MANILA, Philippines – It's final. The Manila Metropolitan Theater goes to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
Officials of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), former owners of the Met, and NCCA signed the Deed of Absolute Sale on Thursday, June 10, in Pasay City.
GSIS General Manager Robert Vergara also turned over the original titles to NCCA Chairman Felipe de Leon Jr.
"GSIS is privileged to turn over this extraordinary asset to the NCCA. In more ways than one, we see this as an agreement handing the Met back to its rightful owners, the Filipino people," said Vergara.
"This is a very touching, historic occasion and milestone because the Met is one of the best, most creative products of Filipino artistic sense," said De Leon.
The Met, dubbed the "crown jewel" of Manila theaters, was bought for P270 million.
Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
The plan is to restore the Met to its original glory, retaining its Art Deco style and unique architecture.
"Our goal is you won't be able to distinguish the restored Met from how it looked when it opened in 1931," said De Leon.
It will take at least two years for the full rehabilitation of the National Cultural Treasure, and probably another P270 million, he added.
The Commission wants it to become a "mini Cultural Center of the Philippines," where theatrical performances and art exhibits will be hosted.
But while the "high-end" shows will be staged in the CCP, the restored Met will be "the People's Theater," said De Leon.
"We will accommodate as many free shows as possible. It can be used by nearby schools. Art groups can use its many rooms for their activities," he elaborated.
Road to restoration
The first order of the day, now that the sale has been finalized, is for the NCCA to bid out the Met restoration to interested developers.
The developer will have to balance the need to retain as much of the Met's character as possible while ensuring it is a safe structure.
Currently, the Met is in a state of decay. Leaks have put the theater at the mercy of the elements during the rainy season when flooding persists in the area.
The area in front of the same stage where legendary singer Atang dela Rama gave countless performances has been taken over by a pond.
Heritage Conservation Society Youth president Stephen Pamorada, who has toured the Met, said there are even fish and frogs in the pond.
The Met's forlorn appearance has fueled rumors that it is haunted.
The NCCA will need engineers and technical experts to ensure structural soundness.
End of uncertainty
The Met was the subject of a tug-of-war between the Manila city government and the NCCA.
It began when Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada proposed to bid for the ownership of the heritage structure. But because of the Met's status as a National Cultural Treasure, the NCCA had the right to first refusal.
The NCCA was able to match Manila's offer through the National Endowment Fund for Culture and the Arts. At the NCCA's request, the Department of Budget and Management released the P270 million, allowing NCCA and GSIS to proceed with the sale.
The sale puts an end to decades of gray area that led to the Met's derelict state.
Before the sale, GSIS owned the Met but usufruct was with Manila. The mandate to rehabilitate, however, was the NCCA's.
"Why would the NCCA want to spend on it when Manila had usufruct?" explained Vergara.
However, the sale might put a damper on one group: ghost hunters and tourists who want to tour the Met in its present state.
De Leon said the NCCA will deploy guards to watch the area since entry could be dangerous given the Met's damaged condition.
The Met, designed by famed Filipino architect Juan Arellano became a National Cultural Treasure in 2010.
It hosted performances by both local and foreign artists and used to be the venue of choice of past Philippine presidents.
Works of National Artist for visual arts Fernando Amorsolo and Italian sculptor Francesco Monti grace the exterior and interior of the structure, according to the NCCA.
Heritage conservation experts celebrate the Met as "the only existing art deco building in its scale and integrity in Asia." – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.