Save San Sebastian Church

Save San Sebastian Church

By Tracy Cabrera

MANILA — Near the conjunction of Bilibid Viejo, Rafael, and F.R. Hidalgo streets in Quiapo, Manila stands Menor Basilica de San Sebastian—the only all-metal church in the archipelago—but if the construction of a 31-story condominium nearby is not halted, then we might as well, say goodbye to the country’s last standing neo-Gothic structure.

An online petition has been launched by a church group in the Archdiocese of Manila to save the landmark church and in response, at least 400,000 signatures have been garnered in merely two days it was posted on social media.

The petition on change.org started on January 11, which called on government authorities to put a halt on the construction of the condominium that the group says could threaten the architectural and structural integrity of the San Sebastian Basilica.

The group added that the condominium’s construction likewise violates Manila’s zoning laws as well as the law that protects national heritage, according to the San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation.

“Four hundred thousand signatures in time for the 400th year anniversary of the very first San Sebastian church. Join us and our partners to raise awareness about San Sebastian and why it must be protected, ” the foundation disclosed two days after their petition was launched.

Considered one of the historically iconic church in the country for its pre-fabricated construction, the San Sebastian Basilica was completed in 1891 and after almost a century, it was designated a national historic landmark in 1973 and as a national cultural treasure in 2011.

The foundation said online support was necessary to make its voice ‘bigger’ for government authorities to listen to their advocacy to stop the construction of the condominium.

The foundation’s campaign has been backed by other groups including a residents’ organization called Neighborhood Along Bautista Street, which has conducted a door-to-door campaign to gather grassroots support from people living in the area.

“There is a need to highlight a bigger, alarming concern behind the construction of a condominium which will mar the sightline of San Sebastian Basilica and that these unregulated constructions . . . violate heritage and zoning laws,” the group reiterated.

A Philippine historic preservation society likewise expressed support on social media calling for the public to fight for the basilica, which has been recommended for listing as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site.

“San Sebastian Basilica and its surrounding neighborhood are worthy of protection and preservation. The revitalization of the area should be based on the conservation of its tangible and intangible heritage,” the Bakas Pilipinas preservation society said in a statement.

Students of Augustinian-run San Sebastian College also wrote to the country’s historical Commission calling on it to ask the condo developers to produce building permits and requirements.

“In case of non-compliance of the realty corporation, may we request that the conditional clearance (or permit) given … be withdrawn,” they wrote in conclusion. (Source Union of Catholic Asian News) AI/MTVN

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