Cebu Archdiocese awaits official terms from NMP for panels’ return

Cebu Archdiocese awaits official terms from NMP for panels’ return
Photo from National Museum of the Philippines

THE Cebu Archdiocese awaits the official communication from the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) to start the formulation of the "terms" that will be the basis of the return of the “stolen” four wooded pulpit panels to Boljoon Church, an official said Thursday, May 9, 2024.

Rev. Fr. Bryan Brigoli, chairman of the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission of the Cultural Heritage of the Church, in an interview on Thursday, expressed his gratitude to the gesture of the NMP's Board of Trustees, saying it meant that the agency recognized the claim of the Cebu Archdiocese as the rightful owner of the pulpit panels.

Cebu Archdiocese awaits official terms from NMP for panels’ return
Boljoon happy with NMP’s decision to return ‘stolen’ panels

Brigoli said the decision has also recognized the call of the people of the town of Boljoon on the opportunity to preserve, conserve, and manage their own cultural and historical assets, such as the pulpit panels that serve as an item of their identity, culture, and history.

In a statement on Wednesday, May 8, the NMP's Board of Trustees "unanimously" approved the return of the pulpit panels to Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria Santisima Parish Church in Boljoon town in southern Cebu, but it will be subject to "certain terms."

NMP said these terms will be the basis of a comprehensive agreement between the national museum and the Archdiocese of Cebu.

The return of the pulpit panels will also support the declaration of the Boljoon church as a National Cultural Treasure and its candidacy for the Unesco World Heritage Inscription.

Brigoli said he has yet to meet again with the NMP to identify these "certain terms," as he has no idea as to the specifics of these conditions.

He said the NMP and Cebu Archdiocese met for the first time on April 16, attended by Archbishop Jose Palma and chair of the NMP Board of Trustees Andoni Aboitiz.

However, there was no discussion on the "certain terms" for the return of the panels, as no promises were made during the meeting.

"Even though there were no promises (made) when it comes to the return of the Boljoon pulpit panels, the most important thing that we agreed upon (the meeting) is that those panels will undergo intensive conservation measures. So that we can increase its lifespan," Brigoli said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

"We also expressed that the Cebu Archdiocese will never back down or pull out on our claim for the ownership of the pulpit panels," he added.

On May 2, a delegation from NMP led by Aboitiz and Director General Jeremy Barns visited the Boljoon church, including the museum and the convent.

Brigoli said among the discussions during the visit was how to improve the church's local museum and how to handle the existing old religious artifacts.

"They are trying to see the capacity of the community for the protection and also for the preservation of these items," Brigoli said.

He added that aside from calling for the return of the panels, the community must also be well-equipped to preserve and conserve these religious items.

On February 14, the pulpit panels resurfaced after a collector donated the items to the NMP. The items were tagged as "Gift to the Nation." The Cebu Archdiocese then called for return of the panels, saying those were stolen from Boljoon church.

The call was backed by Boljoon Mayor Joie Derama and Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia. (EHP)

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