IN fairness, Archbishop Jose Palma, leader of the Catholic Church in Cebu, did not limit his comment on the issue of heritage against the demolition of Patria de Cebu to reducing the 64-year-old edifice across the Metropolitan Cathedral in the city to “a mere building.”
The archbishop also used as argument the state of the present Patria (“old and dangerous to its occupants”) and the effect of k eeping the front of the building, which the heritage advocates want (“might affect design and stability”).
Palma must not have wanted to sound so dismissive about heritage. Palma has recognized the importance of the past and its contribution to the present. But those opposing the plan to demolish the old structure for a P1 billion project – an “integrated retail, office and hotel complex” on 6,670 sq.m. church property -- are using the argument of cultural value. He needed to address that first.
The “heritage advocates,” architect Melva Rodriguez-Java and former editor-publisher Eileen Mangubat, have not asked for the junking of the project. They want to preserve a part of the building, the façade, to perpetuate Patria’s cultural value. Apparently, the promise (a) to include in the new Patria’s cornerstone a few pieces of “Hail Mary” hollow blocks that student volunteers made for it in 1954 and (b) later, to make a diorama on Patria’s story would not be enough.
What they can do
After they resigned as lay members of the Archdiocesan Commission on Cultural Property of the Church, what could Java and Mangubat and others who share their cause do? They could delay the demolition scheduled in the next few days or weeks.
Under the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 (Republic Act #10066), Patria, 14 years older than the 50-year-old requirement, over-qualifies as “important cultural property.” But is it registered in the Philippine Registry of Cultural Property? Articles published so far, topped by Marites Villamor-Ilano’s special report in SunStar, have not mentioned that fact. Assume that Patria is not yet registered.
The law requires the property owner, the Archdiocese, to file a petition with the National Historical Institute (NHI) to remove Patria from the “presumption” that it is an “important cultural property.” Meaning, Patria is presumed to be so until NHI declares that it is not. It thus enjoys the protection of the government. A cease-and-desist order could upset building schedule though it might not abort the project.
The archdiocese Administration Board, which Palma said voted “100 percent” for the project to proceed, must have balanced the need to preserve cultural heritage against the economic needs of the church. Last Dec. 8, Msgr. Joseph Tan, archdiocese media liaison, said rent from developers would pay for church “liabilities and commitments,” such as medical expenses of ailing priests who aren’t covered by insurance, upkeep of the seminary and other subsidies. When Tan said the project was a “done deal,” he didn’t mean only the signing of the contract and payment of an initial P50 million for rent. He struck at the core of the project, the reason for its being: to help pay archdiocese bills.
More convincing than the archbishop’s concern about the safety of Patria lodgers in an ancient, dangerous building. Economics could drive out the window the passion to preserve values of the past.