THE National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) has issued a cease and desist order, suspending all activities affecting the 243-year-old watchtower within the campus of a private Catholic school in Maasin City.
“It has come to our attention that the proposed construction of buildings within the compound of Saint Joseph College will affect a Spanish-period watchtower,” said Dr. Rene Escalante, the NHCP chairman.
“The said structure being more than 50 years is a presumed Important Cultural Property (ICP). Under Republic Act 10066 or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, such ICPs must be protected from any modification or alteration,” Escalante added in a letter addressed to Bishop Precioso Cantillas of the Diocese of Maasin.
NHCP also requested from the diocese “development plans and site map, with respect to the said ICP.”
“We will inform you of the next course of action after we review your plans,” the NHCP said in its letter dated February 27, which they also furnished to Maasin City Mayor Nacional Mercado.
Mercado, who furnished Sunstar Philippines a copy of the letter, said he is happy about NHCP’s action.
“Many Maasinhons are also opposing moves to demolish the said structure or plans to demolish to make way for a commercial building,” said the mayor.
Earlier, Mercado disclosed they received the diocese’s letter dated October 22, 2018, requesting permission to “remove” the structure to give way for the construction of the additional building to accommodate the school's “growing population.”
While he is not in the authority to approve the plan, Mercado advised the diocese to write to NHCP.
He also asked his constituents to “just let the NHCP decide on this matter since this is under their jurisdiction.”
“I hope that the diocese won’t pursue this. I hope they won’t request further. But rather, save it, take good care of it, and use it to teach this generation more about Maasin, its history and culture,” said Amelia Fe Mancera, a cultural worker from the city.
“It's ironic. While many towns and cities all over the country are fighting tooth and nail in order to preserve their historic structures, here we are in Maasin, planning to destroy ours,” added Sondra Demeterio, an overseas Filipino worker from the city.
Demeterio cited how other places in the country take pride in their Spanish colonial era watchtowers and turn them into tourist attractions like in La Union, Dauis, and Dalaguete, among others.
“My suggestion for the last watchtower in Maasin City is to make it a memorabilia building in the significance of its historical heritage,” posted Armando Gaviola on Facebook.
On February 13, a concerned citizen Adel Macaldo also wrote to the NHCP, asking the commission “to have an exhaustive investigation on the alleged demolition” of the tower.
The Maasin watchtower was built in 1776 by the Augustinian priests.
As of press time, Sunstar Philippines has yet to get a reply on its inquiry from the diocese over the said issue. (Ronald O. Reyes/ SunStar Philippines)