PH’s gifts to the world
Manny Pacquiao may continue to hog the limelight because of his date with destiny in the neon city of the planet, but spare a thought for all the other wondrous gifts of this Pearl of the Orient. Diverse of influences and wealthy of culture, the Philippines has many historic and meaningful offerings to be discovered—if only these can be treasured and promoted properly.
Those gifts are, or should be, coming to the fore in this merry month. Proclamation No. 439, signed by President Gloria Arroyo in 2003, declared May National Heritage Month and cited “a need to create in the people a consciousness, respect and love for the legacies of Filipino cultural history and to raise material support for the protection of tangible and intangible heritage,” as well as “a need to strengthen the people’s awareness of cultural heritage sites, structures and landscapes, and encourage their participation in the preservation of these cultural legacies through various activities.” The National Commission for Culture and the Arts is tasked to lead this important annual celebration.
National Heritage Month kicks off tomorrow with the NCCA’s “Taoid” (the Ilocano word for “heritage”) project at the University of Santo Tomas, featuring an exhibit on heritage churches and cultural landmarks, a roundtable discussion on the establishment of standards for cultural conservation, and the premiere of director Butch Nolasco’s documentary “Our Spanish Heritage.” The NCCA is also running the “Bayaning Bayan” project, which seeks to celebrate the imagery of heroes from our literature and mythology through visual arts.
All that is a good start, but the placing of value on our culture and heritage needs to go beyond May. It’s time to focus awareness on, or indeed be aware of, Philippine cultural landmarks including heritage churches and other structures, as well as cultural traditions, and even the historic Manila-Acapulco galleon trade.
There are efforts to nominate the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade for inclusion in Unesco’s World Heritage List. The Unesco National Commission of the Philippines (Unacom) was reported to have held a meeting last week with officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs for this purpose. “The galleon trade paved the way for the widest possible exchange of material goods, cultural traditions and practices, knowledge and belief systems and peoples,” the Unacom said in a statement. “It established a formidable link between the East and West that would span for some 250 years (1565 to 1815), which can be considered the first manifestation of globalization, influencing politics and philosophy, commerce and the development of trade in most parts of the world.”
Similar efforts have also been made to get the Mayon Volcano Natural Park named a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Included at the UST roundtable is an update on the rehabilitation of the heritage churches in the Visayas damaged by the 2013 one-two punch made up of the earthquake and Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” The need to rebuild and protect these Spanish-era churches continues, as shown by the efforts of local officials in Piddig, Ilocos Norte, to ask the National Historical Commission of the Philippines to declare the 204-year-old St. Anne parish church a heritage structure.
The NCCA has been holding “heritage clinics” in various areas to educate locals on the need to help preserve cultural landmarks. This can also be seen in the renewed efforts to preserve and restore structures such as the Manila Metropolitan Theater, that art deco beauty in Arroceros, Manila, that has fallen into tragic disrepair.
All this falls into place and ultimately comes together when one considers the need to get the people’s awareness of and support for National Heritage Month, and then to get them engaged for the rest of the year and beyond. It will take a lot of work, and it begins now. Awareness includes continuing study not only among scholars but also among students and the general public; it involves acknowledging the necessity of conservation, all the way to actively seeking recognition for the Philippines and, most important, the assistance of Unesco.
The greatness of a country is measured not only in its material prosperity and its citizens’ important contributions to humanity, but also in its rich history. In that sense, the Philippines and its storied past can hold their own in the community of nations.