From Balay sa Kabus to Balay sa Dios

After a long and well-marked pastoral social service delivery of the church, Bishop Alberto “Abet” Uy completes the circle in Cortes Church turnover on Jan. 16, 2020. 

Bohol Bishop of the Diocese of Tagbilaran, who used to preside over the turning over of Balay sa Kabus, for Bohol’s poor, hied off to preside over a bigger turnover: the restored Balay sa Dios to the community in Cortes.

Uy led national and local officials in solemnizing the formal turnover of the newly restored Balay sa Dios, the parish church of the Santisimo Nombre de Jesus, to the Diocese of Tagbilaran on Jan. 16, 2020 in time for the town fiesta.

“Good luck or bad luck?” Bishop Uy asks the parishioners in his homily after the ceremonial reopening of the Puerta Mayor following the signing of the turnover documents of the over P100 million restoration project to the Diocese of Tagbilaran.

Either way, good or bad, it is always in the hands of God, he would say as he reiterates in his homily that all things happen for a reason.

PHOENIX RISING. From this pile of the rubbles, the Church of the Santo Nino Parish in Cortes Bohol rose to its original form in the 1800 century, after the government implemented the P104M post earthquake restoration. (rahc/PIA-7/Bohol files)

As a pastor for his flock of believers and devotees of the Santo, Bishop Abet has since guided his flock from the corrals of the nearby alternative church as the temporary venue for the town’s religious celebrations, to their new and yet the old home of their faith.  

Himself a key fixture in the Balay sa Kabus – a free low cost housing for the community’s underprivileged – Bishop Uy, or popularly Bishop Abet, has since presided over the turnover of the Oct. 13 earthquake-damaged churches in Bohol. 

While turning over Balay sa Kabus entails the pooling of resources to build a house for the poor member of the church of God, turning over of Balay sa Dios entails three government agencies funding the multi-million building for the faithful.

Together with Bishop Uy is National Museum of the Philippines (NM) Assistant Director Ana Theresa Labrador who stood for the government’s National Museum (NM), and the community in thanking the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and the Department of Tourism’s Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprises Zones Authority (TIEZA) which funded recovery and clearing of the church rubbles and the NM for the P104,366,426.40 restoration of the 18th century stone church destroyed by the Oct. 15, 2013 earthquake.

Cortes Church, over the years, from its earliest known location to the present, has consistently stood as a bastion of faith for the kabus in the region. 

BALAY SA DIOS. Bishop Alberto Uy with NM Assistant Director Ana Maria Theresa Labrador and local officials including Church Cultural Patrimony Committee Chair Fr. Val Pinlac, Gov. Arthur Yap, Cortes Mayor Ivenn Lim, and Parish Priest Roderick Pizarras during the unveiling of the Important Cultural Treasure marker for the newly-restored Cortes Santo Nino Church on Jan. 16, 2020. (PIABohol)

Although not the earliest church in Cortes, this late 1800 stone church built on top of the hill in a resettlement called Paminguitan, is the second religious structure after the Christian Community of the town was established in the early 1600.

Then Jesuit missionaries from Baclayon and Loboc could have founded the settlement near a good source of fresh water: the Abatan River.

The first church, which was built by the Jesuit missionaries near the river in Cortes, was for the settlement in Malabago, the old name of the town, and which was located in the upper tributaries of the Abatan river.

The church in Malabago, which served as the catchment for the faithful now in barangays Rosario, Loreto, Patrocinio and Monserat and the rice communities across the river – Tupas, Santo Rosario and Viga – was built of light materials, according to church historians.

Church historian Regalado Trota Jose assumed that the Malabago Church was made of light materials, possibly nipa and bamboo, and was burnt down at the same time Tamblot Revolt was raging in 1622.

It was also never known if the burning down of the church had something to do with Tamblot’s religious revolution.

In the time between 1622 and the coming of the Augustinan Recollects who replaced the Jesuits in the Catholic missions in the country in 1768, there was no record of what happened to the burnt church and the community.

The timeline would be crucial, because this can establish the possible establishment of this newer church on top of a hill, the church of the settlement in Paminguitan, one that is overlooking the wide expanse of the sea.

