We are heartened that  the City Tourism Office’s series of videos online dwelling on various aspects of the city’s history and heritage for our 2021 commemoration of Cagayan de Oro City’s  Himugso Festival which had to be conducted virtually due to the city’s current MECQ status.

Its first offering aired 8 June entitled “Soul of the City” focused on the city’s iconic water tower now housing the City Museum and taglined “The Oldest Public Structure in the City.”

It’s nice to recall heritage structures that every Kagay-anon should know about, and another to label it as something it isn’t.

Perhaps future enunciations like these emanating from city hall should be properly vetted by our City Cultural and Historical Commission (Hiscom) which has the final word on matters such as these.

That’s because there are still quite a number of “public structures” (i.e., privately owned) still existing around the city which are significantly older than the old water tower.

None more prominent perhaps than the main building of the Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School (MOGCHS) along Apolinar Velez Street.

According to a post Heritage Structures in Cagayan de Oro, Religious and Non-Religious, Post-Spanish to Contemporary written by Antonio J. Montalvan II in the website Heritage Conservation Advocates, this public structure was inaugurated as the Escuela Provincial on Dec. 15, 1909 by American Governor General William Cameron Forbes and House Speaker Sergio Osmeña. Forbes provided the funds for its construction while the Cagayan citizens raised P9,000 as a local counterpart as a local counterpart through Act No. 1801 (the Gabaldon Law). More on the Gabaldon School Buildings later.

“History is a science that requires peer review. Once one person claims a fact and it happens to be erroneous, you can just imagine the miseducation. The City Tourism produced this video claiming the 1922 water tower (presently used as the City Museum) as “the oldest public structure” in Cagayan de Oro. It is most definitely not,” Montalvan said in a post on the social media page “Cagayan de Oro History and Heritage” dated 8 June 2021. Montalvan is a former member of the Hiscom.

“Plaza Divisoria is 1901, the Misamis High School is 1909, the St. Augustine Cathedral (even if it was renovated in 1946 but the original structure is still extant beneath the cement plaster) is 1845. The City Museum should be well advised not to be a source of miseducation. Any scientist of today, as current professional praxis goes, submits one’s work for peer review,” he added.

Plaza Divisoria was constructed in 1901 by Tirso Neri y Roa, a rich merchant who was then municipal mayor of Cagayan de Misamis, the old name of the city. Much of the site used for the plaza was donated by Neri to the town.

Within Plaza Divisoria itself is another “public structure” which definitely qualifies under the term and predates the old water tower.

On June 19, 1917, the patriot Porfirio Chaves and his wife Fausta Vamenta turned over one of the earliest monuments in the country of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal which still graces the center of the plaza. The city appropriately celebrated its centennial on June 19, 2017 with the installation of a centennial marker and two marble plaques with Bisaya ang English translations of the original Spanish inscribed in marble.

There’s also the El Pueblo a sus Heroes monument also on Plaza Divisoria constructed during the tenure of Municipal Mayor Apolinar Velez sometime 1928-1932. It contains the bones of Kagay-anon Patriots killed during the Battle of Agusan Hill with American Soldiers of the I Company, 40th Infantry Regiment of the United States Volunteers. The Kagay-anon Patriots were defeated and suffered 38 fatalities including their commander, Capt. Vicente Roa.

Still older than Plaza Divisoria and the Rizal Monument is the St. Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral whose original structure  was built in 1845 by Fray Simon Loscos de Santa Catalina, an Augustinian Recollect missionary, along the Gothic style. Its walls and buttresses were made out of coral stones imported from China.

According to Montalvan, some of these stones are still embedded inside the present concrete walls, and some of it were exposed and demolished when the sanctuary was recently renovated. The original structure was destroyed by the American aerial bombardment of Cagayan on October 21, 1944.

Archbishop James Hayes SJ built the present structure. Inside the Cathedral are rare and priceless stained-glass windows that came from the chapel of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of New York and are the works of well-known masters. The old belfry was located on the left side and beneath it was the grave of another Spanish Recollect missionary, Fray Ramon Zueco de San Joaquin, who died in Cagayan in 1889.

Just outside the porte-cochere façade is a wooden Santa Cruz erected in 1888 by the Augustinian Recollect missionaries which can again be considered another public structure. Unfortunately, this heritage structure was encased in concrete without the approval of the National Historical Cultural Commission (NHCP) as required by Republic Act No. 10066 (the National Cultural Heritage Act), which could hasten its deterioration.

