EditorialStill, She Stands

Still, She Stands

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JG Umbac

Sun, Oct 16, 2022

In 2020, I wrote an article that talked about the Campanario of St. Catherine of Alexandria. I was compelled to draft that article because I felt sad at the state of the Campanario. It was my way of expressing my hope that something will be done to restore, and then preserve the tower so it will remain and continue to watch over our beloved Dumaguete City, and remind us of our history.

I had also hoped that the article would make Dumagueteños wholly aware of the significance of timely intervention to ensure that there is still a Campanario to restore. Well, that was two years ago.

On Tuesday last week, I attended the regular session at the Sangguniang Panglunsod, recording it to use as research material for an article. Well, what do you know? In that session, the Council had approved the yet unnumbered ordinance titled An Ordinance Declaring the Watchtower/ Belfry of the Cathedral of Sta. Catalina de Alejandria in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental an Important Cultural Property, the City’s Cultural Heritage, and a Historical Landmark. A long title for an ordinance that, to me, deserves to be celebrated.

At last, the beloved Campanario can now rate a budget from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

While the Ordinance seeks to make the Campanario an “important cultural property, the City’s cultural heritage, and a historical landmark”, it does not contain provisions on what will be done to it to give credence to such designations.

I only hope the local committees involved would put restoration before preservation.

It has to be restored, brick by brick, to its original glory—clean and devoid of those pesky unwanted growth jutting from its sides.

Below is my article, A Towering Witness to History in this column space (Aug. 30, 2020):

Recently, I’ve been drawn to the story behind Dumaguete’s most prominent tourist attraction—the Campanario or the Bell Tower on the grounds of the St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral.

I’m no stranger to the Campanario, having spent the early part of my life in Dumaguete. As a kid, I simply didn’t pay much attention to it, nor did I realize its significance. I simply dismissed it as another one of those towers whose purpose was not quite known. It was just there.

As with other aspects of Dumaguete that have played a significant role in its emergence in history, the Campanario is probably the only one that has remained to be an imposing- enough edifice, yet, easy to ignore until you take a second look, and realize that this towering monument has seen the inception of the very place which today, we call Dumaguete City.

The Campanario has seen the perils that the old inhabitants of this place had to face. It is an enduring testament to those who persevered enough to build it to protect their way of life so that it will continue on.

And today, here we are in the cusp of the 21st century, still under the watchful eye of the Campanario.

It has gotten us this far, hasn’t it? So what have we done in return to show our gratitude for the job that the Campanario has done so well to ensure that Dumaguete emerged victorious in the end? Afterall, isn’t it the only extant thing to have seen the evolution of Dumaguete?

Well, today, the City’s gratitude, or lack of it, is apparent in the very condition that the Campanario is in.

Just yesterday, I walked around it to take photographs. The way its history and significance are written in tourism brochures and quick histories on Google does not do justice to its current material condition.

Of course, I’m no expert, nor do I have instruments to look into its structural integrity, but the aesthetics alone makes it apparent that this towering witness to Dumaguete’s evolution has not had a fair shake.

If, truly, this Campanario has been accorded the respect befitting one that has stood guard for its people, then, at the very least, this tower should now have its fair share of exclusive real estate, so that it can flaunt itself as it stands out among the many modern features that Dumaguete now sports.

It should be able to display its grandeur from all around it, instead of only from the most undesirable angles which tend to hide the abuses done to it.

From the northern side of the tower, about 250 feet away, the view is somewhat obscured, framed by trees on the left, and the rectory on the right. Moving 30 feet west, in a straight line from where I took the first shot, the rectory would totally obscure all of the tower, except for the dome. The only angle where the entire tower is visible is from the southern side, where a small square provides a vantage point from where tourists may photograph it in its entirety.

A few bricks are missing from its side, an indication that with further neglect, more would end up falling off, and no one would bother to be alarmed by it.

On the western side of the tower, part of the rectory butts up all the way to it, almost touching the northwest facing buttress. Also on the western side, the eastern end of the market complex intrudes into its perimeter right where the southwest facing buttress is located.

On the northwesterly side of the Campanario is the grotto of the Lady of Lourdes, a not-very-well-thought-out addition which, reportedly, the church now plans to remove.

To summarize, the Campanario is no longer the way it was when it signaled the approach of pirates and pillagers, or when it called the faithful to mass.

After everything that the Campanario has been through and witnessed, doesn’t it deserve the best that we modern Dumagueteños can offer?

Or should we let the dalakit trees continue to grow on its sides until they become so big, it would be impossible, or very expensive, to remove them?

The Campanario now belongs to the City to preserve and maintain but it must first restore it to its previous glory, or all the effort will be for naught.

So what is the City waiting for when time is always against it?

If we truly are proud of the tower’s heritage, why isn’t it apparent in our actions? We write down our pride, and even advertise it, but no effort is seen to make the Campanario last another hundred years or more.

The least that can be done for it is to give it its fair share of real estate—room for it to breathe, and for us to admire it all the way around.

The process involved to make all this a reality may be tedious in the least, but why worry too much about the process and not the results? If everyone could only preoccupy themselves with the results, instead of the difficulties in achieving them, success could be had sooner.

I hope the City would not take any more time as it has for the past 40 years, in my memory, without doing anything to preserve the Campanario. Forty years is a lot of time to not do anything.

The Campanario has seen so much of the growth of Dumaguete, that it deserves to be restored and preserved.

If it is left the way it is now, it probably won’t see the turn of the next century, and disappearing with it, our common heritage.

With the new ordinance, the Campanario can now watch over us with a smile.

_____________________________

Author’s email: [email protected]

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