|THE PHILIPPINES TODAY columnist Claire Morales True, the architect’s perspective of the Paskuhan Village by Nestor Mangio & Associates and the Giant Lanterns in the City of San Fernando in Pampanga.
TRUE OR FALSE
Claire Morales True
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga (PhilAmPress) – The Philippines’ only Christmas village is no longer in the map.
This as ownership of what used to be touted as Disney-inspired Philippine Christmas Village, more popularly known as the Paskuhan Village, where a festive Christmas air prevailed every day and throughout the year, has changed hands – from government to a company founded and managed by the country’s wealthiest Filipino, Henry Sy Sr.
With the sale of the Christmas Village theme park to the SM Development Corp., its Christmas decors and colourful lanterns shining especially at nights with the cool holiday air are gone, dampening the once happy festivities in this city and province famous for its giant lanterns and rainbow-colored Christmas decors that have reached many parts of the world, including the Middle East and the San Francisco Bay Area and other parts of America.
The new owners immediately shut down the 9.3-hectare Paskuhan Village upon its takeover early this year from the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority or TIEZA which sold it to SM for P939 million. This made the once famous landmark an eyesore to travellers passing the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and the Jose Abad Santos Avenue portion of the Gapan-Olongapo Road in this city.
Ironically, a former governor of Pampanga, Mark Lapid, presided over the “death” of the Paskuhan Village. Lapid, son of Sen. Manuel “Lito” Lapid, also a former Pampanga governor, sold the property to SM while he was TIEZA chief under the excuse of asset privatization thrust of the agency. The younger Lapid is now running for senator under the administration Liberal Party (LP) ticket and observers said the transaction could impact on his senatorial bid.
A famous Capampangan from Tarlac, then President Corazon C. Aquino, inaugurated the Paskuhan Village when it was completed on December 11, 1990, ushering in a happy Christmas celebration not only in Pampanga and neighboring Tarlac but the entire Central Luzon. Sadly, the son of the late President, incumbent President Benigno S. Aquino III, knowingly and unknowingly, allowed the closure and sale of the monumental project gleefully opened by his late mother.
According to records, the late Pampanga Governor Bren Guiao, along with then Tourism Secretary Jose Antonio Gonzales and then Center for International Trades, Expositions and Missions Director and later Tourism Secretary Guillermina “Mina” Gabor, spearheaded the establishment of the Paskuhan Village.
Changes in the national leadership came with the changes in the Department of Tourism which had supervision over the Paskuhan Village. The changes resulted to new goals and focus, and the park slowly was left behind and lost its luster. This eventually prompted the city government of San Fernando, with the support of the Pampanga provincial government, to negotiate for the transfer of management of the Paskuhan Village to the city government, but the negotiations fell apart when then Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim wanted an outright payment of P400,000 a month on rentals.
Pampanga Congressman Joseller “Yeng” Guiao, a son of the late Governor Guiao whose bust has stood inside the village for years, has expressed sadness and dissatisfaction with the sale of the Christmas village, renamed “Hilaga” later, which he described as a “symbol of the Kapampangans.”
“We could have preserved it and put it to better use,” said Guiao. “Sayang (It’s a waste),” he lamented. He had asked Congress to look into the sale of the property..
For years, the Paskuhan Village stood as the only theme park in Asia where Christmas is celebrated year-round in line with the Filipino tradition of the world’s longest Yuletide festivities. As such, it showcased the best Christmas-inspired Filipino arts and crafts, including demonstrations on how these products were made. It had an ampitheater, a convention hall, boutiques, food stalls, parks, a swimming pool, zoo, an orchidarium and a carnival. The orchidarium dubbed the Florikultura was set up by former First Lady Amelita “Ming” Ramos and showcased different plants and flowers from the country and abroad.
Will its new owners totally obliterate the Paskuhan Village while the giant lanterns in nearby main avenue of City of San Fernando glittered with joy and hope this Christmas season? Every Kapampangan’s wish is that this landmark will stay and even improved.