The National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) ordered Panglao Mayor Leonila Montero to cease and desist from all ongoing construction activities within the “municipal hall complex of Panglao particularly in the plaza fronting the old municipal building.”
The Cease-and-Desist Order (CDO) was issued by Dr. Rene Escalante, Chairman of the NHCP on October 27, 2021, citing NHCP Resolution No. 7, s. 2018 declaring Spanish and American colonial period plazas and public squares as National Historical Sites and Republic Act (RA) 10066 known as the “National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.”
However, the order was received by Municipal Councilor Noel Hormachuelos on December 8, 2021, despite the swift response of the NHCP to his letter calling off the demolition activities to the councilor’s letter two days after he sent a query on October 25, 2021.
According to Hormachuelos, despite the pleas of the Municipal Engineer and Office of the Building Official (OBO) Engineer Rogelio Bunao to Montero and the winning lone bidder Dinah Jane Construction and Supply with address at Barangay Pandacan, Pinamungahan, Cebu, demolition of six structures proceeded except for the statue of Dr. Jose P. Rizal which is surrounded by a dilapidated water fountain.
The demolition of the awning in the entrance of the municipal building including the sign designating the building as the municipality of Panglao was spared after pressure from the public was displayed by a motorcade rally held last month.
Article III, Section 5 of RA 10066 recognizes the old municipal hall and plaza as an Important Cultural Property (ICP) and “must be protected from any modification or alteration,” according to the NHCP.
Accordingly, Section 36 of RA 11518 of the General Appropriation Act of 2021 states that alteration, renovation, or demolition of government buildings and open spaces declared or presumed to be ICP’s by government cultural agencies concerned shall be undertaken only upon prior approval and proper consultation with stakeholders and cultural groups administered by the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCAP).
The CDO was a swift response by the NHCP to a query by Municipal Councilor Noel Hormachuelos to Escalante raising concern, alarm, and fear as the “demolition of the Dr. Jose P. Rizal Monument, water fountain and its small plaza had already been started to be done.”
Hormachuelos sought the assistance of the NHIP after Montero ordered the demolition of the structures despite the “clamor, sentiments and appeal of the constituents of Panglao to preserve their “old treasured municipal hall building and other existing old buildings considered as a cultural heritage.”
HALF A CENTURY
The municipal building was constructed between the years 1960 and 1963 during the term of the late Mayor Severino Estonina.
The Rizal statue and the Rizal Park in front of the present municipal hall “is a living witness that served as the venue of many historic ceremonies over five decades, according to concerned long-time residents of Panglao.
OPTIONS ON THE TABLE
According to Architect Benjamin Empleo of the NHCP, during a virtual meeting with the SB Committees on Tourism and Cultural Heritage and Infrastructure and Public Works, “buildings that are fifty years and above that are authentic to its original characters are presumed as Important Cultural Property.”
Although Empleo noted that the pictures of the municipal building are not authentic to its original architectural characters, two options were suggested to the LGU of Panglao.
One is to preserve the municipal building and the Rizal monument and treat it as a heritage zone or apply for the lifting of the presumption of the building as an ICP and if approved by the NHCP, the LGU will have a free hand to do whatever they want, according to Empleo.
Montero allegedly pushed for the bidding of the proposed three-story Municipal Multi-Purpose Hall Building (phase 1) with an Approved Budget for the Contract (ABC) in the amount of PhP70,086,826.68 on August 10, 2021.
With only one bidder interested to participate, the project was awarded to Dinah Jane Construction and Supply and was issued a Notice to Proceed (NTP) on September 13, 2021.
Montero proceeded with the bidding and initial construction activities without public consultations and bypassed the Sangguniang Bayan despite the NCHP recommendations done after the bidding and the start of the project.
The project is not included in the Annual Investment Plan (AIP) of the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Panglao. (Chito M. Visarra)