Garcia calls for dialogue with NMP over stolen panels

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia
Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn GarciaFile photo

CEBU Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia has urged the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) to meet with the Provincial Government within the week to discuss the return of the stolen pulpit panels from a heritage-declared church in Boljoon town.

Garcia clarified in a press conference Tuesday, April 4, 2024, that she does not have the right to demand action from NMP, but rather to call them out to take the province’s concerns seriously.

Garcia responded to NMP’s reply letter dated April 2, signed by its director general Jeremy Barnes, in which he agreed with Capitol’s earlier proposal to visit Cebu and hold a dialogue on April 30, due to the National Museum officials’ prior commitments overseas.

Garcia, however, said the NMP’s reply has been long overdue and the province’s concerns were not taken seriously, since she first sent out the request letter last Feb. 27.

She said the NMP responded only after receiving a separate letter on Monday, April 1, which included an additional paragraph saying that the Provincial Government would pursue all legal remedies to recover the stolen items.

The NMP, for its part, said it was not able to reply after assuming that the recent visit of their Chairperson of the Board of Trustees (BOT) Andoni Aboitiz to the Governor’s office would suffice as a reply.

Garcia said the stolen panels were discussed during Aboitiz’s visit; however, it does not constitute an official reply to their request.

She added that the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has issued a comment to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) requesting a legal opinion regarding the stolen pulpit panel.

The OSG commented that the NMP can be held criminally liable under the Anti-Fencing Law due to the national museum’s possession and claiming ownership of the stolen religious artifacts owned by the Cebu Archdiocese.

Meanwhile, the Cebu Provincial Board (PB) approved on Monday the resolution authorizing Garcia to file cases against NMP, according to a social media post of Vice Governor Hilario “Jun-Jun” Davide III.

Provincial Board Members Andrei Duterte and Stanley Caminero, the author and co-author of the resolution, also authorized the governor to file cases against individuals who kept the panels after it was stolen.

However, Garcia clarified that the provincial government has not yet decided to file cases as she wants to prioritize a collaborative approach with the NMP.

On the other hand, the Legal Consultants to the Capitol Lawyers Rory John Sepulveda and Ben Cabrido said the Provincial Legal Officer has drafted possible administrative and criminal cases, including Anti-Fencing Law or Presidential Decree No. 1612 against NMP’s officials if they failed to collaborate with the provincial government and insist on claiming ownership of the pulpit panels.

Sepulveda and Cabrido, however, said it is up to the Governor to decide whether to pursue the legal cases.

Cabrido added that the Deed of Donations of NMP is defective as the private collector is not the owner of the pulpit panels.

He added that both the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Boljoon and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Cebu passed two separate resolutions urging the return of the panels to their rightful owner.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, on Feb. 20, urged the return of the stolen panels, adding that the Archdiocese has no official records or any request to deconsecrate the panels for removals, considering it a violation of the Canon law and considered to be sacrilege.

The four wooden panels resurfaced last Feb. 14, after being donated by a private collector to the NMP in Manila dubbed as a “gift to the nation.”

However, Edwin Bautista, the private collector and the chief executive officer of Union Bank of the Philippines, clarified that he acquired the panels through legitimate means.

Built in 1793, the Archdiocesan Shrine of Patrocinio de Maria Santisima known as the Boljoon Church was declared a national treasure in 2001.

The four stolen pulpit panels were part of the six panels that were carved in the 19th century depicting the images of Saint Leo the Great, St. Thomas of Villanueva, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Gregory the Great, and St. Augustine of Hippo. / EHP


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