CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Dapitan City officials are racing against time to save and preserve at least 33 heritage structures in the historic city.
Officials of the Zamboanga del Norte coastal city are seeking the cooperation of the national government, the private sector, and the local community to help preserve the Heritage Zone of the city.
Dapitan City is where Dr Jose Rizal lived in exile in his final years – from 1892 up to 1896 – before he was transported to Manila to face trial and execution. It is also the first Jesuit mission area in Mindanao in the mid-1600s.
City Tourism Officer Apple Marie Agolong said the city government is trying to boost the local economy through cultural tourism anchored on heritage conservation.
“We need the help of the national government, the business sector and the residents itself,” Agolong said.
There are 33 heritage structures in what the National Historical Commission of the Philippines declared as the Heritage Zone or Historic Center in Dapitan City in 2011, coinciding with 150th birth anniversary of Rizal.
Eric Zerrudo, professor of the University of Santo Tomas Center for Conservation of Cultural Property and Environment, said that the government can only set policies for heritage conservation but the private sector should take care of the restoration of heritage buildings for adaptive reuse of the structures.
“Government should not compete with private sector in restoring these structures, there should be policies for restoration but let the private sector do it,” Zerrudo said.
Agolong confirmed that many of the heritage structures are privately-owned.
She also said that the city government would pursue the heritage conservation, though she acknowledges that the city cannot solely fund the estimated P4 million cost of restoring each building in the heritage cluster.
Zerrudo said heritage conservation can boost the local economy, as it would generate tourism, which has a multiplier effect.
“It is this triple bottom-line approach that is necessary to address both heritage preservation and economic development,” he said.
Zerrudo said that some people are not supportive of heritage conservation efforts as they are not aware of the economic benefits.
“Makakain ba ang heritage (can heritage fill our stomach)? Yes it can be,” he said.
Architect Maria Lourdes Onozawa, who was commissioned by the World Bank in 2001 to conduct a study on revitalizing Dapital City, stressed that heritage conservation should help empower communities as well.
“It is important that the people’s participation and ownership of the project must be present,” Onozawa said.
In her study for Dapitan, Onozawa provided a mapped cultural heritage trail for walking tours. Landscaped pathways are paved with bricks, with coffee shops, souvenir shops, and other businesses along the way.
Onozawa said that funding for preservation of heritage structures is not a problem as there are many donor and funding agencies that could help. The difficulty lies in the fact that policy makers and the private sector lack an understanding of the process.
“The funding is for the process on heritage preservation, not the preservation itself,” Onozawa said.