33 °C Manila, PH
December 1, 2023

Intramuros to revitalize itself back to the 1600s

Walled city of Intramuros

Centuries of existence and millions of tourists have transformed Intramuros into a multi-faceted heritage icon. There is the heritage, the commercial, corporate, even “residential” side of informal settlers. As a heritage site with a living community, the area has schools, offices, government facilities, churches, restaurants, and residents.

The Department of Tourism, in various times, has undertaken various projects through the Intramuros Administration (IA) to beef up interest to Intramuros’ historical past dating back to the Spanish colonial times in the 1600s. Intramuros Administration is mandated to ensure orderly restoration and development of Intramuros. In the past, IA embarked on various projects at Intramuros like rehabilitating its walls and cobblestone streets, restoring Spanish fortifications, erecting a light and sound show,  and creating relevant events that appealed to both domestic and foreign markets. In the span of decades of changing governments, however, some features have been in a state of disrepair, and worse, discontinued rehabilitation even if funds were already allocated.

IA’s new administrator Guiller Asido now embarks on a task that would eliminate several nagging issues and yet, create new undertakings to reestablish Intramuros as a worthy area where the San Agustin Church, a World Heritage site, is located. San Agustin church is the only church of seven churches inside Intramuros that survived the American bombing during World War II.

Asido speaks of the future—the short, medium, and the long term of it, to Travel Update in a recent interview.

“The doables until early next year is to finish the Maestranza project, and to ensure that other projects with allocated funds will be continued like the Museo Intramuros and the wall, and monumental lighting from the existing funds.”

The Maestranza Wall dates back to the 1600s and was destroyed during World War II. The project cost almost Php180 million and has 43 chambers on one side and 2 chambers in front. Its total length is 270 meters and is only 80% done after 6 years.

Also to be implemented by this month of October is a revised traffic plan that will ensure that the all facets of operations will not be getting in the way of each other. Parking and traffic has always been a problem in the area that gave birth to the more ideal “walking tours”.

“There will be pedestrianized zones, no-parking, and designated parking areas and one-way streets to be implemented as a joint effort by IA, the barangays, and the MMDA for enforcement,” he defined.

Making do with the budget

Asido revealed that IA initially was granted only Php52 million for 2018 but got additional funding from Congress for 23 million which he admitted as still miniscule but is enough for capital outlay and community development.  This is compared to only Php49 million in 2017.

“We have our own revolving fund of Php80 million annually so it is a total of around 200 million pesos annually. This year we were able get a budget from Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for the repair of 10 local and national roads within Intramuros, and this will help out a lot, too,” he added.

However, as a living community inside a historic area with a World Heritage site, there are other issues.

Medium term

Even if IA was established during the martial law era, everyone seem to be willing to follow height restrictions of not building edifices above the San Agustin and the Manila Cathedral. IA also has in their possession a 2015 study by the World Bank as a grant to DOT titled The Intramuros Identity and Urban Design Guidelines and is being used by the DPWH in rehabilitating drainage systems in some parts to eliminate flooding.

Along with these enhancements will be events that will be held in the former Clamshell site where the WoW Philippines  regional events were held in the 90s. From that time, the clamshell deteriorated from overuse and it would have to be replaced by a more sturdy and permanent one

“We are coordinating with DOT and TIEZA for its construction but we are also looking for partners from the private sector to come in so these tourism events can be institutionalized. Every event would have to be basically consistent with the theme. We plan to launch this by March next year,” Asido stated.

Long term

There are two long terms goals for Asido, one of these is pursuing  the development of the Conservation Management Plan(CMP). “Intramuros is a buffer zone for the world heritage site which is San Agustin Church. All developments should be properly controlled and to ensure that there will be no deviation from that, we have to create our own like the CMP. It includes, among others, a disaster risk resiliency strategy to ensure that in times of natural or man- made disaster the walls and buildings are safe. Following this, we have already subjected some areas to structural analysis,” he intimated.

The other long term is to address the informal settlers issue.

“More than 50% of Intramuros is of institutional use and the informal settlers, even if they occupy only 3% of the land area, they are blighted, so they have to be relocated,” Asido reiterated..

Asido is also looking at making sure that Intramuros becomes a creative hub and attract investments.

“Tourists are at 1,500 a day. They stay 2 to 3 hours max only because there is no activity inside. There are only around three known restaurants within the main avenue, the rest are canteen types catering to the domestic market, and so we have to create more activities,” he added.

So far, no specific brand for the Intramuros rehabilitation has been conceptualized, including the marketing of events. At this time #WeAreIntramuros is being used to drum up awareness.

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