He is probably the only one left who still doesn’t know that the acronym DAP has taken on a new meaning—Drilon, Abad, P-Noy. So who cares about President Aquino’s selfie speech of Oct. 30?
Let’s talk about NCTs instead. Known officially by law as “National Cultural Treasures,” it is a jargon that came into public notice lately in relation to the destruction of heritage churches in Bohol. NCTs are not to be confused with World Heritage Sites, the latter a declaration made not by the Philippine government but by Unesco. Contrary to what an Inquirer correspondent had written, none of those Bohol churches are Unesco World Heritage Sites, although two of them are candidates (Loboc’s San Pedro Apostol Church and
Baclayon’s Church of La Purisima Concepcion de la Virgen Maria).
The eight World Heritage Sites in the Philippines include the four heritage baroque churches of the country, namely the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-ao, Iloilo; San Agustin Church in Intramuros; San Agustin Church of Paoay, Ilocos Norte; and Nuestra Señora dela Asuncion Church in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur. Also on the list are the old town of Vigan, Ilocos Sur, actually known as Crisologo Street; the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan; the Tubbataha Reefs National Park in the Sulu Sea; and the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordillera, actually the first of the eight on the list.
It may interest readers to know that of the candidate sites for enlistment by Unesco, not all are heritage churches. There are the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Agusan del Sur; the Angono Petroglyphs in Angono and Binangonan, Rizal province; the Batanes Protected Landscape and Seascape; the Chocolate Hills of Bohol; the Coron Island Natural Biotic Area of Palawan; and 24 other candidate sites that are either natural or man-made.
NCTs are declared so not by Unesco but by the Philippine government through the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) or by the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP). Again, not all NCTs are heritage churches. The list of NCTs is a mixture of built heritage as well as cultural objects. For example, the
Manunggul Burial Jar found in the Tabon Caves complex in southern Palawan and now in the possession of the NMP, is an NCT. It can be viewed at the NMP’s Museum of the Filipino People. A popular NCT is Juan Luna’s mammoth opus, the “Spoliarium,” at the NMP’s National Art Gallery. Also popular is the 1824 Bamboo Organ of Las Piñas, a declared NCT. The 1892 Faro de Cabo
Bojeador in Burgos, Ilocos Norte, is another. In Mindanao, the Maranao torogan of the Sultan sa Kawayan in Bubung Malanding, Marantao, Lanao del Sur, was declared an NCT in 2008 during the tenure of NMP director Cora Alvina.
NCTs are not a novelty. The National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 or Republic Act No. 10066 has expanded an earlier Marcos-era classification by defining NCTs as “unique objects found locally, possessing outstanding historical, cultural, artistic and/or scientific value, which is significant and important to the country and nation, and officially declared as such by the pertinent cultural agency.”
The law categorizes cultural properties into six types by which they can be declared: These are the NCTs, the Important Cultural Properties or ICPs, the World Heritage Sites declared by
Unesco, the National Historical Shrines, the National Historical Monuments, and the National Historical Landmarks. The latter three are declared as such by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). What distinguishes an NCT from an ICP is also defined: The former is of national significance to the patrimony of the nation. For example, a built heritage already marked by the NHCP is automatically an ICP, as are the works by National Artists or traditional ethnographic materials of indigenous peoples.
Also, in order to broaden the law’s capacity of protecting and safeguarding the cultural properties of the country, it created a new category for declaration—the Heritage Zone. A heritage zone is a specific geographical area that has historical, anthropological, archaeological or artistic significance. The town’s old poblacion of Dapitan City, for instance, was declared as such by the NMP three years ago.
How exactly can a declared cultural property be safeguarded? First of all, these are entitled to privileges, two of which stand out. The first is priority government funding for protection, conservation and restoration. The second is what Abigail Valte of Malacañang is ignorant of. In times of armed conflict, natural disasters (such as the Bohol earthquake) and other exceptional events that endanger the cultural heritage of the country, all NCTs or national historical landmarks, sites or monuments are to be given priority protection by government.
A question often asked at the grassroots level is how a cultural property in one’s locality can be declared an NCT, ICP or nationally historical. Often heritage sites are lost because concerned citizens do not know the legally prescribed procedure. The law states that the declaration “shall commence upon the filing of a petition by the owner, stakeholder, or any interested person, with the NCCA, which shall refer the matter to the appropriate cultural agency.” In which case, the pertinent cultural agency of government, such as the NMP or the NHCP, becomes duty-bound to make a verification of the suitability of the cultural property for an official declaration. The stakeholders may be local government units, local culture and arts councils, local tourism councils, nongovernment conservation organizations, and schools. But note that “any interested person” can petition for a declaration.