UNIVERSITY cultural heritage experts and academics have been in the forefront in surveying the damage wrought by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake last Oct. 15 on a number of ancient Catholic churches in Bohol and Cebu and recommending measures for their reconstruction or rehabilitation.

UST Archivist Regalado Trota Jose is heading the task force sent by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) to inspect the churches, many of them declared National Cultural Treasures (NCT) by the National Museum (NM). Included in the task force is the NM and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

Jose is head of the NCCA’s National Committee on Archives and as head of the Subcommission on Cultural Heritage, is a member and commissioner of the NCCA Board.

Among those which Jose and the task force surveyed were the churches of Loboc, Baclayon, Loon, Dauis, Dimiao and Maribojoc, all of which are NTC’s and therefore, protected cultural heritage landmarks that enjoy government support.

Trota Jose said that it would take years to rebuild the churches if that were even possible, considering that some, Maribojoc for example, totally collapsed with fissures found radiating underneath.

“Even the base may not be stable anymore,” said Trota Jose. “So we have to consider rebuilding [the churches] in another place.”

Most churches in Bohol that sustained heavy damages were erected in the 18th century and have been integral components of Visayan cultural heritage.

In 1734, the Jesuits built the Loboc church. When they were expelled from the country, the Augustinian Recollects took over and constructed a bell tower and the Neoclassical portico that covered the façade of the church. The recent earthquake severed the bell tower in half.

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Meanwhile, the church in Baclayon was built by the Jesuits in 1727 using coral stones. The Recoletos improved on the structure when they took over. It is now considered the best-preserved Jesuit and Recolleto-built structure in Bohol.

The biggest and one of the oldest churches in Bohol, the Kasilak Church, was also not spared. It was built in the 1850s by the Recollects using corral stones.

Rehabilitation

According to Jose, the work of the task force is still in the “pre-restoration phase,” which is expected to last a year. He explained that they are considering a number of measures such as adaptive reuse, especially for those churches that could not be anymore rebuilt.

Another approach is through retention of the church’s façade while the whole structure gets revamped.

He said whatever measure is adopted will have the agreement of the local churches and communities.

“We have to work closely with the local churches so they may continue their daily lives in the parish,” Trota said.

The task force led by Jose involves other people from UST.

One is Angel Bautista, an archaeologist and head of the Cultural Properties division of the National Museum. He is a professor of the Cultural Heritage Studies program of the UST Graduate School, and Mary Rajelyn Javier-Busmente, an alumna architect and a consultant of the NCCA heritage office.

Also in the forefront of saving the cultural treasures is Bohol cleric Fr. Milan Ted Torralba, an alumnus of the UST Central Seminary and former assistant to the nuncio at the Apostolic Nunciature. He is executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Committee for the Cultural Heritage of the Church.

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Meanwhile, musician and film and drama artist Lutgardo Labad, the consultant for provincial tourism in Bohol, provided a firsthand account on the present conditions of the churches destroyed in the Conference on Cultural Heritage Mapping held at the Thomas Aquinas Research Center Auditorium last Nov. 4 and 5.

Labad said that with his background as one of the original members of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), his group will also help in conducting arts therapy to the communities in Bohol to alleviate stress caused by the tragedy.

Aside from the Heritage Task Force, the award-winning Loboc Children’s Choir will also hold performances at several malls in Metro Manila, proceeds of which will go to the rehabilitation efforts in Bohol. Elyssa Christine A. Lopez, Aliliana Margarette T. Uyao With Reports From John Joseph G. Basijan

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