Cultural mapping and the case of Biñan City

(BJ Borja is currently the Tourism and Cultural Affairs of the City Government of Biñan. He is into heritage conservation and cultural performance pursuits.)

The Philippines is home to immense diversity of culture and history, a blend of eastern and western influences. Talk about cultural heritage is equally important as how we value education, health, peace, and order. Despite this recognized significance, very few seem to be genuine in assuming responsibility — when it is our duty to preserve and protect culture which is always part of our existence and identity.

Biñan City, Laguna

A Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga, once said, “If we are to preserve culture, we must continue to create it.” Culture is the soul and life of a community — if it is not preserved, it dies. Preserving requires knowledge of things that need to be protected and preserved. Gearing toward heritage preservation starts with deep understanding of the customs, traditions, as well our belongings to the community which represents our history and identity. In this context, cultural mapping comes into play. Generally, cultural mapping is defined as “an approach used to identify, record, and use cultural resources and activities for building communities, where communities map what is important to them.” In the Philippines, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) has established the Cultural Mapping Program to help local government units identify and account for their cultural properties.

Biñan, one of the oldest towns in the Philippine archipelago and well-known for having an extremely rich culture and history, is working to conserve and preserve its local heritage. The city, rich in many aspects, has been battling “cultural amnesia” for years — although regarded as an old town, it doesn’t have an official department handling its “cultural and artistic needs.” The desire of the city’s current administration to preserve its local history and culture has led to placing the local heritage as one of the top priorities. The Biñan City Culture, History, Arts and Tourism Office (BCHATO) has been the city’s Tourism and Cultural Affairs Department since its creation on July 1, 2016.

The City of Biñan, through BCHATO, has been dedicated in integrating its local historical, cultural and artistic heritage in various citywide activities and programs. In a span of three years, one of the many successful feats which is yet to be the city’s crowning accomplishment in the battlefield of heritage preservation, is the conduct of local cultural mapping activity with help from the NCCA. Prior to the cultural mapping project with NCCA, the city through its initiative, created Biñan City Local Cultural Database and declared the cultural properties there as City Important Cultural Properties and Local Heritage and Historical Sites through passage of a city ordinance. To further the research on these cultural properties, Biñan signed a memorandum of understanding with the NCCA to conduct cultural mapping facilitators training which was immediately followed by the creation of a technical working group via executive order. The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) recently added in its indicator that a municipality/city must have an accomplished Local Cultural Database/Inventory for such to be awarded with the prestigious “Seal of Good Local Governance” (SGLG). The City of Biñan was an SGLG recipient in 2017 and 2018.

The once old town, now transformed into a booming industrialized city, is working to make its past and present embrace each other to create a better future for younger generations. If emulated, this micro effort of the city in conserving and preserving local cultural heritage could have a macro effect in the whole country.