THE UST Main Building, the Philippines’ first earthquake-proof structure, is qualified to be proclaimed a natural treasure and a UN World Heritage Site, but the University should work for its nomination before it’s too late.

Speaking at the formal opening of classes last June 15, Architecture Dean John Joseph Fernandez warned that the “focal point of the campus” is slowly deteriorating.

“The Main Building is currently experiencing a slow process of deterioration due to its age, drastic environment changes and numerous interventions that were done in the past,” Fernandez said in his Discurso de Apertura at the Santissimo Rosario Parish Church.

He cited repairs at the Faculty of Civil Law, Office of the Vice Rector, and the Public Affairs and Alumni Affairs offices that led to “unacceptable” interferences, which are contributing to the building’s deterioration.

This is shown by falling debris, which prompted the installation of bollards connected by chains around the building to ensure the safety of those around, Fernandez added.

Despite the changes, Fernandez said the Main Building along with the Central Seminary can still be listed as World Heritage sites of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Unesco).

There are eight Unesco heritage sites in the country, four of them Baroque churches like the San Agustin Church in Intramuros, as well as the Banaue Rice Terraces, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, the historic city of Vigan, and the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park.

“It is the right time for the University to start moving for the listing of both structures as World Heritage sites and as National Treasures,” Fernandez said

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It is a “pity” that Far Eastern University has already been nominated to the Unesco Asian Heritage list as having the most Art Deco structures in one campus, ahead of UST, he said.

Such an honor for UST would be a “legacy that future Thomasians could be proud of,” especially if it coincides with the quadricentennial celebration of the University in 2011.

Designed by the Dominican engineer Fr. Roque Ruaño, O.P., the Main Building was one of the first structures erected on the España Street campus, built in 1927 to accommodate expansion as the original Intramuros campus had become overcrowded. The University moved to España completely with the destruction of the Walled City after World War II.

The Main Building cost P1.5 million.

From January 1942 to February 1945, 10,000 Americans, British and other nationals were interned in the building, with the campus converted into a concentration camp by Japanese forces.

The Main Building, one of the popular landmarks in Manila, is known for its unique architectural design but often mistaken for a church because of the cross atop its tower. Statues by Italian Sculptor Francesco Monti, a faculty member in the College of Architecture and Fine Arts, were installed between 1949 and 1953.

Arch of the Centuries, not qualified

The Arch of the Centuries, transferred near the España entrance from its original site in Intramuros, may have also been qualified as a World Heritage Site, if not for violations of some “purity” rules.

“When it was lifted from its original location, rules were already violated,” Fernandez told the Varsitarian after his speech.

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In terms of “purity,” the part of the arch that faces the España gate is only a replica, and the one behind it is the original piece “so one cannot be sure of its authenticity,” he added.

However, Fernandez admitted that moving part of the arch helped it survive the times, and the focus should be on conserving heritage instead of demolishing it.

“(Conservation) is possible, doable, achievable and more profitable in the end. Let us conserve our heritage, preserve our culture and preserve our Thomasian icons,” he said.

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