An appeal to preserve heritage at Cebu Capitol Complex

December 13, 2018 | By: ARCH. OMAR MAXWELL P. ESPINA (first published in The Manila Times last December 12, 2018)

On May 16, 2016 the governor of Cebu, Hilario Davide Jr., convened a stakeholders’ forum to announce his intention to construct a 20-story office building at the Cebu Capitol Complex, at the former Bureau of Agriculture Extension (BAEX) Building, which is located right beside the venerable Capitol building.

The BAEX building is due for demolition to give way for the project.

The Cebu Capitol building, arguably the most beautiful Capitol edifice in the country was designed by Juan Arellano (who also designed the Manila Metropolitan Theater, the National Museum of the Philippines and the Manila Central Post Office) and constructed in 1938 in the neo-colonial style.

It was badly damaged during the devastating second World War but faithfully restored in 1946. The Cebu Capitol is considered to be one of the most iconic structures in the country.

At the stakeholders’ forum, Architect Melva Java, a renowned expert in Heritage Conservation, director of the Cultural Heritage Studio (CHERISH) of the University of San Carlos, and consultant on Heritage, Arts and Culture of the Office of Vice Governor Agnes Magpale, presented a paper pointing out the disruption the 20-story proposed structure would cause the historic fabric of the complex and underscoring the various international protocols and national laws to support her objection.

Java also said this was important because the proposed building will be constructed within a “heritage buffer zone,” which was created after the Capitol building was declared a national historical landmark in 2008.

Representing United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) Datu Lapu-lapu Chapter was equally renowned architect and landscape architect Socorro Atega, a product of the Harvard Graduate School of Design who echoed Java’s opposition to the proposal, emphasizing the proposed building’s disruption of the balance and symmetry of the vista from Osmeña Boulevard., the city’s main ceremonial drive.

Acting with urgency, the UAP Datu Lapu-lapu Chapter sent a letter on Aug. 8, 2018 to Davide, citing its objection to the project after a series of meetings of the board discussing the matter. Copies of the letter were sent to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and to the Cebu Historical and Cultural Affairs Commission. The UAP Cebu Chapter followed up with its own letter a few weeks later.

The UAP Datu Lapu-lapu letter was taken up during the visit on Aug. 7, 2018 of Rene R. Escalante, chair of the NHCP with Davide. Saying that the proposed building distorts the balance and symmetry of the historical provincial capitol building, Escalante urged the provincial government not to proceed with the construction of a 20-story building at the Capitol compound. The local newspaper SunStar Cebu featured the stand of the chapter in an article on August 7.

Sadly, the Cebu provincial government decided to disregard all advice to the contrary and push through with the project. Recently, it announced a public bidding for its construction.

The UAP Datu Lapu-lapu Chapter is presently finding ways to dissuade the provincial government from pursuing the project and is appealing to all citizens of like mind to register their objection to this project. Below is the letter of UAP Datu Lapu-lapu Chapter:


20 Story Capitol Building


Provincial Governor
Province of Cebu

Dear Gov. Davide,

We, the members of the United Architects of the Philippines —Datu Lapu-lapu Chapter would wish to express our views on the festering issue regarding the proposed 20-story Capitol building.

It is our collective professional opinion that the proposal is ill-advised for the following reasons:

The Capitol site is one of the most well-planned areas in the City owing to the fact that is has been arranged carefully to follow a strong axial layout, it is set in a grid pattern with Osmena Blvd. as the main axis with two terminal points — the Fuente Osmeña Circle on one end and the Capitol building in another. The Capitol building itself has been planned to be strictly symmetrical, setting the tone for a balanced arrangement for the whole Capitol complex. This strict formal arrangement is meant to make the Capitol as the seat of authority — this being emphasized by the words on the Capitol building façade which says, “The Authority of the Government Emanates from the People”. Veering away from this strict formal arrangement will only diminish the Authority of the Provincial Governor as the head of the province in the eyes of the people. A 20-story structure right beside the symmetrical Capitol Building will undoubtedly disturb this delicate balance in the Capitol grounds. It’s sheer height distracts the focus on the Capitol Building itself. Such a structure has no place in this formal arrangement.

The historical significance of the Capitol site cannot be over-emphasized. In fact the Capitol building itself has been an iconic structure in Cebu which the Cebuanos dearly love and respect. Any attempt to diminish this historical significance will create a backlash among the silent majority. We may just be seeing the tip of the iceberg of opposition at present but public opinion is building up against the construction of this structure.

The Philippines, being a signatory of various accords and treaties towards Heritage Conservation and the preservation of historic sites cannot be taken for granted. All these laws have been outlined and explained by Ar. Melva Java in different fora. We support all her views against this proposal.

We are not against the expansion of Capitol facilities but a 20-story structure to house not only the much needed expansion but for rentals and economic gain should be deemed imprudent and improper. The province should not be in the business of leasing but of service to the people. For government to go into real estate leasing will only compete with its constituents — the people who are paying our taxes. Government going into this business will only lead to lower costs and undue advantage to the detriment of those constituents who are into the leasing business in the area.

We are not against the expansion of Capitol facilities, even inside the Capitol compound. There are more appropriate sites around the Capitol compound which you may want to explore for your needed expansion. If we may suggest — the old Justice Building at the back may be an ideal location. In fact, we believe the building can just be structurally retrofitted and used for your expansion needs. This may not be a building taller than the Capitol Building itself but if properly planned to be a low structure, could afford the province the much needed space for your expansion.

Governor Jun, it is in this light that we respectfully request you to consider your decision. For us architects, it pains us to see our very own Capitol Building and grounds desecrated and disturbed by such an ill-advised project.

It is our fervent hope that you hear our collective professional opinion which we now here present only for the betterment of our beloved City.

Thank you and with kind regards,

Respectfully yours,


(Arch. Omar Maxwell P. Espina, FUAP, is a member of the UAP Cebu Datu Lapu-lapu Chapter. He has been in active practice since 1974 and is a former dean of the College of Architecture and Fine Arts of the University of San Carlos, where he was a member of the faculty from 1983 to March 2018. He served two terms as a member of the NCCA Committee of Monuments and Sites. Arch. Espina is presently a Board Member of the Archdiocesan Heritage Commission of the Archdiocese of Cebu.)

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