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Heritage is a catalyst for progress

A strong national identity is a potent force that pushes a nation to become great. Unfortunately, the Philippines has yet to solidify its own identity as a nation. By now, we should have realized that “What is Filipino?” tends to be a difficult question to answer. Could it be that we are not proud because we don’t know what to be proud of? There is a need to strengthen pride of place and nationalism, especially among young people, in order to harness that cultural identity, unite the country and move forward as a nation.
Built heritage is a potent symbol for national identity. The Heritage Conservation Society is a prime mover and advocate for the preservation of Philippine-built heritage resources. It does this “in order to contribute towards the establishment of a Society that preserves and values its cultural heritage through advocacy and volunteerism, project implementation, education and information.” Our vision is “a Filipino society that values and preserves its cultural heritage in order to instill pride of place and strengthen Philippine national identity.”
Heritage is an asset people do not realize they have until it is gone. When it is lost, you can't bring it back. It is sad when people realize how heritage could have raised the quality of life in a community only when it is no longer there. And when they finally understand it, they try to recreate it, but could not.
Part of our mission is to make heritage relevant to Filipinos today. And part of heritage conservation is making heritage economically viable for it to survive. The term here is “adaptive reuse”. We reuse heritage buildings by preserving facades and carefully altering interiors to suit modern needs. Most of the important tourist districts in the world have revolved around heritage. If we destroy our heritage, we in effect diminish our tourism potential.
Sad to say, many Filipinos have yet to grasp the economic value of heritage that they consider old buildings as useless, tear them down, and build nondescript structures to replace them. 
But that has changed. Last year, Republic Act No. 10066, the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, was signed into law. It prohibits the demolition, alteration or the renovation of buildings older than 50 years or works of National Artists for Architecture, without the permission of the National Commission for Cultural and the Arts (NCCA) or its attached agencies. This is to allow proper documentation and to ensure that significant structures that should be protected are not lost. The new law also gives incentives to individuals and businesses that fund the restoration of heritage buildings.
The new law also creates heritage zones. If planned and packaged in the right way, people will flock to the historical districts like Escolta or Quiapo. Dr. Trevor Hogan, an Australian sociologist said, "If Quiapo were in Melbourne, the rich and famous would be scrambling to live in it." Currently, there is a move to introduce business process outsourcing (BPO) to Escolta to give it a new lease on life. The urban revitalization of inner city districts is a growing trend worldwide.
If we continuously destroy every trace of our past, we are diminishing our pride as a Filipino race. There will be no visible symbols that we can use to bring us forward as one people.
That is why we aim for a Philippines with a strong sense of nationalism and cultural identity. It is our hope that Filipinos, especially the current generation of young people, will value our rich cultural heritage and be proud of everything that is Filipino. Preserving our culture and heritage is the duty of every Filipino.
We need to instill love for country and everything that is Filipino in every citizen. Doing so will create a realization of our moral obligation for civic participation and volunteerism that would address all these pressing concerns. And our built heritage as symbols of national pride can help us achieve that. 
Note: You can read more about the heritage conservation and tourism advocacies of Ivan Henares in Ivan About Town (
Ivan Henares is a trustee of the Heritage Conservation Society and member of the International Scientific Committee on Cultural Tourism of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). He is an Asia 21 Fellow of the Asia 21 Young Leaders Program of Asia Society. For more information, contact Asia Society at 752-4374 or