No to Catholic Church Bailout!

The aftermath of last week’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake resulted in unimaginable death and destruction in the Visayas region of the Philippines. Many lives were lost and properties were left in ruins. Amongst the many ruins are centuries-old Catholic churches that have been designated as “national cultural treasures”, “national historic landmarks”, or “heritage sites”. In Bohol alone, seven “heritage” churches have been estimated to need around Php700 million for reconstruction costs (around Php100 million for each church). President Noynoy Aquino said that the government could not fund the heritage churches due to the “separation of Church and State”. However, the Philippines has a law that mandates the government to provide for priority funding for protection, conservation and restoration of cultural properties declared as National Cultural Treasures and national historic landmarks. Whether Aquino’s statement came out from ignorance of the law or merely from just being careful not to commit to the reconstruction of all churches outside of the scope of the National Cultural Heritage Act as Palace Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte seems to suggest, is another topic. This article will focus on whether it is a good idea for the government to shoulder the cost of rebuilding and restoring “heritage churches” or not.

bohol_earthquake_2013

The National Cultural Heritage Act defines “cultural property” as:

“all products of human creativity by which a people and a nation reveal their identity, including churches, mosques and other places of religious worship, schools and natural history specimens and sites, whether public or privately-owned, movable or immovable, and tangible or intangible”.

The law provides that a private citizen may still retain ownership of a property (unless the private owner turns over the property to the State) but it is the role of the government to declare the heritage value of the structure and to provide for its protection and preservation. Now here’s a question: Would it be right to force people to pay for the protection and preservation of the SM Mall of Asia Promenade? If it doesn’t make sense for the public to be taxed in order to pay for the private property of someone who gets exclusive profits or benefits out of the private property, why would it make sense for everyone to pay for a church where it is exclusively owned and used by a particular religious group? (e.g. Catholics) If a storm were to destroy the SM Mall of Asia Promenade, we expect the owners of SM to spend for its repair and restoration, why can’t the Catholic Church pay for their damaged Churches?

Aaahh yes… the difference is that these centuries-old churches are part of our culture and the preservation of these churches would ensure that we continue to celebrate our culture. A friend of mine has brought out an interesting point. A lot of these centuries-old churches are part of our history under the Encomienda system and forced labor required upon us by our Spanish (Catholic) conquerors. And we consider these cultural representations as “treasures”? At least malls like the SM Mall of Asia, which by the way, are very much a big part of the modern pop culture, provides free airconditioning and entertainment to everyone regardless of status, race, color, or religious creed!

The way I see it, the government paying for the cost of rebuilding and restoring these “heritage churches” is tantamount to a bailout of the Catholic Church. If these “heritage churches” were State-owned and if the Catholic Church does not have exclusive rights to the use of these churches for its exclusive ceremonies, then it should be fine. But if it is privately owned (i.e. owned by the Catholic Church), then the owners should be the ones primarily responsible for their property’s restoration and maintenance costs. Look, the average poor taxpaying schmuck won’t get a lick of a chance getting bailed out of the cost of restoring a personal property destroyed by an earthquake. Why should the Catholic Church in the Philippines be bailed out despite it’s wealth? And what do taxpayers get out of the hundreds of millions (if not billions) of bailout to the Catholic Church? Would they at least get a decrease in “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys” they have to recite when they commit a sin? Can we even really expect that all of the taxpayer money allocated for the restoration of the ruined properties will end up in the project and not the pockets of politicians, given the rotten culture of corruption we have in government? I think much like most government bailouts, the taxpayers would again get the shaft.

Sure, one can argue that these “heritage churches” can help create jobs and propel the local economy through tourism. But even if we highlight the importance of tourism, why is it necessary to spend so much money to fully restore these “heritage churches” to promote tourism when we can still attract tourists featuring these properties as ruins of structures of antiquity? You know… kind of like the ruins we have at various tourist sites like the Cagsawa Church in Bicol, the Fort Santiago in Intramuros, or even the Roman Colosseum and the Parthenon and other Acropolis structures in Greece, which despite being damaged by neglect, man-made and natural causes, are still visited by many tourists every year. I think there is value in considering alternative and more cost-effective options if taxpayer money shall be used.

