THE NATIONAL Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) on Thursday said it is preparing to ask for calamity fund assistance from the Office of the President for the restoration of at least five Churches that were damaged by the magnitude 6.1 earthquake that shook parts of Luzon last Monday.

At a news conference at the Palace, NHCP Chairman Rene R. Escalante said churches in Angeles, Lubao, Guagua, Minalin, and San Fernando in Pampanga were damaged by the tremor.

He added that a detailed engineering study is being conducted to determine the damage cost.

“We still have to wait for the final DES study, the detailed engineering study and the possible intervention. At this point, I think it is still premature to float any amount,” he said.

Asked whether the agency plans to ask Malacañang for financial assistance, he said: “Yes, either through calamity [fund] or through GAA (General Appropriations Act), yeah.”

He said the belfry of the Lubao Church alone may “cost us around P5 to P7 million to restore it.”

“And I saw also some tiles na nag-iba iyong (that changed) level so we have to do some ground analysis. So siguro (maybe), another P10 million to cover everything,” he added.

“[W]e don’t have yet an amount. We asked the Archbishop, because there is a committee — I think it’s Temporalities Committee of the Church — they are doing a round also. Because we only visited five churches but I am pretty sure that there might be other churches that they want to be included…. So what we want for the Archdiocese is to consolidate everything so that just in case DBM (Department of Budget and Management) will ask how much money you need, at least we have [figures],” he explained.

The worst-case scenario, he said, is if “there will be no calamity fund, then we have no choice but to submit this to DBM for possible inclusion in the General Appropriation Act for fiscal year 2020.”

As for the restoration plan, he said, “We use the template that we had in Bohol when it was struck by 7.2 earthquake way back in 2013.”

On the immediate intervention being taken, he said: “What we are really recommending is the safety of the people. So if the structure is not safe, if there are signs of cracks, then better to vacate the church for the time being until such time (that the) ground (settles).”

Meanwhile, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) yesterday allayed fears that Mt. Pinatubo has been showing signs of possible eruption following the magnitude 6.1 earthquake that struck Central Luzon last Monday.

Phivolcs issued statement, written in Filipino, following reports of supposed smoke observed to be coming out of the volcano and some areas being blanketed in sudden darkness due to supposed ashfall.

Phivolcs assured that it has been closely monitoring Mt. Pinatubo and that there was no observed seismic activity indicating a possible eruption.

The agency also cited that its staff members who were doing fieldwork at the crater when the earthquake struck did not see any smoke billowing out before, during, or after the tremor.

It added that the ‘smoke’ observed were actually dust coming from crumbling soil and rocks due to the earthquake and aftershocks.

Phivolcs said it continues to closely monitor the volcano and will immediately issue a warning should there be any threat.

In another development, the Department of Public Works and Highways announced yesterday that all roads and bridges affected by the strong earthquakes earlier this week are now passable. — Arjay L. Balinbin and Marifi S. Jara