Heritage: A Tale of Two Cities

The cultural heritage of our cities reflects their unique identities and histories, serving as a bridge between the past and the future. This week, Iloilo and Bacolod present a contrasting narrative in heritage preservation. While Bacolod celebrates a significant cultural recognition, Iloilo faces criticism over the demolition of an iconic structure.

Iloilo City, lauded as the UNESCO City of Gastronomy for 2023, is embroiled in controversy following the demolition of the historic Central Market.

Mayor Jerry Treñas of Iloilo finds his administration under scrutiny for potentially bypassing legal procedures required for delisting heritage buildings from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) database. The gray area surrounding the demolition raises questions about the city hall’s commitment to heritage preservation and adherence to the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.

The Central Market, a presumed Important Cultural Property (ICP) under the National Cultural Heritage Act, should have been protected under specific legal provisions. The NCCA and National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) are now investigating if the demolition breached heritage laws. Mayor Treñas, defending the city’s actions, emphasized the priority of public safety over cultural commitments, even if it risks Iloilo’s UNESCO status.

Dr. Ivan Anthony Henares, an NCCA commissioner, highlighted the gravity of declaring heritage structures as “structurally unsound” and the subsequent implications for their demolition. He underscores the potential for retrofitting buildings using modern technology, a practice common worldwide, which raises the question of whether the demolition was a necessary or expedient choice.

In stark contrast, Bacolod City scored a cultural win with the recognition of Bacolod Chicken Inasal as a City Cultural Property by the NCCA. This acknowledgment, celebrated during the Bacolod Chicken Inasal Festival, highlights the city’s dedication to promoting and preserving its cultural assets. Mayor Alfredo “Albee” Benitez expressed pride in this achievement, reinforcing Bacolod’s reputation as a cultural hub and culinary destination.

The divergent paths of these two cities underscore the importance of heritage and history preservation. While one city faces potential legal repercussions for destroying a cultural landmark, the other gains recognition for celebrating its culinary heritage. This dichotomy serves as a reminder that heritage preservation is not just about protecting structures but also about upholding the cultural identity and history that these structures represent.

In the end, the actions of city administrations today will shape the cultural legacy left for future generations. It is imperative that decisions impacting heritage sites are made with careful consideration and adherence to legal frameworks designed to protect our cultural treasures. The tale of Iloilo and Bacolod offers a valuable lesson: heritage and history are irreplaceable, and their preservation should be a paramount concern for all.

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