Destruction of heritage churches lamented
Heritage conservationists on Tuesday mourned the damage to historic churches in Bohol and Cebu, a major source of tourism income and cultural pride of these provinces.
The Manila-based Heritage Conservation Society (HCS) said the earthquake affected heritage landmarks in Bohol and Cebu, causing total destruction or significant damage to the churches in Baclayon, Dauis, Dimiao, Loay, Loboc, Loon and Maribojoc in Bohol, all national cultural treasures or national historical landmarks; and the Sto. Niño Basilica and Cebu Cathedral in Cebu, among others.
“We join the rest of the Philippines in prayer as we recover from the damage of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit Central Visayas on the morning of Oct. 15, 2013. We mourn the loss of life as well as of property,” HCS president Ivan Henares said in a statement posted on his Facebook account.
Henares, who is currently visiting Laos, called on the Philippine government to allot funds for the proper reconstruction and restoration of the heritage churches, which he called “priceless Philippine cultural treasures.”
He also called on government cultural agencies, particularly the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), National Historical Commission of the Philippines and National Museum, “to take the lead in restoration efforts and move as one.”
Tagbilaran Bishop Leonardo Medroso said his diocese was still determining how many exactly of Bohol’s historic churches were destroyed following the 7.2-magnitude quake.
But the prelate cited the churches in Baclayon, Loon, Loboc and Dauis as among those that were “destroyed” by the earthquake.
“The church in Loon was totally damaged. The one in Carmen also collapsed,” Medroso said in an interview with CBCP News, the official news service of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
He also reported that at least two people were trapped inside the Loon Church and had to be pulled out from the mounds of rubble and concrete.
Over at Church-run Radio Veritas, Medroso also said the Church of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon was not spared by the strong quake, its belfry reduced to a rubble and its façade suffering major cracks.
The Baclayon Church, made from coral stone, is considered one of the oldest churches in the Philippines and the first seat of the Spanish Jesuit missionaries when they settled in the town in 1595.
Built in 1717, the church was declared a National Historic Treasure in 1994.
Photos of the 17th-century Church of San Pedro in Loboc posted on the Internet following the temblor showed only its bell tower standing.
The second largest church in Bohol, the Loboc Church was originally built in 1602 and was reconstructed in 1638 after being reduced to ashes. It has also provided a beautiful backdrop to the Loboc River, one of the top tourist destinations of the island.
Amid the devastation the quake has brought to many of Bohol’s iconic churches, Medroso exhorted the faithful to pray for their safety and to be alert and calm.
Henares also called on heritage professionals and experts from both the public and private sector to convene and plan the proper reconstruction and restoration of the damaged cultural properties.
When he was still working with the NCCA, architect and HCS secretary Richard Tuason-Sanchez Bautista went to Loboc in October 2004 to document the church. He shared schematics and unpublished pictures from the documentation mission on his Facebook account as he expressed sadness about the damage on the church, which was constructed in 1734.
“[I’m] sharing what was there. In loving memory of what was there before,” he said.
Asked by the Inquirer in a phone interview if the churches were “inadequately” prepared for the earthquake, he replied: “I wouldn’t say that; the churches are in good shape. As early as the 1970s, the church authorities have undertaken rehabilitation work through the years. Buttresses were even built. It’s just that this earthquake is very strong.”
Bautista, however, said that based on the pictures of the most damaged churches that he saw, the rehabilitation “may have not resolved the issue of foundation.”
He noted that aside from the façades, various late additions to or extensions of the churches also suffered structural damage.
He cited the case of the Loboc Church, which lies beside a river.
“When I went there, I saw the church’s perimeter walls had holes with crabs inside. It gave me shivers. I understand crab infestation was also seen in other Bohol churches. If left unchecked, these crabs can affect the stability of the churches in the long term,” he recounted.
Bautista and Henares said the preservation and conservation of historic edifices, wherever they may be located, should be the concern of all Filipinos.
“Sad that many people talk about heritage only when it’s gone. Hopefully this is a wake-up call for everyone,” Henares said on Twitter.
The NCCA board of commissioners, in a statement, expressed its “commitment to rescue and later, rehabilitate, damaged heritage structures, many of them churches that have been part of the life of the people for centuries, in collaboration with the Catholic Church, local government officials and communities.”