THE Department of Tourism (DoT) has expressed support for the return of pulpit artwork currently held by the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) to the Archdiocesan Shrine of Patrocinio de Maria Santissima in Boljoon, Cebu.

In a letter addressed to NMP Chairman Andoni M. Aboitiz, Tourism Secretary Maria Esperanza Christina G. Frasco called for the return of the panels that used to adorn the shrines’ pulpit. The DoT said the panels were donated to the museum by collectors more than four decades ago.

“I, as Secretary of the DoT, an ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees of the NMP, respectfully manifest my support for the requests of the Archdiocese of Cebu, the Provincial Government of Cebu, and the Municipal Government of Boljoon, for the return of the religious panels to the Boljoon Church,” said Ms. Frasco in the letter.

She said that the panels are historically significant for Cebu and form part of the island’s cultural heritage.

“The Boljoon Church is of outstanding cultural value to the Philippines as a National Cultural Treasure, National Historical Landmark, and is on the Philippines’ Tentative List as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for Baroque Churches of the Philippines (Extension),” she added. 

Citing the National Tourism Development Plan 2023-2028, she said that protecting culture and heritage is part of the DoT’s mission.

“The primordial goal of the DoT is to establish a Philippine tourism industry that is anchored on Filipino culture, heritage, and identity,” she said.

“Hence, as the DoT supports the protection and conservation of our nation’s religious and cultural treasures and artifacts, it also advocates that the destinations and communities from where these treasures and artifacts emanate should be proactively sustained and duly respected,” she added.

She said Boljoon Church, in the south of Cebu island, has potential as a pilgrimage destination.

“Religious artifacts and sites such as the pulpit panels and the Boljoon Church enrich the culture and history of tourism destinations, driving travelers to visit and supporting the local economy by providing tourism-related livelihood and employment,” she added.

The Municipality of Boljoon last month asked to investigate the series of events surrounding the museum’s acquisition of the panels. — Justine Irish D. Tabile