December 2006



Should the Restoration of Middleside Barracks be stopped?

by  Jay Ramos. *

On December 5 and 6 of this year, I took a trip to Corregidor to update my compilation of Corregidor photographs. To facilitate my movement around the island, I decided to join the regular bus tour.

All seemed to be going well until we reached an area called Middleside. For the benefit of the uninitiated, the top tourist draw in that area is the Middleside Barracks, a pair of elongated, three-storey concrete structures that used to house Philippine troops during World War II. Middleside Barracks stands out from other structures on the island because until just recently it was the only building in the regular tour route that had retained its shell-shocked, bombed-out appearance; a stark visual statement that gave tourists a good idea of how intense the fighting was on the island during the war.

Middleside Barracks Facade (October 2005)
With decades-old banyan trees growing on its top floors, and their gnarled roots reaching down to the lower levels, Middleside Barracks had developed a mysterious, near-mystical look that never failed to evoke oohs and ahhs from both local and foreign tourists. On the roadside, mature trees spread their leaves and branches languorously to create a shady environment for visitors who would choose to get off the bus and take snapshots.
Facade now looks worse than it did
right after World War II

When the tour bus drove by the Middleside Barracks, I couldn't help but notice how different it looked. Some of the mature trees that stood by the roadside had been unaesthetically pruned. The proud banyan trees that had once crowned the upper floors were now ugly stumps, their gnarled roots now all dried up.

Dead Banyan tree

A few workmen with bolos could be seen hacking away at the remaining Banyan tree roots, while in another part of the building men equipped with acetylene torches were cutting iron bars from the ruins. Smoke rose from several mounds of leaves and branches that were being burned.

Strewn by the roadside were logs and pieces of raw lumber. Fresh sawdust lay on the grass. A few meters away could be seen the wounds of freshly cut trees.

Middleside Barracks Facade

Recognizing the gravity of what we were seeing, and the necessity of documenting this spectacle. I proceeded to take numerous photographs and video clips with my trusty digital camera.

The tourists who were with me on that tour bus were so horrified by what they saw, that we ended up spending more than twenty minutes in that spot. Even those who were first-timers on the island expressed their disgust.

After a while, we moved on, but I vowed to return the next day, and inspect the backside of the building.

I spent most of the afternoon previewing the pictures I had taken. I made a few calls to Manila, and found out that this Middleside Barracks "clean-up" was a project of the National Historic Commission. Towards late afternoon, the officer-in-charge of the island dropped by the hotel to show me sketches of what the Middleside Barracks would eventually look like after project implementation. The sketches were made by a prominent local architect.

One projection showed tourists traversing a well-manicured and paved path outside the building. Another projection showed the interior of the building, sans the floors (Middleside Barracks has three floors), creating a clear atrium of sorts. Walkways could be seen along the sides of the walls at different levels.

Remains of a shade tree
- being converted to lumber!

This configuration is reminiscent of the way shopping malls are structured. It looked very commercial and inappropriate for Middleside Barracks. What was particularly disturbing is that fact that project would entail the removal of the "innards" of the building - the second and third floors; thus significantly altering its structure, and therefore, its stability. The officer-in-charge assured me that proper measures would be taken to reinforce and shore up the building in areas that were weak or dangerous.

Early next morning, I went back to Middleside to take more pictures.

Facade now looks worse than it did
right after World War II

Accompanying me was an American tourist and his wife who were looking for something to do. We hitched a ride with one of the hotel's utility vehicles, and asked to be picked up after an hour or two.

Upon reaching Middleside, we traversed the length of the Barracks' backside. It was basically the same story. Everything looked so BALD and barren. Twigs and debris were stacked on heaps of rubble that had been swept from inside the building and then brought out. Logs were stacked on top of each other,. while little bonfires that were burning near the end of the building continued to generate smoke..

More massacred trees at the backside of Middleside

We moved in and out of the ruins to take pictures, and then made our way to the front (where we had been the previous day) to make sure that we didn't miss anything. After an hour and a half, the utility vehicle passed for us, and we headed back to the hotel.

My position is that:

1. It is possible do walkthroughs of the building without altering anything. The building's main attraction is precisely this bombed-out look - complete with debris on its floors, mortar and bullet-holes on its walls, and other fine detail that makes the building look like it had just gone through a bombing run.  A theme park would spend fabulous sums of money trying to re-create a setting like this, and here we are, trying to obliterate this unique ambience. I have successfully conducted walkthroughs of this very same building, and I can say that the power of this experience never fails to leave a powerful imprint upon the minds of people who have gone through it. Just imagine it: vines creeping on the floor of the ruins. The crunch of pulverized concrete breaking the silence as you walk on the floor. The sight of walls with mortar holes; pock-marks made by high-caliber firearms, Patches of the sky showing through massive holes made by 500 pound bombs. The sound of crickets ......The roots of old banyan trees dangling from the windows. It is indeed, very theme park-ish. AND THE THEY ARE OBLITERATING IT RIGHT NOW AS YOU READ THIS ARTICLE. What we will end up with is a mall-like walkthrough devoid of this unique sensory experience.

Middleside Barracks offers the ultimate World War II ambience; unique thrills; exploration and discovery (1998 photo)

Furthermore, it seems ridiculous to me to be spending money on a project like this, when what we really need is already there, ready to be used. If there should be any "improvements" done on Middleside Barracks (or any other structure for that matter), these changes should be limited to providing safety to tourists and visitors, and should NOT entail major structural alterations. As the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!."

For a job like this, we need RESTORATION and PRESERVATION professionals - not ordinary workers armed with bolos and acetylene torches. I am afraid that irreparable damage has already been done. I hope that some higher authority has the good sense to stop this project before more structures are affected.

2.  When one is in Corregidor Island, One walks on hallowed ground. The island, along with all its old buildings, bunkers, gun emplacements and ruins are part of our cultural heritage and history. In the course of hatching this project, were veterans' groups, conservation groups, travel agencies, or tour operators consulted as to whether they agreed with this kind of makeover?

The backside of Middleside Barracks (southern building) in better days (1999). Mysterious, awesome, and inviting. Over the years the vegetation grew even more lush. - that is, until this so-called restoration project got rid of it all.

Adventure walkthrough starts with trail outside Middleside (2004)


* The Author is Jose Maria N. Ramos - a CPA, Professional Photographer,  and developer of  Eco-friendly Outdoor Games, many of which were conducted on Corregidor.



The opinions expressed in these articles are the opinions of their respective authors, and inclusion in CURRENT AFFAIRS does not constitute endorsement.
Those persons having strong views  should look to the CT&N FORUM.


Corregidor ruins are being saved not desecrated
Response Article by Beth Day Romulo


Address to the National Defense College
Concerning the Quo Vadis Corregidor Issues

Developing Corregidor
Editorial Manila Bulletin

Corregidor is for Tourists, Not Prisoners
Concerning establishing a Correctional Facility on Corregidor