Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar | The Two Sides of Controversy
Which do you prefer—a heritage house left to decay on its original site or uprooted & restored in a new location, all sparkling like new?
This is the story of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. And this also strangles them in a muddle with the country’s heritage conservation societies.
Barely open to the public, I first visited Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in 2010. It was my first time to set foot in Bataan, traveling all the way from Mindanao. There were yet a few houses standing on its 400-hectare heritage park. I have to say, I was in awe.
Five years pushed from that first trip, Ritz & Grace Travel & Tours afforded me an opportunity to revisit Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. What I saw left me with mixed feelings.
I am happy to find that these intangible pieces of our heritage are “salvaged” from decrepitude. But I am also sad that they have completely lost its historical & social relevance.
Is Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar a redeemer or a destroyer of national patrimony?
Jose Rizalino “Jerry” Acuzar is an architect & an art collector. Growing up in the once ancestral mansion-filled district in Quiapo, it doesn’t come as a surprise to have this love for heritage architecture.
He is the millionaire behind this seaside hacienda in Bagac, Bataan.
Originally conceived as a private vacation property, it later developed into a full-service themed resort. Twenty-seven heritage buildings are decked on its sprawling estate replete with a swimming pool, gondola canals, spa, restaurants & game rooms.
All these edifices dating back to 18th & 19th centuries were bought from the heirs of the original owners. They were uprooted slab-by-slab from its original location & reassembled in Bagac. Restored to its former glorious form, these principalia mansions are breathed in new & inspiring appreciations.
Is it conservation or changing history?
As Las Casas Filipinas continue its buying spree, conservation groups are also building a fight in court & in cyberspace.
The conflict lies on one thing, that relocating these ancestral buildings is tantamount to depriving its community of precious heritage. Because they are not anymore found on its original site, it diminishes its value in terms of historical & social contexts.
This also robs the community of potential tourism revenues that Las Casas Filipinas instead now enjoys.
What now stands on the places they have vacated are cold concrete commercial buildings, leaving nothing, even memories.
Lust, Fortune & Opportunity
To many, Jerry Acuzar is doing a philanthropic act of picking up pieces that are left to decay. And for a hefty price paid to its owners. But to some, relocation is an insane concept of preservation.
Dwindling fortunes & apathy are what causes these homes to languish in rotten state. Then comes a hero, willing to resurrect them from complete oblivion. But rumors have it too that not everything that was bought was in feebly condition.
Is it wrong? Is it lust? Is it opportunity lost by many & gain to few?
If there is true enforcement of the law & a genuine concern in saving our heritage, the shopping can stop.
Laws on heritage conservation are actually in place. But they seem to be just suggestions—-and can be broken.
Republic Act 10066 or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 secures these important treasures. It states that buildings with archeological, architectural, cultural & historical significance built before 1960 cannot be moved or deconstructed without the approval of the National Commission for Culture & the Arts (NCAA).
Clearly, there are laws that protect our national cultural treasures but executing them willfully is another story. I believe in the integrity of the NCAA but I do not trust the dark political forces that surround it.
Personally, I still encourage people to visit Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. Because whether we like it or not, they’re already in Bataan. And if you really want to see them at least once in your lifetime, there’s no other way but go there.
Then you be the judge—-would you want to see them in its original location in a decomposing state or in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar like a living museum?