With its roofing and ceiling fully restored, the St. John the Baptist parish church in Bato town has been added to the National Registry of Historic Sites and Structures in the Philippines.
It will also be added to the Philippine Registry of Cultural Property, said Dr. Rene Escalante, chairman of the National Historical Commission, during the church’s turnover to the Diocese of Virac and unveiling of the “Simbahan ng Bato” marker last May 17, 2022.
Classified as a house of worship, the church now has Level II status bestowed on sites and structures declared as Heritage Zones or Historic Centers, and Heritage Houses, and bearing Historical Markers.
The information will also be uploaded to the Department of Tourism (DOT), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and other agencies.
He added that holy places are important cultural property that the State must preserve and protect for future generations.
The inclusion of Bato church in the NHCP’s restoration projects is a break from its traditional focus on regional centers which are frequently visited by tourists, he admitted.
Restoring historical buildings which are not in the national registry is intended to balance the Commission’s presence not only in the cities but also in lesser-known rural areas, the NHCP chair said.
“It is a great honor for a building to registered as such, as the repair or restoration can be funded by the government despite the doctrine of separation of powers of the Church and State,” Dr. Escalante stated,
As a “Pamana ng Bayan,” the upkeep of the Bato church will be monitored by the national government, he said, so that it would be properly maintained through the decades and reflect the rich history of the church.
Under the agreement between NHCP and the Diocese, the administration of the church was handled by the Commission during the period of restoration of the roof and ceiling that was destroyed by super typhoon Rolly on Nov. 1, 2020.
In accepting the restored house of worship, Bishop delos Santos thanked the NHCP for its marvelous work in restoring Bato church to its historic beauty.
He likewise acknowledged the intervention of Dr. Escalante in facilitating its immediate repair and enhancement just a few months after the super typhoon, recalling that Batonhons wised to repair the damaged structure but could not do it due to limited financial resources.
Bato church, the bishop reminded, symbolizes the people’s faith in God, the very same trait that makes Catandunganons strong in the midst of calamities and resilient in times of hardships.
On the other hand, Bato parish priest Rev. Fr. Allan Martin Basilio remarked that with the preservation and restoration of the Bato Church, the island’s Catholics relive and re-experience the faith of the past and connects them with each other.
“The walls of this Church echo the holiness, religiosity and devotion to God of the Batonhons,” he added, pointing out that the church is not only a building but a visible image of the believers and the dwelling place of God among men.
Also joining the turnover ceremony was Rev. Fr. Roberto Sanchez, whose final year at his masteral course in Cultural Heritage Studies at the University of Santo Tomas used the island’s oldest church as the focus.
The thesis, entitled “Pag-ataman: Developing a Conservation Management Plan for St. John the Baptist Church, Bato, Catanduanes,” eventually led to NHCP’s funding of the restoration project that began in 2018.
Present as guests during the turnover and unveiling ceremony were NHCP OIC-Executive Director Carminda Arevalo, Bato Mayor Juan Rodulfo, the members of the Sangguniang Bayan headed by Vice Mayor Roy Regalado, Parish and Barangay Pastoral Officers and other guests.
Three decades after the town was founded, Bishop Juan Antonio de Lilio of the Diocese of Nueva Caceres created the Bato church under the protection of St. John the Baptist in 1830.
Fr. Francisco Raymundo built the first chapel made of wood before construction began on the church using rubble and coral stones, which was eventually completed in 1883.
Against the Moro raiders in the late 1800s, the Bato church served as a shelter and defense against the pirates, with the people building “baluartes,” which were either slit trenches on hilltops or blockhouses of stone masonry, wooden logs or palm trunks that took more than three months to construct.
As it stood at the foot of a mountain, Bato church at the time was encompassed by a wooden palisade with two baluartes, in addition to another palisade with four baluartes outside the town proper.
Since the 70s, the church has been damaged by a series of strong typhoons: Sening in 1970, Rosing in 1995, Loleng in 1998, and Rolly in 2020.
In 2018, the NHCP and the Diocese of Virac entered into a memorandum of agreement recognizing that the church was in a deteriorated condition and required immediate conservation.
The first phase costing P9 million was completed in March 2019 and the P10 million second phase was finished a year later, but with the turnover scuttled by super typhoon Rolly on Nov. 1, 2020 when its 315-kph winds brought down the church’s entire roof.
According to a source, the restoration of the roof and ceiling cost about P5 million, with the Diocese to take charge of other minor repairs.
The Bato municipal government reportedly shouldered the funding for the restoration of the church doors.