Fort Pilar and the current controversy PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 29 October 2014 11:40



Some years back, while on a fellowship at Reading University in England, I spent one Saturday being a tourist in London with a couple of other Filipinos. In Westminster Abbey we were properly impressed by the  architecture of this English heritage which dates back to at least the 14th century. My closest friend in the group and I were goggle-eyed by the stone markers for Chaucer, King Richard, and other historical figures of England dating back hundreds of years. However, one in the group had become impatient and she whispered in Tagalog which roughly translated to “ What do you find so interesting? Let’s go. These are just memorial stones  for all these  people dead so many years.”

If anything the remark demonstrated this Filipina’s very low sense of history. Perhaps it was because this was English history;  or it could have been an example of Filipinos in general lacking interest in anything historical. Perhaps this is also a demonstration of our weak sense of nationhood.

In the last few weeks we have had news items about the indignation aroused at the tearing down of old and notable landmarks in Manila – the Army and Navy Club, the Admiral Apartments, and a couple of others. And now we have our own case in Zamboanga – the work done in Fort Pilar at what is meant to be an improvement of the site.

I can understand the indignation of Zamboanguenos . What I cannot understand is the seeming idiocy of whoever decided to do what has been done. Let us put this topic in context.

Fort Pilar is a heritage site in our city, and by heritage I mean it in this context of  “ the legacy of physical artifacts… of a group or society” as given in an on-line dictionary. Although ZC has been around since the colonial period there are very few structures that even date back to the early part of the 20th century. Fort Pilar is certainly a standout in this category.

Since Fort Pilar has been made into a museum it is understandable that the structure itself is something that should be a point of interest. I think the intention of the work done, and which has stirred such controversy, is precisely to make this so.  The intention then is to restore  the structure but not to renovate, repair or fix – verbs that are synonymous with restore but not at the same level of meaning. To restore in this context is to “return something to a former….condition.” If the wall was originally made of bricks then the bricks are not plastered over with cement because that would not be restoration.

I remember years ago there was also the great brouhaha over the work done on the old church in Mabolo, Cebu. The stone walls were plastered over with cement and the roof was replaced with GI sheets. What a horrid sight the “new” church presented.

A serious question to be asked is:  Who owns Fort Pilar?  Should not the owner have the final say on what  work is to be carried out and how this is to be done? Very often we forget to ask the basic questions and this generally leads to difficulties.