Fort San Juan or the old Provincial Jail as we know it has been demolished to give way for the construction of a shopping mall. Capitol Hill Land Development Corp. who owns 888 Chinatown Square won the bidding for the long term lease of this 1.1 prime property of the provincial government.
Although I already knew this would happen, I was still surprised to see the property almost cleared Tuesday afternoon except for the arch where the old gate of the jail used to be. After the Provincial Jail was transferred to Bago City in 2011, the old structure was not used in any purpose so there are a lot of people who are probably happy that it will be used for a shopping mall.
Although I have never been inside the old Negros Occidental Provincial Jail, I’ve seen pictures of marker stating the establishment of the jail 1890 and brick facade dating as early as 1889 which can be saved for posterity. That’s why I was alarmed when I saw broken bricks among the concrete rubble.
I immediately texted Maricar Dabao and together we went to the site and talked to the workers to save the bricks to be given to the Negros Museum. The workers told us that most of the bricks got mixed with the concrete rubble and were dumped on the ground for levelling. Those may just be ordinary bricks to the workers but I find it hard to see something more than a century old go to waste.
We also did not see the marker anywhere among the rubble. On the other hand, the steel gate had a better fate since it was saved by the General Services Office and will later be restored in the new structure.
Why did we go through all that fuss just to save some old bricks? Because we believe those bricks are part of our history and their preservation will make us remember Fort San Juan and the role it played in Negrense history.
Aside from the date marking 1889, the bricks also have the markings La Castellana, La Paz and La Asturiana. Based on this website, the practice of marking bricks became popular in 1860s to about 1950. Aside from La Castellana, I am not aware that there were towns in Negros called La Paz and La Asturiana so they probably came from other places. Who knows, they could have been shipped all the way from Spain.
According to the magazine Handurawan, construction of Fort San Juan started in 1889 a year after the construction of the San Sebastian Cathedral was finished in 1888. Father Mauricio Ferrero, the Spanish Friar who laid out Bacolod, constructed Fort San Juan in exchange for the use of prisoners in the construction of the San Sebastian Cathedral. It was ironic that after the Cinco de Noviembre in 1898, thirty six (36) Spanish friars were ordered incarcerated at Fort San Juan.
There’s always this conflict between heritage and development. We often see century old structures demolished in order to give way to new establishments which bring investment and jobs. This does not only happen in Bacolod but in other places in the country including Manila. I hope our authorities can find a balance such that we do not compromise our heritage in exchange for so called progress.