Defacing a ‘centennial’ facade

By Herbert Vego

THE first time I noticed construction work going on at the Iloilo Division Office of the Department of Education (Dep-Ed), in La Paz, Iloilo City, I sensed something wrong. It seemed as if a container van was jutting out of the second floor, defacing the façade.

The side view also reminded me of the enclosed terminal walkway for passengers boarding or disembarking an airplane.

Whoever masterminded the renovation of the 18-year-old edifice must have been ignorant of its history. I thought of contacting two persons who had worked hard to turn the “centennial dream” into reality, as we shall find out later.  They are former division superintendent Dr. Raymundo Lapating (retired) and incumbent Sangguniang Panlalawigan member Rolando Distura.

“Had I been consulted,” Lapating lamented in a brief meeting with this writer, “I would have opposed the renovation. “It was too late when I met the incumbent division superintendent by chance. I did not hide my disappointment. I told him that if he needed an extra room, he could have built one at the back.”

Now for the poignant history of the building based on our conversation:

Until the building was completed in 2003, the division office had been squatting for 99 years in one of the buildings owned by the Iloilo National High School.

Going down memory lane, it was in 1903 when the Department of Public Instruction of the United States’ colonial government established its first division office in Iloilo City with an American, John Summel, as first division superintendent.

“Providential” is the word applicable to the rise of the new building 100 years later in 2003 because it had sprung from a “chance meeting” among three individuals.

Sometime in November 1996, Dr. Lapating told this writer, “I went to the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City to meet with Congressman Curging.”

He was referring to Licurgo Tirador, at that time congressman of Iloilo’s 3rd district.

While lingering around the Batasan corridor, however, he crossed paths with the late Congressman Narciso Monfort (4th Dist., Iloilo) and the then Speaker Jose de Venecia.

“What brought the good division superintendent here?” Lapating quoted the Speaker as having asked him after they were introduced to each other by Monfort.

“Before I could say a word,” Lapating recalled, “Monfort butted in, ‘He needs a division office’.”

“You solve the problem, Narsing,” he quoted the Speaker as having told Monfort.

It was not until four months later in March 1997 that Monfort’s chief-of-staff, Rolando Distura (now a Sangguniang Panlalawigan member), called up Lapating to say that Congress had approved a budget of 25 million pesos for the construction of a new division office.

Dr. Riza Amaguin, the late administrator of Iloilo National High School, agreed to donate a roadside portion of the school for the project.

“It took six years to complete the construction,” Lapating said, “because the budget was insufficient. We had to look for additional funds from the provincial government of Iloilo and the private sector. The cost of labor and materials exceeded 47 million pesos. Our office forked an additional seven million for office equipment. “

The finished product earned the tag “Centennial Building” on the day it was inaugurated in December 2003.  The year marked the 100th anniversary of Dep-Ed’s Iloilo Division Office.

The Centennial Building has been around for only 18 years and one month but is still new-looking. Lapating, being the first division superintendent to occupy it, has good reasons to lament the premature renovation.

“The imposing Centennial Building serves as the North Star of the teaching profession in Iloilo” he said. “Some of its men and women might have been gone, but the cold iron and unyielding concrete shall remind future leaders thereat of the hardship, perseverance, and artistry that had preceded its emergence. It should not be abused, misused or defaced for personal gratification. It is a majestic building that should be protected, respected and preserved as a landmark recognized by the National Historical Institute.”

Lapating could not name Dep-Ed officials responsible for the ongoing renovation.

“I have never been consulted about it,” he reasoned.

I went to the office of SP member Rolando Distura for additional information. He and the late Engr. Ed Comoda had worked together in the planning and execution of the architecture.

While he, too, could not share any information on the renovation, he waxed sentimental on symbolisms attached to the two columns of window panes on the doorway façade.

“The two pillars,” Distura revealed, “symbolize the fight against poverty and ignorance through education. Each of the two parallel pillars has nine window panes representing 99 years that had elapsed before the rise of the building on the division’s 100th year.”