[Oct.07 Philippines] Local Government Initiatives to Preserve and Promote the Historic Town of Vigan, Philippines
Local Government Initiatives to Preserve and Promote the Historic Town of Vigan, Philippines
Melchor Leano Lagartija Curator, National Museum of the Philippines
The town of Vigan in Ilocos Sur, northern part of the Philippines is more than seven-hour drive from Manila, the country’s capital. It is the oldest surviving Spanish colonial town in the country featuring the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture.
The Vigan architecture reflects the coming together of diverse cultural elements from elsewhere in the Philippines and from China with those of Europe to create a unique culture and townscapes without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia. It is for this reason that the whole town of Vigan made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List of Sites and Monuments in December 1999.
Through time, the town of Vigan has remained to be the country’s most authentic historical and cultural site with numerous old churches and colonial houses prevalent in the town center. Coupled with cobbled narrow streets, “calesa” ride (chariot pulled by a horse) and friendly faces peering out of large windows of Vigan’s antiquated houses.
To preserve the uniqueness of Vigan town and as a matter of responsibility to the world to protect its universal value, being in the UNESCO list, its local government has made several local legislatives. Ordinance No. 12, for example was initiated to define the core buffer zone of the historic town of Vigan and the historical, cultural, educational, aesthetic and economic parameters of its preservation and development.
The ordinance was based on the cultural policy that says “the protection and preservation of this irreplaceable cultural heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy and religious benefits will be maintained for a better understanding of its people’s past, enrichment of their present environment and to pass over to the future generations”.
Ordinance No. 14 on the other hand, provides for the guidelines in the conservation of the historic town of Vigan. The aim of the conservation is to provide for the security, maintenance and future of the historic town. All aspects of its cultural significance must be taken into consideration without giving due emphasis on any aspect of its history at the expenses of others, among others things.
Said ordinance stipulates use of all the disciplines in the conservation including Anthropology, Sociology, Economics, Architectural, Engineering, Urban Planning and other as maybe necessary which can contribute to the study, safeguarding and protection of the historic town. It likewise mentions that employment of traditional technique is a must but some circumstance, modern technique maybe introduced provided the new technique exists on a firm scientific basis and supported by a body of experience.
To promote the historic town of Vigan and to attract local and foreign tourists, the local government with the support of the private sector and with the blessing of the national government, holds a yearly festival dubbed as “Viva Vigan Festival of Art” held every third week of April to first week of May. Now on its 13th year, the festival has become one of the biggest cultural event in the northern part of the country, attracting thousands of domestic and foreign tourists from all parts of the world. The festival is usually highlighted by various cultural activities and showcasing of Vigan town’s cultural and traditional products. Participated by private sector and local residents, the “Binatbatan Street Dancing” which portrays the local dance depicting the first step in the “Abel-Ilocano” weaving process which is the beating of the cotton pods with two bamboo sticks to separate the seeds from the fluff. The “Karbo Festival and Boklan Art Contest” is held to give tribute to farmers of the town and their farm animals, in which an exposition of the bounties of land and water artistically showcased through the seeds of life, as well as the “carabaos” (buffalo) pageantry during a parade at the heritage district.
Another highlight of the festival is the “Santacruzan” which is a novena procession commemorating St. Helena’s mythical finding of the cross. St. Helena was the mother of Constantine the Great. Santacruzan is among the many processions, and probably the most popular one. This event is held in honor of the Blessed Virgin May.
The “Abel-Iloco” Fashion Show is one festival event which is probably one of the most awaited. It is because the fashion show is participated the by the popular personalities from the local and national government as well as rich people of Vigan. They parade wearing the local “Abel-Iloco” textile which is known to be one of the most popular products of Vigan.
The organizers of the festival never missed to include the traditional games competition such as “palo sebo” (climbing the bamboo pole full of grease) and San Pedro. During the evening, cultural shows like “Sarsuela”, a traditional stage play is held, bringing back the traditional Filipino performances.
This year’s festival is somewhat different from the previous ones for one event was added to the line up. If before, the festival focused more on local heritage, tradition and products, this year, the local government recognized the value of cultural diversity, thus including an exhibition of contemporary Indian textile. The exhibition was composed of a good array of colorful Indian hand woven present-day designs. This they held back to back with the local “Abel-Iloco” textile exhibition.
One of the biggest and grandest attempt of the local government to preserve the grandeur of Vigan town was the development of “Vigan Masterplan” which commenced in 2001. The project is a comprehensive plan that include cultural management and tourism development in Vigan. The project was assisted by the Spanish government through the Fundacion Santiago who donated a good amount of money for the following components: expenses for the preparation of the plan, expenses for the restoration of a public buildings, and expenses for the conduct of seminar-workshop on cultural sensitivity for all project team and participants. On the other hand, the Philippine government side was composed of the various government branches and institutions including the Department of Tourism, the Provincial Government of Ilocos Sur, the Municipal Government of Vigan and the Presidential Commission for Preservation, Conservation and Restoration of the Vigan Heritage Village to do the following functions: provide for the counterpart funding and experts; review, comment on the draft Masterplan; provide necessary equipment; facilitate the selection of pilot public building; encourage the participation of the community in consultation meetings and conduct of awareness programs, among others. The Vigan issues covered by the Masterplan include: 1) Conservation of Vigan Architectural Heritage, 2) Resolve the traffic pressure in the town center resulting in noise and air pollution, 3).The need for an information material that will promote cultural awareness among residents and tourists, and 4) Resolve the uncoordinated and desperate efforts of development due to the absence of a blueprint that would integrate coherently different strategies that would seek to address effectively the different concerns of the residents.
To have an idea about what the community feels about the plan, a public consultation was conducted through questionnaires. The results hinted that the plan is overwhelmingly welcome by the community as revealed in their positive responses although there were components in the plan that they want to improve.
The local government promises to exert all efforts to eternally ensure the full preservation of Vigans cultural and historical heritage for appreciation of not only the Filipino people but the entire humanity as a whole.
Melchor Leano Lagartija Curator, National Museum of the Philippines