NCCA won’t allow San Agustin, other churches to lose UNESCO status

By Philippine News Agency

Although it recognizes efforts to ease traffic in Metro Manila, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) said it will not allow the construction of a Chinese-funded bridge to be the reason why San Agustin Church and three other Baroque churches lose their status as a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site.

National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Commissioner for Cultural Heritage Fr. Harold Ll. Rentoria (PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN)
National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Commissioner for Cultural Heritage Fr. Harold Ll. Rentoria

NCCA Commissioner for Cultural Heritage Fr. Harold Rentoria was referring to the P4.243 billion Binondo-Intramuros Bridge project, which is meant to connect Binondo District to Intramuros and vice versa.

Controversy on the construction of the bridge arose following concerns raised by UNESCO that it would encroach on the “buffer zone” required by the organization for the churches to be a World Heritage site.

Aside from the San Agustin Church, which was built by the Spanish in the late 16th century, the three other churches that are at risk of being removed from the UNESCO World Heritage list are San Agustin in Paoay in Ilocos Norte; Nuestre Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur; and, Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-ao, Iloilo.

“We appreciate the projects of the administration in easing the traffic. But the priority, the concern of the cultural agencies the San Agustin Church – will the outstanding universal value of the San Agustin Church be affected when the bridge is constructed?” Rentoria said in a press briefing in Malacañang.

“Yes for sure, we are not going to allow the delisting of the churches,” he added.

The four churches, collectively declared as a “UNESCO World Heritage Site” in 1993, were originally built by Augustinian friars and if San Agustin Church is delisted, the three others will reportedly follow.

Rentoria said the NCCA is currently waiting for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to submit its heritage impact assessments on the churches, since it did not give the agency “clearance” to proceed with the construction of the bridge.

“Until this time we’re waiting for the studies; then after that, we are going to decide because as of this time, we have not yet given the clearance of course,” Rentoria said.

“We are continuing the coordination with the DPWH, kasi sila iyong (because they are the) implementing agency.

We are waiting for the submission of the archeological assessment and the heritage impact assessments,” he added.

Rentoria said the DPWH has suspended construction of the bridge as it awaits the results of the study.

“After we receive those studies, then that’s the time we can say made-delist nga ba o ano (whether it would be delisted or not). So that’s why DPWH, sila mismo nag-suspend ng work (They themselves suspended work),” Rentoria said.

Should the studies confirm that the construction of the bridge may indeed cost the San Agustin Church’s UNESCO World Heritage site status, the NCCA will discuss this with the DPWH.

“Anyway, we have the studies as the basis for the decision of NCCA and other cultural agencies including Intramuros Administration,” Rentoria said.

Rentoria said the studies are expected to be released by the end of the month.