Rizal@150 in Dapitan | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

[email protected] in Dapitan

No locality in the entire country could have been more blessed than Dapitan City in Mindanao. We commonly say Dapitan was “place of exile” to Jose Rizal for four years from 1892 to 1896. It was actually more than that, for the state of affairs of such exile was unique. He was allowed mobility within and around the locality. More than that, he was given the freedom to contribute civic initiatives, as we have known. It was, more precisely, his home of four years more than place of banishment, for the object was not exactly imprisonment but taming, as the authorities saw it. An occupied Rizal would have had thought less of “subversion.”

The late Jesuit historian Fr. Miguel Bernad, whom Ambeth Ocampo rightly calls the Magus of Mindanao, recalls a family tradition that Rizal had accompanied the Spanish commandant of Dapitan Ricardo Carnicero on an inspection trip on horseback of the proposed coastal road from Dapitan to the town of Misamis (Ozamiz City today). In Misamis, they had lodged at the house of prominent citizens Ramon and Prospera Ledesma Bernad. They were the grandparents of Father Bernad.


Dapitan then as home more than place of exile was a nuance that has made the place unique in Filipino history. It is an irony that Dapitan has more than what Calamba has. More than ancestral home, it has so much materiality that has Rizal’s imprint and handiwork distributed over a wide geographical scope. One of these is the very much extant relief map of Mindanao which has already been declared a National Cultural Treasure.

It was with this nuance of Rizal home in mind that the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, with the National Historical Commission and the National Museum, recently declared Dapitan as the country’s first Heritage Zone under the newly enacted Republic Act 10066, the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.


The closing ceremony of last month’s National Heritage Month was held in Dapitan to distinctively usher in the commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the National Hero’s birth. At the same time, it was also seen as the apt moment to announce the declaration of Dapitan as the country’s first Heritage Zone. National Museum of the Philippines director Jeremy Barns, realizing the drama and import of the occasion, signed the declaration in front of the ceremony’s audience. Also attending was National Historical Commission deputy executive director Mely Almosara. The presence of two of the country’s foremost cultural agencies underscored the magnitude of the declaration.

What then is a Heritage Zone? It is a new designation that has had no precedence yet in our national cultural praxis. It is a label that is introduced in Article IV of the new Act with the primary purpose of protecting “the historical and cultural integrity of a geographical area.” The mandate to designate lies with the NHC and the NMP, in consultation with the NCCA and the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board. The word “integrity” there already shows us the very raison d’etre of the designation: it is not merely for tourism showcase but to protect heritage practice and property. It covers not just the cultural tangibles (physical and material property) but the intangibles found within the zone.

Under the Heritage Act, the onus of protection lies not with the national cultural agencies but under the local government unit. An LGU therefore that accepts such designation must know that it is entrusted with a formidable task: the responsibility to protect historical and cultural integrity.

It must implement the concept of adaptive re-use of cultural property, which is “the utilization of built structures for purposes other than that for which they were intended originally, in order to conserve the site, their engineering integrity and authenticity of design.”

That alone is already problematic for Dapitan. The 1871 church of St. James, for instance, was greatly modified in 1964; it has not conformed to its original structure and design. Thus, the National Museum has recently considered it ineligible for declaration as a National Cultural Treasure or Important Cultural Property. Nearby is the still existing shell of Escuela Parroquial which needs restoration but must be done under the supervision of heritage designers. An opportunity for adaptive re-use is the nearby convent, now occupied by a school, the Rizal Institute.

There are other plans mentioned in the discourses one hears in Dapitan. One is the conversion of the present town hall into a museum, a plan worth considering. The other is to consider the possibility of building the replica of the Casa Real where Rizal first lodged in Dapitan. But the new Dapitan City Hall is built along a massive modernistic line that clearly does not conform to its historicity. The only saving grace is that it is located far from the town plaza, which Rizal himself designed and planted with acacia trees that have grown stately over the years.

The greatest challenge for Dapitan is, in fact, to maintain the rusticity of the place which was still there about five years ago. In the intervening years, it has embarked on tourism projects that count success by the numbers. More than its carrying capacity, the small city has now become congested with the sprouting of all-night beer gardens and “ihaw-ihaw,” nocturnal entertainments and a theme park. It seems to be confused between being the “shrine city” of Rizal or a “city that never sleeps.” Pension houses and small hotels have sprouted along the city’s Sunset Boulevard, but with no room service and concierge. Clearly, its path does not only lie along the tourism of arrival numbers.


All these will have a bearing on whether it can truly live up to its designation as the country’s first Heritage Zone. Under the Heritage Act, the role of the LGU is also to “document and sustain all socio-cultural practices such as but not limited to traditional celebrations … recreation of customs … and other local customs that are unique to a locality.” It must therefore realize that by entering into the discourse of tourism, it is also putting a strain on the old ambiance of Dapitan which was its main attraction.

(Comments to [email protected])

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TAGS: ambeth ocampo, Dapitan, Fr. Miguel Bernad, Heritage Zone, historian, Jose Rizal
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