MANILA—Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada bared plans to go to the appropriate court to press Manila City government’s claims on the operation of the Metropolitan Theater (MET), saying he already allotted Php200-million in funds to immediately rehabilitate and bring back into operation the ‘Grand Old Dame of PHL Theater.’
“Ever since I assumed the mayoralty, I have wanted to retrieve the Metropolitan Theater for the citizens of Manila. The real owner of that property is the Manila City Hall. As soon as we can put back this theater into operation again, it will benefit the citizens who will be exposed to culture and arts, especially the more than 27,000 students of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM), Unibersidad de Manila and other schools in the City,” the Mayor said.
The MET, erected in 1931, is located at the Mehan Garden (Sining Kayumanggi) on Padre Burgos Avenue corner Arroceros Street. It has come to be known as the Grand Old Dame of Philippines’ theater. It was designed in art deco by National Artist for Architecture Juan Arellano. Murals by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo also ornamented the walls of the said theatre. Met was known to be a home of zarzuela and vaudeville performers and world-renowned artists.
The MET was heavily damaged during World War II. Then in 1978, former First Lady and Metro Manila Commission Governor Imelda Marcos spearheaded a major renovation effort for the theater. Later on, the theater was used as collateral for a loan from the GSIS, but because the funds were never paid, the building became a possession of GSIS.
“Pero hindi maaaring ma-rehabilitate ng GSIS ang MET dahil ‘yung charter ng GSIS does not give it the authority to implement, manage or rehabilitate the theatre. Dapat ang pera niyan ay sa mga GSIS insurance, policy at benefits lang ng mga government employees napupunta (But GSIS can’t rehabilitate the MET because the charter of GSIS does not give it the authority to implement, manage or rehabilitate the theatre. Its fund should only go to GSIS insurance, policy and benefits of government employees),” Mayor Estrada said.
Then, the Manila City government moved to buy the MET from the GSIS. Mayor Estrada said, “The Manila City council appropriated P230 million to acquire Met from the GSIS. But the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) bought it for an additional Php206 million and snatched it from us.”
Mayor Estrada said they are exploring all avenues, including the filing of a petition before the appropriate court to reclaim the MET.
“Unang-una, the MET is a property of the Manila City government. Ibinigay lang naman ‘yan noon kay Mrs. Marcos (First and foremost, the MET is a property of the Manila City government. It was just given to Mrs. Marcos before),” Estrada exclaimed. He also said the theater was donated by then Mayor Ramon Bagatsing to the Metro Manila Commission of Mrs. Marcos without the consent of the City Council.
The Manila City government has also said that, despite the sale of the MET to the NCCA, the local government still has a say in the restoration and operation of the theater, citing a2004 Usufract Agreement which gave the City government the right to use the theater ‘for arts and culture purposes’ for 25 years.
“The transfer of ownership of the MET from the GSIS to the NCCA does not invalidate the Agreement. We believe it still remains in force,” Mayor Estrada said, adding “Also, the Manila City government is more capable than the NCCA to rehabilitate the MET.”
He stressed, “Nag-inspection na ang mga engineers natin. Ang estimate ng engineers natin, pwera doon sa purchasing price na ino-offer ko, ay gagastos tayo ng additional Php200 million para sa rehabilitation. We still have 14 to 15 years to operate and manage the Metropolitan Theater for the benefit of the Manilenos and the rest of the country’s population who will be introduced and exposed to arts and culture (Our engineers have made inspections. The engineers estimated that aside from the purchasing price that I offer, we will spend additional Php200 million for the rehabilitation. We still have 14 to 15 years to operate and manage the Metropolitan Theatre for the benefit of the Manilenos and the rest of the country’s population who will be introduced and exposed to arts and culture).”
Editor’s note: Italics are Philippine Canadian Inquirer’s