THE POOR AND SUFFERING CHURCH. Thousands of Cortesanons and devotees of the Holy Child came in droves to attend the turnover of the church that nobody believed would be restored following the devastating earthquake. As the earthquake ruined many lives, the faithful have remained steadfast in their faith here.  (rahc/PIA-7/Bohol) 

According to Prof. Trota-Jose in his book Visita Iglesia, the parish of Maribojoc was established in 1767. And by 1769, Malabago became a visita of Maribojoc, which is now its new mother parish.

Maribojoc became a parish under the Agustinian Recollects who came in 1768, and the church there was erected thereafter.

Now, if one would recall the politics behind the banishment of the Jesuits and the coming of the Recollects, one would wonder why the Augustinian Recollects would build a church in Maribojoc and a church in Paminguitan, churches that are practically designed differently.

The subtle way of the Augustinians was to cover the church facades of the Jesuit-built churches, with what builders would call as the portico facade.

The Jesuit churches of Baclayon, Loboc sport this fully built Jesuit facade, but the Augustinians hid them from sight by placing a new façade: the portico.

Interestingly, this church in Paminguitan also sport the double facades, unlike the Maribojoc church. 

By 1793, Trota-Jose said the visita in Malabago got separated from its mother parish Maribojoc and the center was moved to its current location, then called “Paminguitan” referring to the hook-and-line method of fishing in the nearby Abatan River.

A MONTH BEFORE THE TURNOVER. Cortes residents could not stop themselves from marveling at the structure that has remained to be a reminder of the faith and hope of an expectant church. (rahc/PIA7 Bohol) 

What is uncertain is that: was the visita really in Paminguitan or Malabago? Note that Malabago Church was burned and that Paminguitan is now the new village center by this time.

Here, it may be safe to assume that the community built a church again, this time in Paminguitan after the 1622 burning of the church in Malabago.

This could be what Trota-Jose would claim as the church which “was replaced with a more substantial edifice of cut coral stones in 1880.”

An inscribed date 1892 was then visible atop the baptistery in the epistle side of this earthquake-damaged church.

The sign has been lost in the rubbles during the 2013 earthquake.

Now, a question. Would a community start building a church by building a baptistery first before completing the entire church, as the inscription would tell? Interestingly, the church facade marker shows 1896.

Further, in 1891, the town’s name was changed to Cortes in honor of the Spanish conquistador of Mexico, Hernan Cortes.

Further, Trota-Jose went on to say that in 1892, the (Paminguitan) church was finished (1892 was the sign on top of the baptistery entrance) but the portico sign was added in 1896, and that the Agustinian Recollects served as the spiritual administrator of the parish from its founding until the end of the Spanish rule in 1898.

Over this, Cortes residents have been asking when really was this two-facade church built when the portico was added in 1896?

Even then, clearly, the Paminguitan Church now dedicated to the Santisimo Nombre de Jesus is over a century, if not centuries as the circumstances here tell.

VAUNTED CEILINGS WITH FRESCOES. Cortes Church is among the few Bohol churches that have retained its interiors, including vaunted and frecoed ceilings – artworks of master of the paint in 1920s, Rey Francia. (rahc/PIA7 Bohol)

When the October 2013 earthquake turned some portions of the church into ugly heap of rubble, the NM of the Philippines declared the Sto. Niño Parish Church Complex, which included the church, convent and mortuary chapel, as a National Cultural Treasure by Nov. 14, 2013.

Although the declaration was released after the earthquake, preparations for its declaration began in 2012, according to NM information Officer Emmylou Palacio-Noel.

The bell tower, among those heavily and extensively damaged in the tremor, has to be reconstructed and now was decided to be built according to available archival photos.

As the restoration work began in November 2017, this was completed in December 2019, a little over two years.

This after six years and three months is the newly restored church and convent back to its original grandeur.

At the formal turnover, NM Assistant Director Labrador representing the NMP and Most Reverend Alberto S. Uy, D.D. representing the Diocese of Tagbilaran signed the Certificate of Turnover and Acceptance witnessed by local officials including Gov. Arthur Yap, Cong. Edgar Chatto, Cortes Mayor Iven Lynn Lim and local officials including Catholic priests concelebrating the fiesta pontifical mass.

It may be recalled that a partial church turnover was held on Dec. 14, 2019 in consideration of the parishioners’ use of the newly-restored church for the Misa de Gallo. (rahc/PIA7 Bohol)

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