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Old is beautiful

I used to be a member of the cultural illiterates.  I felt no privilege in being schooled in a building that was constructed in 1901. I discarded old photographs thinking that they had no value.  I did not make any special effort to preserve our antique furniture.   But I felt remorseful after John Silva, now the Executive Director of Ortigas Foundation, gave us a tour around the National Museum.  I felt proud discovering our glorious past through the San Diego treasures.  I respected the diversity in our culture and religious beliefs as John explained to us how Filipinos honored their dead and carved images of “bulol” and “anitos” out of hard wood.  My heart leapt with love of country as I walked through a gallery of photographs depicting the execution of Dr. Jose Rizal. I became hooked on Philippine history and culture since then.

And so, I get saddened with the utter neglect of historic buildings.  The most recent one is the Philamlife building which is being demolished to give way to a condominium complex and presumably a mall.  The building was built in 1961 and served as the cultural center of the Philippines for decades.  Its excellent   acoustic system was built by the same firm that installed the acoustics in the United Nations   Headquarters in New York.  The mural around the theater depicted Filipino folklores and a particular favorite was the story of Maria Makiling.

This is how a country loses its soul.  We destroy monuments and structures that remind us of our tradition and heritage.  In their place, we are expected to bask in commercialism from shopping malls and fast food counters.  We show no respect for architecture and works of art which bestow our culture its uniqueness.  We deprive our children the opportunity to recognize and value the rich ancestry of our country. We deprive the citizens the joy of reliving memories of their past.

There is very little provision in our budget for the preservation and restoration of historical buildings.  Our laws have no teeth in regulating their destruction.  We could only grit our teeth as we witnessed how wrecking balls demolished the Jai Alai building in Taft Avenue, the Army Navy Club beside the Rizal Park, the Lyric Theater in Escolta, and the YMCA near Manila City Hall.  Our young will never have the chance to marvel at their architecture and how they have served as a silent witness to our history.

But government has a powerful instrument that it can use to correct “market imperfections”.  The private sector can be encouraged to undertake a task which government is unable to perform. 

Individuals and organizations can be influenced   to undertake rehabilitation, restoration, or reconstruction of historical buildings through the grant of tax incentives.  Governments in Europe provide financial and non-financial incentives to preserve their historical heritage.  These include exemptions from the VAT, the property tax and generous deductions from the income tax.  The United States gives a tax credit of 20% of the costs of preserving historical buildings.  The tax credit can be carried back for one year and carried forward for twenty years.  There are incentives for organizations that raise funds for this noble purpose such as the preferential tax treatment of bonds.

Studies show that the costs of tax expenditures, i.e. the revenues that government foregoes through the grant of tax relief for historical preservation projects, provide a positive ROI.  Every dollar that the US government foregoes brings back US$1.26 in return.  Preservation efforts promote tourism, generate income and employment. 

The CREATE bill incentivizes big investment projects.  It is never too late to incentivize programs that are big on preserving our culture and history.

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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