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Race Against Time

An organization's bid to save heritage structures in Cagayan

The July 27 earthquake that rocked Abra province and the rest of northern Luzon has left many civic structures in ruins. Several residents, especially in Abra, Ilocos Sur, and Benguet, found their homes and properties ruined by the quake, the tremors of which have also shaken the Cagayan Valley and reached as far as Metro Manila.

Religious structures were not spared, many of which are heritage sites that date as far back as the Spanish colonial period. These include the Bantayan Belltower, Vigan Cathedral, Santo Domingo Church, and the Santa Maria Church in Ilocos Sur, as well as the Sinking Belltower of Laoag in Ilocos Norte.

According to reports consolidated by the Cagayan Heritage Conservation Society (CHCS), despite Cagayan province experiencing lesser intensity from the earthquake, some of its local heritage structures were not spared. 

“Gafu cha report ballalaman ya totolay, ya na-damage cha Cagayan e ne Tocolana ruins; dana nga simban yaw nga nebbattang lamanin… en ne Lallo Church; hinyan bakka ira kanne dadaddakal nga poste na onu ‘buttress’ (Based on local reports, those damaged in Cagayan are the Tocolana Ruins, which are remains of an ancient church, and the Lallo Church, which sustained cracks in its buttresses),” the CHCS’s president, Ar. Michael Tabao said.

In addition, according to the society’s vice-president and founding member, Prince Wilson Macarubbo, the San Pablo Church Ruins also sustained cracks in its interior.

Some parts of the Tocolana Ruins in Lallo, Cagayan, collapsed during the July 27 earthquake. (Photo by Bec Bautista/Lallo LGU)

On the other hand, Macarubbo further reported that Tuguegarao’s cathedral, ermita, horno, old cemetery and the Puente de Atulayan received no damage.

Getting Ready

The CHCS, an organization that advocates the promotion of local culture, languages, history, and cultural heritage, revealed its upcoming plans to conduct a preventive maintenance program for these heritage buildings.

Tabao explained that this will be implemented with support from Escuela Taller de Filipinas. 

Escuela Taller is a non-government organization based in Intramuros, which trains people in the science of heritage conservation, theoretical and practical.  It has helped restore many of the heritage structures across the entire country.

“We will have a condition survey on churches and heritage structures in Cagayan, which will help us on conservation measures in the future. Aside from the proposed collaboration with Escuela Taller, we will partner with schools, the Church, and other agencies to promote heritage protection through preventive conservation.  We work not only to preserve culture and heritage but also to protect life and keep something  for the future generations,” Macarubbo stated.

He added that there will be seminars and workshops for these efforts for both society members and persons willing to participate and assist.

Members of the Cagayan Heritage Conservation Society assess the condition of the Old Tuguegarao Cemetery arch, a heritage structure that dates from the Spanish Era.

The CHCS acknowledges that natural disasters, earthquakes in particular, are unpredictable, hence the urgent need to protect local heritage buildings. Strengthening these structures will in turn protect the people who visit them from harm and injury.

According to Ar. Tabao, apart from the damaged structures, other sites also need immediate attention.

“Sangaw, gafu cha nasita nga bakka kanne simban ya Lallo, iggina labbit ya mawag mabisita. Ngem, mas delikadu ya ruins en dudduma nga simban nga hinyan dati daral nan gitta ya St. James ya Iguig nga dana makkatanag ya ladrillo na iran (As of this moment, because of the reported cracks in the Lallo church, it is our top priority for our on-site survey. However, ruins are more delicate, as well as churches that have existing damages like the church of St. James in Iguig, where some of its bricks are already falling off),” he explained.

“Karuan nga heritage nga building ira maytu, kukwa ya Archdiocese ya Tuguegarao, iggina ta ya CHCS, mawag nga mappakammu en iperandam kan makakwa ira nga mawag nga safe yaw ira nga building ira senu mari makapatay nu hinyan mesimmu nga natural disaster gitta ya lunig (Some heritage buildings are owned by the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao. The CHCS needs to ask permission and explain to the owners that these buildings need to be safe so that loss of lives may be prevented in the event of natural disasters such as earthquakes),” Tabao added.

The value of heritage

As Macarubbo explained, heritage structures are here to remind Cagayanos of their colorful past.  It is also a monument to both the Spaniards, who brought ideas from the west, and Cagayan’s native ancestors who built them for the future of their descendants. They teach how industrious and creative ancient Cagayanos were during their time and their presence can help educate people on their rich cultural patrimony.

“Kan Cagayan, talataggit nga ikahi ra nga ‘colonial’ ira yaw. Ya karuan nga merendamman tera kan heritage structures e ya ‘memories’ tera nga nezzikkat chanin. Gitta na, kan yan ka nga simban nga nabawtisowan onu nappakasal. Parte yanin ya storya ya attolay teran. Ngem nu mawawan dan, kunnachan pelaman kanne "memories" tera, sessenut mawawan (In Cagayan, heritage buildings are rarely recognized as ‘colonial’. Some things we can remember from them are ‘memories’ that have become attached to them. For example, it is from this church that we were baptized, and where we were married. They are parts of our life stories. But, if these structures are lost, the same goes for these ‘memories’ of ours, which will slowly fade away,” Tabao said. (OTB/JCC/PIA region 2) 

About the Author

Jan Karl Coballes

Regional Editor; Research and Development Officer; Tuguegarao City and Batanes Information Center Manager

Region 2

Ibanag. Writer. Researcher. Ethnographer. Ethno-historian. Graduate student focusing on linguistic and cultural anthropology.

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