How will the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic crisis impact and reshape tourism, sustainability and conservation programs at the country' heritage sites under the new normal?
This is one of the questions addressed in the webinar titled "Paraparaan: Redefining the Use of Heritage Places for Covid-19 Survival" organized by the Department of Tourism (DOT) Thursday, May 21, 2020.
"Our e-Pamamang Turismo series is much aligned with this year's theme, Mga Kwentong Pamana: Stories of Heritage, which highlights the social and cultural impact of sharing knowledge, experiences and stories of Filipino heritage in the preservation of our country’s legacies," said Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat in her keynote address on the 16th webinar of the Department since its launching in April.
The webinar is very timely with May being celebrated as National Heritage Month.
"While COVID-19 has closed down our heritage sites and put many aspects of our culture on hold, we'll remember 2020 as the year we observe the visita iglesia tradition virtually, thanks to the 360-degree photos of our beautiful baroque churches online. We’re keeping our traditions and our stories alive with whatever means we can because this is how we will survive as a people," Puyat added.
Meanwhile, invited resource speaker Assoc. Prof. Eric Babar Zerrudo, Ph.D., Director of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Graduate School Center for Conservation of Cultural Property and the Environment in the Tropics (USTGS-CCPET) and faculty member of the Cultural Heritage Studies Program. He is also the national coordinator of the CBCP Episcopal Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and faculty member of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts–Philippine Cultural Education Program (NCCA-PCEP).
Also a former commissioner of the UNESCO Philippines, Dr. Zerrudo expounded on the topics: 1) Heritage and Conservation, Concepts and Significance; 2) Redefining the use of heritage sites in COVID-19; 3) Concept of Cultural Landscapes and; 4) Heritage Case Studies • Integration to sustainable living heritage.
Dr. Zerrudo recalled the overtourism phenomenon happening in very important sites of the world such as Angkor Wat, Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China, Dubrovnik, and Venice before the pandemic took place. "It is the importance, the significance that you are trying to conserve that's being expressed in many different ways," he said.
To know the significance of the heritage sites, Dr. Zerrudo discussed that physical or on-site, oral, and archival investigations are critical efforts that need to be done.
However, as we face the "new normal", Dr. Zerrudo says that "if you’d like to add on a higher level of function significance, it would be a worthwhile consideration if you find yourself into the redefined functional significance such as healthy ecosystem, sanitation and well-being, and food security (organics)."
At present, heritage sites such as churches, universities, and cultural destinations are widely adapting to the possibilities amid pandemic.
Cultural heritage sites such as Intramuros also conduct online learning sessions, online museum and Visita Iglesia tours. Churches such as San Agustin and Manila Cathedral are now conducting daily online masses to reach out to the greater communities. "For the first time, they are allowing the dungaw of the Our lady of Consolacion every Saturday afternoon from the window," added Dr. Zerrudo.
Universities such as the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) is stepping up by providing a COVID triage, virtual tours of cultural heritage facilities and sites, and securing a rooftop garden for the benefit of not only the University but also the Sampaloc community.
Meanwhile, Vigan is notably coping by providing jobs to LGBT community through hair cutting for frontliners, having City Hall as triage, social distancing and transport waiting area, and additional hand washing corners in public markets.
"To make our heritage meaningful, we have to make sure that we are in the equation of making our time in COVID meaningful," Dr. Zerrudo expresses.
Puyat then enjoined the public and the stakeholders to keep our national stories alive.
"When we keep the stories alive, we understand where we come from. When we know who we are, we strengthen our national identity and deepen our sense of pride. And when we have a solid national identity that we are proud of, we can face all kinds of challenges the future will bring," Puyat ended.
The usual training and workshops conducted by the DOT at various sites all over the country will be held online pursuant to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases’ Resolution 30-A, "Omnibus Guidelines on the Implementation of Community Quarantine in the Philippines" specifically on the prohibition of mass gatherings.