Taytay is hoping that the restoration of the historic Fort Sta. Isabel would draw more visitors and further increase its tourism economy.
The National Historical Commission of the Philippines has given its Conservation Management Plan (CMP) a “Certificate of No Objection,” a prerequisite for carrying out the process of restoring a cultural heritage property.
Municipal tourism officer Joie Matillano said it would begin this quarter, after clearance from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) in February 2022.
Matillano said that visitors, especially those on a religious pilgrimage, go to old churches and chapels like Fort Sta. Isabel.
They are protected and maintained all across the Philippines for the purpose of attracting tourists and preserving the country’s history and culture.
They tell a tale that has been passed down through the ages, immersing people in the experience, knowledge, and aesthetic appreciation of those who came before us.
Encouraging sustainable tourism will aid in preserving the fort’s sanctity and legacy, he said.
“We know that the increase in tourist arrival is inevitable. However, we are also espousing sustainable tourism and the sustainability of our tourism sites. That way, we are able to maintain their sacredness and sense of place, so we are also going to adhere to the established carrying capacity to protect this heritage site,” he said.
Matillano noted that the 356-year-old Fort Sta. Isabel is a source of pride for townspeople, and after the repair is finished, a regular mass may be held in the chapel.
Fort Sta. Isabel
Also known as Fuerza Santa Isabel de la Paragua, Taytay Fort, and Kutang Santa Isabel, it was constructed in 1667 as a stake wall on a tiny hill to keep a careful watch over the town’s harbor.
The Augustinian Recollect priests had it built to serve as a coping strategy against attacks by marauders. Artillery relics that were deployed to prevent their raids can still be seen in the fort.
Between 1721 and 1738, it was replaced with a stone fort using coral rocks through the efforts of Fernando Manuel de Bustillo (Bustamante), the governor-general of the captaincy general of the Philippines during the Spanish colonization.
Each of the four saints—Santo Toribio, San Miguel, San Juan, and Santa Isabel—has a fortress on the defensive wall named after them. Fort Sta. Isabel was named after St. Isabel, the mother of St. John the Baptist, patron saint of the Spanish royal family.
In the present day, the façade of the fort has been groomed into a small park, where guests may take a moment to reflect on the historical marvels that it represents.
Matillano noted that when his office was established under the municipal administration in 2016, a study was undertaken on Fort Sta. Isabelle. The next year, they came across a document showing its original structure.
“That made us realize that there is more to the fort than the present-day structure, hence our interest was piqued and that’s when we decided to seriously pursue the restoration,” he said.
He said that the municipal authority recognized the imperative for restoration to avoid further deterioration and to ensure its continued appreciation by future generations.
Matillano stated that they will endeavor to recreate the building in the same manner that it was created, but with minor modifications due to the scarcity of resources such as coral rocks. The town is working with heritage architect Joel Rico, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the NHCP, and Escuala Taller to implement the CMP.
The local government allocated about P2 million in 2022 for the chapel to be constructed in six months.
P4.1 million was also added to improve and repurpose the fort’s museum area. It will help to a more structured and well-curated museum, tourist center, and souvenir store, as well as a gender-neutral bathroom for guests’ convenience, he noted.
As per CMP, the ballpark figure plan for the entire fortress and its immediate grounds would be around P120 million. Matillano estimates that it would take two to five years, depending on the availability of funds as well as skilled artisans who will work on the fort.
“Since the LGU’s fund is not enough at the moment, it may take longer to finish the restoration. However, we are also open to collaboration with private individuals, as well as funding agencies, NGOs, and national government offices to augment our funds. We’d appreciate any help,” he said.
“This is a special project, and the people that will work on it must be those that are trained in restoration efforts. That is why we are tapping the expertise of heritage architects that have done multiple restoration projects in similar structures in the country,” he added.