THE Augustinian community of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño (BMSN) de Cebu cited custodianship and religious value as the main reasons why they chose not to allow yet the blessed image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu to be declared a National Cultural Treasure (NCT) by the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) this year.

In an online media conference on Friday afternoon, April 16, 2021, Fr. Ric Anthony Reyes, official spokesperson of the BMSN, told Cebu reporters that during the time they were invited to sit and negotiate with the NMP, they also had to reflect upon and discuss if there is a need to make the blessed image of the Child Jesus as NCT.

"First and foremost, the Augustinians would like to make them understand that the image is more than just a cultural treasure because it is a religious icon," he said.

"We would like to make a kind of a statement that the Augustinians would have that responsibility (custodianship). Ganahan kami nga among responsibilidad g'yod na siya nga kami g'yod ang custodian sa religious icon," he added.

Last Wednesday, April 14, in line with the 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines' celebration, the NMP gave a collective declaration to the Basilica Minore's Church and Convent and the Pavilion of the Magellan's cross as NCTs (contrary to the earlier reports that the image of the Sto. Niño was also declared an NCT) in pursuant to the Museum Resolution No. 55-2020 of the NMP.

Reyes said they also had to inform the other members of their congregation nationwide as this affects their communal heritage as Augustinians as well.

"Kani lang muna. Maybe lang siguro later kung naa may later na recognitions," he said.

Audrey Dawn Tomada, of the NMP, who also attended the conference on Friday, said they also acknowledge and respect the stand of the Augustinian friars on the matter.

Though she also clarified that being declared an NCT does not mean that the property will already be owned by the state.

"When we declare, the state is there to help the property owner to protect, conserve, and preserve your cultural property with our expertise and our assistance and of course, if worse comes to worst like what happened in 2013 following the 7.2 magnitude earthquake didto man gud nato nakita nga immediate," she said.

She said the Basilica already had previous declarations by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and was given funding and help in the restoration of its belfry because of earthquake years ago.

However, she said it was never declared an NCT though it is deserving.

She also shared that the process for NCT declaration for Basilica took three years in the making.

For now, she said they focused first on the immovable structures of the Basilica.

She also said that that is not going to be the last declaration as there would be a wide range of declarations after the current pandemic; these will include churches, watchtowers, government buildings, and ancestral houses, she said.

Boljoon Church complex in Cebu Province was declared an NCT some 20 years ago.

The NHCP declares monuments, shrines, and historical landmarks while the NMP declares important cultural properties and NCT. (WBS)