With the sudden widespread urge to modernize our road system through road widening and road restructuring, a dilemma exists in confronting heritage structures that have been standing along these corridors for as long as anyone alive can remember.
Oftentimes, these structures are taken for granted, and their importance, both artistic and historical, are deprived of recognition. Unlike heritage houses whose removal can easily be noticed, smaller ones such as a Via Crucis station can easily be demolished and scrapped without raising so much attention.
We have seen this in the case of Vintar in Ilocos Note as well as Magsingal in Ilocos Sur, two towns that used to have complete Via Crucis stations around their poblacions, similar to those in Sarrat and San Nicolas in Ilocos Norte that are now declared Important Cultural Properties of the Philippines), yet only a handful survive, if at all surviving. This lack of concern—of which the converse should ultimately be expressed in legal protection from the local level at least—is observed in many similar roadside heritage sites and monuments.
In 2020, the National Museum of the Philippines made a move to declare several highly threatened Spanish period structures sitting along the old Camino Real or the Spanish Royal Highway, a large section of which is now part of the heavily used MacArthur Highway that connects Manila to Aparri in Cagayan.
While these structures managed to survive for over 200 years, recent trends in road widening brings about the inevitable conclusion and nightmare that these patrimonies are most vulnerable to being removed and may not be spared for the benefit of the generations to follow.
In the Ilocos Region, there are two historic bridges, one viaduct, and two leguarios that finally received recognition as nationally significant structures. A simple trip from Manila to Pagudpud guarantees the sighting of all of them.
Paoay and Sta. Maria Bridges
In 2016, the stone bridge in Paoay, Ilocos Norte was damaged. A few were saddened by the incident, but fewer acted on it.
Two years later, another centuries-old bridge in Laoag City was being demolished to give way to road expansion.
At that time, locals were more vocal and involved, therefore raising calls to stop the assault.
The bridge in Paoay, though damaged, contains scroll motifs on its anchorage, showing an artistic connection with the Paoay church.
Paoay church is known for its massive buttresses with scrolls, supposedly a representation of the Ilocano sun-god Init-Tao.
The architecture of the bridge in Sta. Maria, on the other hand, demonstrates a clear resemblance to the side buttresses of nearby Sta. Maria church with its cubic and rock-solid configuration.
Both mentioned churches in Ilocos also have century-old Acacia and Narra trees beside them which arose from the practical need of the town folks then to have a natural canopy above the bridges.
The two still stand and are in use, and they unequivocally represent the best-preserved brick bridges from the Spanish period in their respective provinces.
Paoay and Sta. Maria bridges, through their aesthetic associations with their respective UNESCO World Heritage-listed baroque churches, are now considered to be intrinsic components of the churches’ declarations as National Cultural Treasures. There is another old bridge in Miag-ao in Iloilo named Taytay Boni that expresses the same artistic affinities as that of the Sto. Tomas de Villanueva church and was also declared as such.
Leguarios (milestones) of Laoag City and Pasuquin
While leguarios, also called mojon, are no longer in use at present and have been replaced by the standard milestones of the Department of Public Works and Highways, the two have historic value as they illustrate the stage in our history when the measurement of distances in the Philippines still originated from the wind vane on top of the dome of the Manila Cathedral; thus, the presence of its clear discrepancy with the location of modern milestones.
The difference might also stem from the fact that another unit of measurement was possibly used at that time: one league would be the equivalent of 5.55km in present-day terms. This, however, still needs to be validated. The rarity of these structures also attracts special attention given that there is no clear inventory as to how many of these are still intact today. Their location sitting right beside the highway and their absence of contemporary use make these highly susceptible to neglect and demolition.
There is also another leguario that exists in Tayum in Abra, perhaps the only one still preserved elsewhere. The three leguarios are now Important Cultural Properties of the Philippines.
One of the highest raised roads in the country that are supported by sturdy arches still spans nearly a kilometer between the towns of Narvacan and Santa in Ilocos Sur. One can say that this would be the older brother of the more popular Patapat Viaduct further up north.
Hardly visible and easily missed, a few traces of the original brick parapets of the viaduct can be seen on the road.
However, if one venture down and walk along the beach, a clearer view of its wall masonry and massive piers can be seen, leaving only admiration at how they have lasted that long and still serve a purpose to motorists to this day.
The remaining section of the Narvacan-Santa Viaduct starts at the heroine Gabriela Silang Memorial Shrine, of which an old stone marker also exists on the other side of the highway.
As an early engineering feat dating from the Spanish period, the pass clearly set the standard for roads straddling the Philippine Cordilleras and the Philippine Sea.
The viaduct is now tagged as a National Cultural Treasure, too.
The Duty to National Heritage
Every day we are losing heritage structures left and right in the name of development, largely due to ignorance.
The erasure of one is the erasure of a community’s past, the legacies of their forebears, and presumably even a treasure to the whole nation.
Many Filipinos have a penchant for labeling everything as “heritage” and conveniently branding sites as “cultural destinations.”
However, it is often the case that these two terms are hardly ever understood. The irony happens when we go straight toward the big banner statements without spending the time and attention on the actual groundwork: research, recognition, and protection.
We can all start by taking these actions seriously and thereby safeguard the locally important sites and monuments that are closest to us.
Image credits: Caixiara Ma. E. Guerrero, Leilanie Adriano and Bernadette Espejo-Nartatez, Zos Montes, Zos Montes and Leilanie Adriano