this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on June 18, 2009.

Who in the metropolis is nor familiar with the colorful lamp posts that allegedly cost us, the taxpayers, at least twice or thrice the average cost of a streetlight? In every street (or alley) of the metropolis, one will find a streetlamp either with colorful lights or the initials of a top city official engraved on it. It would be fine if these actually serve their purpose, but most of these expensive street lamps either don’t work or emit so little light that it would have made no difference if they were not there. What makes things worse is that they have now become an advertising platform for politicians.

I have nothing against lighting up the city streets. I commend the city officials for their commitment to making the city safer. But there are factors to consider before anyone decides what type of lampposts to put up in certain locations. I don’t know if it’s my fondness for history and heritage preservation or it’s just plain common sense, but wouldn’t it be much better if the nation’s capital were lit up by colonial-style lamp posts? These would be black steel posts with a single or a pair of yellow-orange lights enclosed in a glass cap.

Here’s the picture: Say, you are strolling down Rizal Park at night and you get to the monument of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. You are standing just a few meters away from the monument, enough to see it with the Philippine flags waving grandly beside it. What would you rather see lighting up the area surrounding this national memorial, colonial-style lampposts or multi-colored ones?

If we are trying to make Manila the world’s “City of Lights,” we can do it without the funky lights and the mayor’s initials or a wide variety of street light designs and colors. If we want to make our leisure districts look like fabulous Las Vegas, giant diamond-shaped street lights are not the answer.

To set the record straight, I am not completely against having colorful lights in our streets. There are places where they fit perfectly, like the Manila Baywalk. Those large balls of light make the place look festive, and encourage tourism and commercial activity. However, since the addition of new lights in the area, it now looks awful.

The problem goes beyond the bright lights and alleged corruption. The utter disregard for the city’s rich heritage brought about by four foreign colonizers—the Spaniard, the British, the Japanese and the Americans—has a greater effect on our city than anything else.

Take the Paco Station, for example. It was partially demolished years ago to make way for the construction of yet another shopping center. I know very little about the details behind the project, but I’m pretty sure there were under-the-table arrangements. Our railway system may have been practically defunct then, and a large station deemed unnecessary. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of the grand edifice and justify sending in the bulldozers. Looking back to the days when the Americans were planning the city, one would understand the great significance the planners placed on this station. Just as the Union Station in Washington, D.C. was designed as the gateway to the capital of the United States, so was the Paco Station planned to serve a similar function. Surely it was not just coincidence that the site plan for the two stations looked similar. Both had a grand railway station located on a major road fronted by a semi-circular park, just blocks away from major government buildings.

This problem is not confined to the capital alone. It is a national problem that has always been relegated to the sidelines. One by one, the structures that complete the puzzle of our nation’s history are reduced to rubble. What horror it would be to wake up one day and find that none of them had survived simply because we never cared.

The first step towards solving this problem is to summon the resolve to safeguard our cultural heritage. We ought to realize that the loss of these historical sites means not simply the loss of landmarks and tourist attractions or of economic activities and revenues, but a far greater loss that cannot be compensated: the loss of our identity.

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