Gwen: Return Cebu's cultural heritage

Gwen: Return Cebu's cultural heritage
Photo from NMP

CEBU Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia has reiterated her call for the return of the “stolen” panels from the pulpit of the Boljoon church, which she considered “part of the Cebuano heritage.”

The panels, featuring the image of St. Augustine of Hippo, were donated to the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) by Union Bank chief executive officer Edwin Bautista, and turned over last week as “A Gift to the Nation.”

The panels had been missing since these were reported stolen in the 1980s.

A church pulpit is a raised platform at the front where clergy deliver sermons to the congregation during worship services, usually near the altar or communion table. It was used before the sound system became popular in the modern age.

“Kindly return these panels to the Patrocinio de Maria Santisima Boljoon Parish Church,” Garcia said in a press conference at the Provincial Capitol on Monday afternoon, Feb. 19, 2024.

Garcia said she will send the NMP a formal communication requesting the turnover of the panels to Cebu, adding that they will attach a resolution that was unanimously approved by the Provincial Board and the Municipality of Boljoon that supports her call.

“For after all, we have the same goal that is to honor these treasures from the past, but more than honoring them, we must also honor where they came from,” she said.

“They are a parcel of history, the heritage, and pride of Cebu and Cebuanos. We request the National Museum to return these treasures so they may be rightfully put back where they belong,” she said.

Garcia said she welcomes the offer from the NMP for a constructive dialogue, adding that they are extending an invitation to them to visit Cebu, particularly the Boljoon church.

Historian Jose Eleazar “Jobers” Bersales, Capitol consultant on museums and heritage, said the four panels are part of the six panels that covered the pulpit in Boljoon church. One is in the church, while the other is still missing.

The panels are considered an integral part of the Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria Santisima Parish Church, which was built in 1783.

Bersales believes that the panels were also built in the same year the iconic religious landmark was erected in the 18th century.

Ben Cabrido, Capitol consultant on environmental laws, said removing the panels from the church was an act of larceny or robbery, adding that these were meant to be immovable.

“Even if they say that we bought this from this person, it will not change the character of the thing to make it a valid object in a contract,” he said.

Bersales said there were allegations that a priest was involved in the theft of the panels. However, he said it has to be the Archdiocese of Cebu to clearly state how these became missing.

SunStar Cebu tried to ask the archdiocese, particularly the Church Cultural Heritage of Cebu, for an interview on Monday; however, a church representative said they were “still working on how to respond to the matter.”

Garcia acknowledges that there should be a separation of the state and the church; however, the Capitol must act on this matter as the church was listed as a National Cultural Treasure by the NMP in 2001.

“It is no longer just a religious structure. It has become a part of our heritage and culture,” she said.

The NMP on Monday said it was willing to engage in a constructive dialogue with Cebu officials and other concerned individuals to address concerns in relation to the four panels.

In a statement, the NMP maintained that the donors procured the panels through legitimate means, noting their commitment to ethical acquisition.

It said the donors’ decision to donate the panels to NMP reflects their dedication to preserving cultural heritage and promoting patriotism.

“We recognize the broader historical context surrounding the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Patrocinio de Maria Santisima in Boljoon, Cebu. A revered cultural landmark known for its architectural uniqueness and historical significance, the church and its artifacts hold a nostalgic and spiritual place in the hearts of many Boljoanons and Cebuanos, embodying centuries of religious and cultural heritage,” it said.

“We acknowledge the historical vulnerability of church artifacts to looting and improper disposal in the past. While ethical concerns may arise, it is essential to consider the intricate historical context influencing these actions. The dynamic ownership and circulation of these cultural assets underscore the necessity for open dialogue and collaborative initiatives to address these complexities,” it added.

The NMP reaffirmed its commitment to preserve, curate and exhibit cultural and historical artifacts for the Filipinos, noting that the transfer of the panels under its care, particularly in the National Fine Arts Collection, will ensure that they will benefit from the expertise and resources necessary for their proper study, display and conservation for generations to come.

It assured Governor Garcia, Boljoon Mayor Jojie Derama, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma and the community of Boljoon that it is open for a constructive dialogue and exchange of technical assistance to facilitate “sharing” the four panels with the people of Cebu as soon as possible.

“In the meantime, in order to prioritize the welfare of these panels, we will continue to pursue preventive conservation measures necessary to prepare them for public display in due course,” the NMP said.

“This demonstrates our steadfast dedication to fostering understanding, appreciation and access to our rich cultural heritage for all Filipinos,” it added.

They are a parcel of history, the heritage, and pride of Cebu and Cebuanos. We request the National Museum to return these treasures so they may be rightfully put back where they belong. (with TPM)


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