Traffic shakes Sto. Niño Basilica, weakens coral walls; Cebu city ordinance seeks to ban passing vehicles
The rumbling of cars on busy Osmeña Boulevard disturbs the stone walls of the adjacent 18th century Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño.
Because of this, a proposal to ban downtown traffic passing by the church and create a pedestrian zone is being revived in a proposed Cebu City ordinance set for a public hearing in two weeks.
This step is needed to preserve the basilica, a heritage landmark of Cebu and shrine of its patron, the Sto. Niño, said architect and conservationist Melva Java.
She said vibrations of passing vehicles have resulted in the deterioration of the basilica’s coral stone walls facing the national highway, damage that worsened with the Oct. 15 earthquake last year.
Its Spanish period belfry crumbled during the quake, and rehabilitation work is ongoing.
The basilica is the focal point of Cebu’s annual religious fiesta on Jan. 19, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors coming to pay homage to to the Child Jesus or to attend novena masses.
“We hope the (Cebu City) government will see the importance of minimizing traffic vibrations on this side of the road,” said Java, director of the University of San Carlos’ Conservation Heritage and Research Institute and Workshop (Cherish).
Vice Mayor Edgar Labella submitted to the City Council last year a draft ordinance seeking to “pedestrianize” or establish a pedestrian zone in part of Osmeña Boulevard near the basilica.
The ordinance is set for public hearing in two weeks.
Road use regulation is within the city government’s jurisdiction, said Rafael Yap, executive director of the Cebu City Integrated Traffic Operations Management (Citom).
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, who is a staunch supporter of the city’s historical assets, said Java’s proposal was not “far-fetched.”
Java invoked the Heritage Act of 2009 which allows the creation of a buffer zone to protect historical landmarks.
Conservation experts are working to rehabilitate the basilica’s belfry tower and other parts of the complex by next year in time to celebrate two milestones.
One is the 450th year of “Kaplag”, an event marking the discovery of the miraculous image of the Sto. Niño in the ruins of a village in Cebu and its 50th year anniversary as “minor basilica”, a title given by the Vatican.
Fr. Harold Rentoria, OSA, chairman of the Commission on Cultural Heritage of the Augustinian Friars, said he is working with Cebu architects and the Escuela Taller de Intramuros to keep rehabilitation work on schedule.
Two consultants from Spain and another from Japan are being tapped to gather historical data on the basilica and its belfry.
“The belfry is not a new structure and it is not easy for us to do the reconstruction,” he said.
The basilica was built in 1735 and completed in 1739.
It is home to the image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu which was given as a gift by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Cebu’s Queen Juana in 1521.
The coral stone belfry collapsed during the the 7.2-magnitude earthquake which hit Cebu and Bohol in Oct. 15 last year. /With Senior Reporter Marian Z. Codilla
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