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Church restoration and the law

/ 08:36 AM October 24, 2013

The most powerful tool that the damaged churches of Bohol and Cebu have in their hands that will probably lighten the cost of restoration, rehabilitation if not outright reconstruction is Republic Act 10066, otherwise called the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009. Signed into law by president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on March 26, 2010, its Implementing Rules and Regulations or IRR was signed by President Benigno Aquino III about a year later.

I attended the public hearings on the draft IRR carried out by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in Cebu on Feb. 6, 2011. Around noon that day, an earthquake shook Cebu, its epicenter somewhere in Guijulngan, Negros Oriental, if I’m not mistaken. We were in the conference rooms of the Summit Circle Hotel right on top of Robinson’s Department Store across the Fuente Osmeña Rotunda but the guys at NCCA refused to stop the hearings even if aftershocks continued to rock the building from time to time. All we did was stop the discussion during every tremor that afternoon.

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On hindsight, perhaps nature was trying to tell us of the urgency of finalizing the IRR. Fortunately, after the ensuing debates on line per line of the draft, the IRR was eventually approved by President Aquino who, strangely enough, may have forgotten about doing so when he said last week that Church and State separation prevented government from helping in the restoration of churches.

One can simply Google both the law and its IRR to see that in fact the government is mandated by the Constitution to preserve and enrich Filipino culture in which these churches are an integral part of. Section 2 of RA 10066 states in no uncertain terms, thus: “The Constitution likewise mandates the State to conserve, develop, promote and popularize the nation’s historical and cultural heritage resources, as well as artistic creations.”

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Section 7 of RA 10066 states further and in no uncertain terms that “in times of armed conflict, natural disasters and other exceptional events that endanger the cultural heritage of the country, all national cultural treasures or national historical landmarks, sites, or monuments shall be given priority protection by the government.”

Of the badly-damaged churches in Bohol, about seven were already declared by the National Museum as National Cultural Treasures (NCTs), among them being the churches in Baclayon, Dauis, Dimiao, Loay, Loboc, Loon and Maribojoc towns. Others were already declared Important Cultural Properties (ICPs), a lower category than NCTs in the rubric of the law, by the National Museum and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). In Cebu, the most damaged church—that of Dalaguete—carries a National Historical Marker installed by the National Historical Institute, forerunner of the NHCP, as does another impacted church, that of Sibonga.  Unfortunately, the church in Carcar, whose gospel-side belfry suffered vertical cracks, has not been given any national heritage declaration.

Strangely, of all the churches in Cebu, only Boljoon carries an NCT declaration, which immediately entitled it to assistance from the government when it suffered cracks following an earthquake in 2004. The retrofitting of its sacristy wall funded by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts just last year clearly helped as the entire altar retablo may have been smashed to pieces by now if not for this timely intervention.

It is pretty clear that government is the major source of funding, by operation of law, to rehabilitate, retrofit or rebuild the damaged heritage structures in Bohol and Cebu, as long as these already carry national heritage declarations and markers. After saving the lives of those affected by the disaster and helping rebuild peoples’ livelihoods will necessarily come the reconstruction.

This was the subject, in fact, of an emergency meeting of the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church last Tuesday before Archbishop Jose Palma. In that meeting, the archbishop made it clear to us members that the time to rebuild and restore will come but first is the need to address people’s needs. The second issue we addressed was a protocol for donations and apparently, according to architect Melva Rodriguez-Java, the NCCA is currently preparing such guidelines or protocols especially since these donations will be used on heritage churches that will require painstaking attention to conservation principles.

Thus, while donations to restore, reconstruct or rehabilitate these churches are most welcome, donors will not be allowed to dictate their desires, their whims and caprices as has been experienced in a few sorry events. It is in this respect that heritage churches will require donors who will not grandstand but will anonymously, quietly and with much patience, await the results of their generosity which may take far longer than building a new and modern structure.

It took years of labor and patience to build these coral stone edifices a couple of hundred years or so ago. Expect their restoration to be as gradual and as slow.

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TAGS: Bohol, Cebu, church restoration, Earthquake, National Cultural Heritage Act
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