Cebu’s colonial core as World Heritage Site?

By: Jobers R. Bersales September 14,2016 - 10:13 PM

Before I proceed, let me first take this space to bid farewell to a dear friend and a very active, selfless supporter of the University of San Carlos Press and the University of San Carlos Museum. A dear personal friend Rhea Rowena Rivera, who at the vibrant age of 46 suddenly passed on to the next life while on a trip to Manila last Friday.

Rhea headed the USC Information Resources Management Office, which handled all the online information networks and systems of the university. Despite such a lofty position with such great power, she remained humble and worked quietly but efficiently. I had never seen her get angry nor shout at anyone even as she readily and without hesitation responded to requests and also to complaints from all kinds of university clients, some of them quite difficult people. Rhea and I shared a passion for books and for philately. Sometimes you wonder why people who should stay longer in this world are suddenly called to heaven. But that is for God to know. Rest in peace, my friend.

(Rhea now lies in state at St. James Chapel of St. Peter Memorial Chapels, Imus Road, Cebu City. Interment will be on Sunday, Sept. 18, at Manila Memorial Gardens in Liloan.)
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It is tantalizing to imagine if the old colonial core of Cebu City can get a World Heritage Nomination accepted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The nomination acceptance alone is a tough hurdle, considering the large number of pending nominations. More so the actual, more difficult hurdle: getting the nod of the UNESCO membership to award this coveted title. In the Philippines, the only colonial heritage town on the WHS registry is Vigan, Ilocos Sur, which was one of the earliest to be recognized. But, hey, pining for the moon, is free, isn’t it?

The old colonial core of Cebu City that probably has a chance of getting noticed (as they are being noticed also by tourists nowadays) corresponds roughly to the Yap Anton Warehouse; the grand old Madrigal Oil Mills Manager’s House leading to Pier 1, and on to Plaza Independencia; Fort San Pedro; Malacañang sa Sugbo; the old Smith-Bell and Pacific Commercial warehouses (one is occupied by Prince Warehouse Club, the other by San Miguel Corp. and still another by La Nueva Supermart).

This then leads to the Cebu City Hall; the old Compañia Maritima (Fernandez Brothers Building); Gotiaoco Building; the Senior Citizen’s Park; Carbon Market; and Freedom Park heading southeast.
Beyond this to the west are the old Cebuano Chinese warehouses and trading houses on Plaridel and Magallanes streets and to the northwest, Magellan’s Kiosk; Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño; the Cebu Cathedral; the Archdiocesan Museum; Plaza Hamabar; and, on the extreme northwest, sections of Parian and its colonial-era Casa Gorordo, Museo Parian sa Sugbo/Jesuit House of 1730 and the Yap-Sandiego House as well as the humongous ill-fitting Cebu Heritage Monument, standing on what used to be the old plaza-cum-cemetery of the long-gone and now much-lamented San Juan Bautista Church.

Also part of this historic complex are Colon and Manalili streets and all the diagonal and parallel and perpendicular side streets in between the two, complete with old once-navigable esteros or creeks, some of which get noticed only during incessant rains that flood the area. Museo Sugbo, albeit further from the rest, completes this colonial complex that is tantalizingly enough to prepare for possible nomination.

There have been a handful of attempts to revitalize and seriously resuscitate the colonial character of this old Spanish quarter of Cebu over the past 20 years already.

The latest happened during the term of mayor Michael Rama, when a group of architects and urban planners presented well-researched studies and designs to revitalize Colon and even pedestrianize it.

I believe in the run-up to the 5th centenary of the ill-fated Magellan expedition, the Cebu City government under Mayor Tomas Osmeña should look into the possibility of at least preparing this area for nomination. To get accepted as a nominee by the UNESCO body is already an honor in itself and signals a more difficult process ahead, one which involves massive campaigning for each member-country or state to finally approve the listing.

I saw how massive the propaganda required can be during the Eighth World Archaeological Congress in Kyoto, where three or four large exhibition booths were installed by the Japan World Heritage Committee, which prepares all the nominations for sites, in this case archaeological, that were being nominated to the World Heritage Sites list. But the Japanese do not have an all-important event in the horizon like the worldwide celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the world (which alas belongs to Sebastian Elcano, who completed the voyage following the demise of Magellan in Mactan) in 2022.

Somehow, I have a feeling UNESCO member states will take note of this important milestone and if we prepare the colonial complex of Cebu City now — complete with full archival research to back our claims up in time for a massive campaign leading to 2021— who knows we might just end up like George Town in Penang, Malaysia, the former British colonial town and rightfully a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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