NCCA stops demolition of church’s fence in La Union

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AGOO, La Union – The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) has stopped the demolition of a walled-fence near the Agoo Basilica here believed to be a treasure of the Catholic Church.

Workers started demolishing the fence but the Church, led by Bishop Rodolfo Beltran, got a “cease and desist order” (CDO) from the NCCA was subsequently issued without the benefit of an ocular inspection in the area.

Officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and representatives of Bersons Construction and Trading, the construction firm working for the road-widening project in La Union, questioned the issuance of the CDO because the NCCA issued it without conducting any ocular inspection in the area or hearing of the Church’s complaint.

The fence, which encroaches more than three meters in the ‘road right of way,’ will hamper the ongoing construction and widening of the national highway here – a project of the national government under DPWH.

Felipe De Leon, NCCA Chairman, issued the CDO against the demolition of the fence of the Plaza dela Virgen owned by the Agoo Basilica, after representatives from the Diocese of San Fernando, La Union went to NCCA.

The CDO was issued a day before the DPWH gave a ‘notice to proceed’ to the construction firm to start the project.

De Leon gives credit to the claim of the Catholic Church that the concrete fence has cultural and historical importance. He also cited in his CDO that based on the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, all structures at least 50 years old are considered important cultural property and are entitled to protection against demolition.

However, a veteran lawyer and a resident of Agoo said that the fence was built only after the 1990 killer quake which devastated this town and it’s not a significant structure because it is hazardous to travellers because it already caused several accidents in the area.

“It (fence) has become a urinating area and a garbage receptacle. It has no important historical background because it endangers human lives and it violates the National Highway Act,” the lawyer said.

Bishop Beltran, in his letter to De Leon, said that they oppose the move because they find it absurd for anybody to apply a property of cultural value and heritage to the DPWH’s widening project.

Roy Aruta, DPWH Project Engineer, said the project was implemented after the DPWH district and regional offices and the provincial assessor’s office of La Union conducted separate surveys and measurement in the affected area of the road widening.

The encroachment of the fence to the national road was also confirmed by the Church-deputized engineer who also conducted survey and measurement along the project.

“The Church’s survey found out that the fence has overshoot three meters within the 20-meters road right of way, an engineer said.

Aruta said they will abide by the CDO and will temporarily stop the demolition of the fence.

Representative Eufanio Eriguel, speaking in behalf of the affected local government of Agoo, said they want a consultation with all the parties concerned to clarify everything surrounding the project and the issues raised by the Church.

He said the project was bidded out on January 22 and the ‘notice to proceed’ was issued on Feb. 20 while the CDO was issued Feb. 21 without any verification or hearing conducted by the NCCA.

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