REPAIRS on most of the old churches in Cebu that were hit by an earthquake three years ago are done. In Bohol, work on 21 out of 25 churches is nearly complete.
Four of the most seriously damaged churches in the Diocese of Tagbilaran have yet to be reconstructed, a church official in Bohol said.
Several challenges—including sinkholes near church sites, floods, landslides—slowed down the rehabilitation work on some churches.
But in Cebu, some churches have been turned over to their parishes after the structural restoration. Among the fully restored structures is Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, which lost a large part of its belfry during the quake.
Fr. Brian Brigoli, chairman of the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission on Culture and Heritage, said that while churches in Cebu were not as badly damaged as those in Bohol, the restoration work still needed a lot of research. Delays in government procurement also slowed down the repairs.
In Bohol, Fr. Milan Ted Torralba said that many factors prevented the reconstruction phase in the four churches from starting. These included conditions such as the presence of sinkholes near the church sites. Torralba serves as executive secretary of the Permanent Committee for the Cultural Heritage of the Church of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
He said even though the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and the National Museum (NM) have appropriated P1 billion for the reconstruction phase, only 21 churches, out of 25, are close to completion.
Three of the remaining four are considered national heritage churches.
These are the St. Peter the Apostle Church in Loboc, the Parroquia de la Santa Cruz in Maribojoc and the Nuestra Señora de la Luz in Loon.
Reconstruction and restoration measures on the Santo Niño Parish Church in Cortes also have yet to start, Torralba said.
Restoration work on the Loboc church beside the Loboc River had to be halted temporarily after knee-deep floods hit the site in 2014.
Much of the recovered materials from the church, such as old stone blocks needed for the reconstruction process, were lost in the flood.
Experts have considered elevating Loboc Church to keep floods from entering it, but Torralba said doing that will need more funding.
Aside from flooding, the presence of limestone cavities below the church is also making reconstruction difficult.
Work had to be stopped after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology found the site “unbuildable” due to the presence of limestone cavities below the church, which could affect stability.
A transfer to someplace more stable is being considered.
The Maribojoc church shares the same problem as that of Loon.
In Cortes, church restoration was also affected after several landslides in the area had prevented experts from proceeding.
Several landslides have struck the cliff where the Cortes Church site is located.
Torralba said that restoration experts are coming up with a solution to avoid any more disturbance to their work. They’re racing against the clock to keep the materials, which are exposed to the elements, from deteriorating.
“As much as we want to construct the church immediately, our efforts could be in vain due to the presence of environmental hazards. But we are also considering that the longer we conduct more studies to find solutions to the problem, the more our churches are exposed to erosion,” Torralbe added.
There has been progress, however. Work on some churches is already 70 percent complete, such as the Lady of Assumption Church in Dauis, the Immaculate Conception Church in Baclayon and the Holy Trinity Church in Loay.
There are also churches that are 50 percent complete such as the St. Isidore the Laborer Church in Tubigon, the San Agustin Church in Panglao and the Santa Monica Church in Albuquerque.
Majority of the Bohol churches have already been turned over after minor repairs.
In Cebu, structural restoration has been completed on majority of churches that were damaged during the earthquake.
Brigoli told Sun.Star Cebu that aside from the Basilica, the Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church in Barangay Pardo, Cebu City; the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Michael the Archangel in Argao; the St. Michael the Archangel Church in Samboan; the Nuestra Señora de Patrocinio Church in Boljoon and the St. Francis of Assisi Church in Dumanjug have completed structural restoration.
Aside from the restored churches in Cebu, also turned over by NHCP were historical sites such as Fort San Pedro, Magellan’s Cross and Capilla Mortuario of the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral and the Museo Sugbo in Cebu City; the Mactan Shrine in Lapu-Lapu City; and the historical watchtower in Malabuyoc.
Last March, former President Benigno Aquino III, along with NHCP officials, turned over the restored Basilica, including its belfry, to the Augustinian Friars in Cebu.
The belfry took around P13.7 million to restore.
Brigoli said that by November this year, the NHCP will turn over other churches such as the San Guillermo de Aquitania Church in Dalaguete; the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Catherine of Alexandria in Carcar City; and the Nuestra Señora del Pilar Church in Sibonga.
Brigoli said that after the structural restoration, NHCP proceeded to the internal restoration of movable objects such the ceiling paintings and damaged retablos or altar pieces, among others.
Based on a report provided last January, the NHCP has spent P811 million for the pre-restoration and actual restoration work on churches and historical sites in Cebu that the earthquake damaged.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 16, 2016.
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