Cultural Heritage Mapping in the Era of Memoricide

The turn of the millennium witnessed brutal attacks to man’s memory. Globalization and modernization were development phenomena that insidiously created impact on the erosion of cultural heritage. Wars, terrorism, technology, tourism, migration, and urbanization dramatically challenged the national governments and international organizations in their pursuit for global tolerance and cultural diversity. The destruction of the Bamiyan Temple Buddha in Afghanistan in 2001 was initially thought of as an isolated religious war of the Middle East until it escalated to the bombing of the Twin Towers in New York which alarmed all democracies of the world. Locally, the episode of the wrecking ball that pulverized the iconic Jai Alai building in Manila in 2000, amplified to other heated heritage contestations such as the highway that destroyed the Huluga Archaeological site in Cagayan de Oro and the road widening threats to historic towns of Silay (Negros Occidental), Baclayon (Bohol) and Carcar (Cebu). It was within this context of cultural confluence and confusion that cultural heritage mapping emerged in the era of memoricide.

The Thomasian foresight embraced these emerging issues on heritage by establishing the Graduate Certificate for Cultural Heritage Studies in 2000, which eventually became the Master of Arts Program in 2012. The groundbreaking program eventually led to the establishment of the Center for Conservation for Cultural Property and the Environment in the Tropics (CCCPET) in 2003. Complementary to this effort was the enthusiasm and escalation towards the quadri-centennial celebration of the University of Santo Tomas in 2011. UST Museum Director Rev. Fr. Isidro C. Abaño, O.P., developed a triad framework that institutionalized the cultural heritage conservation advocacy and program of the University. The framework composed of the Museum, the Graduate Course and the CCCPET synergized to balance the theoretical/philosophical foundation of heritage studies, the on-site conservation training in the museum and the off-site capacity building in communities. Within the Cultural Heritage Management course of the Graduate School, cultural heritage mapping was a staple exercise, a research tool prescribed to holistically understand and systematically analyze the cultural fabric of every community.                    

In early 2000, there were sporadic cultural heritage mapping orientations and experiments that were apprehensively done. These were conducted in Bohol with the Diocese of Tagbilaran; in Cebu with former Governor Gwen Garcia for the municipal mayors; and in Ilocos Norte with former Governor Bongbong Marcos for the content development of the Museo Ilocos Norte. The first full blown cultural heritage mapping project was with the World Heritage City of Vigan in 2006. The Vigan case rotated full cycle and ramified to educational programs, tourism promotion, environmental conservation, legislative promulgation and other developmental strategies. This regenerative case was presented in the International Conference of the Memory of the World in Australia and published in the authoritative textbook on cultural mapping entitled “A Contemporary Guide to Cultural Mapping: An ASEAN-Australia Perspective” (Cook & Taylor, 2013). This experience catapulted CCCPET’s popular lecture titled “Heritage Makakain Ba Yan?” among local government units, which foregrounded the paradigm on heritage conservation and sustainable development.  

CCCPET’s lecture series on heritage and development caught the attention of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Enthusiastically, the Center made the rounds to curious provinces, cities and municipalities. Appreciative of the framework, NCCA developed a cultural mapping program which was integrated in the Heritage Law of 2009 or Republic Act 10066. It required cultural mapping as the fundamental course in the Philippine Cultural Education Program – Graduate Diploma for Cultural Education (GDCE) for public school teachers. In 2015, the NCCA endorsed to the Department of the Interior and Local Government DILG) cultural mapping, as a requisite for the coveted Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG) award to facilitate and ensure the enrichment of the Philippine Registry of Cultural Property (PRECUP) program. Beyond this national government effort, other universities also embarked on their own cultural mapping approaches and techniques.

Cultural heritage mapping became the flagship program niche of the CCCPET. Beyond expectations, it spun off to new trajectories and territories. It rectified local histories and led to new discoveries- Bataan history was clarified and foundation day was rectified; a Calatagan (Batangas) fortification was identified in the context of Galleon Trade route. It deepened heritage appreciation- the intramuros of Polillo Island (Quezon), the languages of Romblon and the short history of Quezon City. It conditioned local cultural revolution- the Malay (Aklan) cultural campaign with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the Salinbago Product Design Entrepreneurship program with the Department of Trade and Industry-Design Center Philippines (DTI-DCP) that involved 12 Schools of Living Tradition (SLTs) all over the country.

Cultural heritage mapping surfaced social-political issues- the unspoken abortion stories in Angeles City (Pampanga) and the election ambush of the Tugaya (Lanao del Sur) mayor. It uplifted the tourism industry- the Taal (Batangas) private tour package initiatives, the IIocos Norte Museum, the tourism campaign of Butuan City (Agusan del Norte). It impressed the value of risk preparedness – the destruction of Guiuan (Eastern Samar) by super typhoon Yolanda that revived memories. It fomented the revival of intangible traditions and crafts – the lubenas of Angeles City (Pampanga), the damili of San Nicolas (Ilocos Norte) and the kwentuhan meeting places of Marikina City.

Cultural heritage mapping ensured the cultural sensitivity of structures in heritage sites – the infrastructure guidelines of Ifugao Rice Terraces and the infrastructure and activity guidelines of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP). It facilitated cultural policy formulation- the influential Vigan Ordinance No. 7, the Bach Code of Bohol and the municipal ordinances of Samar. It evolved to multiple cultural development projects: the Ormoc City (Leyte) experience that led to tourism development, legislation agenda, museum development, educational library, and the General Santos experience that prepared the museum construction, educational training, tourism campaign. It fortified the collaboration of academe and government with UST graduate student theses- Laguna cultural heritage mapping and San Rafael (Bulacan) cultural heritage mapping. CCCPET’s experience in cultural heritage mapping realized the dire need for heritage driven programs that empowers individuals and transforms communities.

Cultural mapping has become extremely popular that towns and cities are rushing to finish their cultural heritage database.  The CCCPET has documented provinces, cities and municipalities. However, not all cultural mapping projects have successfully evolved to full blown projects. Few have fizzled out due to political instability and others due to geophysical constraints. With the valuable support and initiative of the national government through the NCCA, people have begun to appreciate the need for cultural heritage mapping, a baseline documentation activity to establish a sense of place and identity. Some local governments that have utilized their cultural heritage mapping data could be proud that they have a fortified the memory of their community, ensuring a fertile soil of creativity and continuity.

The UST CCCPET considers cultural heritage mapping both as an end and as a means, as a product and as a process. As an end, the voluminous data serves a repository of the memory of the community in a particular point in time. As a means, the intangible data must be utilized to serve as baseline content and context for the development of the community. As heritage continues to evolve in the context of accelerated change, cultural heritage mapping must transform into new paradigms to be relevant and significant. It should be a regenerative and reinterpretative agendum.  

ASSOC. PROF. ERIC BABAR ZERRUDO is the Director of the University of Santo Tomas Graduate School Center for Conservation of Cultural Property and the Environment in the Tropics. He teaches at the UST Graduate School for Cultural Heritage Studies, and is National Coordinator of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Episcopal Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church. He is the Philippine resource person for the ICCROM conferences on Authenticity in the Asian Context and Conservation Policies in Asia, an accredited World Heritage-ICOMOS Evaluation Expert for cultural serial and cultural landscape sites, and continues to facilitate value-based interdisciplinary Philippine approach and applications in heritage conservation. He has studied at the Tokyo University, Deakin University, Lund University and the University of Santo Tomas.

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