Guv to Nat’l Museum: ‘Meet us this week’

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia.
Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia.(File 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 2, 2024, that she does not have the right to demand action from NMP, but she can call them out to take the Province’s concerns seriously.

Garcia was responding to the NMP’s reply letter dated April 2, signed by its director general Jeremy Barnes, in which Barnes agreed with Capitol’s earlier proposal to visit Cebu and hold a dialogue, but set April 30 as the date of their dialogue, 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.

Legal remedies

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 the chairperson of its 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.

The panels, missing since they were reported stolen from Boljoon Church in the 1980s, resurfaced last Feb. 14 when they were donated to the NMP by a private individual as “a gift to the nation.”

Garcia 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 panels.

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 of ownership of the stolen religious artifacts owned by the Cebu Archdiocese.

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

Provincial Board Members Andrei Duterte and Stanley Caminero, author and co-author of the resolution, also authorized the governor to file cases against individuals who kept the panels after they were 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 Rory Jon Sepulveda and Ben Cabrido said the Provincial Legal Officer has drafted possible administrative and criminal cases, including involving the Anti-Fencing Law or Presidential Decree 1612, against NMP’s officials if they fail 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. / EHP


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