Vigan one of New7Wonders cities

Vigan one of the New7Wonders cities
Sponsorship Speech
28 January 2015

Mr. President, esteemed colleagues,

I rise today to sponsor Senate Resolutions 1053, 1057, 1085 and 1130 congratulating the City of Vigan, Ilocos Sur for being named as one of the New7Wonders Cities and commending the same for being a model for heritage conservation.

New7Wonders is a global campaign with the mission of “inspiring and making people more aware of what we are leaving behind for our children and future generations.” Under the motto “Our heritage is our future!”, this campaign aims to highlight what unites mankind, with seven symbols of unity that respect, honor, and celebrate our planet’s cultural diversity.[1] In recent years, there were other campaigns that were conducted to feature each country’s tourist destinations in order to preserve the world’s manmade and natural heritage sites such as the New7Wonders of the World and New7Wonders of Nature. The New7Wonders Foundation, a Swiss non-profit foundation, is behind all these campaigns to create a Global Memory, highlighting and celebrating the beauty of our planet, through a worldwide democratic exercise.

There were 1,200 nominee cities from 220 countries all over the world that joined the search for the New7Wonders cities, which started October 2013 and culminated on 8 December 2014. This was followed by different elimination rounds of people voting over the Internet, through international telephone lines, mobile phone applications, and text messaging. In true bayanihan spirit, Filipinos, not just in the City of Vigan but all over the Philippines and even our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) living in other parts of the world, participated by casting their votes in the official website, thru SMS or by placing an international phone call. Even the national government through the Official Gazette web platform enjoined the public to help the city of Vigan win the title as one of the New7Wonders Cities. A total of 28 finalists emerged on the first phase then after another round of votes, the list was cut down to top 21 in July, and finally, last December, the top 7 cities were finalized. Vigan City was named as one of the New7Wonders cities, alongside Beirut, Lebanon; Doha, Qatar; Durban, South Africa; Havana, Cuba; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and La Paz, Bolivia.

The New7Wonders Cities are recognized for their current strengths and/or potential for sustainable growth, in terms of cultural, environmental, economic and tourism potential. Historical legacy and a balance of infrastructure, living, working, and recreation spaces are also part of the criteria. The campaign now seeks to encourage debate about how we want our cities to respond to the challenges of the present and the future.[2] This cannot be more relevant to the Philippines today. Your Committee on Education, Arts, and Culture, aside from the usual Committee work it handles, has had to spend much time and resources coordinating immediate action for the protection and preservation of key heritage sites, particularly in the City of Manila where many of our national cultural properties are located. Truth be told, the response of the City of Manila has been less than ideal, although there were some members of the City Council and civil society who have clearly taken steps towards preservation. Overall, however, there has not been a significant collective and sustainable action towards heritage protection by the City of Manila. This is why this award to the City of Vigan is timely and important, as they have set the bar for the right attitude and policy direction of what is expected of a local government in terms of this issue. Allow me to give a brief history of Vigan and the steps it has taken to lead it where it is now.

It is not the first time that the City of Vigan has garnered global recognition. In 1991, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural and historical significance, being one of the few Hispanic towns left with a unique fusion of Asian building designs and European colonial architecture. In 2012, the City of Vigan was awarded by UNESCO as “Best Practice in Sustainable Conservation and Management of World Heritage Properties”. In fact, in the recent International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) 118th General Assembly held in Florence, Italy which I attended with the Philippine delegation, the City of Vigan was presented for its good practice in heritage site management.

History would prove us that this success and recognition did not happen overnight. On this note, the history of Vigan mirrors the history of the Philippines.

As presented by Architect Augusto Villalon, President of ICOMOS Philippines, during the ICOMOS General Assembly [3], earliest records show that as a river port, Vigan has been trading with China in as early as the 13th Century. During the Spanish Colonization, Vigan flourished into the third most important trading post in the country and retained this position until the Second World War.

Vigan started as a center for agricultural activity, mainly for the production of cotton; but in the 18th Century, agriculture was replaced with tobacco. As a result, the land-owning families gained affluence. They built large houses, which became the old houses we treasure today.[4]

In 1985, the descendant of these families started efforts on urban conservation but failed to engage the community in these efforts. Vigan heritage was seen as an imposition and was not valued by the community. There was clamor for these old houses to be torn down to give room for development.[5]

The World Heritage inscription in 1999 was the turning point in which authorities and the community recognized the value of their heritage. It became a joint concern of both the authorities and the community as they slowly realized that Vigan is special. Strong community participation is the key to successful public-private cooperation and sustainable development and this was harnessed in the City of Vigan through the leadership of the local government officials which merit commendation.[6]

In line with the City’s mission statement “to conserve our heritage and deliver effective services for an improved quality of life”, the City Government of Vigan led by Mayor Eva Medina implemented a program entitled, “the Vigan City Heritage Conservation Program as a Tool for Development”. The program included the enactment of the legislative measures to safeguard and preserve the historic city such as delineation of boundaries and the definition of the allowable uses in the core and buffer zones. They pedestrianized the main historic street of Calle Crisologo and smoothened the flow of traffic within the protected zones. They also enacted the Vigan Conservation Guidelines which provides for rules on appropriate restoration works on historic structures, construction of new structures and development of open spaces within the protected zones. They also created a multi-sectoral Vigan Conservation Council which formulates, recommends, evaluates and approves development plans, policies and programs relating to the conservation and development of the protected zones. In compliance with our National Cultural Heritage Act or RA 10066, they also completed their cultural mapping project which identified and documented cultural heritage resources, local arts and crafts, crafts persons and practitioners of intangible cultural heritage. And this was done with the full support and active cooperation of all stakeholders who were consulted in public hearings to voice their opinions on the measures aiming to safeguard and conserve the built heritage of the City.

At present, the community engages in activities for heritage conservation and comes up with many more ideas on how to they could participate in conservation efforts. As a result, they are now reaping not only the cultural and historical advantages of their heritage but also economic benefits through heritage utilization and the pride of being part of this beautiful city. Vigan exemplifies how economic development and heritage preservation can coexist.

Time and again, Vigan has proven that progress indeed comes hand in hand with the preservation of cultural heritage. The Hangzhou Declaration adopted on 17 May 2013 emphasizes culture as key to sustainable development, recognizes heritage conservation as part of a sustainable development plan and advocates placing culture at the heart of public policy. The world has long taken notice of the heritage management of Vigan as one to aspire for in preserving culture and history. As we continue to promote heritage preservation in other parts of the country, significantly the Rizal Monument as a national cultural treasure and national monument, let us take a cue from our own and reinforce our commitment to protect and preserve our cultural heritage. It is an invaluable gift that we owe to our future generations and a treasure that we can share with the rest of the world. Thank you.

[3] Villalon, A. The Historic City of Vigan Philippines: Evolution of management style from “expert-centered” to “community-centered” [Presentation]
[4] ibid.
[5] ibid.
[6] ibid.

Photo: Senators present a resolution commending Vigan City for being chosen as one of the New7Wonders cities to local government officials led by Mayor Eva Medina and Representative Ronald Singson.

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