Monday, February 27, 2017

Palo, Leyte official assures heritage cross to stay

PALO, Leyte, Feb. 24 (PNA) -– The local government here assured the public and Roman Catholic faithful that the heritage cross atop Guinhangdan Hill in the town will stay.

Vice Mayor Ronnan Christian Reposar put an end to the queries raised by various sectors on the reported demolition and replacement of the more than 50-year-old cross atop the historic hill.

Reposar said that the scheduled bidding of the project on the site of the cross was already cancelled while its plan was recalled after discussing the issue with the mayor and other officials.

He added that they have no plans to alter or change the heritage cross in the hill, contrary to the issues that came out on social media.

As an environmentalist and a cultural crusader himself, Reposar assured that any plan of the town officials to improve the said pilgrimage area “will comply with any existing laws.”

Last week, criticism erupted over social media after the plan was revealed.

“Some people in the bureaucracy just can’t understand the meaning of icons and cultural symbols,” 
said Emil Justimbaste, a local newspaper editor and historian in Leyte.

“To them, the past is passé, irrelevant, probably useless. When old structures get in the way of progress, these are torn down to make way for the latest architectural craze, all in the name of change and progress. But what kind of change or progress is this heading to?” Justimbaste asked on social media, criticizing the plan.

Concerned Catholic residents also launched the “Save Palo Cross” online campaign to stop the said plan.

“Let's stop the project plan, it is another money-making plan of the local government at the expense of destroying another valuable piece of our heritage,” said another critic of the project online while urging Palo residents to act on the issue.

However, Fr. Ivo Velasquez, of the Commission on Culture and Heritage of Palo Archdiocese, hoped that the plans “may still be modified through much-needed discussions and dialogue.”

After receiving confirmation of the plan from the local government to replace Guinhagdan Cross with “a taller, different structure” last Monday, Velasquez said that “dialogue is still possible.”

“Initial, tentative steps are being made so as to address the issue,” the priest wrote on Facebook, assuring the wary residents.

Heritage cross

According to Justimbaste, the old cross atop the Guinhangdan Hill, which was built in the early 1960s, is “one of the most concrete manifestation” of the Catholic zeal in the town after the Jesuits arrived to bring Christianity to its inhabitants way back in 1596 and after the town survived the ravaged of World War II in 1940s.

“Yes, the cross is a product of such conviction and more. It is a product of the people’s faith in the cross of Christ. Probably they thought it was a protective mantle over their town that was earlier ravaged by war,” Justimbaste said.

When Yolanda, one of the world’s strongest typhoon to hit land, pummeled Palo in November 2013, the cross also brought refuge to its residents.

“I hope they won’t touch the cross. It is part of our heritage. I find refuge and protected there, “ Kiddie Sampere, a Palo resident, said.

Meanwhile, Justimbaste said that “many people no longer see the meanings behind such symbolisms.”

“People in the bureaucracy no longer see this as an icon of the people’s faith, as a symbol of their convictions. They cannot see the values that its builders had expressed when they decided to undertake the enterprise. Nay, they refuse to see the hidden meanings of the cross.

“To them, it is at best a relic of the past that has outlived its relevance and, therefore, can be torn down just like what they do with other old historic structures.”
Against the law?

“For more than 50 years, this Cross has been a place of pilgrimage for many devotees, who would climb the hill (in "Calvary fashion") during Holy Week. Destroying this structure, which was apparently built with contributions and volunteer labor from the Palo community, would not only be sacrilegious, it is also against an existing law,” said distinguished historian Dr. Rolando O. Borrinaga from Eastern Visayas region.

In his Facebook commentary on the issue, Borrinaga said that “there are serious legal impediments in pursuing this project in the light of R.A. No. 10066, the "National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009."

“As it is, elderly residents of Palo can attest that this structure has been there for more than 50 years now. This is the minimum number of years for automatically classifying a structure as having ‘heritage value,’ and therefore worthy of preservation by law. RA No. 10066 has a definition of ‘built heritage,’ under which category belongs the Cross on Guinhangdan Hill, for its ‘notable historical and cultural significance.”(PNA) LAP/SQM/RONALD O. REYES