Editorial: What price culture?-A A +A
Monday, October 21, 2013
WHO will repair the churches?
How communities in Cebu and Bohol will respond may also answer another question whose import is beyond the immediate: what is our stake in preserving heritage?
At least 10 heritage churches and other landmark structures were damaged in Bohol and Cebu during the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Visayas and Mindanao last Oct. 15.
The fate of these structures not only concerns Boholanos and Cebuanos but every Filipino awakened to the imminent threat faced by the country’s other historical landmarks that are as vulnerable to calamities.
The Philippines is located in the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common, reported the Sun.Star Network Exchange (Sunnex) last Oct. 17.
Safeguarding these treasures is not only tactical for promoting tourism and the economy.
As University of San Carlos professor and archaeologist Jose Eleazar Bersales commented to Sun.Star Cebu’s Justin K. Vestil and Kevin A. Lagunda in their Oct. 17 report, the churches’ “irreplaceable” loss stems from their being “revered” as “houses where communities gathered… to worship and commune with God” and as “tangible remnants of the craftsmanship and artistry of their ancestors.”
Although “culture and faith were hit hard,” as Bersales pointed out, these two areas have to take a backseat to more pressing priorities, such as saving lives and repairing roads, bridges and classrooms, to restore affected communities to normalcy as soon as possible.
For instance, the Department of Education (DepEd) needs some P83 million to rehabilitate at least 86 classrooms damaged in Cebu Province alone, reported the Philippine Information Agency (PIA).
The Board of Commissioners of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) declared that it “fully support(ed) the national and local government’s priority in saving human life and rendering assistance to families and communities in need.”
The rehabilitation of these “National Cultural Treasures, National Historical Landmarks and Important Cultural Properties” is provided for by the Heritage Law.
However, coordination and collaboration between the Heritage Task Force and local governments, national and local agencies, the church and other stakeholders is crucial to implement the actual “rescue and restoration” of the heritage structures. The Task Force is composed of experts from the NCCA, National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and National Museum (NM).
Invest in culture
On Facebook, the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS) called on the government to “allot funds for the proper reconstruction and restoration of these heritage churches”.
Such funds should cover “periodic maintenance and preventive measures, such as retrofitting of our built heritage, to protect them” from future calamities, urged the HCS, a nongovernment advocate of built heritage, cultural and historical sites, and settings.
Aside from requiring a “lot of money,” Bersales pointed out that church restoration needs “conservation expertise”. The HCS shares this assessment, asking “that heritage professionals and experts from both the public and private sector be convened to plan” and implement “proper reconstruction and restoration”.
The government has sought the help of restoration experts, reported Sunnex last Oct. 17. Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda cited the need for foreign specialists, such as those that came to the rescue of heritage sites during the flooding of Venice, Italy.
Spearheading the raising of funds for the church restoration is the private sector, including mainstream media, such as the Business Mirror, and social media (HCS uses its Facebook page to disseminate that donations for church restoration can be channeled to the bishop of Tagbilaran).
Parishioners of affected communities should be involved in deciding if their old church will be restored or a new one built. Learning from the past, communities should act as watchdogs in ensuring that donations will be used for the purpose these were collected: to restore a church to the bosom of its people.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 21, 2013.