Still other existing public structures which predate the old water tower are the Gabaldon School Buildings at the City Central School, Cugman, Agusan and Iponan. Based on the 2016 National School Building Inventory (NSBI) under the enhanced Basic Education Information System (eBEIS), a total of 2,752 Gabaldon Schoolhouses still exist in 2,304 different sites nationwide: 1,065 in Luzon; 936 in the Visayas; and 751 in Mindanao.

The Gabaldon School Buildings, also referred to as the Gabaldons, originated from Act No. 1801 (the Gabaldon Law), a legislation penned by Isauro Gabaldon of the Philippine Assembly in 1907 which provided a ₱1 million fund for the construction of modern public schools across the Philippines from 1907 to 1915.

The Gabaldons were built by the American colonial government with American architect, William E. Parsons as the designer of the blueprints of said buildings from 1907 to 1946. A standard size of 7 by 9 meters (23 ft × 30 ft) was conceptualized by Parsons for the school buildings regardless of the number of classrooms for swift construction of public schools.

According to historians, the buildings are modern in design while drawing elements from the bahay kubo and bahay na bato common in most towns at that time. The Gabaldons are raised 1.2 meters (3.9 ft) on a platform made of wood or concrete. The buildings also exhibit large windows and high ceilings for ventilation and lighting purposes.

Probably the city’s best representative of the genre, the Gabaldon building at the Iponan Elementary School was recently repaired and repainted after termites unfortunately destroyed a similar one in the school campus.

Ancestral Houses

The Casa del Chino Ygua at the corner of Hayes and Velez streets has often been acknowledged as the oldest residence in Cagayan de Oro. Constructed in 1882 as a “Bahay na Bato” by the Chinese merchant Sia Ygua who originally came from Xiamen, China,  the original structure was built from bricks transported from China aboard Chinese junks. The house has been renovated twice, once after World War II when it was badly damaged, and again more recently, albeit badly and far from the standards of historical preservation. New bricks, probably made in Bulua, were used to cover the old Chinese bricks.

However, three other residential houses may either have predated it or were built during the same period. One is the Trinitas Roa Reyes Ancestral House along Burgos street, built in the Spanish Colonial style, also sometime during the 1800s.

“This is a very historic house. It was the residence of Jose Reyes y Barrientos who was a member of the Philippine Independence Mission to the US in 1919 and who was earlier Misamis governor in 1913,” Montalvan said in his HCA Post. “In the 1930s, his wife Trinitas Roa Reyes had the house rented to Bishop James Hayes SJ after his appointment as first Bishop of Cagayan. And so the house became a temporary Bishop’s Palace. Hayes installed quilted canvas on the ceilings. Today, the house is in a dilapidated state. It  has beautiful corbels and some piedra china on its sidewalk, and all the posts are large round hardwood timber topped by exposed beams with intricate carvings.”

Still two other residence constructed around the same time are the Moreno-Valmores House at the corner of Aguinaldo and Yacapin Streets, built in the Post-Spanish period style; and the Gabar House at the corner of Toribio Chaves and Pabayo streets, also built in the same Post-Spanish style, and now owned by Happy and Loving Fuentes family. Lorenzo Fuentes and the late Belen Mercado Fuentes, reportedly the great grand niece of Dr. Jose Rizal, have 8 children, 15 grandchildren and 2 great grand-children.

American and Commonwealth Period

Of more recent vintage having been built during the American Colonial and Philippine Commonwealth Period is the Acero House along Gen. Capistrano street next to a funeral home. Constructed in 1936 by Felix Acero in the American Colonial style, it has been renovated but along lines faithful to its original design.

“The house was spared from damage during World War II because Japanese military officers occupied it as an office and bedroom,” said Mrs. Gloria Acero-Delgado who now occupies the house. “Some names were written on the bedroom doors but these were erased. During the Liberation, the Mindanao Bus Co. used the first floor as an office.”

Another is the Art-Deco Tamparong Building at Plaza Divisoria at the corner of Velez and Tirso Neri Streets. Although badly damaged during World War II, it was likewise rebuilt following its original design though that is hardly recognizable today with its ground floor extensively renovated by merchant firms renting it.

Started 1933 by Fr James TG Hayes SJ, Superior of the Philippine Jesuit mission and first Bishop and Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, Ateneo de Cagayan sprouted several buildings with high school, college and grade school established in 1940.

