ILOILO – The ancient mortuary chapel made of bricks and coral stone at the campo santo (cemetery) of the municipality of San Joaquin has been fully restored.
In February 2016 treasure hunters digging for gold nearly reduced this national cultural treasure to ruins.
The National Museum of the Philippines led the restoration with the help of the church, local government and people of San Joaquin, said Father Angelo Colada, chairperson of the Archdiocese of Jaro’s social communication office.
“We are thankful. From the faithful themselves sprung the initiative to save the campo santo,” said Colada.
Treasure hunters dug a 60-foot deep pit into the 19-century mortuary chapel, endangering the structural integrity of the Spanish-era structure.
Eleven persons, including the then parish priest of San Joaquin, Father Nelson Silvela, were charged with violating Republic Act 10066 or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009. According to Colada, the court case is ongoing.
The San Joaquin campo santo, built by Augustinian friar Mariano Vamba in 1892, was declared a national cultural treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines in December 2015, 14 years after the San Joaquin Church, known for its bas relief of the Battle of Tetuan in Morocco, was also declared as such.
According to Colada, the 10 accused treasure hunters / diggers were able to post bail while Silvela was reassigned to Polut-an Church in Barangay Polut-an, Pototan town.
The San Joaquin campo canto is located along the main highway. A statue of Jesus with arms outstretched stands on top of a Baroque-style gate, and on each side of Christ, two columns with angelic figures are poised as guards. Sculpted heads of two cherubs and a skull representing death mark the entrance of the cemetery.
Twenty stone steps from the gate is the mortuary chapel standing on the center. Inside it, the town’s ancient priests were buried.
“It is called campo santo because is it a holy ground or burial place,” said Colada.
The 2016 incident, he added, stirred the Church into resolving to preserve and protect its properties such as ancient churches and cemeteries that the government has declared as national cultural treasures.
“Tungod sang natabo, nangin aware na ang tanan,” said Colada./PN