LAST week’s announcement of the sale of The Manila Metropolitan Theater (MET) to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) creates a mix of excitement and caution among its old patrons and observers. For sure it is a welcome development. The takeover by the new management is expected to end a long-running legal battle that has paralyzed the development of that national cultural treasure. Hopefully soon, we shall see its rehabilitation and that of the surrounding district of historic Manila.
Last week, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) sold and turned over The Met to the NCCA. Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada had wanted to use the theater as a performing arts center for the University of Manila. The city tried to buy it, but the NCCA had the right of first refusal. Eventually, the commission gave a higher bid of P270 million for the property, and that much money may be spent restoring The MET back to its old glorious shape.
All those long years when the City of Manila and the GSIS were fighting over it, no work was done to restore the property. The government pension fund owned the building, and in 2004, the city was given the right to repair and rehabilitate the theater in coordination with the NCCA. Nothing happened. The national government could not spend on the theater because the city had the usufruct over it. Hopefully, the long wait may be over soon.
The Met is an 84-year-old national cultural treasure and one of rare art deco buildings still standing in the country. National Artist Fernando Amorsolo and other masters such as Isabelo Tampinco had worked on its design. And famed performers, like Honorata “Atang” dela Rama, the National Artist known as the “Queen of the Kundiman,” performed there. The structure survived World War II, but not the neglect of the government since then.
Today, The Met is a symbol of urban decay. Vandalism and political graffiti, not to mention the dust and grime of traffic pollution from recent decades of neglect, had spoiled the facade. The weather has also damaged the interior. As a sign of its lost significance, the theater is better known to people today as a haunted building. To motorists and commuters, it is one of the many landmarks to traffic congestion in Metro Manila, particularly when it rains.
Good, but what now?
There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about this news. For one, people have been talking about the rehabilitation of The Met for a long time before the NCCA deal, but, as mentioned earlier, nothing has so far materialized to restore it. During her term, former President Gloria Arroyo allocated P50 million to its repair and rehabilitation. The outcome was an investigation into where those funds went.
Good governance may be the banner of today’s government, but the Aquino Administration has been slow to act. Near The Met, for instance, rehabilitation work should have started in Intramuros. But months after traffic has been rerouted, work has yet to begin.
The government, whether this regime under President Aquino or his successor’s, should incorporate timeliness into its other endeavors even as it pursues its main crusade against corruption. It is encouraging, though, that the NCCA is looking at only two years to work on The Met. We hope that the commission can bid out the job soon so the exciting work of restoration could begin.
We also hope that Manila and the national government could collaborate on rehabilitating the areas around the theater – not to mention other places in the city. For starters, Plaza Lawton should also be spruced up.
The government should revisit the idea by Fullerton Hotel of Singapore to transform the Philippine Post Office Building into a luxury hotel. Truth be told, there is so much rehabilitation work that is also needed around Manila, including Santa Cruz, Binondo and the Port Area. We hope The Met would mark the beginning of a new era of restoration around the old city.
Manila is a good place to start in rebuilding our national treasures, not to mention our national pride. This city is not only home to places like The Met. It is also the seat of power and the official capital of the Republic. We may only expect respect from other nations if we know how to give enough importance to our national heritage. The good news is that a chance to do that is here. Let us hope the NCCA makes all the right moves to bring back the old glory of The Met, and support government efforts to restore the significance of all our other national cultural treasures.