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Restoring Bohol’s damaged churches


It has been six days since the 7.2 killer-quake struck and although business in many private and public offices including schools has been restored, the tremors that are being felt almost daily, with some registering between 4 and 5 in magnitude, hardly make our lives normal in this part of the country.

Yesterday people woke up at 4:40 in the morning to a tremor that registered 5.1 on the Richter scale. A few minutes later, another aftershock measuring 4.2 was recorded, its epicenter at 27 km northwest of Tagbilaran City. The third tremor was felt at 5:29 a.m, measuring 4.2. The fourth shudder came at 5:43, with a magnitude of 4.3 and epicenter at 54 kilometers northeast of Tagbilaran City. All these tremors are part of the 2,026 aftershocks record by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology since Oct. 15. Thirty-seven of the aftershocks were felt in Cebu and Bohol.

Yesterday morning, Mexico was also jolted by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.5. According to the US Geological Survey, the earthquake struck off the western coast of Mexico in the Gulf of California. There are no reports as regards human toll and damage to property but since Mexico is said to be located “atop three large tectonic plates and is one of the world’s most seismically active regions,” authorities are closely monitoring events in areas where the quake was strongly felt.

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Flak rained on President Benigno Aquino III when he visited Cebu and Bohol last week to assess the destruction and commiserate with calamity victims. However, despite giving P8 million in aid to Boholanos, people criticized him for giving so little.

P-Noy, who was under a lot of stress at the time because he was scheduled to fly to South Korea for a state visit, committed another faux pas when he announced that the Executive cannot help rehabilitate centuries-old churches damaged by the quake because of the principle of the separation of Church and State.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) differs with the President on this issue. The NCCA is the principal agency tasked with marking heritage and cultural sites and works with affiliate agencies like the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the National Museum. These three agencies formed a task force and went to Bohol to confirm the damage of the earthquake to cultural markers.

Among Bohol churches that sustained damage were the main churches in Baclayon, Dauis, Dimiao, Loay, Loboc, Loon and Maribojoc towns, all categorized as national cultural treasures or national historical landmarks according to the Historical Conservation Society. As we know, the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño and Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral also sustained damage but compared with the devastation in Bohol, the basilica’s fallen belfry and cracks inside the church’s walls are minor problems.

Asked by the media to comment on the damaged churches, a task force member said the government is obliged to step in because the issue of rehabilitating these centuries-old churches is imbued with public interest.

I’m glad the Executive is working double time to make amends for the presidential faux pas. I can sense that through Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez who publicly invited foreign experts to help rehabilitate and restore the Bohol churches.

The government could very well seek the help of Japan, which has developed a finance program that funds United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or Unesco projects in conserving and maintaining a number of the world’s heritage sites.

In 1989, Japan created the Funds-in-Trust through contributions “aimed at preserving and restoring monuments, sites and archaeological remains of a great historical and artistic value,” according to web resources. In 2004, the Japanese Funds-in-Trust was able to collect US $50 million in contributions.

Half of the beneficiary sites funded by the trust fund are on the World Heritage List. They include monuments, sites and archaeological remains of great historical/artistic value, many of which are Christian churches, Buddhist temples and sacred grounds.

A lot of ground could be covered through the Department of Foreign Affairs because the Philippines, like all other UN member countries, has a permanent delegation to the Unesco.

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Tags: Bohol , column , damaged churches , Earthquake , opinion , Restoration

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