Vigilant citizens help safeguard our history and our heritage.
Case in point: Earlier this month, the construction of a covered walkway in front of the centuries old St. John De Nepomuceno Church, better known as the Anini-y Church in Antique, caught the attention of concerned individuals.
“Que horror! Anini-i, Anini-y, Anini-Why?” historian Nereo Lujan captioned the photos of the walkway construction on his Facebook post. The newly erected structure, which is 30-meters long, is clearly obstructing the view of the historic Baroque-style church, which was named a National Historical Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines.
Originally built in the 1600’s, according to the Filipinas Heritage Library, the church had witnessed numerous calamities, including the Lady Caycay earthquake that struck Panay in 1948. Lujan’s post was also picked up by news site and heritage advocate El Reportero.
Speaking to the engineer and the architect in charge of the construction, we found out the walkway is part of the rehabilitation project of the Anini-y Plaza.
What happened was, says Architect Golda Mae Arnaiz of the Antique District Engineering Office, the Municipality Anini-y requested funding for the rehabilitation of the St. John Nepomuceno Plaza. The said funding was provided by the office of Deputy Speaker and Antique Representative Loren Legarda.
According to Arnaiz, the parish people would have wanted to be faithful to the original look of the church. But the rehabilitation project was focusing on the development of the plaza—the fence surrounding the church, the pavement and tiles, the addition of greeneries, and the construction of the covered walkway.
“Yung pathway, collective ideas yun ng mga stakeholders, ng munisipyo, at ng parish,” says Arnaiz. “Kasi siguro ang kinonsider nila, pag may churchgoer, dapat hindi mainitan, maulanan. Yun ang idea na ibinigay sa amin, na kinonsider namin.”
The all-concrete covered walkway, which is now almost 50% finished, says Arnaiz, is located on one side of the church. “Nasa gilid naman sya, hindi sa gitna [ng simbahan]. May offset siya na 11.5 meters away from the church. Malayo naman sya. Hindi kami nag-touch ng simbahan,” she says.
According to Engineer Joselito Antonio, officer-in-charge at the Antique District Engineering Office, they were aware that plans have to be approved by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). However, due to the late procurement of the funding, they had to rush the project in order to catch up with the timeline.
“Medyo nawala kami sa focus,” the engineer admits. He said they’ve been closely coordinating with the diocese and the municipal government of Anini-y, but they unintentionally failed to reach out to the NHCP.
Apparently the construction of the covered walkway reached the attention of Rep. Legarda, who posted a statement on her Facebook page on the morning of February 9.
“I will not allow any national or local government funds to be used for the desecration of any heritage building or cultural property. Clearly, the covered walkway being constructed in front of the St. John De Nepomuceno Church in Anini-y, as part of the rehabilitation project of the church plaza, is obstructing the magnificent view of the church and, in a way, desecrates this heritage site,” she wrote.
Rep. Legarda, who happens to be the author of RA 10066, or the National Cultural Heritage Act, said she called NHCP Chairman Rene Escalante “to issue a cease and desist order to stop the wrongful implementation of this project that is intended to preserve this heritage site.”
She also called on the DPWH District Engineering Office to work closely with the local government unit, the parish, and the NHCP, to remedy the situation.
Eng. Antonio said that as soon as they received the cease and desist order from the NHCP, they coordinated with the commission on the same day and submitted their development plans. “Nakipag-meeting na din kami sa NHCP last February 15 [via Zoom] at sa mga stakeholders. Ang sabi po ni Dr. Escalante ng NHCP, mag-antay kami ng order within 15 days. Inaantay namin ang [advice] nila para makapag-proceed kami sa construction.”
The engineer says that they have totally stopped all construction activities at Anini-y Church when they received the order from the NHCP. Arnaiz, on the other hand, assures that they will give due importance to NHCP’s suggestions once they receive them.