Abandoned” and “homeless” best describe the artifacts, sculptures, and numerous works of art procured by the Intramuros Administration (IA) nearly three decades ago. It’s such a pity that the priceless pieces, which consist of busts and sculptures of saints made of ivory, silver, and gold ornaments and the 19th-century piña collection, are just cramped in the IA office and bodegas. Sacred to both the pious and the nationalist, the treasure trove ought to be displayed in a museum for all to see and admire. So when the Intramuros Administration announced its plans to build an ecclesiastical museum amid the ruins of the San Ignacio Church in the Walled City, everyone heaved a sigh of relief.
The ecclesiastical museum, to rise on a 3,190-sq.m. area, will house an impressive collection of antique items procured by former Central Bank governor and IA’s first chief, Dr. Jaime Laya. According to avid antique collectors Ramon Villegas and Antonio Martino, this is the best collection under one entity.
“The good news is it belongs to the Filipino people,” enthuses Intramuros Administration chairman Anna Maria “Bambi” Harper.
The museum tops the list of Harper’s many projects for Intramuros as part of IA’s project to relaunch the Walled City as a tourist destination. This despite allegations by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that the lady chief was responsible for the cutting of 29 full-grown trees in Plaza Roma fronting the Manila Cathedral on Andres Soriano St. in Intramuros (formerly Aduana) which Harper vehemently denies. Harper was sworn in as the new chief of the Intramuros Administration on March 24. With a job coterminous with the current administration, Harper is optimistic that the Walled City will assume its rightful place as the centerpiece of Philippine tourism in no time.
“In the past 11 years, nothing has been done to Intramuros. It’s tragic because the Walled City is the only heritage site in Manila. I proposed this plan during IA’s first board meeting and got a favorable response. We have to finish everything in a year and a half so we have to hit the board right,” Harper says.
Here’s the catch: The construction of the museum alone is estimated to cost a whopping P400 million! The budget of IA has not changed in the past 15 years. Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano has pledged his support and so has the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
“Together we can make this happen,” the optimistic Harper adds.
Also on the drawing board is the proposed adaptive reuse of the Almacenes Reales ruins at historic Fort Santiago.The Almacenes Reales or Royal Warehouses (where the Spaniards stored the goods brought in by the galleons) is now being spruced up to provide an indoor function area at Fort Santiago.
Harper ordered the strengthening of the break walls, the installation of antique windows, balusters, and doors in each storage chamber to enhance the old charm of the structure. Roofing was also set up so guests can enjoy a leisurely walk at Fort Santiago even during the rainy season. Smack in the middle of the historic walls is the Museum Shop brimming with souvenir items patterned after the genuine relics of Intramuros. On the stone wall, we spotted tastefully designed merchandise such as the Letras y Figuras souvenir tees in bright hues, table runners, tote bags, key chains, coffee mugs with the Intramuros insignia, table napkins, table runners, tissue and umbrella holders accented with willow design inspired by the blue-and-white ceramics that abound during the Galleon Trade.
In a bid to attract more investors and tourists, new structures and establishments will also be built in the Walled City without destroying its historical and heritage component.
“For scheduled tours, visitors are encouraged to park their cars and board a horse-drawn tranvia (which Sarao made for IA) to decongest traffic in the area,” notes Harper.
Peace and order is another story. “We’ve already discussed this matter with the city government. We also see to it that the walls and alleys are properly lighted to shoo away lawless elements. How can we attract investors and tourists if there is no peace and order?” she adds.
IA also formed the Intramuros Homeowners and Businessmen Association to help address the problem. “Again, I can’t do it by myself. I need the cooperation of everyone to make things happen for Intramuros because there are still a lot of things to be done,” stresses the IA chief.
As they say, dreams come true to those who work hard while they dream. Well, Harper is doing just that and we hope will continue to do so long after her tenure is over.
“The Walled City is just too precious to be abandoned,” Harper says with a sigh.
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To know more about IA’s other projects, visit its office at the fifth floor of Palacio del Gobernador corner General Luna and Aduana Sts., Intramuros, Manila.
By Lai S. Reyes Updated September 20, 2008 12:00 AM