On a fair and pragmatic view, I do not think it is a good idea for the government to shoulder the full (or even the majority of the) cost of rebuilding and restoring the ruined “heritage churches”, especially if these are not State-owned properties. If we cannot expect the government to bailout the average contributing taxpayer from financial ruin caused by property destruction due to the recent massive earthquake, why should the government bailout a religious organization that doesn’t even pay any taxes? I think it is time to revise the National Cultural Heritage Act and make it more sensible and fair.

[Photo courtesy International Business Times.]

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25 Comments on “No to Catholic Church Bailout!”

  1. The way I see it: if the building was deemed historical or declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum, AND are a regular stop for tourists, by all means restore it.

    If we bitch about how nice Rome and Paris and London are and how they were “nicely preserved” but too easily balk at shelling out for heritage sites like the churches of Bohol, then even GRP becomes nothing but a shit hole of Pinoy hypocrisy

    1. First of all, one writer’s view on things shouldn’t necessarilly reflect on GRP as a whole. Second, even if all the writers agree with Hector’s view on the restoration of historical churches in Bohol, I fail to see why we should be called hypocrites. Are the churches in Rome maintained by the Italian government?

      1. Thanks, Ilda! Come to think of it… a lot of tourist attractions are ruins themselves and there are also historical tourist sites that are completely run privately. Three months ago I visited Pres. George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. This popular and successful tourist attraction is owned and maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, a private, non-profit organization. Mount Vernon does not accept grants from federal, state or local governments, and no tax dollars are expended to support its purposes. Primary sources of income are revenue from the retail and dining facilities, ticket sales, and donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals. (http://www.mountvernon.org/about/our-mission )

    2. By that argument, then we should also restore all the forests that Pinoys had cut down over the last several decades. At least in the case of those forests, Pinoys are clearly responsible for their destruction. Those churches were destroyed by an act of God. So therefore God should foot the bill for restoring them.

      The only hypocrisy I see around here are social media “mavens” waxing poetic about the “sad” destruction of these “heritage” relics on one tweet then on another whine endlessly about how downloading the latest Mac OS is “taking forever”.

    3. I just can’t resolve why it’s okay for Thailand, Cambodia, China, Vietnam or the rest of them Buddhist countries to maintain their pagodas, and temples while for us “it’s the problem of the Catholic Church”.

      I’m not saying that the Catholic Church has to charge this entirely to the government, they DEFINITELY have to give their share, but for people to take the opposite extreme of “the fuck with it this is a church it’s their problem” is just as asinine

      And just to be clear I’m not advocating complete restoration either. If someone turns these sites like the ruins of Cagsawa in Albay or The Ruins of St. Paul in Macau, that’s fine with me.

      BIAS DISCLAIMER: My wife owns a travel agency 😉

      1. Yep. the country seems to lag behind its neighbors yet again.
        a seriously screwed up country with limited resources will not ever see the Church of Rome beg it for anything. the country has many times thrown certain institutions out of the country and then when the country is in trouble the first people the country turns to is the very same institutions that the country threw out in the first place. POINT? everyone needs friends, so be nice to those you meet as you never know when you will be in need of their assistance.

    4. The article wasn’t meant to bitch about how nice Rome, Paris, and London are and how they were nicely “preserved” but we easily balk for shelling out for our heritage sites. The article was about questioning the sense of the National Cultural Heritage Act when it comes to taxpayer money being spent on properties that someone else owns and controls. Thanks for reading, Jon!

    5. YEP, well said.

      IF IF IF these places have been declared to be ‘Historical Landmarks’ then they should be rebuilt. The cost should also be picked up by the church as well, IF IF IF these same churches are functioning as places of ‘worship’ as they were in the time of their construction.
      an equal shouldering of the cost would seem appropriate. these churches attract tourists from around the globe who come to marvel at the construction and ‘history’ of these ‘national treasures’.
      IF IF IF they are really actual ‘National Treasures’ and the gov’t. does not in fact at least share in the cost of the rebuilding it will just be another case from which to learn the old axiom : “Do not throw your Pearls to swines.”.

