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Heritage declaration: A rejoinder

/ 07:56 AM March 08, 2012

I received a reply from a councilor of the southern town I referred to in my previous column where a parish priest has been hard at work allegedly telling people there not to have their residences declared as heritage houses because they would lose their privacy. The letter sender is a town councilor whom I shall not name at the moment although I would like to share excerpts of his letter so that things can be put in better perspective. For one, I was finally apprised of the fact that there is, in fact, a municipal ordinance that this councilor drafted and presented in a public hearing. Here are excerpts of the letter:

“Upon reading your column, it’s pretty much obvious we are the municipality and town officials you are referring to. I do not know of the official who reported this matter to you … Nevertheless, since you already mentioned our municipality’s story (although you did not name it) I think it’s only fair at least for the local government unit that your information will now come from me for I was the one who sponsored that ordinance (declaring certain shrines, monuments, and buildings as heritage sites).

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“(W)ho would not want someone to help them, especially the church, since as it is very well known, church projects are usually shouldered by donations from church members? (T)his ordinance would in fact address that burden of townspeople in coming up with the money to do repairs and renovations of our church. I have my fair share of travel miles so it wasn’t hard picturing out the importance of protecting our heritage treasures. So on the day of the public hearing, I went through the gist of the ordinance quickly thinking everybody was on the same page.

“I even shared to them heritage sites from across the world, which are recognized by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization and how beautiful they all were … On top of that, I also informed the audience about the four Baroque churches of the Philippines also recognized by Unesco. Everything went well that is until (the priest) took the microphone …

“Listening to our parish priest, my curiosity immediately turned (from) surprise to shock, to horror, and ultimately, to dismay. But quite interestingly I ended with laughter! Surprise, yes, for he repeatedly mentioned your name and the good governor (Gov. Gwendolyn F. Garcia). Obviously, I know the governor but with apologies I do not know you or have heard anything about you.

“This is a municipal ordinance; I wonder why his first impression of heritage preservation was of you. I made it clear that the ordinance was from me and (with) no inputs yet from the province and national government although I did peruse similar ordinances passed by our neighboring municipalities. As he was explaining himself on his belief that this ordinance should not be accepted by the people, he pulled out what seemed to be a ruler-thick reference manual. He quoted some paragraphs there highlighting the independence of the church from government.

“Later on I politely asked him what his reference was, then I learned it was actually the Canon Law of which he emphasized was universal. But what shocked me was his insinuation that the ordinance we are trying to pass was part of a conspiracy by the government including the governor and was locally headed by Mr. Jobers Bersales to somehow undermine the powers of the church.

“Hearing this from him definitely insulted me because his accusation actually accused me also of being part of that grand conspiracy of whatever he was trying to have the people present believe.

“The horror looking at someone of great influence who is twisting facts could not be put into words. I was particularly dismayed looking at the reaction of some people. Listening to a man of cloth and believing what he says even at things that simple logic would tell you he is not telling the truth is simply disheartening. I do not blame them, though, since most of them are living a life of looking up to the Church … Sadly, this ordinance does not only pertain to our church building but other heritage sites as well. Now with his influence and twisted beliefs plus his constant bantering at the pulpit, protecting the other heritage sites as was the point of this ordinance is now in peril.

“But that is not all, what puts the nail to the coffin was his decision on the proposal of the vice mayor. Since we could no longer agree on the principle of making the church building a heritage site, the vice mayor proposed to junk the title ‘heritage site’ since this phrase had already been misunderstood by the priest and his followers. And just to start things the vice mayor proposed to leave the church building for now and instead help the church develop its front yard into a park similar to what is being developed in Alegria. This immediately was received with applause from the audience but when he was given a chance to have his opinion heard surprisingly he opposed this one too! His reasons? According to him a park is a place for drunks and couples who publicly display their love and affection and that is why I end up in laughter!”

The letter sender closed with this line with which I agree: “I am not religious but if it helps I say, ‘May God bless him!”

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So there you have it—confirmation about what I wrote of in my last column. I wish the councilor and the municipality all the best as they tread this noble path of preserving what their ancestors built even as I also pray that the priest there will find time to go to the Internet and check the website of the Holy See, especially the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church. There he will find the enlightenment that has apparently eluded him so far.

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