Monday Meltdown

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

Our headline yesterday, May 20, 2024, was indeed a hot one. It was so hot that Mayor Jerry Treñas went on one of his acerbic episodes (City Hall folks are very much familiar with these occurrences), this time against journalists covering the City Hall, including #DailyGuardian.

The reason?

Our reportage that cultural authorities are investigating the demolition of the more than 100-year-old Iloilo Central Market, which is now undergoing a much celebrated and overhyped redevelopment by SM Prime Holdings, Inc.

Oops… To avoid further stirring the hornets’ nest, let’s use the phrase “looking into” instead of investigating.

Treñas was livid at the Iloilo press for reporting that the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and other cultural entities are discussing and probing (like that enema thing) into the Central Market demolition.

His anger was so much that he threatened to sue the media for so-called “irresponsible journalism” when all we did was to follow the Central Market story which is imbued with public interest.

The mayor was actually nitpicking on the fact that Dr. Ivan Anthony Henares denied that the UNESCO was investigating the controversy.

As we reported, 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 (NMP) in Manila that the demolition was a “hot topic” among cultural agencies.

Take note that Henares is also the current secretary general of the UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines. Thus, he was wearing two hats during the NHCP forum that was also livestreamed in Facebook.

Another catch is that Henares posed a lot of questions and doubts about the Central Market demolition that merits investigation, but he did not qualify or clarify if he was speaking as a UNESCO official or NCAA commissioner.

Thus, it is natural for the Iloilo media to attribute his statement to be that of UNESCO and even NCCA. If only Dr. Henares made himself very clear that he was speaking for this or that agency, then there was no reason for anyone to blow their top or be irritated.

Granting for the sake of argument that the Iloilo media reported a different headline or attribution, it is far from being substantial, material, or factual errors that affect the standing of the story.

The fact remains that Henares himself confirmed that the Central Market demolition by City Hall and SM Prime is subject of inquiries that aim to determine if the process set by laws protecting historical sites and properties were followed to the letter sans any shortcut.

Henares only objected to the headline, but he did not deny that the there is an investigation on the matter. He even confirmed to #DailyGuardian that NCAA is investigating the matter, albeit not in a formal manner.

Whether the investigation is formal or whimsical, with punitive outcome or another slap-on-the-wrist-moment, is of no moment to us. The fact remains that cultural and heritage preservation people are investigating the matter, primarily to find out what happened, then document what happened, and maybe recommend moves that will prevent this episode from happening again.

We even admire and praise Dr. Henares for raising points about retrofitting of old structures and the process observed in these cases as provided by law. He should be praised for enlightening us on the matter since he is an expert.

Now, if Dr. Henares retracts his statement in the NHCP forum for one reason or another, the onus is not on us journalists as he himself risks perjuring himself before the bar of public opinion. To give our readers a clearer context, we are publishing en toto his own words during the NHCP forum at the end of this column.

As it stands, City Hall is just twisting the context and spirit of the issue to find a way to get back at and even silence the press. I don’t know why this issue has touched a nerve in Treñas to the point that he wants to pick a fight with a press that has been very fair, patient, and at times lenient to his ways and manners.

Treñas’s threat to sue the media over this issue could be pure hot air, a way to intimidate or force us to submit to his world view and feelings.

But we are seriously taking notice of this and we will document what happened. We cannot take this sitting down as “law-fare” or using the law to harass and intimidate journalists has been a staple weapon of those who cannot stand public scrutiny and demands for accountability.

All the press wants from this episode is clarity in the process or procedure in demolishing the market. Did they follow the stipulations of the law? Was proper public consultation conducted in relation to the demolition?

Dr. Henares also asked the same questions.

Here is the transcription of Dr. Ivan Anthony Henares during the NHCP forum last Saturday:

“To respond to your question, I do know that this is still a very hot topic right now even within the cultural agencies. But the first question that we need clear answers for, whether the Iloilo City government was able to get a go signal to demolish it after they found out that it was structurally unsound. There was a process. I believe that when the NHCP approved the development plan, there was no mention there of a demolition of the tower. So, if they found out that it was structurally unsound, they could not unilaterally demolish the structure, and that’s what we’re trying to find out right now. Was there an approval for them to demolish the structure?”

“Second, when you say something is structurally unsound, of course, there is a public safety issue here, but there is also the possibility of retrofitting buildings. And that’s our problem. Does it mean that every heritage structure, when it is declared structurally unsound, it is now for demolition? Is that how we’re going to go about it? So everybody can just have their building declared structurally unsound and they can demolish their building because it is structurally unsound? We are already in an age of modern technology where we can retrofit so many structures. It’s being done all over the world. And here we are in the Philippines, using an excuse that something is structurally unsound, using this paradigm of public safety when there is modern technology that can retrofit a historic structure. So, let’s not use structurally unsound as a reason for demolition. In fact, structurally unsound should not even be a consideration when we decide what does the heritage significance of a structure is. If it is significant, let us find a way to deserve it.”

“Now, question about replicas, of course we don’t want replicas. I was not in the government when the Meralco building in San Marcelino was demolished and the NHCP gave instructions na gumawa na lang kayo ng replica ng furies and then you can demolish the original. So now, you have a replica of the furies, the cast of the furies, in Adamson, but the original was demolished when it could’ve been transferred here to the National Museum, right? And that is the paradigm that we are trying to change. If the original is there, then why do we need to demolish the original? Di ba, there is a way to retrofit it. I really felt bad about the furies. That was an NHCP decision at that time, that you will just make a cast of the original. I know Jeremy (Barns) would have wanted to have the Furies here at the National Museum, di ba? But the decision was made unilaterally made by one agency at the time. Different chairperson at the time. Again, why do we need replicas when the original is still standing?”

“So, the Iloilo City Market is a very complicated case, and we are trying to look at it as objectively as possible. I know there are a lot of passionate discussions about it online, but you know the questions are simple. Did you follow procedures? That will be the basis of whatever decision the NCCA will come out with, whether procedures were followed. And of course, if procedures were not followed, there are also corresponding actions that need to be undertaken. I hope I was able to answer that, uh, all those questions. Do we want replicas if the original is there? Why do we need a replica? Second, about safety, public safety, it’s the best excuse that everyone is giving to demolish a heritage structure right now, but with the advancement of technology around the world, especially with engineering advancements, we can always retrofit a building to be able preserve a heritage structure. So that’s my response to your two questions.”

“This replica thing needs to really, that concept of replica, we need to stop making it a norm. Because if the original is there, let’s preserve it. It’s the same thing for Capitol Theater, they wanted to build a replica na lang. It was stopped by the NCCA. That tower in the middle, it’s still standing right now, and we came into the picture. And we talked to the owners. No, no replica here. The original is still there. Let’s retrofit the original.”

“What is the liability? We will find out if there is. Again, 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. So right now, we really can’t say what the liabilities are because we are still investigating the incident (emphasis ours). But it would seem that yun na nga. 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 (emphasis ours).”