Burning the past?

“How easily we forget, how little we appreciate our treasures, and how short-sighted our plans seem to be.

Coming from a trip to another land that impressed me with its judicious mix of the old world and the new, the news of a great fire that razed the historic Post Office building in Manila was what really burnt the cake.

Really, now, what is going on with us, Filipinos?

So, the bridge that connected our plane to Manila’s international airport had to be quickly fixed before we could alight. I realize these things can happen, but taking into account the airport fiascos on New Year’s Day and Labor Day, which were said to have been caused by maintenance lapses, I began to wonder if deep-seated neglect is the real problem here. Or could it be a lack of care?

The long walk to the baggage carousels was a further glimpse into this “maintenance” problem. Exhibit shelves purportedly set up to display a glimpse of our culture were empty. A travelator or moving walkway was not functioning. I missed seeing people greeting arrivals with that famed Filipino smile.

We really could be doing better than this — what is immediately apparent is worse than anything Jose Rizal could have defined as indolence.

And even while away, headlines bannering a coup and power struggles reached my ears. While some people in government seem dead-set on securing their survival, people on the ground are still fighting to survive.

Food is still expensive, gas prices are set to rise. Edsa is still a traffic zone, and our national debt has almost doubled to P13 trillion.

Meanwhile, Janet Napoles has been acquitted. No one has really been answerable for that corruption issue.

In my mind’s eye, I see wildlife on the edge of extinction. Only a handful of people care. At the same time, I see our country in that fire that gutted the Manila Central Post Office. What values are going up in flames? What will we see when the smoke has cleared?

What value is there in an old building that had been destroyed once during a war, and now is gutted once again?

Is it the P300 million in estimated losses — including the art, the documents, and the precious objects that would have shown much of our history and culture? Is it the fact that a structure like that, even recreated, is not the same as one that is simply restored to its former glory?

Well, this year has been an eye-opener. After the travails of the pandemic, we see things going back to the way it always was, and we wonder if anything had ever really changed.

How easily we forget, how little we appreciate our treasures, and how short-sighted our plans seem to be.

It burned for hours. It was, reports said, an “inferno.” If we can watch an important cultural property of the Philippines reduced to ashes without feeling grief, the problem lies within.

The neoclassical structure was designed by renowned architects Tomas Mapua, Juan Marcos Arellano and Ralph Doane in 1926 to house the headquarters of the then-Bureau of Posts and to become the center of Philippine postal services.

It featured 16 Greco-Roman Ionic pillars and a recessed rectangular attic atop its structure. The post office had been host to significant cultural items in the postage stamp collection section.

It was heavily damaged during the war in the 1940s but was rebuilt with its original design. Will it be rebuilt anew this time?

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