‘HOT TOPIC’: Central Market demolition under investigation

Dr. Ivan Anthony Henares (inset) of the NCCA and UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines said the demolition of the Iloilo Central Market is under investigation.

By Joseph Bernard A. Marzan

Cultural agencies of the national government are investigating whether the Iloilo City government followed the law in demolishing the Iloilo City Public Market (Central Market) in April, an official said on Saturday, May 18.

Dr. Ivan Anthony Henares, commissioner for cultural heritage of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), revealed during a forum hosted by the National Museum of the Philippines (NHCP) in Manila that the demolition was a “hot topic” among cultural agencies.

He hinted at an inquiry into the demolition’s legality but did not clearly indicate which of his affiliations he was referring to or speaking from.

He clarified to Daily Guardian on Sunday that this inquiry, which he emphasized was “not a formal investigation,” was being conducted by the NCCA.

“The first question that we need clear answers for is whether the Iloilo City government obtained permission to demolish it after they found it structurally unsound,” Henares said.

“When the NHCP approved the development plan, there was no mention of the demolition of the tower. If they found it structurally unsound, they could not unilaterally demolish the structure. That’s what we’re trying to find out right now. Was there approval for them to demolish the structure?” he added.

At the forum, Henares, who is also secretary general of the UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines, addressed the use of ‘structural unsoundness’ as a reason to demolish culturally significant structures.

He cited the demolition of the old Manila Electric Railroad and Light Company (MERALCO) building on San Marcelino Street in Manila in 2013, where the art-deco “Furies” installation was replicated but not spared from demolition. The replica is currently installed in the Cardinal Santos Building of the nearby Adamson University on the same street.

“When you say something is structurally unsound, there is a public safety issue. But there is also a possibility of retrofitting buildings, and that’s our problem. Does it mean that every heritage structure, when declared structurally unsound, is now for demolition? Is that how we are going to handle it, so everybody can just have their building declared structurally unsound and demolish it?” Henares said.

“We are in an age of modern technology where we can retrofit many structures. It’s being done all over the world. And here we are in the Philippines using the excuse that something is structurally unsound for public safety when modern technology can retrofit a historic structure. So, let’s not use ‘structurally unsound’ as a reason for demolition,” he added.

Henares said they are trying to approach the investigation “as objectively as possible,” noting the reactions when the demolition was confirmed by the city government.

“What is the liability? We will find out if there is any. We are at a stage where we are trying to study what happened, whether there was a go signal from the NHCP to demolish the structure. If there was no go signal, then we will look into the heritage law and see what the liabilities of the city government are for issuing that demolition permit,” he said.

“So right now, we really can’t say what the liabilities are because we are still investigating the incident. But it would seem that if it was a unilateral decision of the Iloilo City government to demolish the market tower structure without clearing it with the appropriate cultural agency, then there will be some liabilities, and we are going to look into that,” he added.

READY TO RESPOND

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas said on Sunday that they were ready to present to the UNESCO country office with documents attesting to the need to demolish the structure.

He reiterated that the city government’s Office of the Building Official (OBO) has greenlit the demolition, with approval from the NHCP.

“The OBO has given a demolition permit before the construction because the structure was unsafe. Copies of the demolition permit can easily and readily be secured from the OBO,” the mayor said via Viber.

“If indeed there is an investigation, then they should let me know right away. It’s tiring for them to even have to hide that,” he added.

He also expressed willingness to risk the city’s Creative City of Gastronomy status awarded by the UNESCO in November 2023 to safeguard public safety.

“I will not compromise the safety of Ilonggos with our standing of our city with UNESCO. The life of one Ilonggo is not worth our UNESCO creative committee commitments. If I have to choose, I choose our Ilonggos,” he said.

The Central Market’s façade, before its demolition, was presumed to be an Important Cultural Property (ICP) under Section 5(f) of Republic Act No. 10066 (National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, as amended), due to its structure being over 50 years old.

The market also remains listed as a Local Cultural Property under the NCCA’s Philippine Registry of Cultural Property (PRECUP) as of April 30, 2024.

As a presumed ICP, the city government, as the property owner, is required under Sections 5 and 8 of R.A. No. 10066 to petition the NCCA to remove the presumption as an ICP and to delist it as an ICP to allow for its demolition.

Section 48 of Rep. Act No. 10066 prohibits the intentional demolition of an ICP and its destruction without the permission of the NHCP.

Penalties include a P200,000 fine and imprisonment of not less than 10 years, or both at the court’s discretion.

Daily Guardian has reached out to the NCCA and the NHCP to inquire about the state of the Central Market, but they have not yet responded as of this writing.

2 COMMENTS

  1. “The first question that we need clear answers for is whether the Iloilo City government obtained permission to demolish it after they found it structurally unsound,” Henares said.

    It seems like cultural agencies are missing the point of why the law assumes certain places are Important Cultural Properties (ICPs) in the first place.

    The ICP presumption is a big deal that needs sorting out before we dive into other questions. Since the Iloilo Central Market is over 50 years old, it’s considered important and protected under the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, as amended by RA 11961. Beyond its age, it might not seem significant, but that age alone gives it a special status. So, we need a formal process to decide if it really deserves that status.

    This process isn’t just bureaucratic; it’s a way for everyone involved to share their thoughts on whether the market has heritage value. The state then figures out if these values are of local or national significance

    If no heritage values are found, the ICP status can be dropped, meaning the NHCP (National Historical Commission of the Philippines) steps back, and the local government can proceed without needing NHCP’s permission.

    If heritage values are found, the next step is determining if they’re of local or national significance. If local, the NHCP might let the local government handle it. If national, the NHCP keeps it protected, and any changes would need their approval.

    Only after this is settled can we address Dr. Henares’ question about whether demolition is the right move. How can NHCP decide on demolishing the Iloilo Central Market without knowing its heritage values and level of significance?

    In short, a declaration outlines the nationally significant heritage values, providing a basis for protection.

  2. When you take on multiple related government roles, you can’t just pick and choose which hat to wear depending on the issue. You’re always wearing all of them, whether you like it or not. For instance, you can’t talk about something as the UNACOM Secretary General without it affecting your role as NCCA Commissioner for Cultural Heritage, and vice versa. The public sees you as a whole, not in separate parts. If you think the public doesn’t understand this, it’s better to stay quiet. The problem might not be irresponsible journalism; it could be a bloated bureaucracy.

    Why didn’t this article elicit a similar response? https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1223169?

    Isn’t it more irresponsible for a government news agency to get your affiliation wrong when it could have easily verified it with a Google search?

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