Quake damages iconic churches

CEBU CITY -- Centuries-old churches and landmarks in Bohol and Cebu provinces were severely damaged when a 7.2-magnitude earthquake jolted Central Visayas and some parts of Mindanao on Tuesday.

Tagbilaran Archbishop Leonardo Medroso said at least 22 centuries-old churches in Bohol were damaged, some of them were “badly destroyed.”

Medroso lamented Tuesday the destruction of centuries-old churches in Bohol, especially since some of them have been declared as national heritage sites.

He said it was unfortunate that the churches lengthy existence was cut short only by the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that hit Bohol and Cebu on Tuesday morning.

Medroso said old churches in the towns of Looc and Carmen were among those that were badly destroyed.

"These are old churches that are very important in our culture, especially with our faith," said Medroso.

The quake caused the collapse of the Loon and Loboc churches, while also severely damaged the churches in Carmen and Baclayon, which are considered as among the oldest churches in the Philippines.

Bohol is home to a number of heritage churches, built during the early years of the Spanish colonization of the island.

In Cebu City, the quake also destroyed the belfry of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño. The basilica was built in the 16th century.

Medroso said he personally experienced the strength of the tremor but that he was more worried over what happened to the old churches.

"Other than so many earthquakes, this is the strongest earthquake we experienced na talagang malakas e," he said.

Fr. Jonas Mejares, rector of Basilica del Sto. Nino, said that Tuesday’s tremor was the strongest since the 17th century and the first to cause damage in the church. The Basilica was built in 1740.

Mejares said they were in the last phase of restoration after last year’s earthquake that struck Negros and Cebu, adding the National Historical Institute (NHI) is set to inspect the affected areas.

He said they will still have to wait for the decision and recommendation of the architects and NHI in as far as church activities in the coming Sinulog. The masses will continue at the pilgrim center.

Aside from the churches, one of the world's wonders -- the Chocolate Hills in Carmen, Bohol -- was damaged as well. The leaning tower of Chocolate Hills, which serves as the viewing deck, was destroyed after the earthquake.

Senator Loren Legarda urged the government to ensure that all structures, especially bridges, school buildings and hospitals, are earthquake-proof by conducting a nationwide structural evaluation.

She also called for the retrofitting of these structures to allow them to withstand destructive earthquakes.

"The additional expense required for making structures safe from earthquakes is worth it, especially if it would save thousands of precious lives,” said Legarda.

Meanwhile, national culture agencies express their commitment to rescue and, later, rehabilitate damaged heritage structures in collaboration with the Catholic Church, local government officials and communities.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), and National Museum (NM) shall be the lead agencies to handle such effort.

In a statement, the Board of Commissioners of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts agreed that a joint team of experts shall inspect and evaluate the damage, starting Thursday, October 17.

The inspection is to establish the severity of damage; identify properties that immediately need to be secured; draw up priorities for restoration; estimate the amount of human and financial resources necessary; and establish important linkages with stakeholders.

The NCCA will also provide a mobilization fund for the initial (rapid) assessment, pending the national government’s decision on the rescue and rehabilitation efforts as a whole.

The culture agencies shall convene upon the return of the Heritage Task Force and submit an official report to the Office of the President.

The earthquake caused significant damage to the churches in Baclayon, Dauis, Dimiao, Loay, Loboc, Loon and Maribojoc in Bohol and the Sto. Niño Basilica and Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral in Cebu.

The Heritage of Conservation Society called on the country's government to allot funds for the proper reconstruction and restoration of these heritage churches, which are priceless Philippine cultural treasures.

"We also ask government cultural agencies, particularly the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the National Museum, to take the lead in restoration efforts and move as one. We also ask that heritage professionals and experts from both the public and private sector be convened to plan the proper reconstruction and restoration of our damaged cultural properties," the statement reads.

"We hope that this incident sends a strong message to the national government to invest in our cultural heritage by allotting significant funding for periodic maintenance and preventive measures, such as retrofitting of our built heritage, to protect them from incidents of this magnitude in the future," the statement added. (Virgil Lopez/HDT/FP/Mildred V. Galarpe/Sunnex)


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