It was a beautiful night as my Couchsurfing friends and I sat on a makeshift mat made of cardboard boxes at the Plaza Moriones at Fort Santiago, Manila. We were waiting for the Manila Transitio to start, and after a full day of walking and eating, it was nice to just be able to relax like this in the middle of busy Manila. We had food and drinks. The night was pleasantly cool and not a sign of rain anywhere in the horizon.
Manila Transitio 1945 is an annual event organized by Walk This Way tours and Carlos Celdran. It is held every February to commemorate the fall of Manila during the second world war where an estimated 120,000 lives of Filipino civilians were lost in a battle. This year, the crowd was treated with performances by the Mabuhay Singers and Deoro.
The program started with the singing of the Philippine National Anthem. It was the second time that day that I sang it, but this time it was in Spanish. It was a pretty rousing rendition and you couldn’t help but be amazed by it. After a few words of welcome from Carlos, the Mabuhay Singers took the stage.
The Mabuhay Singers
The Mabuhay Singers has been around since 1958 and is one of the pioneers of the kundiman genre. Many people of my generation would not be familiar with it, being more inclined to listen to foreign pop acts. It was great to listen to these singers who have been around far longer than I have been alive.
A few weeks ago, I read an entry in Ivan Henares’ blog about his tour around Sta. Ana, Manila with the Heritage Conservation Society. In the entry, he talks about the richness of the Sta. Ana area (he notes is as “the seat of the Kingdom of Namayan, one of three major kingdoms that dominated the area around the upper portion of the Pasig River before the arrival of Spaniards.”) and how several historical homes and buildings were being torn down to make way for malls and shopping centers.
One of the houses in danger of such fate is the Jesuit Xavier House, the home of Father James Reuter.
Built in 1859, it is one of the two houses inside the Society of Jesus compound. It served not just as the home to Jesuit priests here in the country for the past 50 years, but was also the center for the first EDSA revolution. It survived bombings, hurricanes and other natural disasters, only to be brought down by the need for profit and commercialism.
The Inquirer news article published today, March 31, says that it was the SM Group who purchased the property. Despite the denial of Fr. Jose Cecilio Magadia, provincial superior of the Jesuits in the Philippines that a deal has been reached, a representative of the SM Group said that a supermarket is being planned for the area.
What bothered me more was the part in the article that said there was a “willing seller” for the property and he didn’t bother mentioning the opposition coming from conservation groups regarding the sale. Father Reuter turns 94 this May, and has called the Xavier House his home for the last 40 years. The house is more than just an architectural treasure, but also a living testament to the history of the Philippines.
Reports say that SJ superiors have asked Fr. Reuter to move out of Xavier House and relocate to either Ateneo de Manila University or Xavier School in San Juan. The priest, however, said that he doesn’t want to go.
“Money is nothing, and this house is something,” he said. “The memorial we have in this house is worth more than money.”
Unfortunately, historical preservation doesn’t seem to be much of a concern here in the Philippines, especially for cities like Manila. Many older buildings are still in place and some programs to keep them alive are ongoing, but mostly through the initiatives of private persons and often foreigners, not the government or locals.
I understand the need for advancement and progress, but I wonder if they have ever thought of ways to achieve this without sacrificing these architectural treasures? Other countries, not just the Western ones, but even our neighbors here in Asia are able to do it, why can’t we?
In a recent episode of Bobby Chin’s World Café Asia, he said something about how our country is fast becoming a “mall culture.” I don’t think that was meant to be a joke, but a statement of a fact, to which I can’t help but agree to. I once told a friend that you can visit any province in the country and you’ll find an SM mall. Despite knowing that a mall equals establishments equals jobs, I am still saddened by the loss of what used to be where the mall(s) now stand.
Reuter said he fully understood that the SJ had run into serious financial need to sustain its operations.
“There was talk, there is talk of selling Xavier House for money. The superior apologetically said that. That to my mind will be a terrible mistake,” he said.
“It’s not that they want to sell this house, but they need money, and that’s a terrible thing. Love of money is a vice and the Jesuits don’t have that. They need money, which is a different thing,” said Reuter.
He shuddered at the thought that the house would be demolished to give way to business. “You shouldn’t sell a place like this for money,” he added, saying the money could be raised in “some other way.”
What ways could that be? Perhaps the Jesuit community could’ve done more? Perhaps the students of the Ateneo and Xavier schools could’ve banded together to help raise funds and save the Xavier house? Perhaps all of us who are concerned could reach out and help… I hope only it’s not too late.