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Historic Paco

By Edgar Allan M. Sembrano, Contributor

Known for its circular Spanish colonial cemetery and the American-era railway station, the district of Paco in Manila is also host to a number of other notable heritage structures, which define its built environment and colorful history.
Paco started out as a small settlement just outside Intramuros called Balete and later Dilao, the Tagalog word for “turmeric.”
Other theories on the etymology of the town’s name are the color of the skin of the Japanese settlers, who started arriving in Dilao in 1614, and the yellow flower of a plant, which grew in the area.
The original Dilao was adjacent to what is now the Manila City Hall on Arroceros Street.
Founded by the Franciscans in the 16th century, Dilao moved southward and was merged with nearby villages Santiago and Peña de Francia (later Peñafrancia) in 1791 as a strategy against possible invasions.
With the merger, the name of the town was changed to San Fernando de Dilao which became Paco — the Catalan diminutive name for Francisco — in the 19th century.

History and culture
The book Dilao: Urban and Cultural History of Paco by Gerard Lico and Lorelei de Viana peeks into these aspects of rural, cultural and city life of a town which later became one of the districts of Manila.
Published by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the book notes Paco's development from the Spanish to American to the contemporary period, presenting the history and built environment of the town.
It features Paco's rich heritage with discussions on its old and present churches (1814 and 1908), the Cementerio General de Dilao (1820s) which later became Paco Park, Paco Market (1911), Paco Railroad Station (1915), Coca-Cola Building (1948), and the Gabaldon-type Celedonio Salvador Elementary School (formerly Thomas Jefferson Primary School) which was built in 1917.
Also presented are the Art deco structures Pako Building (1939), F. Villaroman Foundation College (1930s), and the Moorish Bellevue theater (1931), the 1864 Jose P. Laurel heritage house on Peñafrancia and Sepulcro streets, and the Perez-Samanillo houses on Perez, Apacible, and Belen streets.
Churches such as that of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the Carlos Santos Viola-designed Iglesia ni Cristo chapels on Marcelino and Pedro Gil streets, the Sikh Temple on United Nations Avenue were likewise discussed together with institutions such as the La Concordia College (1868), Philippine Columbian Association (1907) which aimed for having social equality for Filipinos in the American period, Paco Catholic School (1912), and the Damas de Filipinas (1927).

Good attempt
The book is actually a good attempt to bring out the history and heritage of Paco, but most likely an expanded exhibition text, a far cry from De Viana's significant work, Three Centuries of Binondo Architecture, 1594-1898: A Socio-historical Perspective, published in 2001, and Lico's Arkitekturang Filipino: A History of Architecture and Urbanism in the Philippines, published in 2008.
Repeated texts, may it be verbatim or rephrased, also appear in a number of chapters with at least two mentions of Fort Stotsenberg being Fort Bonifacio today.
However, in the seventh chapter, it mentions Fort McKinley, the former name of Fort Bonifacio, instead of Fort Stotsenberg in Pampanga, which became Clark Air Base.
It is also more on the American and contemporary periods, needing more discussions on Paco's formative years and the Spanish era in general.
The book also has no bibliography and credits are likewise not indicated on a number of images. A note on the book's front matter indicates that the authors and the publisher are amenable to amendments in future editions.
Whatever shortcomings the book may have, it can definitely be revitalized and regenerated as what the authors wrote of Paco in the afterword: “In an environment and society where the past grapples to cope with the present, Paco tries to reclaim its heritage through revitalization projects and conservation, within a modernist setting that has become the very threat to losing heritage from landscape and memory.
“Yet, the modernity that is seen in Paco shows that the district is more alive than ever, as it continues to create its own story and history, by regenerating itself in the realm of place-making amid cultural diversity, economic changes, and urbanization,” the book says.

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