NHCP halfway through Bato church restoration
Bato, Catanduanes  ·  
posted 4-Mar-2019  ·  
5,859 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

Those who have not seen the century-old Bato church will be surprised, shocked even, to know that the limestone-and-coral heritage structure is no longer the moss-covered, dark-colored church of the recent past.

With its restoration financed by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) now halfway to completion, the church dedicated to St. John the Baptist seems to have been bleached white by relentless heat of the sun, a start contrast to its former image.

But fret not, for the project has just transformed the church into what it would have looked like when it was completed in 1883 after 53 years of hard, painstaking work by volunteers.

According to Rev. Fr. Allan Martin Basilio, parish priest of Bato, work on the massive structure began on June 29, 2018 after the NHCP awarded the project to the contractor at a cost of about P9 million.

Workers of the company specializing in heritage restoration began installing scaffolding around the church, removing the moss and plants that had grown on it for decades and contributed to the deterioration of the original limestone and coral material.

Using as basis old photos in NHCP’s archives, the contractor demolished the choir loft just inside the main door that was installed in recent years and then tore up the main stairs, uncovering the original stone ramp that used to serve as the entry to the church.

At the baptistry, the workers cleared two small areas on the wall that had been closed with hollow blocks, with the effort uncovering the remains of an ancient window with its sturdy wood jambs still intact.

Nothing would be changed as the plan is to bring back the old structure and strengthen it, Fr. Basilio disclosed.

A special mortar mix of one part cement, three parts lime and six parts of water was used in the restoration of the old wall, with the lime itself mixed with sea shells and red bricks ground into dust-like particles.

Once or twice a month, a representative from NHCP came over to inspect the work’s progress and take samples of the cement mix for laboratory tests in Manila.

To prevent water from leaking into the interior, the plywood wall was replaced with plain galvanized iron sheets while downspouts were installed along the sides of the exterior wall to drain away water from the concrete gutter along the roof edge.

A final coat of plastic emulsion will be applied on the all exposed surfaces of the restored wall to prevent the growth of moss, repel water and preserve it for a considerable period of time.

Fr. Basilio revealed that the first phase of the project is supposed to be completed this February 2019, with the P10 million funding for the final phase already included in NHCP’s budget for this year.

He said that the next phase would focus on the replacement of the existing floor tiles with those similar to the original Machuca tiles installed some 100 years ago. The hand-made Machuca tiles, so named for the clan that brought the technology of cement-tile manufacturing to the country, have a motif of Mediterranean style, with floral and geometric patterns often seen on the floors of Spanish restaurants and Mediterranean-themed homes.

As the funding would be inadequate to cover all the required machuca tiles, the Diocese will shoulder the extra cost as well as the replacement of the existing retablo with one that would approximate the original seen in the old photos.

Under the memorandum of agreement signed by NHCP acting Executive Director Ludovico Badoy and he Most Rev. Manolo delos Santos of the Diocese of Virac on Mar. 16, 2018, both entities recognized the urgency of restoring the Bato church, which it said is in a deteriorated condition and requires immediate conservation.

Republic Act 10086, or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, mandates NHCP with the preservation of the country’s historical and cultural heritage.

Aside from ensuring the completion of the project, NHCP is also obliged to advise and train at no cost to the Diocese the latter’s technical personnel on the proper and regular maintenance of the restored church so as to ensure its long-term sustainability.

On the other hand, the Diocese is bound to maintain and preserve the church following the maintenance requirements to be provided by NHCP.

Bato church would most likely be declared as an Important Cultural Property (ICP) , being classified as a heritage church built before 1940, pursuant to the NHCP guidelines governing the Philippine Registry of Cultural Property (PRECUP).

The guidelines govern the registration and inclusion of tangible movable cultural properties such as antiques and historic specimens, tangible immovable cultural properties such as churches and structures, intangible cultural properties such as the people’s learned knowledge and skills, the documentation of traditional and contemporary arts and crafts, as well as the works of National Artists and Manlilikha ng Bayan.

Such a possible declaration, which would earn the church protection by NHCP, pertinent cultural agencies and local government units, was certainly far from the minds of Bishop delos Santos or the people of Bato a few years ago.

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