Historic Preservation in the Philippines

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In the Philippines, the protection of historic sites and structures through legislation was first undertaken through individual law-making. There was no general legislation that would protect all historic sites and monuments. The first such piece of legislation was issued in the Philippines in 1901, when the Philippine Commission, the colonial government body created by the Americans, declared an area in the Luneta, now Rizal Park, a reservation to erect a statue of Jose Rizal, the country's national hero. An act was passed in 1908 authorizing the construction of a Pantheon of Illustrious Filipinos in Manila at a site designated as the final resting place of selected Filipino heroes.

Philippine Historical Committee

The idea of preserving monuments to the country's historical past only came into existence in 1918, when Public Act No. 2760 was issued prescribing the steps to be taken for the erection, maintenance and improvement of national monuments. This practice of providing individual legislation for the preservation of specific monuments or sites continued until the issuance in 1933 of Executive Order No. 451, which created the Historical Research and Markers Committee and assigned it to undertake the identification and permanent marking of historic antiquities, first in Manila, then throughout the Philippines. Three years later, the Committee was reorganized with the passage of Commonwealth Act No. 169 which authorized the Committee to preserve historic sites and antiquities. A year later, another law, Executive Order No. 91, was issued and created the Philippines Historical Committee to acquire, purchase and repair the antiquities stated above. During the entire 28 years of existence of the said Committee, it  identified 444 historical sites and structures and encouraged and supported their preservation. It also acquired five major historical sites honoring Filipino heroes.

Succeeding laws for historical preservation

Historic preservation in the Philippines was further supported by legislation when Republic Act No.4368 was issued in 1965 creating the National Historical Commission. The Commission had the task of identifying, designating and marking historic places in the Philippines and was also mandated to undertake the construction or reconstruction of these sites or structures. The commission co-existed with other entities created by individual legislation which were assigned to preserve and maintain historic sites and edifices.

This situation was changed when Presidential Decree No. 1 was issued on September 24, 1972, reorganizing the executive branch of the government. Under the reorganization plan, the National Historical Institute was created and given the task of construction, reconstruction and maintenance of national shrines and monuments. The legislation abolished 10 ceremonial and memorial offices and transferred all their functions, particularly those related to preservation and restoration of historic sites and structures, to the institute.

Presidential Decree No. 260 issued in 1973 could be considered the country’s national historic act for the main reason that it recognized the broad and complex requirements of historic preservation programs. The decree, which was later amended, declared eight historic sites and structures as being of national importance and their preservation, restoration or reconstruction were placed under the supervision and control of the institute. The same decree gave the institute the power to declare other historic sites, buildings and monuments for preservation purposes.

Later on, in 1975, Presidential Decree No. 374 was issued amending Republic Act No. 4866, the country's Cultural Properties Act. The National Museum was designated to take care of the supervision, preservation, conservation and restoration of outstanding structures, buildings, monuments, towns and sites declared as national cultural treasures and properties.

The existence of Presidential Decree Nos. 260 and 374 brought the classification of historic sites and structures into five categories, and they are as follows:

a) National Cultural Treasures - These are unique sites or objects found locally possessing outstanding cultural, artistic and/or scientific value which is highly significant and important to the Philippines;

b) Important Cultural Properties - These are cultural properties which have been singled out from among the innumerable cultural properties as having exceptional cultural and scientific significance to the Philippines;

c) National Shrines - These are historic sites or objects hallowed or honoured for their history or associations like the Rizal Shrines in Manila, Laguna and  Dapitan City and the General Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite;

d) National Monuments - These are objects, natural features or areas of special historic interest that are set aside by local or national government as public property. The Walls of Intramuros and the Rizal Monument in Manila and the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City are examples of national monuments; and

e) National Landmark - These are places or objects that are associated with an event, achievement, characteristic or modification that marks a turning point or stage in Philippine history like the Barasoain Church of Malolos, Bulacan; the San Sebastian Church in Quiapo, Manila; and the Underground Cemetery of Nagcarlan, Laguna. Practically, all historic churches built by the Spaniards are classified under this category.

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