DPWH to restore old Payo municipal hall

SAFE FROM DEMOLITION. The 51-year old municipal building of Panganiban will be restored by DPWH Catanduanes Engineering District, with most of the P30-M funding for its supposed demolition and the construction of a new hall diverted to renovation of an existing building at the LGU compound.

After nearly six months of controversy, the 54-year old municipal building in Panganiban town will not be demolished after all, as it will now be restored by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

According to informed sources, the DPWH will use the P30 million available funding for the renovation and expansion of the two-storey structure at the right side of the old municipal hall.

The plan calls for the expansion of the existing edifice to the back and at the inner side, as part of its wing near the national road will be affected by the road right-of-way widening.

Ironically, the decision to save the historical building came after two strident opponents of the municipal government’s demolition plan reportedly withdrew their objection to the LGU project.

A copy of a Nov. 16, 2021 letter of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) to Mayor Cesar Robles said that the Commission is not amenable to the proposed architectural scheme based on the perspective and floor plans for the development of the old municipal hall “because it does not reflect an authentic post-modern architecture which the Old Municipal Hall represents.

“While the NHCP does not prohibit additional levels to the building, it would be more appropriate to restore the old municipal hall and build another structure behind, at the side, or in any area that would not affect the physical integrity of the old municipal hall,” NHCP Chairman Dr. Rene Escalante stressed, citing the recommendations of its Historic Preservation Division (HDD).

It added that the façade design, including finishes and architectural proportions, should adopt the post-modern architectural character of the old municipal hall, and the open space including the monument in front should also be kept open and accessible to the public.

Under NHCP guidelines, all developments affecting declared and marked historic sites and structures such as National Historical Landmarks, National Shrines, Historic Center/Heritage Zones, Heritage Houses, National Historical Sites, and all structures 50 years old and above have to be submitted for assessment with the Commission.

It may be recalled that last June 2021, a social media firestorm involving Panganiban residents erupted after it was learned that the municipal government was planning to demolish the old building and replace it with a bigger, three-storey structure with funds provided by the Ang Probinsyano partylist group.

The current administration had expressed its desire to tear down the old building as most of its occupants are apprehensive about their safety.

The planned demolition of the old building, however, garnered negative comments from many Payonhons, who described the decision as unwise and injudicious.

With construction started in the mid-1960s and inaugurated in 1967, the municipal hall has become part of Panganiban’s heritage, an iconic structure used by past leaders in building a stronger and more progressive town, one critic stated.

Two of them, Dr. Rene Reyes and Atty. Raul Angeles, later filed a complaint with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) against Mayor Robles and DPWH Catanduanes District Engineer Gil Augustus Balmadrid for “the imminent demolition of an important cultural property” in violation of Section 5 of Republic Act 10066.

Last Nov. 23, the two complainants filed a motion to withdraw the complaint, a decision which they said came after a series of communications with the chief executive and Engr. Balmadrid.

They said that they are no longer interested in pursuing the case “because a new building was created which was perfectly designed and beautiful…”

“The new design is more authoritative, more imposing and captures the essence of classic government designed buildings,” Reyes and Angeles stated. “It incorporated and preserved the features of the old municipal hall into the new municipal hall.”

A DPWH source said the withdrawal of the complaint is for naught as the agency has already decided against the initial project. It is claimed that the NHCP’s restrictions on the use of the open space in front of the old building limited the design options.

Of the 11 towns in the province, six have seen their old municipal buildings either destroyed and replaced by a new one or complemented by an addition or new building.

In 2000, a new municipal building was constructed in front of the old Virac municipal building, which has undergone many repairs due to damage from past typhoons.

Pandan also renovated its municipio while Caramoran razed the old one and recently completed a new building after two decades of controversy, delays, and alleged anomalies.

Bato and San Miguel renovated or improved their existing buildings in recent administrations while Baras inaugurated a new building during the term of then Mayor Jose Teves Jr.

On the other hand, the San Andres municipal hall has remained fundamentally unchanged, with new buildings built in the vicinity to accommodate new offices and increasing number of personnel.

The Viga LGU under Mayor Emeterio Tarin has secured a P110-million loan from the Development Bank of the Philippines for the construction of a modern multi-storey municipal building with built-in safeguards implementing safety protocols against future virus pandemics.

The old “municipio” which was built in 1960 is now being demolished after the NHCP reportedly delisted it as an important cultural property.

On the other hand, Gigmoto LGU is borrowing P30 million for the construction of the first floor of a three-storey new building, with the top two floors being sought for funding from Congressman Hector Sanchez and Congressman Jose Teves Jr.

Pursuant to Republic Act 10066, structures dating at least 50 years old, among others, are considered as important cultural property

For the structure to be delisted as such, the owner, stakeholder or any interested person may file a petition with NHCP, which shall conduct a hearing with the owners and stakeholders.

The same Act penalizes anyone who “destroys, demolishes, mutilates or damages any world heritage site, national cultural treasures, important cultural property and archaeological and anthropological sites” with a fine of not less than P200,000.00 or imprisonment of not less than 10 years, or both, at the discretion of the court.

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