Growing from a Filipino or Negrénse household, sayings would be one of the earliest values lessons you would hear from your parents and old family members. One of the most immortal perhaps is the saying “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.” Indeed there is much to learn from past histories, those experiences that mould who we are at present. This proverbial saying does not just apply to us as individuals but as a people. It has been said that Negros does not have much history to speak of, but is it possible? The people without a history is a people without an identity. Surely, Negrénses are a people of unique identity. Is this history non-existent or just plainly undocumented, something waiting for us to discover? Fortunately, I happen to found a short film posted in YouTube about leisure afternoons in Talisay, one of the cities comprising the Metropolitan Bacólod Area. Metropolitan Bacólod is a triumvirate of three cities of the capital Bacólod City, the sub-urban Talisay City and the cultural Paris of Negros, Silay City. These three cities are rich in history but sadly, only Talisay and Silay Cities are initiating programs to preserve their city’s heritage while Bacólod City lost a number of its architectural heritage buildings through time in the name of development, one of which is close to my heart.
As a young and curious child then, I would love sitting by the feet of my grandparents and hear them tell stories about the olden days of Bacólod. These storytellings would be more exciting with old pictures Bacólod street scenes and their youthful days. My grandfather, the late Col. Elpidio P. Mayo was a former guerilla, war veteran and an officer in the Internal National Police. My mother’s family used to live in Victorias City and moved to Bacólod when my grandfather was assigned as an Assistant Station Commander. The Police Headquarters was the housed in an art deco building and the family lived in a small house just a stone’s throw away, in what is now a vacant lot beside Calvary Temple. The art deco building itself speaks of history and has undergone a transition from being the City Agriculture Office, City Police Headquarters, the former Occidental Negros Institute campus (now University of Negros Occidental – Recoletos) and finally, the former Doctor’s Hospital building. The building and the adjacent lot was purchased by the Gaisano Group as the eventual site of their Mall’s expansion. Decades after, no mall expansion stands on the site, only the ruins of these once beautiful building. Thinking about this heritage structure’s fate, it saddens me that this pattern of heritage destruction happening in a growing scale.
Most of the remaining heritage structures of Bacólod City are located in the busiest section, Burgos and Lacson Streets. Lacson Street is best known as the city’s Business District and the home of the Provincial Capitol of Occidental Negros. While most of the people know Burgos Street as the former Millionaire’s Row for having the large mansions of the city’s most elite, Lacson Street is home to many more ancestral houses that are falling prey to the city’s booming real estate industry. One of the recent preys is the ancestral house beside Mayfair Plaza on which now stands the nearly completed Avenue Suites Hotel. If you very inquisitive enough, behind Starbucks Coffee in the same street, you’ll notice another ancestral house kept intact. If you are curious enough to have ventured in the narrow 1st to 21st Streets, you’d see more ancestral houses. Lately, I have heard of talks that another ancestral house will be demolished between the Philippine National Bank and Bank of Commerce buildings to give way to another development. Not far from that ancestral house, another heritage structure is threatened to be demolished, the former Provincial Jail.
Jail yards are heritage structures that get the least attention at heritage conservation maybe because of the horrible atrocities and conditions associated with it. Unlike other jails though, the Old Provincial Jail of Negros Occidental started as a Spanish military facility called Fort San Juan. Fort San Juan was never designed as a detention facility but in time, with steady crime rates, it was transformed as such by the American administration. Contrary to the prevailing opinion that there is no heritage value left in the structure, in fact the commandante is still intact, only covered by concrete to strengthen the structure. In fact, some exposed areas do bear code numbers of the bricks and which brick-making facility those came from. The news of it being converted to a mall facility without an assurance that the historic structures would be left intact is indeed sad news for heritage conservationist like me. Sadder it is that may more are threatened to be gone from the cityscape of the City of Bacólod. More than descriptions in old textbooks, these structures give life to our past, something we should revisit and learn from for us to see the very future we are heading.
Addendum: There is redemption to all this though. Some of those endangered ancestral houses along Lacson Street a beginning to be reutilized as fancy dining restaurants (eg. Cuayx). There is hope after all. As for the Fort San Juan, I just hope our dear governor keeps his word that the commandante building left from the Spanish era will be preserved.