CEBU CITY, Philippines–The National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) on Thursday turned over Cebu’s two top historical sites that were damaged by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake in 2013 to the Augustinian priests .
Restoration of the Basilica del Sto. Niño’s bell tower and the Magellan’s Cross kiosks were completed after about six months of construction work.
President Benigno Aquino III attended the event.
“These two structures are the most popular sites in Cebu. These are treasures that reflect the rich history of your place. (Hence), the government has the responsibility to take care of these heritage zones,” he said in a message he delivered during the turnover ceremony held in front of the centuries-old basilica.
The basilica is the home of the wooden image of the Sto. Nino which was given as a baptismal gift by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Cebu’s Queen Juana in 1521.
The image of the child Jesus, which is venerated inside the church, is the country’s oldest icon.
Beside the basilica is a kiosk that houses the cross planted by Magellan as a symbol of the Christianization of the Philippines.
The government spent P14 million for the restoration of the bell tower and P3 million for the Magellan’s Cross kiosks.
Last year, NHCP also completed the restoration of two other historical sites in Cebu: the Mactan Shrine in Lapu-Lapu City and Fort San Pedro in Cebu City.
Mr. Aquino dropped by Fort San Pedro before he proceeding to the blessing of the newly-refurbished Magellan’s Cross kiosks and the turnover of the basilica’s bell tower.
“When the earthquake struck in 2013 and destroyed your belfry, I know you were extremely sad. I know we could never set aside history. Different agencies of government had to converge to restore our heritage sites,” said the President.
Also also present during the turnover ceremony on Thursday were Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III, Cebu City Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella, and several Augustinian priests.
Fr. Harold Rentoria, chairman of the Commission on Cultural Heritage of the Augustinian fathers, said all major works to restore the basilica’s bell tower were completed although they requested NHCP to also rehabilitate some portions of the convent, including a painting at the church’s entrance.
“This is a joyful day for all of us. After the earthquake, we have restored our bell tower, and we will once again hear the bells of the basilica,” he said in an interview.
Fr. Jonas Mejares, rector of the basilica, said it took them two years to complete the restoration of the bell tower since NHCP had to undergo thorough engineering and architectural researches.
Now that NHCP has restored the bell tower, Mejares said the Augustinians, the caretakers of the basilica, have the duty to preserve the structure.
“This project brings our consciousness to the importance of preservation and conservation of cultural heritage. It reminds us of our great responsibility to uphold and nurture the treasures of history. We need to be be responsible stewards of this edifice built in space and time, in culture and history,” he said.
Maria Serena Diokno, NHCP chairperson, thanked the Augustinians and all devotees of the Sto. Nino for bearing with them while they restore the basilica’s bell tower.
“I knew your patience was running thin, but you stayed at our side. Any restoration work requires patience and an act of faith. Thank you for believing in us,” she said.
The restoration of the basilica’s belfry was made possible by the NHCP.
The 401 Development and Construction Corporation, which won the bidding, started reconstructing the bell tower last June 2015.
The contractor used cement as foundation of the new bell tower. The concrete walls and beams were clad with the old coral stones from the original bell tower that collapsed during the 7.2-magnitude earthquake on Oct. 15, 2013.
Before the turnover of the basilica’s bell tower, Mr. Aquino inspected Fort San Pedro, about a hundred meters away from the church.
Erwin dela Cerna, executive director of Fort San Pedro, said it was the first time a President visited to check the status of the 277-year-old heritage site.
“Not even once that a sitting President visited us, we are glad to show the changes Fort San Pedro has gone through after the earthquake,” said Dela Cerna. TVJ