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MONDAYS WITH PATMEI |Davao’s important cultural properties

Last week, a team from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) visited Davao City to look at the state of the works of the late National Artist for Architecture (1990) Leandro V. Locsin located here.

According to Republic Act No. 10066 or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, works of a national artist are presumed to be an Important Cultural Property (ICP). This means that the work is considered to have exceptional cultural, artistic, and historical significance to the country. Under the law, such property is given protection by the government and utmost care must be done to such work, whether it is publicly or privately owned.

Davao City is fortunate to have not just one, but two, structures made by a National Artist.
One is the publicly owned old Davao International Airport building in Sasa, which is under the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), a government-owned and controlled corporation. The terminal building designed by Locsin was constructed in 1980 and was in use until 2003.

The old airport was bombed in 2003 that killed 22 people and injured 155 others.
The land where the building stands was donated by Don Francisco Bangoy specifically to be used as an airport. The Davao airport started operations in the 1940s when it was then just a 1,200-meter unpaved grass runway. In 1959, a small control tower and several low-rise buildings were added before the Locsin-designed terminal was built.

During the pandemic, the important cultural property was used as a holding area where arriving passengers can wait for the result of their RT-PCR tests, a requirement imposed by the local government to control the transmission of COVID-19.

When the NCCA team visited the old airport with the Davao Historical Society (DHS) officers last August 7, 2023, it was in a poor state with no traces of the over P112 million budget spent by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for “construction/conversion” as a medical healthcare facility.

However, NCCA commissioned expert, Conservation Architect Caryn Paredes-Santillan said that the old airport, despite its dilapidated state, is still a good structure. She added that “the bones are still structurally sound and it is still evident that it is made by Locsin.”

Paredes-Santillan said that the old airport can still be retrofitted and repurposed for multiple use. It can be used as a museum with shops that showcase Davao arts and crafts. It can also be a passengers’ lounge since it has served as a holding facility during the height of the pandemic. A shuttle service can be provided to transport passengers to and from the new terminal building.

But the Davao City government and community have to act soon because if the old airport building is left unprotected and uncared for, we will lose an important cultural property.

The other Locsin-designed structure is privately owned Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao. It was first established in 1961 by Manila-based tycoons, Don Enrique Zobel and Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala. The close friendship between Locsin and the Ayalas is well-known. In fact, Locsin has been credited to have practically designed Makati City because he designed most of the iconic buildings there such as the Ayala Building, Ayala Museum, Ayala Triangle Tower One, and Philippine Stock Exchange Plaza.

According to the NCCA, the Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao is the first hotel ever designed by Locsin and the only hotel with a sprawling resort concept. The succeeding hotels he designed were all high rise buildings.

The original name of the hotel when it first opened on September 1, 1961 was Islandia Hotel. A year later, the Ayalas changed it to Davao Insular Hotel. When it was managed by the Intercontinental Hotels in 1980, the name was changed to Davao Insular Intercontinental Inn. When management of the hotel was taken over by Century Hotels in 1991, it became Insular Century Hotel. In 1999, the Ayalas sold the hotel to the Gatchalian family’s Waterfront Philippines, Inc. and the hotel changed to its current name.

Older Davaoeños (including “GenXers” like me) will always think of it as “Insular Hotel” because it is the first hotel in Davao and considered an institution in the city. Its name may have changed several times, but the way Locsin designed it remains the same. Locsin is known to beautifully incorporate traditional Filipino qualities with the openness and vastness of modern architecture.

Even the landscape of the 12-hectare sprawling grounds has been preserved for generations of Davaoeños to enjoy. We all have a photo taken with Insular’s famous calesa, haven’t we?

It is the only hotel in the city with a beachfront facing Davao Gulf. Such beautiful natural environment with a building designed by a National Artist make it a truly Davao icon.

Paredes-Santillan, considered a Locsin expert, said: “it is a very good example of Locsin’s work and it ranks high in architectural typology and high in social significance. It must be conserved as an important cultural property of not just the city, but the entire country.”

I hope Waterfront does not only see the tourism value of their property, but its heritage value to the local community as well. How many hotels can say that theirs was designed by the same architect who designed the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP)?

So what are the privileges under the law for important cultural properties such as the Old Davao Airport and Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao? They get priority government funding; priority government protection; incentive for private support of conservation and protection (like tax breaks); and a heritage marker (equivalent to “bragging rights”).

The property gets included in the Philippine Registry of Cultural Properties (PRECUP) and will be featured in the cultural mapping of Davao City and the Philippines.

Aside from the two buildings designed by Locsin, NCCA has noted many important cultural properties in Davao City — both tangible and intangible. There are other works of national artists located here in the city like those of Ang Kiukok, an alumnus of Davao Chong Hua High School, which will celebrate its centennial next year; Napoleon Abueva; and Victorio Edades. Davao is also the home of National Artist for Dance, Agnes Locsin.

I am excited that we are now embarking on this essential historical and cultural work with the DHS leading the way in partnership with NCCA. I hope more Davaoeños will join us in protecting and promoting our cultural heritage.


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