Conservation of Architecture as “Trees” and the Filipino Identity

An Essay on Conservation of Philippine Architecture

During a Buwan ng Wika celebration way back in High School, our teacher picked a few students to answer a question he had in mind. I was one of the four he chose. Although I can’t quite remember the exact words, the question went something like “Bakit natutumba ang isang puno?” The first student answered, “Dahil sa malakas na hangin.” The second said, “Dahil hindi matibay ang pagkakakapit ng ugat sa lupa”. I had the same reply in mind as the second student. But since we weren’t allowed to repeat answers, I, the third student, had to think different. I didn’t have much time and I thought of the simplest, most obvious answer. “Natutumba ang puno dahil pinuputol ito,” I said.

Some, including the teacher, laughed at how shallow the answer was. But now that I come to think of it, it actually does make sense. Nowadays, it’s more likely for a tree to fall down due to chainsaws, axes, and other tools of the like, than because of weak foundation and strong winds. Even a tree with the deepest roots and strongest foundations would hit the ground if someone actually cuts it down.

A nation is like a forest with various trees. These trees represent its cultural identity, which should as much as possible have strong foundations. Milena Miladinovic from defines cultural identity as “the identity of a group, culture or an individual, influenced by one’s belonging to a group or culture”. Having an identity is necessary for a group of people to function well as a group or as a nation. This cultural identity is what makes a country distinct from the others. This makes us Filipino, not Spanish, American, or Japanese; this reflects who we are. Thus, a nation without a cultural identity is like a forest with no trees – barren, empty, dead.

But how do we visualize this concept of “cultural identity”? In actuality, it is expressed in various ways, and architecture is one. One of the greatest things I’ve learned in HTC classes is that architecture embodies the “self”. It is an extension of our artistic, economic, historic, social, political, and spiritual characteristics. In short, architecture itself is identity. Our architecture itself is a “tree” of the nation.

Today, our nation, the Philippines is facing a massive amount of problems and issues. People try to find various ways to solve these, making an effort to be globally competitive, and often resorting to daring and destructive means in a sense that it damages the “trees” – our identity. Filipinos want to be an industrialized, modernized, “rich” country, but little by little forsaking their cultural heritage. They insist that there are issues way more important than conserving Filipino architecture. According to a group of writers of the blog entitled Cultivating Culture (, “Some may think traditions are archaic and no longer relevant, and that they are unnecessary during these modern times. Perhaps for some, they aren’t; but for others, exploring cultural heritage offers a robust variety of benefits.” I personally agree to this. Conserving our cultural heritage has a lot of benefits for our country. Fernando Zialcita’s Heritage Does Matter states some of these benefits: Preserving our cultural heritage, specifically built heritage or architecture, can help our country politically and economically. This also gives religious and diplomatic benefits, and can also help the poor. It has so many contributions to the country, and I believe that it is very important that we raise awareness concerning this. An advice agency called Culture in Development from Netherlands assist people in preserving cultural heritage. According to the articles on their website, “Culture and heritage are not just luxury goods, they are basic needs… We work hard for more understanding of culture in society. Cultural Heritage, the material form of culture, plays an important role in our search for who we were yesterday, who we are today and who we will be tomorrow.” People today truly need to realize that our heritage and identity are necessities. We must prioritize conserving our architecture and identity if we want our country to succeed. Besides, how do we make a forest beautiful and green? We conserve the resources; we don’t indifferently cut them down.

Without a clear and stable sense of ourselves as a country, how are we going to succeed as a nation? How are we going to achieve the goal of becoming globally competitive? How can we solve the economic and financial constraints in the first place? People today think that what’s new is always better, and what’s old must be torn down. We cut down our own identity and try to “nurture” the country without it (and doing so is pointless). The foundation of our cultural identity, based on my opinion, is already very weak. And still, we make wrong decisions. Every wrong move that’s caused by this indifference is a stab of an axe on the trunk of the “tree”. Today, instead of nurturing them, the unstable “trees” are torn down from everywhere in the country. We’ll never see the beautiful land full of green and life we want the Philippines to become if we would eliminate these “trees” one by one. What should we do? Put the axe down, conserve the “trees”, and then nurture the land, nurture the country. Because, come to think of it… what’s the point in nurturing something that’s already dead?


Forming Your Cultural Identity |. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2014, from

(n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2014, from Heritage/Cultural_Heritage_&_Development

The Importance of Cultural Heritage – Cultivating Culture. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2014, from

Zialcita, F., Harper, B., Mastura, D., & Jose, R. (2007). Heritage Does Matter. InBalangkas : A resource book on the care of built heritage in the Philippines (pp. 1-4). Intramuros, Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Committee on Monuments and Sites


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