THE historic Army and Navy Club is being smashed by construction crews to give way to a modern structure that would feature, among other things, a spa. In modern countries, even ancient trees in the busiest strips of the metropolis are protected from despoliation and any attempt to mow them down with chainsaws would set off furious alarms.
And in the case of the Club, we are talking about a grand place built at the turn of the past century where American army generals and navy admirals did everything — from swapping war stories, to getting dead drunk, to engaging in dangerous trysts and liaisons.
Then, it transitioned into a more egalitarian club with Indio members– provided the Indio members had either of the two: famous names or fat bank accounts. As a maritime reporter for a broadsheet in the late 70s who scribbled notes as shipping nabobs fielded questions from reporters at the Club on the state of the shipping industry, I had a sense that even the chandeliers – ancient but still shining brightly – had stories to tell and dangerous liaisons to whisper about.
But demolishing ancient structures is OK here.
In fact, it is perfectly OK to smash the most ancient and historic of structures with wrecking balls. After all, we are an Alzheimer nation. The past is always a blank slate. We treasure nothing from the past especially if such intrudes into the urgent needs of modern commerce. Heritage sites have been fair game to developers, more so if the developers have thick envelops to speed up grants of demolition permits. Even the vestal virgins of integrity at the COA cannot accuse the wreckers of any crime even if the destruction of priceless heritage sites were a crime against humanity. A crime definitely worse off than dealing with the phony Napoles NGOs.
Take note of this and you will realize the great tragedy and weep. The “Distinguished and Ever Loyal City,” the royal city of Manila, has been the most aggressive and the most merciless abettor of wrecking heritage sites.
The Basques in the Philippines, even those not moneyed enough to build conglomerates past (YCO) and present (Ayala companies), have had a massive influence on our way of life and way of doing things. In the rural areas, they were pioneers in the sugar industry. In our town of Lubao, the Arrastias first developed sugar and rice farms before producing some of the most beautiful women in the country. My father was a sharecropper for one of the many landowning branches of the family.
In the city, the impact on culture and sports was showcased by the fronton, in which the Basque betting game of Jai-alai (a derivative of pelota ) was played. Manila had a four-story fronton along Taft Avenue, designed, Art Deco style, by the same architect that designed the Los Angeles International Airport.
In July 2000, wrecking balls pummeled the historic fronton until it was no more. Welton Becket, the LAX architect and the great planner who designed the fronton must have wept in his grave. But was that a grievous act to us, that transgression of an heritage site? I don’t think the city authorities lost a good night sleep over the demolition of a historic building. People, this is the sense in this sad sack of a country, can’t eat history.
It was at that fronton that even the most unlettered young men got their basic lesson in order and civility. Games had to have judges and referees. And that the ruling of the judge had to be respected. “ El fallo del juez es inapelable.” That was written on the fronton’s wall.
But, who, really, cared about the “game of a thousand thrills.” The wrecking balls had to be unleashed with abandon. We are an Alzheimer nation, remember?
In the same royal city, which was claimed by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in the name of the King of Spain in 1571, and which claim ushered in about four centuries of Spanish rule, it was perfectly fine to tear down ancient Art Deco apartment to build monstrous, soulless structures of cement and steel. It was also perfectly OK to tear down the old Meralco building.
Or demolish the historic Luneta Hotel.
Building permits are readily granted to the major developers even if the glorified tenements they call condos soar into the sky to block the view of Rizal’s monument at the Luneta. The assault on revered places goes on and on.
But, then, why would I go far to Manila just to witness how our Alzheimer nation has been recklessly wasting away our glorious heritage. In the City of San Fernando, there are reports that the ancestral home of the Abad Santos family, the illustrious Pampango family that produced a gallery of heroes, Jose and Pedro among them, had been taken over, then left to rot, by a scrap and junk dealer. Inside the halls where Jose Abad Santos had his seminal arguments with Pedro (the unrepentant socialist ) about the masses and democracy, we can imagine this scene during its bodega years: bote and garapa littered about with rotting newspapers.
To make the most of its air time, a government-run TV station rerun the Jose Marie Velez-narrated recollection of Ninoy the Man and Ninoy the Martyr on Sept, 21.
Watching Ninoy, you still tear up. But more sadness will come from this: None of the sons and daughters of the freedom fighter who fought the long and lonely fight against Marcos are with PNoy now. Is there a Diokno in the cabinet? Or a Roces?
None of course. And the manner by which this administration and its new mandarins treat Joker Arroyo and the others who had cast their lot with Ninoy during the martial law years is nothing but a perverse and warped way at looking at the past. But that is OK. We are an Alzheimer nation.