As early as June this year, I posted an alert message to the Manila Nostalgia community about an impending demolition job on the western section of the historic Manila Army Navy Club, the pool side. My warning received only a handful of sighs from fellow members.
Along with this, Carlos Celdran (now Manila tourism consultant) refuted that all those movements on that part of Luneta is a mere rehabilitation of the seawall. The issue quickly died down. A few weeks later, Manila netizens were shocked to the sight of a torn down Army Navy Club.
I should have shout about it the first time.
The Army Navy Club and the Elks Club are turn-of-the-century structures. Forums to many important events in the history of Philippine-American relations. Still and all, with its National Historical label and National Historical Institute marker, the ANC wasn’t spared of a developer’s wrecking ball. Heritage advocates, culture lovers and concerned citizens were up in arms. But the uproar came a little too late. What was left of the building was an eerie skeletal structure and none of the William Parsons design.
Meanwhile, within a hailing distance from the ANC ruins, and amid the furor, another multi-storeyed heritage structure is being shrouded in a gigantic safety net. At the mercy of a hydraulic excavator — the Admiral Hotel.
At the time, Typhoon Mario, enhanced with the powerful southwest monsoon, closed in on Metro Manila shutting the whole Philippine capital down. And so — under cover of the bad weather — the excavator crushed the hotel to the ground. Manila Nostalgia member Jeremy Vergonio’s mayday cry was but tiny voice in the storm:
Another heritage building that survived WWII being demolished (Admiral Hotel). And mind you,they are acting fast. In a span of 3 days, with the typhoon and habagat, this is the result. It pains me to see her going down..again, as some would say, “in the name of progress”.
Admiral Hotel is unknown to many Filipinos. In fact, there is not much the internet can give about this establishment. Unless you google it with the word “demolition.” What made this building an important cultural property is, one, it is a world-class structure with a touch of European Revivalism designed no less by Fernando H. Ocampo, one of the Fathers of Modern Philippine Architecture. Two, the hotel was host to many illustrious people including General MacArthur and US President Herbert Hoover. Lastly, Philippine law states: structures dating at least 50 years old shall be considered Important Cultural Property.
Fifty years is extensive. If rule of law is not being trampled upon in this land, Manila would probably be a living museum by now.
With the Army Navy Club and the Admiral Hotel annihilated, infuriation turned to indignation. Inquiries turned to investigations. And as it turned out, with all the agencies mandated to protect these cultural treasures — National Historical Commission of the Philippines, National Historical Institute, National Commission for Culture and Arts and a number of its subcommittees — no arm of the government, including the Manila City Hall itself, was able to prevent what cultural activists and heritage conservation advocate Ivan Henares termed the “September Massacre of Manila’s Heritage.”
But that is not the shock of it all. A hearing on the “carnage” — presided over by Senator Pia Cayetano together with Ms. Gemma Araneta Cruz and Madam Isidra Reyes — uncovered the following spine-chillers: Manila City Hall’s carelessness in the issuance of construction and demolition permits; NHCP officials’ incomprehension of cultural and heritage laws, not to mention the lack of coordination among them; and developers laden with deceits and their crooked logic of preserving by reconstructing.
A cease-and-desist order was quickly directed to Anchor Land Holdings, the company in charge of the construction/demolition. Unfortunately, the NHCP dragged its feet in issuing the letter, until nothing is left of what used to be the Admiral.
There’s no more to be said of the government officials’ faculties. It’s either they are brain-dead or there’s just too much money involved. You get my drift. And there’s no blaming the developers, there is nothing in them but greed and it’s a given.
As for the city government, my sneaking suspicion of a collusion behind all the destruction was reinforced by what Isidra Reyes has to say about the Manila Mayor:
At the rate American Colonial Era buildings are being torn down, with the blessings of Manila City Mayor Joseph Estrada, Manila is looking more and more like the devastated city it was after the Battle of Manila in 1945. Is Erap hell-bent on removing the remaining traces of the American Colonial Era to favor his Chinese cronies? It is a well-known fact that Erap has no love lost for the Americans. Despite having been schooled at the Ateneo for some years, Erap is best known for mangling the English language and for making movies which attack American imperialism.
When he was senator, he was one of the so-called Magnificent Twelve who pushed for the removal of U.S. military bases. And the feeling was apparently mutual. When he was elected President in 1998, the U.S. was no doubt among those instrumental in orchestrating his removal from office and replacing him with President Bill Clinton’s Georgetown University classmate, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He was convicted of plunder and placed under house arrest for six years, after which he ran again for President, placed second to Noynoy Aquino, and then made a successful bid as Mayor of the City of Manila.
It is with his blessings that these American Colonial Era buildings are being torn down, no doubt. Even the most rabid defender of the Chinese developers responsible for the demolition of these buildings, Manila City Councilor Bernie Ang, is his crony. So what other American Era buildings are lined up for the wrecking ball, Erap? William Parsons’ Army and Navy Club is gone, Fernando H. Ocampo’s Admiral Apartments and Hotel is gone, and currently being demolished are the Michel Apartments and another beautiful building designed by Fernando H. Ocampo, the Angela Apartments. Perhaps the Carmen Apartments and the El Hogar Building are next, as the occupants of both buildings have already been told to vacate both buildings.
The Manila Metropolitan Theater is a sitting duck and so is Carlos Arguelles’s Philamlife Building. The Jai Alai Building is also gone, thanks to another short-sighted Manila City Mayor. Looking back, it was much better Post-War when most of the Pre-War buildings were reconstructed and rebuilt as per original plans.
Today, we dread at the quality of buildings which will replace the beautiful vanquished buildings. We don’t need more anonymous-looking condo buildings! What we are losing with this wholesale destruction of our heritage is our city’s history and soul.
With all these historical buildings gone, soon enough the Manila we knew shall be no more and shall exist only in our memories and the vintage photos we so lovingly post in Manila Nostalgia. Let us not allow that to happen. If something can be done, it should be done now.
Perhaps Erap is rolling out the red carpet for China’s takeover of the Philippines. It started with the Scarborough Shoals and is now creeping fast into our nation’s capital city.
Does that explains why he was ready and willing to apologize to China for the sins of his predecessors?
I used to find myself gazing at the Hotel’s picture windows. The oversized quadrilateral shape is something else. Its frosted white exterior, atypical with the rows along Roxas Boulevard. The first time I set foot here in Malate I knew, Admiral Hotel is a beautiful, beautiful work of art.
Now we have to close our eyes to see the beauty.