PHILIPPINE EMBASSIES IN HERITAGE HOUSES
MANILA, October 3, 2005 (STAR) By Preciosa S. Soliven - The word "heritage" did not mean much to me until I lived in Italy years ago as a scholar, in Perugia, Umbria and Bergamo, Lombardy. These are two heritage fortress cities standing on the hilltop filled with four story palazzos. They are the sites of the Centro Montessori Internazionale teacher-training for preschool and elementary school. My Perugia padrona (landlady) lived on the fourth floor of a palazzo between the cathedral and Teatro Morlachi.
Italian law forbids airplanes flying low over these ancient Renaissance buildings to preserve the 13th century architecture and city plan. The palazzo communale (city hall), il cattedrale, and the piazzo with famous monuments and fountains transported me to the old romantic world of Romeo and Juliet.
Since becoming involved in the preservation of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines, I became aware of the World Heritage Convention. It upholds the duty of the state in ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations our cultural and natural heritage. Converting Filipino Heritage Houses Into Schools When I returned to the Philippines, I established the first OB Montessori school with the help of Operation Brotherhood International in 1966. I chose to rent the historical old house of old wealthy families which were being abandoned since they had built modern houses at Forbes Park in Makati. One of these was the 10-room Cu-Unjieng mansion in Escoda, Paco. The cement driveway with the stone Dalmatian dogs and fountains reminded me of Italy, especially the huge living room with wide narra floor panels, the high ceiling, huge windows, as well as the winding staircase. The house was filled with antique furniture and lamps, which were sold as a whole collection to antique dealers.
Later, we transferred to the Taft Avenue Rufino mansion, which was memorable for its glossy narra wall panels and floor untarnished by the footsteps of the numerous Rufino children. Its swimming pool was a treat for our students and teachers. Then, Chito Madrigal let me use her lovely house and garden in New Manila for our Quezon City branch. Well-known architect Gabby Formoso designed it while the interiors were decorated by Pando and the gardens by Ronnie Laing.
When OBI president Oscar Arellano transferred his office from the Syquia apartments to the Lichauco compound, it was at that time the Cu-unjiengs decided to tear down our heritage school to build new apartments. Thus, Mr. Arellano shared with us one of the two Intramuros-style houses owned by the Lichaucos in Sta. Ana. On one side was the Jesuit office of La Ignaciana, and Xavier house, the residence. The twin houses were in a compound alongside the Pasig River. During our lengthy stay there, I realized the persistent problems in maintaining heritage houses Ė the electric connections and plumbing lines were deteriorated that they had to be completely changed, incurring big expenditures . Huge Maintenance Budget Required For Our Embassies About thrice a year, as the UNESCO Secretary General, I have to sit down at the budget deliberation session for the Department of Foreign Affairs to which the UNESCO National Commission is attached. I noted the struggle the DFA secretariat officials undergo defending the maintenance budget.
A perspective of this budget is exemplified by the valuable property of the Kudan mansion, the Philippine ambassadorís residence in Tokyo. Being a very special heritage house, it had to undergo renovation by the Kashima Construction Co. from 1961 to 1963 during Ambassador Manuel Adevaís time, and again by the Chiyoda Company in 1993 during the time of Ambassador Domingo Siazon Jr. The residence also underwent interior restoration under Ambassador Al Yuchengco in 1996.
Several embassies are in huge properties, which house both the chancery and the ambassadorís residence like those of London, Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), and Canberra (Australia). In Paris, former First Lady Imelda Marcos decided to lease a large private apartment along the elegant Avenue Foch for the Philippine ambassador, separate from the embassy, where her guests were entertained.
Most country hosts provide special diplomatic areas for all the embassies. Not all embassies own their building or their ambassadorís residences. The Philippines failed to purchase many of these properties in the Fifties when they were not so expensive. Today, the rents are astronomical and proper maintenance can barely be covered by the budget allocation. Examples are the leaky roofs of our ambassadorís Ottawa, Canada residence, and the constant flooding of the basement at our chancery in Paris.
The situation worsens in European countries because heating is very expensive. Unless the ambassadors are wealthy and would generously spend for these expenses, the buildings just continue to deteriorate. The old Philippine-embassy-combined-ambassadorís-residence in Palace Green, Kensington area of London was well refurbished during Ambassador Zobelís time and that of Ambassador Tambunting. The Kudan Mansion During one of my UNESCO meetings in Tokyo, Ambassador Domingo "Jun" Siazon and his Japanese wife Kay entertained me in the official residence of the Philippine ambassador to Japan. I thank Kay for explaining the rich history of the heritage house, which she put together in a picture book.
"Kudan," the official residence of the Philippine ambassador to Japan, was built in a half-hectare estate at the Chiyoda district. Business tycoon Zenzaburo Yasuda built it in 1934 following Mediterranean architecture. It features a watchtower for viewing Mt. Fuji.
The Imperial Palace, which used to be the site of Tokugawa Shogunateís castles, is located five minutes away from the residence. The Tokugawa stables were located at the Kudan site in ancient times.
Later, the heritage history of Kudan included Yoko Ono-Lennon since her parents, heir to Mr. Yasuda, lived in this huge "noble" house.
The Philippine government purchased the Kudan property for $20,000 in 1944 during President Jose P. Laurelís time. Colorful sakuras (somei yoshino) or cherry trees encircle the huge garden, the first of which, by the gate, commemorates the release of Japanese prisoners from Muntinlupa by President Ramon Magsaysay in 1954. Its beautiful pink blossoms aptly symbolize the renewed friendship between the Philippines and Japan after World War II. The Kudan property includes the mansion with its huge music room, diplomatic room, dining room, bedrooms including the Macapagal guestroom, the collection of Filipino paintings, and the shrine garden. World Heritage In Young Hands There is a popular UNESCO heritage kit for high school students called World Heritage in Young Hands to Know, Cherish, and Act.
Our embassy heritage houses around the world link us to the rich history, art and architecture of our host nations. Today, there is a stronger awareness to help conserve these sites. Actually, they are museums since they were constructed by the "rich and famous," thus we are obliged to preserve them for the present and future generations whether they are local, national or regional heritage houses.
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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