila, because of its own history as the old capital, is full of such structures. The Meralco Building in Ermita with its bas-relief façade by Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti, the Philamlife Theater on United Nations Avenue, the old Government Service Insurance System building on Arroceros Street, and the old houses in Binondo are only some of those endangered examples. “It is difficult to balance the commercial needs of development and the preservation needs of a city that wants to balance its special and unique personality,” Gemma Cruz-Araneta, vice chair of the Manila Historical and Heritage Commission under then Mayor Alfredo Lim, once remarked. Indeed, where malls and condominium buildings rise, the past is literally bulldozed.

As heritage advocates fight their battles in Manila, they have been successful elsewhere, such as in San Fernando, Pampanga, where they saved an old train station that was inaugurated back in 1892 and that symbolized the fight for freedom during World War II. But these success stories are few, and many of the landmarks are now decaying and fading from the collective memory. There are churches, lighthouses, family homes. If these landmarks have deteriorated badly by the time the government gets around to them, they will be too fragile to save and will become ruins in every sense of the word.

Ironically, the watchtower in Luna, La Union, has to be declared a national landmark or national treasure before government funds like the pork barrel can be released for conservation efforts. Because it has yet to be declared as such, the historic baluarte has missed out on “priority assistance.” Imagine what those precious funds—hopefully not dissipated in some ghost project—could have achieved.

It is up to the local governments to make the preservation of their own historical sites and structures a priority. And it falls upon concerned citizens to continue their efforts to bolster their communal pride by fighting to save the landmarks through the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, whose task it is to declare heritage sites and national landmarks.

Let’s hope there’s time for such bureaucratic rituals. Otherwise, just one more degree of tilting and the Luna watchtower, another significant link to our past, will be reduced to a heap of rubble.

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