  2. MILITANTLY OPPOSE THE PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT PLAN TO REBUILD THE COLLAPSED ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCHES!

    Let them call us “despicable, blasphemous, irreverent, impious, profane, sacrilegious” and whatever dirty words or synonyms of the same words regarding our suggestion. But the published plan of the government to rebuild the collapsed RCC churches under the guise of preserving “iconic religious heritage” (for the sake of visiting tourists?) is blatantly stupid and unconstitutional. It spits at the very core of the “Right to Belief” (along with its twin “Right Not To Believe”) and pukes on the much crowed about “separation of church and state.” What happens now to Atheists and those who belong to other faiths of belief and religion? Do they get the same equity on governmental subsidy?

    The proposed plan castrates and runs over the Constitutional provision that basically states, ” There shall be no law that establishes a state religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The spirit of the constitutional provision also means preventing the government from having any authority in religion or authority of any religion in government…

    Instead, the RCC should shoulder all the repair of its own churches and should even PAY REPARATION TO THE PEOPLE FOR THE CRUEL “ACTS OF (their) GOD. ” Can the RCC afford to do that? Hell, the RCC could even be richer than the Philippine government except that its funds are shanghaied to the Vatican. If the minute INC (compared to the RCC) could sponsor a day of feeding and medically assisting millions of people, I don’t know why the RCC could not do the same for a month on the much, much smaller number of calamity victims!

    Pope Francis, brought up during the World Youth Day for the people and urged the youth to help rebuild the Church, which he said, in previous speeches, suffers a self-centered mindset. Supposedly, “In front of the crucifix he heard the voice of Jesus saying to him: ‘Francis, go, rebuild my house.’ The young Francis responded readily and generously to the Lord’s call to rebuild his house. But which house? Slowly but surely, Francis came to realize that it was NOT A QUESTION OF REPAIRING A STONE BUILDING, but about doing his part for the life of the Church. It was a matter of being at the service of the Church, loving her and working to make the countenance of Christ shine ever more brightly in the Church…”

    The same applies to the PNoy administration– instead of rebuilding the churches that will cost millions, nay billions (considering that church-building is not spared by graft and corruption if done by contractors with the state) — PNoy should use the same to rehabilitate the victims of the disaster. Instead of his perceived “playing lackadaisically blind” to the plunder of billions of the people’s money, he should spend millions IN REALLY PUTTING INTO REAL PRISONS all the plunderers, scalawags and rogues in government from all its departments — including his own.

    It is also time for the Roman Catholic Church to start becoming more humane and less divine. Prayers won’t feed people, they won’t ease their pain or wipe off tears and blood… We challenge the RCC to stand like its vaunted “ROCK” — of, by, and for the people!

    1. Thanks for reading, ITZ! While I am not as militant as you seem to sound like, I agree that the government ought not to foot the bill for the restoration on these “heritage churches” owned by the Catholic Church. However, there is this law that mandates the government to foot the bill and this is what I am suggesting that needs to be revisited, revised or repealed.

    2. when you refer to the “spirit of the Law” you seem to be saying “your interpretation of the law”, yes? BUT, they are not the same. and the ‘spirit’ of the law is not the law, it just is not. AND you seem to be anti-Catholic church and you have every right to be. BUT BUT BUT, these places are considered ‘National Historical Treasures’ and IF IF IF the gov’t. has deemed them to be as such it is the duty of the state to rebuild them. a show of good will by the Catholic Church would be to share in the expense as well.BUT that is not the law either and should not be confused as such.

      BUT just because you are Anti-Catholic and maybe even despise the Catholic Church and therefore base your opinion on that despisement, NO way does that stand up to scrutiny of the law nor is it what the law states.
      If the laws of the land dictate that something is to be done, it should be done. OR why have the laws and gov’t. to begin with?

  3. The only Catholic church in the country that I know is open to tourists free of charge is the Bamboo Organ Church in Las Piñas. The Church can & should rebuild those old buildings with its own money if it wants them restored.

    If the country uses tax money to rebuild them the government should own them and make them museums or tourist traps.

  4. i find the article thought-provoking, and the comments even more so. guys, you give such deep sentiments, and some made me laugh not out of ridicule but out of amusement/respect about how we pinoys think!

    congratulations!

