“Reduced to the ground seven times” is how historians describe the Manila Cathedral Basilica which will be reopened tonight with President Aquino as special guest. Its restoration took more than a year.
Ambassador Henrietta de Villa, in an exclusive query, noted that the worst and last time the cathedral was ravaged was in the 1945 bombing of Manila.
After intense repairs, the cathedral again fulfilled its role not just as a landmark. For several decades, it witnessed countless joyous occasions such as weddings and also poignant events such as the well-attended wake of President Corazon Aquino.
De Villa said it was Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, then the Archbishop of Manila, who decided in the early 2000s to undertake the restoration “to be sure about the structural integrity” of the cathedral following the “spate of earthquakes then in the country and around the world.”
De Villa said Rosales “wanted to make sure that the foundation of the Manila Cathedral Basilica was sound and strong.”
Rosales directed Msgr. Nestor C. Cerbo as cathedral rector to activate the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica Foundation.
Cerbo, then turned to De Villa for help to contact people.
The ambassador recalled that the first priority was to come up with a professional study of the cathedral’s structural integrity.
“We contracted Angel Lazaro and Associates International (ALAI) to do this. Engineer Angel Lazaro is reputedly an authority on structural design and review. After a lengthy investigation of the soundness of the cathedral’s foundation, retrofitting and enhancing the structural foundation was strongly recommended,” she said.
ALAI noted that while there was “sufficient foundational support,” pillars, bases and other key portions of the cathedral needed to be enhanced or retrofitted.
“Retrofitting will make the foundation stronger and enable the cathedral to withstand pressure of tremors, vertical or horizontal, of earthquakes. While there can be no 100-percent guarantee against earthquakes of great magnitude, still with the retrofitting of the foundational structures there is a better chance for the cathedral to stand its ground,” De Villa explained.
By then, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle was already at the helm as the 32nd archbishop of Manila. The new cardinal ordered the cathedral’s closure so that repairs could begin.
But once the cathedral was opened for repair, other defects were uncovered, the result of the wear and tear of time and usage.
“The plumbing and electrical systems, chips in the arches, stains and cracks on the walls, discoloration of the baldachin and other parts of altar and chapels, water seeping into the crypt where the former archbishops of Manila—Archbishop Gabriel Reyes, Rufino Cardinal Santos, Jaime Cardinal Sin—are buried, all these and more became part of the restoration project,” De Villa said.
The ambassador pointed out that nothing new was added to the structure except for the lights, the sound system and a CCTV security system that was installed.
“I have to make mention of the new lighting system. It is marvelous,” she added.