Boljoon – a national treasure worth saving

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

Summer is about to come to an end but the heat is still on. I guess we should braise ourselves for the El Niño phenomenon. The warm air brought about by this weather pattern can cause droughts, storms, fires, floods and trigger the effects of global warming. Now let’s wait and see as it is expected to be felt within the next three months.

Meantime let us continue to enjoy our beautiful paradise and let the solons clown around over the Napoles list.  Of course they all have a lot of explaining to do. So far, they have been trying to defend themselves and are now attacking one another. Susmariosep!

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When you visit a town or a province during the remaining days of your summer vacation, it is best to check if they have any museum, UNESCO World Heritage Site or a National Cultural Treasure landmark in the area.

The UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines are: Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, the Historic Town of Vigan, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, and the Baroque Churches of the Philippines – Santo Tomàs de Villanueva in Miag-ao, Iloilo; San Agustin in Paoay, Ilocos Norte; Nuestra Señora dela Asunción in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur; and San Agustin in Intramuros, Manila.

The Philippine government, through the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) has begun restoration work on 36 churches that have been identified as National Cultural Treasures for their cultural significance and distinctive architecture. These are aside from the four Baroque-style churches which are recognized as World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO.

The National Cultural Treasures include: Paoay Church, Ilocos Norte; Nuestra Señora de Asuncion Parish Church, Ilocos Sur; Luna Church, La Union; Mahatao Church, Batanes; Tumauini Church, Isabela; Saint Vincent Ferrer Parish Church, Nueva Vizcaya; Masinloc Church, Zambales; Betis Church, Pampanga; Basilica Minor of San Miguel Arcangel, Quezon; Immaculate Conception Parish Church of Balayan, Batangas; Our Lady of the Assumption Parish Church in Maragondon, Cavite; San Ildefonso Parish Church, Rizal; Romblon Cathedral, Romblon; San Juan Bautista Parish Church, Albay; Panay Church, Capiz; Santa Barbara Parish Church, Iloilo; Loboc Church, Bohol; Nuestra Señora de Patrocinio Parish Church, Cebu; San Isidro Labrador Parish Church, Siquijor; Guiuan Church, Eastern Samar; Immaculada Concepcion Parish Church, Misamis Oriental; San Juan Bautista Parish Church, Misamis Occidental; San Agustin Church, Manila; and San Sebastian Church, Manila.

A few weeks ago, I went to Boljoon, a town located around 100 kms. south along the eastern coast of Cebu City. I was invited by former Mayor Deogenes “Wargong” de Rama and his wife Hilda de Rama.

Boljoon has a population of more than 15,000 people. It is a very serene town with Cebu’s oldest church, the Nuestra Señora de Patrocinio Parish Church that lies in a cove. This Augustinian church is a national treasure that was built in the late 1500s. It has maintained its original terra cotta tiles as well as the exquisite folk art on the choir screen and pulpit. Its central retablo is highlighted by gold leaf and polychrome accents. It is in a pseudo-baroque rococo style. It has a main nave, a transcript, and twenty-eight pillars which support the walls. The walls are as thick as the pillars which are two meters thick and made of mortar and lime.

Beside the church is a garden and a house where the priest and his staff stay. On the ground floor, is a museum holding all the artifacts such as volumes of notes that date back from the 1500s, the priests’ vestments and items used in the altar (chalice, paten, etc.), old wooden statues of saints, other relics and old furniture are displayed for the public to see. The most precious relic is the ivory faced Sto. Niño, the town’s second patron that was brought by the Spaniards in the 1500s. It is kept for safety but is brought out during their fiestas. Some of its gems were taken or actually stolen by wicked government officials in the past.

In 2008, archaeologists discovered 26 human remains (with China plates on top of heads) and 16th-century artifacts at the front lawn of the church. The town folk including the past and present mayors are trying their best to protect their national treasure. They continue to raise funds to maintain its former glory. The museum needs a lot of restoration work. They should also improve the security of the historical artifacts. Unfortunately, they lack funding. How I wish the PDAF of the senators and congressmen was spent to save our country’s pride – the national heritage sites and national treasures.

In 1999, the National Historical Institute declared Boljoon a National Historical Landmark. These are places or objects that are associated with an event, achievement, characteristics or modification that presents a turning point or stage in history.

The following year, the National Museum declared it as a National Cultural Treasure. National Cultural Treasures refer to unique structures and items with outstanding historical, cultural, artistic and/or scientific qualities, significant to the culture of the Philippines.

Fortunately, the Nuestra Señora de Patrocinio Parish Church was not affected by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Bohol and Cebu last year. It continues to stand in splendor unlike the Basilica del Sto Niño Church, the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral and St. Catherine’s Church in Cebu; the Church of San Pedro Apostol (Loboc), Church of Our Lady of Light (Loon), Santissima Trinidad Parish (Loay), Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (Baclayon), Church of Our Lady of the Assumption (Dauis), San Nicolas Church (Dimiao), and the Santa Cruz Parish Church (Maribojoc) in Bohol which are all being restored but again, still lack funding.

There is a lot to see in Boljoon. I was able to walk around the town with very friendly people. I saw the Watchtower Ruins at Ilihan, the Church Plaza, Boljoon Municipal Hall, the Poblacion Spring and the Boljoon Bridge. I wasn’t able to see the watchtower near the river, the Brazilia Getubig Residence, and the Tereso Pasaul. Their annual town fiesta in honor of Nuestra Señora Patrocinio de Maria is celebrated on the second Friday and Saturday of November.

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Another exciting adventure was our trip to Oslob, a town away from Boljoon. It was also a Spanish fort intended for the guardia civil. There are many Spanish-made barracks around the town. The baluarte, a Spanish watchtower was built in 1788. But what got my fancy were the friendly whale sharks swimming near the beachfront. Since the earthquake hit Bohol the whale sharks somehow found their way to this sleepy town. Tourists have started to flock to this place giving tourism a kick in this town. The town folk of Tan-awan and the local government are protecting the whale sharks with proper orientation for the onlookers. 

Not far from Oslob is another destination – Sumilon Island, surrounded with bluewaters. I’m glad to see that the management of the Sumilon Bluewater Island Resort has protected this island.

The Philippine cultural scene has been as turbulent as our politics. So it is no surprise that people tend to forget our culture and tradition. We have been so consumed with the ranting and rambling of our leaders that we have forgotten our roots and what binds us together as a nation and as a people.

To strengthen our national identity, we must learn to value and preserve our cultural heritage. We should take pride in our national cultural treasures. And in so doing create cultural and historical awareness that will surely bring about advances in cultural tourism.


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