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Intramuros Administration responds to “graffiti art”

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I am reposting here the reply of Atty. Marco Antonio Luisito V. Sardillo III, Intramuros Administration administrator, to my Facebook complaint concerning the existence of a graffit mural art within the historic Hispanic walls of Intramuros which people like me find out of place (and my response to it is right below):

Mr. Alas, allow me to begin my “explanation” by setting out the factual context within which I hope my “explanation” is received. First, I assumed office in August 5, 2013. The graffiti wall that you are referring to was a project that took place long before I assumed office. (In fact, if you google, you will see that this has been written about before, eg: http://www.rappler.com/…/arts…/35516-legal-graffiti-wall) Second, I believe that some/most of the explanation that you are seeking has already been supplied by Carlos, when you posted a link to your article in the Heritage Conservation Society FB page. As I mentioned, I was not around at the time, and so, this project was not something that I could have “disallowed.”

I do not have the expertise and neither am I qualified to engage in a debate on whether graffiti constitutes art; thus, anything I say about graffitis would be but a mere comment and not an “informed” opinion. As such, I am not inclined to pass judgment or chime in, as my thoughts will not add value to that “debate” (that you alluded to).

That being said, I do believe that, as we chart the path towards the “orderly restoration and development of Intramuros,” we should be able to accommodate a more inclusive appreciation of what it means to be “Filipino” — and in that process, expand and enrich our notion of it. Indeed, Intramuros, by law, should be a monument to the Hispanic period of Philippine history. I should emphasize that it is a monument “to” and not a monument “of.” What this means is that Intramuros’ “orderly restoration and development” should not be a mere snapshot or recreation based on photographs — or what others have referred to as a “disneyfication.” Intramuros, too, is about what the Filipinos have made of it, and what it has become as a result of that enriching process. This ongoing process should be able to tolerate a difference in opinion, even as we are continuing to understand and unpack the meaning and value of “Intramuros.” (Case in point: I have been in conversations with “experts” where the only apparent consensus is that they can’t come to an agreement about what we really mean about the “past.”) [N.B. Under existing laws, it is Fort Santiago that has been declared as “hallowed” ground, and not all of Intramuros. Even then, there is no specifically mandated or required form of respect or reverence. After all, respect or reverence is, essentially, an internal movement.]

As a final note, and here my personal thoughts would indicate my general inclination towards that graffiti project. Do I personally find it disrespectful of Intramuros? Personally, I don’t. The fact that that project exists on the fence of a vacant lot indicates to me that its context is not premised on permanence. As a “public policy” issue, I also recognize that (1) there is a tension between “graffiti” as art and its street cred and (2) I appreciate that having a “graffiti wall”–particularly, on a temporarily designated fence–provides a venue for expression, and a disincentive for vandalism (that could occur elsewhere). That fence can just as easily be torn down–or the graffiti be painted over or whitewashed. In the greater scheme of things, within the context of the fence of a vacant lot, personally, I can tolerate (and, on some level, even appreciate) the effort made towards transforming bare concrete–and inciting thought and debate.

If the Intramuros Administration allows the proliferation of graffiti and other similar “art” within the Walled City, then our dear Old Manila would be relegated to the status of just another EDSA and the like.

Thank you so much for taking time to reply, sir, and for stating your honest-to-goodness stand regarding this matter. I do not desire to prolong this especially since our friend Carlos regards it as a “non-issue” (if a famous celebrity activist declares it as such, then poor anonymous me cannot do anything much about it). Besides, I have already made and proven my point that graffiti, no matter how cool it looks or how much you glorify it, is not Filipino art. No art appreciation nor rocket science needed to discern it.

Anyway, I would like to clarify a few things. One of them is your remark that Intramuros is a monument “to” and not a monument “of” our country’s Hispanic past, and that the Intramuros today “should not be a mere snapshot or recreation based on (old) photographs”. But sir, I wasn’t even thinking of old photographs when I first saw that graffit on Twitter. I simply deemed it correct that it shouldn’t be there. You know, I may agree with you to some extent that we can no longer bring back the Intramuros of old (if that is what you mean by “mere snapshot”). With huge buildings such as those of the Manila Bulletin, Bank of the Philippine Islands, and The Bayleaf Intramuros (gasp!) towering over the original edifices, squatter settlements such as the one fronting the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (irony of ironies), as well as several fastfoods and other commercial establishments firmly scattered throughout the Walled City, there is this huge impossibility of ever bringing back the original Manila of our nostalgia. But my point is simply this: what little we can do to conserve what Intramuros is all about —a monument OF our country’s Hispanic past, as you said— then that is what we must do.

That graffiti art simply does not fit the above statement.

And that is why, even though it is painted on private property, I am still against it. And speaking of private property, we should even avoid using that argument. So with all due respect, dear sir, I discourage you from even saying it. Remember that it is always used as an excuse by people without any regard to heritage for them to tear down or sell their privately owned ancestral houses (case in point: the fabled Alberto Mansion in Biñán, La Laguna).

Now, just like the debate on whether graffiti constitutes art or not, there is, too, an ongoing debate on what really is a Filipino (again, not who but what) which was aggravated more when renowned historian Teorodo Agoncillo, in his book History of the Filipino People, stated that “it is difficult, if not impossible, to define what a Filipino is“, confusing many students in the process. That is why today, we have different versions of our national identity: some claim that it dates far back before the Spanish advent; some say that it is based on our Hispanic past; some say that it is an amalgam of both our Hispanic heritage and US pop culture; still others say that our identity was fully formed only after 1872 or 1898 (or even 1986). The reason why I share this to you is that, in view of the ongoing identity crisis, it is highly unlikely that we can “expand and enrich” our notion of it.

To be honest —and you will certainly find this biased— I belong to that minority who believes that our national identity was formed from our Hispanic past, the very same era which created that walled enclave that you have sworn to protect as per the IA’s mandate.

And with all due respect to your personal opinions, they really do not matter here. What matters is what the IA’s national mandate to Intramuros is, and not what its officials personally think of what should or should not constitute the Walled City. Personally, I also find graffiti art cool. But as I have already mentioned, it is simply out of place. Un-Filipino. We don’t need to use it as a “disincentive for vandalism”. What we need is stringent measures to prevent it.

Be that as it may, I would still like to thank you for your humbleness to respond to a “non-issue” (unlike current NCCA chairman Felipe M. de León, Jr. who simply walked away with his tail between his legs, completely ignoring my grievance). I am sure that you and I have genuine concern for Intramuros. The only problem is that both of us do not possess the same eye on how to approach it. I see Intramuros as our country’s “heart and soul” (the state of Intramuros is a reflection of our country). I bet you see it differently.

He dicho.

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