    1. There’s nothing provoking about it. 1) Those buildings belongs to the Catholic church 2) Religion are tax exempt 3) Separation of the state from religion 4) Catholic church has a lot of source of income namely universities, hospitals, aside from the tights/offerings/donations

  5. The Church can very well take care of itself:

    CBCP news Oct 17th: “Church relying on people’s help to rebuild damaged churches” http://www.cbcpnews.com/cbcpnews/?p=24576

    “Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma said the archdiocese would shoulder the bulk of the costs in rehabilitating the ruined old churches because they are only expecting a minimal help from the government … ‘For us, the people will find a way to rebuild the church. It may take a long time but still the people will find a way,’ Palma added.”

    CBCP news Oct. 23rd “Quake-damaged churches will be restored, priest says”
    http://www.cbcpnews.com/cbcpnews/?p=24904

    “There is still a possibility to restore those damaged Churches but it will take a lot of money, time and resources. As of now, we have ruins that are off limits to the public. So we have to build up makeshift chapels and churches to provide for the pastoral needs of the people,” added Torralba, who also comes from the Diocese of Tagbilaran in Bohol.

    Rather, it’s our brother Boholanos who will certainly need government help.

    In its Report No. 17 (this morning, October 23rd), National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management center (NDRRMC ) USEC del Rosario provided this rather grim data:

    14,253 houses currently counted as destroyed and 39,186 houses counted as damaged affecting 66,717 families or 344,347 persons in BOHOL alone.
    http://www.ndrrmc.gov.ph/attachments/article/1108/NDRRMC%20UP%20SitRep%20No17%20Effects%20EQ%20Sagbayan,%20Bohol.pdf

    1. In other words, a bailout by the State is superfluous. Why in the blood-soaked Protestant hell* do you bail out someone who can take care of himself? Doing that makes as much sense as giving prosthetic legs to someone whose own legs (one) can still function, and (two) are still attached to their body. As much as I find the title provocative, it actually does make sense.

      Footnotes:

      *Hellsing Ultimate Abridged reference.

  6. IMO, government should take the ruins from the church if they are tourist attractions, reinforce them for safety, and take care of them in place of the church. Let the PCC build a new church beside it or somewhere near but let them take care of themselves.

    IMO, rebuilding this is both expensive and unsafe, regardless of who foots the bill. Of course, it will be better if the PCC pays for it.

  7. I have mix feelings on this. Since these are heritage sites, acknowledged by the state, I wouldn’t oppose them of funding for their restoration.

    Because these are mostly age old relics akin to those ancient worship places like in Bali Indonesia (which many Hindus still go there to worship), I think it would not be bad for the government to do so, FOR AS LONG AS THEY FIRST PRIORITISE THE WELL-BEING OF THE VICTIMS.

    And that is my main gripe about the government on this one. They can’t prioritise well, and think that money generating from these tourist spots are more important than the citizens going to it. It is an age-old hypocrisy since recorded in the Bible.

    “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” – Jesus Christ, Mark 2:27

    In the Christian doctrines, the Church isn’t the building anyway- it’s the people. But if these buildings are treated as more historical sites than religious ones, and the gov’t would like to tip in to restore them, then I have no problem with it.

    Just make sure they first provide the needs for those victims until they’re able to have their health and houses restored (I don’t believe in gov’t hand-outs as that would be their biggest excuse not to be productive).

    The article is fairly reasonable, but compassion on all sides is also needed to restore both these and the people’s well-beings.

    As for those comparing the INC as better- who blatantly build things ONLY FOR THEIR OWN benefits- you are no different than our own Catholic church. Stop politicking- because restoring infrastructure and providing national health services OUGHT to be the job of our leaders – NOT ANY CHURCH/RELIGION AT ALL.

  8. Personally I wouldn’t want the current Philippine government to be in charge of heritage preservation. Most of the places that the government has declared as national heritage have been transformed into places that prioritize tourism and belittle their historical value.

    I suggest that it would be better for private entities to restore these churches. Additionally, since the Philippine Catholic Church is tax exempt, I suppose it could rebuild its own houses of worship with little or no monetary problems.

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