All restoration works on the 18thÂ century Sta. Monica Church in Alburquerque, Bohol is now at a standstill afterÂ the Office of the Municipal Building Official of Alburquerque put outÂ an order to â€œtemporarily stopâ€ all restoration activities pending compliance of the requirements of the National Building Code of the Philippines (NBCP)
The stoppage order came 13 days after the sensational 1,000 kg. gold bullion find broke out in the online edition of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) on September 19, 2016.
The stoppage order was issued to Mateo Cervatos, Project Manager of 401 Development and Construction Corporation on September 19, 2016 by Municipal Engineer and Building Official Fe Culiao.
Culiao told theÂ ChronicleÂ that the stoppage order was in line with the provisions of Republic Act 6541 known as the National Building Code of the Philippines that covers all existing buildings or structures undergoing repairs.
FOLLOW THE LAW
Fr. Millan Ted Torralba, newly installed Alburquerque parish priest confirmed the stoppage order andÂ informed theÂ ChronicleÂ that theÂ National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) also ordered the contractor to comply with the requirements as stipulated by the building code and local ordinances.
The Diocese of Tagbilaran also reminded the contractor to fulfill all the requirements before proceeding with the restoration works, according to Torralba.
Torralba also told theÂ ChronicleÂ in a text message that the NMP has concluded the investigation of the convent diggings.
The report stated that “no word on digging since the site has already been disturbed, i.e., the excavated soil has been re-placed so the digging consequently was covered up.”, according to Torralba.
An earlier requestÂ to conduct a â€œsoil scanâ€ inside the church was denied by Mayor Elpren Charles Tungol on August 22, 2016 on the grounds that prior to the activity of the contractor a site inspection will be conducted by â€œour consultants consisting of civil engineers and environmental geologist to make sure that our cultural assets will be preserved.â€
However, a â€œreconstruction project reportâ€ on the Sta. Monica Church sent to Tungol on August 23, 2016 and September 14, 2016 by Daniel McNames, Managing Partner of MicroRadian Engineering claimed that the contractor ordered an extensive internal church floor scan that â€œexpandedâ€ into the main floor of the rectory or convent building.
But according to Torralba a pending request to NMP Director Jeremy Barns is now under consideration for the inclusion of the parish convent in package 2 of the restoration works.
NO TREASURE HUNT
MicroRadian Engineering, a US based firm specializing in geotechnical monitoring offered their services “pro bono” to then Mayor Efren Tungol.
The firm proposed to conduct a detailed study for a â€œstabilization planâ€ of the town plaza, church and other associated structuresâ€ to protect them from further damage if another seismic activity would occur, according to an undated letter to the elder Tungol.
The convent, inaugurated in 1876 is a separate structure linked to the church by an arcade. It has a corral stone ground floor and an upper floor made of wooden boards and bricks.
It was in the convent ground floor where the alleged â€œtreasure huntingâ€ by McNames and two hired hands dug holes and found â€œ1,000 kg. gold bullionâ€ found by a â€œvillage idiotâ€ as reported on the online edition of the Philippine Daily Inquirer by Edgar Allan Sembrano on September 19, 2016.
McNames admitted that they conducted exploratory diggings to validate stories by old time residents of the existence of a catacomb or underground cemetery under the convent.
In an exclusive interview with theÂ Chronicle, McNames laughed off the awesome tale of the gold bullion prompting him to add a footnote in his 5 page report to Mayor Tungol on September 14, 2016, six days after the reported gold findings.
The reported gold bullion turned out to be an 18th century tree stump, according to McNames who showed the stump to the Chronicle.
An architectural description of the church showed “pillars made out of large tree trunks masked by metal sheets march down the aisle of the church dating back to the original 1880 structure.
His footnote stated “I placed this foot note here more out of humor than necessity to status of the church . . . We have been laughing about that most all day !!!”.
Apparently, based on reports submitted by McNames to the Local Government of Alburquerque, scanning and digging activities have been ongoing allegedly by firms hired by the contractor even before his firm started their own seismic analysis.
A letter sent by former Mayor Tungol to then Parish Priest Fr. Rogelio Organiza on November 11, 2014 sought the collaboration of the parish priest in the conduct of a seismic analysis of the church area by the US firm “to ensure the general welfare of our people”.
Torralba referred to the letter as “strongly worded” and viewed the intrusion of unauthorized persons in the church premises as trespassing of church property.
The presence of catacombs or â€œstructural voidsâ€ in the â€œchurch internal floorâ€ should beÂ immediately flagged as not habitable and should be closed to public access to avoid injuries to the public, according to the McNames report.
McNames also cast doubts on the professional credentials of an instrumental survey team hired by the contractor using a ground penetrating radar.
The Sta. Monica Church suffered â€œminimal damageâ€ when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Bohol on October 15, 2016.Â (Chito M. Visarra)