By SENATOR SONNY ANGARA
To say that the City of Manila is fundamental to Philippine history and identity would be akin to saying we need food and water to survive.
Even before the Spaniards—led by conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi—first arrived and “established” Manila in 1571, it was already home to settlements of Rajah Sulayman and Lakandula who had already made trade connections with neighboring island countries. Under the Spanish rule, the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade was the link the country had to the world. And during the American occupation, Manila served as the Pearl of the Orient or the extension of their Western civilization to the east—as evidenced by Dewey (now Roxas) Boulevard and the still existing Taft Avenue.
Manila also served as home to many historical sites such as the walled city of Intramuros (which itself houses equally significant spots such as Fort Santiago and San Agustin Church), Quiapo Church, Plaza Miranda, Rizal Park, Rizal Coliseum, Malacañang Palace, the University of Santo Tomas (the oldest existing university in Asia), and the oldest Chinatown in the world, to name a few.
My father—the late Senator Edgardo J. Angara—also spent many hours in the city debating landmark pieces of legislation with other legal luminaries at the old Senate Session Hall and the old Legislative Building on Padre Burgos Street.
Through the centuries, more and more of our rich history has been steadily imbedded into the buildings, parks, and streets of Manila. Collectively, they represent the built heritage that all Filipinos share, and ought to cherish. They are the cultural landmarks and heritage sites that my father and I envisioned would be protected from disrepair and disappearance and preserved for future generations to enjoy with the implementation of the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 (RA 10066), which we both authored and helped pass.
Unfortunately, many of these sites continue to be neglected, struggling to keep up with the fast-paced, ever-changing times we live in. Thankfully, former Manila Mayor President Joseph “Erap” Estrada already started the process of cleaning up and preserving Manila — for instance, lending support to the restoration of the old Army Navy Club.
Newly elected Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso ramped up on such efforts and quickly cleaned up the city’s clogged streets. His administration has already made headlines in its moves to clean up the Andres Bonifacio monument and remove a barangay hall-turned-barracks which was covering part of the monument of Roman Ongpin — a known financier of the Katipuneros — on Ongpin Street.
Mayor Isko also announced that his administration will prioritize the rebuilding and restoration of Manila’s historical sites such as Escolta and Baywalk as well as the dozens of parks throughout the city. This, according to him, is not only a means to attract more tourists but also to reignite the interest of Manileños in their own city outside of malls and shopping centers.
We are optimistic that the enthusiasm of Manila’s new chief executive will translate into more landmarks being preserved and restored, including Binondo, Tutuban, the Rizal Stadium. Since the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” initiative has gained much speed, now could be a well-timed moment for Manila’s renaissance—to incorporate the old storied sites into the city’s push towards the future.
Perhaps as a new Congress begins, and many young leaders take up their fresh mandates, now is also an opportunity for communities around the country—not just Manila—to recalibrate their priorities, take notice of their own heritage areas, and make efforts to protect, preserve, and renew them.
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Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 6 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He recently won another term in the Senate.