Forced to close on December 9, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Army used the school as their regional headquarters from May 2, 1942 until the city was liberated on May 12, 1945. Meantime, an American bombing raid on October 21, 1944 reduced most buildings to rubble including the iconic Lucas Hall and Administration Buildings. Fr Andrew F Cervini SJ saw to the reconstruction of the school and it reopened in 1946 with classes held in the partially restored buildings.

Other contemporary structures built during this inclusive period are the Lourdes College Main Building at the corner of Capistrano and Hayes Streets, the Archbishop’s House facing Gaston Park beside the St. Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral built 1934-1935 but was almost completely destroyed by the American bombing of Cagayan on October 10, 1944; the Trinidad Gate of the City Central School along Velez Street  which was built in 1936; and perhaps the most famous, the Executive House of the City Hall Complex housing the Office of the City Mayor and other executive offices of the LGU Cagayan de Oro.

“Inaugurated on August 26, 1940 as the new Municipal Hall of Cagayan town and became the City Hall of the new Cagayan de Oro City in 1950. The building survived World War II,” Montalvan noted.

The Cagayan de Oro Executive House was built in 1940 in the Neo-Classical style with traces of Spanish Colonial architecture. (CIO)

“The frontal porch is Neo-Classical for sure,” noted esteemed Architect Edwin Uy. “The rest of the facade has remnants of Colonial architecture here in the Philippines during the American Period, though it can also be traced from the Spanish Colonial times (with the original capiz windows for example) which were replaced with modern French windows later on.” 

Post-World War II

Two other post-war buildings of note may be considered heritage structures as they approach their three quarters of a century of existence and fall into the purview of the National Cultural Heritage Act, officially designated as Republic Act No. 10066, mandating the preservation of all historic buildings over 50 years old.

Foremost among them is the Misamis Oriental Provincial Capitol built during 1948-1950 in the American Colonial style.

Vintage photo of the Misamis Oriental Provincial Capitol which was built in 1948-1950. (photo by Nene Arce)

Another would be the San Jose de Mindanao Seminary at Seminary Hill, Camaman-an, built in 1956. Probably the most massive religious architecture in Cagayan de Oro, the design of this building was patterned entirely after the Jesuit Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches, Manila, from wingtip to wingtip.   

San Jose de Mindanao Seminary at Seminary Hill, Camaman-an was built in 1956.

To prevent future slip-ups, Montalvan suggests the city undertake cultural mapping and conduct an inventory of its tangible cultural properties.

“Does this also indicate that the city does not know how to perform one method that is indispensable today — cultural mapping? If it knows its tangible cultural properties, it would not commit the mistake of saying “the oldest public structure” if it had such inventory. Obviously, there is none,” he stressed.

“There should be a cultural mapping. Ideally, integrated also into the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. From this should come the LGUs annual plan on culture, arts and cultural heritage,” said Titus Velez, currently Municipal Planning and Development Officer of Gitagum, Misamis Oriental.

Local Government Secretary Eduardo M. Año earlier exhorted LGUs to promote appreciation for their local culture and arts by creating or strengthening their local culture and arts councils.

“Culture and arts are the heart and soul of our nation. They preserve our history and act as conduit to our present and future. They showcase what real Filipino talent is,” Año stressed.

“Each region in the country has their own unique culture and arts that promote local tourism as well as educate their people of their heritage,” he added.

According to the DILG, a Local Culture and Arts Council is to be chaired by a local chief executive with representatives of local historical societies, artist groups, business and academe, indigenous peoples, and the local representative of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

The Council prepares an annual plan on culture, arts, and cultural heritage consonant with the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) for Culture and the Arts integrated in the local development plan and in the annual appropriation ordinances. The Council also spearheads cultural events such as cultural festivals, competition, lectures, seminars and symposia.

Moreover, the Council declares and maintains a heritage zone in their local government unit (LGU) as mandated by Republic Act No. 10066 (the National Cultural Heritage Act). The law defines ‘heritage zone’ as “historical, anthropological, archaeological, artistic geographical areas and settings that are culturally significant to the country.”

 “Republic Act 10066 mandates LGUs should have a local register of cultural properties. From there, they can declare and maintain a Local Heritage zone. This will ensure the protection, preservation, conservation and promotion of local culture and historical heritage,” Velez noted.

The National Cultural Heritage Act, officially designated as Republic Act No. 10066, is a Philippine law that created the Philippine Registry of Cultural Property and took other steps to preserve historic buildings that are over 50 years old. It was signed into law on March 25, 2009. 


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