Manila’s Port Area serves as one of the city’s sixteen districts. It is the location of the city’s South Harbor and the address of different government offices such as the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Maritime Industry Authority, the Philippine Coast Guard, Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Quarantine, and the Philippine Ports Authority which manages the Port of Manila. Although not as celebrated as Intramuros, Binondo, and Ermita, the Port Area is also a historically significant area of the city and a witness to numerous events that shaped both the nation and its capital. Amongst the cargo ships, warehouses, equipment, and the piles of intermodal containers stand evidences of such a fact – architecturally and historically important structures which, unbeknownst to many, stood the test of time and serve as testaments to the ingenuity of Filipinos in architecture, engineering, and construction. However, as with the rest of Manila’s heritage, the importance of many of Port Area’s historical structures has unfortunately been ignored – many of the buildings dilapidated and demolished, lost forever due to misguided decisions and ignorant institutions.
One victim of Manila’s ongoing heritage massacre is the former Manila Port Terminal Building. Built in 1939, the structure was designed by Ar. Pablo S. Antonio, Sr. who was conferred the title of National Artist for Architecture in 1976. The building was designed in the Streamline Moderne style of architecture, characterized by the design’s emphasis on horizontal lines and curved forms. Streamline Moderne, an offshoot of the Art Deco style, was evident in Antonio’s other works as well, such as the buildings of the Far Eastern University in Sampaloc, Manila and the White Cross Orphanage in the city of San Juan.
The building was one of Manila’s few architectural survivors after the Second World War. Although available information on the building is scarce, it is known that the structure housed the offices of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) Port District Office for Manila/Northern Luzon before its abandonment in 2018.
Eventually, its demolition came to light when the roof of the structure was noticeably dismantled in February of 2022. Asian Terminals Incorporated (ATI), the operator of the Manila South Harbor, has planned for the property to be utilized as an open yard.
With the disclosure of the building’s condition, both Renacimiento Manila and the descendants of National Artist Pablo Antonio wrote petitions to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), calling for a cease-and-desist order (CDO) to be imposed on the ongoing demolition. The petitions have legal bases; considering that the building was at least 50 years old during its demolition, and that it was a work of a national artist, it is considered as a presumed Important Cultural Property (ICP) according to Section 5(b) and 5(f) of the Republic Act No. 10066, otherwise known as the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009. Unfortunately, despite the protests, the demolition of the Manila Port Terminal building continued.
The Manila Port Terminal Building is only one of Manila’s numerous heritage buildings unjustly destroyed in the name of false progress. With significant structures being reduced to rubble throughout the years, advocates, concerned individuals and groups continue to clamor for proper heritage conservation measures geared towards the preservation of such buildings. Unfortunately, with the continuing lack of awareness and minimal support from government institutions, it is unlikely that the demise of the Manila Port Terminal will be the last for Manila’s ongoing cultural destruction.
Big thanks to Stephen Pamorada, John Brian de Asis, Ar. Richard Tuason Sanchez Bautista and most especially the descendants of Ar. Pablo Antonio – Ms. Vicky Veloso-Barrera and Mr. Joshua Carlos Barrera for their help and coordination in filing petitions to the NCCA and the NHCP to stop the demolition of the Old Manila Port Terminal Building.
Montilla, S. R. (Ed.). (2013). The Architectural Legacy of Pablo S. Antonio (1901-1975). Reyes Publishing Inc.
An Act Providing for the Protection and Conservation of the National Cultural Heritage, Strengthening the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and Its Affiliated Cultural Agencies, and for Other Purposes, Rep. Act No. 10066, § 5 (Mar. 26, 2010) (Phil.) The LAWPHiL Project.