Cover Escuela Taller de Filipinas’ training programmes help equip Filipino out-of-school youth and underprivileged students with specialised skills and knowledge in traditional construction and conservation methods for heritage structures

Escuela Taller de Filipinas teaches young, underprivileged yet immensely talented artisans the ways of our forefathers in preserving not just our heritage structures but our Filipino identity

Heritage conservation requires experts in the fields of architecture, engineering, history and art. Another demographic, not often mentioned, likewise has a great potential to contribute to this process: the youth.

This section of society is the reason why Escuela Taller de Filipinas (formerly, de Intramuros) was established.

Starting its operations in 2009, Escuela Taller adopted the mission to teach younger generation the artistry and craftsmanship of our forefathers in built structures with the aim of breathing new life into the ruins of the past. Based in Spain and Latin America, the international programme of Escuela Taller reached the Philippines through the cooperation of our own cultural institution and of Spain’s, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarollo (AEICD), respectively.

“Our mission is to empower and transform the Filipino out-of-school youth into protectors of our cultural and historical heritage properties,” said the architect Tina Bulaong, executive director of Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc. “In doing so, we are also contributing towards the proper conservation of these important cultural assets, including our old houses, historic monuments and landmarks, colonial churches and civic buildings, cemeteries and so on.”

To better contribute to the development of both the Filipino youth and heritage conservation, Escuela Taller was transformed into a non-stock, non-profit private civil society organisation in 2013. Despite being sustainable, the institution still faced trials along the way.

“Our biggest challenge is to help raise the awareness of the general public about the importance of capacity building among the Filipino youth and how the proper conservation of Philippine tangible heritage contributes to disaster risk reduction and management for heritage structures and sites,” the executive director shared. She added that by imparting the knowledge and skill to the younger generation, more qualified workers who can execute highly specialised interventions and procedures would be hired. To fully realise their vision, Escuella Taller organises international conferences on various topics related to heritage conservation and youth training. Until today, they have been giving lectures, seminars and workshops on culture and heritage together with esteemed educational institutions and organisations.

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Above Escuela Taller de Filipinas scholars at the restored Cathedral Parish of Saint Paul the Hermit in Laguna

This challenge is still present although to a lesser degree, according to Bulaong. “Due to recent disastrous events and their damaging effects on our old churches, civic buildings and spaces, more and more people are appreciating the urgency to repair, maintain and adaptively reuse these structures,” she said.

Read more: Casa Manila, Intramuros Renovation: Exclusive Interview With Arch. J. Anton Mendoza

The infamous Bohol earthquake of 2013 followed a month after by the disastrous super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) inspired our cultural workers to draft a charter that would guide the current and future generations of heritage conservators. In November 2019, NCCA accepted the Philippine Heritage Charter. “This document will certainly contribute to the maturity of the practice of heritage conservation in the country,” Bulaong said. “It will facilitate the forging of partnerships and collaborations between like-minded inter-sectoral organisations and individuals towards skills transfer and the proper protection of structures and objects of architectural, aesthetic, historic, scientific, natural, cultural and social significance.”

Not being a legal document, its constitution is not meant to be punitive as explained by Bulaong. The intention behind developing this set of guiding principles is “formation”. She said, “The guiding principles are more grounded on current issues that heritage practitioners and cultural workers often encounter.”

For 12 years, Escuela Taller has produced numerous outstanding graduates who are now trying to make their mark in this field. Ralph de Sagon, a graduate from the foundation’s first batch, used to be an out-of-school youth from Baseco compound. Bulaong related that de Sagon would spend his days just picking garbage in order to earn, hang out with his gang and sometimes get in the middle of gang wars. Through the help of Escuela Taller, he completed training programmes on carpentry, electrical and plumbing. He worked hard as a labourer and got promoted by his employer who saw his potential and his commitment to change his life for the better. De Sagon eventually partnered with his fellow graduate, Gelbert Cottino, in putting up their own enterprise.

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Above Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, the house of the Katipuneros, in Quiapo, Manila was built in 1914 by Arcadio Arellano. Restoration of the house-museum is underway this year. | Dasig Studio / Wikimedia Commons

Together, they were able to help their fellow Escuela Taller graduates by employing them as skilled workers in projects that their own construction company undertakes. De Sagon also offers free lectures and training to his neighbours in Baseco so that they may learn a new skill and get employed as well. This year, De Sagon has been chosen to receive the Outstanding Manileño Award, a recognition given by the city government of Manila to men and women who have contributed to the development of the city in their respective fields. De Sagon is just one out of the numerous graduates of the foundation whose life has changed for the better.

Moving forward, Escuella Taller is currently collaborating with archdioceses, parishes and affiliated committees for their conservation projects, such as that of the Holy Rosary Parish Church in Angeles, Pampanga, the cemetery chapel of La Loma in Caloocan and the retablo of Our Lady of Manaoag Shrine in Pangasinan.

Escuela Taller remains steadfast in its focus on skills transfer as well as raising public awareness about heritage conservation and Philippine culture, in general. “We shall continue assisting our graduates in honing their skills to rehabilitate, safeguard and restore important historical and cultural properties,” Bulaong promised.

Despite the modern technologies we have now, the foundation deems Filipino artistry and craftsmanship as important to be passed on to the youth. “[These] are skills that contribute to the identity, knowledge and creativity of a community. They can also contribute to the proper safeguarding of extant heritage structures, objects, sites and their associated environments. By keeping these skills alive, they continue to be used hand in hand with modern technology in addressing our society’s changing needs,” she expounded.

This story was originally published on Tatler Philippines' September 2021 issue. Download it on Magzter for free.

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