Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Those Gabaldons

By Gemma Cruz Araneta

PUBLIC schools were to the American colonial regime what Baroque churches were to the Spanish period. In their time, both were the most imposing structures in all our provinces, cities and towns. As Spain used religion to colonize and Hispanize, the United States of America established the public education system for "pacification" and Americanization.

Lamentably for heritage conservation, most of the school houses built during the Spanish colonial period were reduced to rubble during the Philippine-American War (1899-1911) and when the Philippine Commission sent the American Secretary of War a telegram about the "pacification" strategy, Eng. Edgar K. Bourne was instructed to go to Manila. Daniel Burnham, famous city planner, and other American architects soon followed.

Acting rapidly, the Philippine Commission passed Act No. 268 creating the Bureau of Architecture and Construction of Public Buildings, with Mr. Bourne as its head. The construction of schoolhouses in Manila and the provinces began and this activity was viewed as the most important work of the Bureau.

No sooner was the Philippine Assembly formed after the elections of 1907, when Act No. 1801, authored by Assemblyman Isauro Gabaldon of Nueva Ecija, was approved and became widely known as GABALDON ACT . This appropriated Php 1 million between 1907 to 1915 for the "construction of schoolhouses of strong materials in barrios with guaranteed daily attendance of not less than sixty pupils…"

Funds for each school could not exceed Php 4 thousand unless the municipality contributed a counterpart sum of not less than fifty percent of the total amount granted to it by virtue of the Gabaldon Act. The municipality was authorized to appropriate its own funds, receive voluntary contributions in cash, kind, or in manual labor, for the construction of schoolhouses.

The Gabaldon Act stipulated that only on land owned by the municipality could schools be constructed. Because proposed sites had to be surveyed and registered with the Court of Land Registration, very few schools were erected in the first three years. As separate planning for each school was burdensome, the Bureau of Public Works and Bureau of Education soon came up with standardized designs. These were known as "Gabaldon School Buildings" or simply "Gabaldon," long after the expiration of Act 1801.

Fifty-one "Gabaldons" were completed by 1911 and by 1916, four hundred five more were constructed bringing the total number of classrooms to one thousand eight hundred fifty-two. Three hundred twenty seven of these "Gabaldons" were made of concrete. In the Gabaldon-style school, there was architectural harmony between the main building and other accessory structures. As it turned out, an elegantly-designed school instilled in both teachers and students a certain pride and an appreciation for the finer things in life. (