Gov’t to rebuild only 10 of 25 churches
(Last of three parts)
TAGBILARAN CITY—“Let’s admit it. No one was really prepared [for this]. The sheer magnitude of the destruction was and remains unprecedented,” conservation architect Melva Rodriguez-Java said, summing up the difficulty of rebuilding the churches damaged by last year’s earthquake.
Only 10 of the 25 damaged churches in Bohol province are covered by the government’s national calamity-related heritage reconstruction and restoration program, but the Diocese of Tagbilaran has a staggering job to do.
While the Diocese of Talibon in the northern part of Bohol also has damaged churches (those in Inabanga and Carmen towns and the cathedral in Talibon), the Tagbilaran diocese has about 12 damaged parish churches that are not on the list because they are not heritage structures and will not receive government support.
The damaged churches are found in the towns of Antequera, Balilihan, Batuan, Calape, Clarin, Corella, Catigbian, Lila, Sagbayan, Sevilla, Sikatuna and Velancia.
Cebu is lucky because all of its damaged churches are under the care of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
Masses in tents
In the aftermath of the earthquake, parish priests in Bohol had to make do with tents pitched beside their damaged churches to celebrate Masses. They furnished the tents with whatever was left inside the churches, including undamaged pews.
The white or blue tarpaulin tents sprouted beside the 25 churches.
Some of the makeshift churches, like the one in Maribojoc town, now have galvanized iron roofs while others, like the one in Loon town, have been replaced with concrete chapels.
Bishop Leonardo Medroso, head of the Tagbilaran diocese, oversees a massive fund-raising program intended to retrofit, reconstruct or restore the other churches, despite having applied to the Vatican for retirement when he turned 75 earlier this year.
“I look forward to helping these churches rise up once again while I am still around,” said Medroso, who hails from Ormoc City, Leyte province.
Long time to rebuild
Earlier this year, Medroso and Fr. Milan Ted Torralba went around the parishes to explain the need to be patient, as rebuilding may take long for some churches.
Torralba is the executive secretary of the Permanent Committee for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, the heritage arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
The church in Clarin, one of the 12 nonheritage churches, was flattened, leaving only its sacristy wall and a section of the portico standing. An architect’s perspective has been submitted for the reconstruction and local fund-raising is under way.
“Of the heritage churches, the bishop has complete trust and confidence in the [National Museum] and the NHCP that they will do their job well,” Torralba said.
“No one likes any delays,” Medroso said. “But I also understand the government protocols and procurement systems that cause these delays.”
“It is the provision of alternative churches beside these damaged ones that I need to [deal with],” he added.
‘New heritage church’
“First, we envision that our damaged churches, our centers of culture, will be retrofitted and restored if and when possible,” Torralba said.
“Second, if possible, the damaged churches will be reconstructed [with] new materials and new technology [harmonizing] with old materials and old technology,” he said.
“Third, where a damaged church cannot be restored or reconstructed, we [will] endeavor to build in its place a new heritage church,” he said.
Torralba said “new heritage church” was a phrasal term, not a misnomer.
“A heritage resource does not belong to the past, as we are wont to believe, but to the future,” he said.
Torralba said a church should be an organic structure that respects the past by having continuity with it, a structure that is contemporaneous but with a heritage-conscious design.
But, he added, it should abide by the three natural laws of sacred architecture: permanence, iconography and verticality.
Echoing Medroso, Torralba said that while the restoration and reconstruction of the historic heritage churches were going on, alternative churches would be built in the parishes.
There is hope the churches still standing, like those in Baclayon, Loay, Loboc and Dauis, will eventually reopen for Masses once Phase III is completed.
But the job in Maribojoc and Loon is a different story, as Bishop Medroso sees it.
For one, the bishop has been told that the deep fissures on the property where the church of Maribojoc once stood are a sign that the earth beneath is unstable.
Still, hopes persist that an alternative church will rise soon, as indicated by an architectural design presented by a Japan-based Spanish architect.
“The cost will be tremendous,” Torralba said, referring to the probability of reconstructing the church of Loon along the lines of the original by faithfully using the same materials as much as possible.
“This is in fact impossible,” he added. “Still, current estimates are that the reconstruction of the church of Loon, if pursued, would cost between P500 million to P1 billion.”
In a recent meeting with Bohol Gov. Edgar Chatto in Manila, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said P1 billion would go to the reconstruction program in next year’s budget.
But the money would be used not only for the church in Loon but also for about two dozen heritage churches and other historic structures.
Medroso has received a pledge of P10 million from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for the construction of one or more alternative churches while donations are coming in from Bohol natives working abroad who are eager to help in the recovery of their province.
In fact, through donations alone, a piece of farmland just beside the damaged church of Loboc was bought shortly after the earthquake.
Soon, a concrete church with a capacity of 1,000 rose on the property. The 19th-century organ in the old church was moved there, an assurance that all’s well again.
The new church was inaugurated on Oct. 12, three days ahead of the commemoration of last year’s tragedy.
To be sure, no one here will forget that day. But this island-province is recovering from the devastation faster than anyone has expected.
(Editor’s Note: Jobers Reynes Bersales is the author of the book “Pagsulay: Churches of Bohol Before and After the Earthquake of 2013,” which was launched recently. He heads the University of San Carlos Press and teaches heritage courses at the university.)
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