“A PEOPLE without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots,” said Marcus Garvey.

Two months ago, I was assigned by the Philippine Daily Inquirer to go to Vigan, Ilocos Sur to cover an event of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos).

That was my first time to go to Vigan and I was really excited because Vigan has been inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site and it is one of the few Hispanic towns left in the Philippines.

As a student taking up M.A. Cultural Heritage Studies, I was really expecting a lot. I remember a friend who told me that I would be disappointed, but I shrugged that off. Alas! My friend was right because the place has been transformed into commercial hub with a lot of business establishments.

Because of untrammelled commercialization, Vigan seems to have lost its Old World feel, losing its distinction. It seems just like any town and city in the Philippines. This new “cooler” culture is like a wild fire that is slowly eating up Vigan. What can I do as a Culture Heritage student of UST? I want to stop the commercialization but in reality, it won’t happen.

One example is the major attraction in Vigan, Crisologo Street filled with Spanish-style houses which are pretty much intact and preserved. At first you will be amazed with its historic architecture. Walking along the street is like taking a ride in a time machine that transports you to the time when the Philippines was still ruled by the mustachioed Spaniards with their bowler hats and canes.

'Don't let this happen to you'

However, looking at it for the second time, you will notice that there are many obstructions; some houses have installed air-conditioning systems outside and souvenir shops on the basements; shirts and other laundry hang outside the building. All of this basically ruins the old-century feel. Thus, the Crisologo Street has been transformed into a street of commerce.

However, that same street is being taking care of by the people of Vigan, especially cultural workers, not only because it is the center of business but it is part of history. The street is closed to vehicles and free from traffic. At night, one can feel the silence which brings back the 19th century ambiance in addition to the romantic atmosphere of the place. That is the time when I feel that Vigan is a World Heritage Site—at night, when transformation happens as the souvenir shops are not visible anymore.

Another example is the Vigan Cathedral, also known as St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral, which is a Baroque-styled Church located at the heart of the business district. It is the lone structure in the place which still holds true to Vigan’s reputation as the mirror of Spanish Philippines.

Needless to say, most of the buildings located around the Church are business establishments, which are cemented atrocities that try to ape the style of old Philippines, which is as false as fool’s gold; they not only obstruct the beauty of the Church but also leaves Vigan’s archaic beauty molested and turns it into a rundown downtown of Ilocos.

This new culture is slowly transforming Vigan into a more commercialized place beyond the historical and cultural value that Vigan sported before.

Celebrate the pipe organ tradition

Indeed, Vigan is known for its historical foundation but what I have witnessed during my trip was a Vigan debased by commerce.

The question to be raised is whether Vigan will preserve its World Heritage Site listing or will it go the way of the Cordillera Rice Terraces that are facing the danger of obliteration. Will the people sacrifice Vigan in the altar of progress? What will be left for the next generations?

The challenge now for every Filipino is to preserve and conserve Vigan. As what Marcus Garvey said, people without knowledge of the past are synonymous to a tree without roots. These roots became the foundation of the tree to stay strong amid storms and winds. Vigan’s history is moored to a beautiful past. That past should be conserved and made credible for the present.


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