A technical team of conservation and restoration experts will be dispatched to Abra, Ilocos Sur, and Ilocos Norte next week to conduct damage assessments of heritage structures in the aftermath of the earthquake which struck northern Luzon on Wednesday.  

This was announced by Rene R. Escalante, concurrent chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), during a press conference at the Metropolitan Theater in Manila on July 28.

The province of Abra was hit by a magnitude 7 earthquake on July 27.   

Mr. Escalante said the technical teams will be dispatched next week “to give way to relief rescue and operations,” and to ensure that the roads are clear and safe for travel.   

The template for the restoration that the agencies are considering, Mr. Escalante said, is similar to the disaster response to the 2013 Bohol earthquake which had also damaged many heritage structures.

“We also have to do a lot of scanning to make sure that the buildings do not have sinkholes and liquefaction,” he said, adding that it will be done through a Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) examination. This is to determine whether the affected buildings are still standing on stable ground.  

In the meantime, Mr. Escalante advised the proprietors and staff of the damaged heritage houses, sites, and churches to save the fallen debris as it can be used as a reference for restoration. He also said they should place movable objects such as statues, artworks, and artifacts in safe storage. 

The chairman added that it is premature to make an assessment of the damage at this point, but he said that the earthquake that struck Cebu and Bohol in 2013 was “far worse than this one.”

Reading from a list sent to him by a colleague from the Heritage Conservation Society, Mr. Escalante identified 17 buildings and structures in Ilocos Sur which are partially damaged. 

The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Resiliency Council of the province of Ilocos Norte reported 18 damaged structures and buildings, as of July 27, 8 p.m. 

The restoration of churches would be funded by the government.

However, many of the affected structures in Vigan such as the heritage houses in Crisologo Street, Mr. Escalante added, are private properties.  

During the meeting with the NCCA Board of Commissioners and their legal team prior to the press conference, he said that they have discussed the possibility “to convince the owners of these to apportion a certain area of the heritage house for public use,” for it to receive funding for restoration. 

“We cannot fund all the restorations of this,” he said. “Magkakaroon kami ng issue of who to prioritize assuming na pwede naming galawin ito (We will have an issue of who to prioritize assuming we can interfere).” 

May mga proposal na baka yung façade pwedeng ayusin para mabalik ito, at least yung interior that would be covered by the private owner (There are proposals to help with fixing the façade, at least the interior would be covered by the private owner),” he added. “We will wait for the official legal opinion to be rendered by our lawyers.” 

Regarding the duration of all structure restorations, Mr. Escalante said, “I think five years would be a reasonable timetable.”

Mr. Escalante said that the funds for restoration work will be determined after the damage assessment. It will be requested from the Office of the President. 

Wala kaming (the agency) emergency or calamity fund na naka-standby that can be appropriate (We do not have emergency or calamity fund on standby that can be appropriated),” he said.

In 2013, the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) and the NHCP divided P1 billion given by the Office of the President for the restoration of public edifices which had been damaged by the earthquake. 

“If we will be given the same amount, it will have a significant contribution to the restoration of the places,” Mr. Escalante said.

Meanwhile, the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) on Wednesday announced that the staff in the regional museums in the earthquake zone were safe. 

“It is our great relief however to inform the public that our colleagues stationed at Ilocos Regional Museum Complex (Vigan City, Ilocos Sur), Cagayan Valley Regional Museum (Peñablanca, Cagayan), Batanes Area Museum (Uyugan, Batanes), Cordillera Rice Terraces Site Museum (Kiangan, Ifugao), and Kabayan Burial Caves Site Museum (Kabayan, Benguet) are all safe,” the NMP said in a Facebook post.  

“These facilities will be closed to the public for the time being until a complete assessment has been made to ensure that the integrity of these structures remains intact. Likewise, our researchers and other personnel who are currently conducting archaeological fieldwork in Rizal, Kalinga are also in a safe condition,” the NMP’s statement added.  

Meanwhile, the rector and parish priest of the Vigan Cathedral, Fr. Gary Noel S. Formoso, wrote on Facebook: “The Vigan Cathedral is temporarily closed. We wait for the pronouncement from the structural engineers that it is safe to use it for our Eucharistic celebrations. Please pray for all Bigueños.” MAPS