Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco today added her voice to the demand by Cebuanos and their leaders for the return to Cebu of pulpit panels allegedly stolen from the heritage church of Boljoon.

Frasco, according to a press statement from the Department of Tourism (DOT), expressed her support for the “requests of the Archdiocese of Cebu, the Provincial Government of Cebu, and the Municipal Government of Boljoon, for the return of the religious panels to the Boljoon Church.”

Frasco sent a letter to National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) Board of Trustees Chairperson Andoni M. Aboitiz.

“These panels bear profound significance in Cebuano’s history, serving as a tangible reflection of the rich cultural heritage and religious traditions of the people of Cebu. Moreover, the Boljoon Church is of outstanding cultural value to the Philippines as a National Cultural Treasure, National Historical Landmark, and is on the Philippines’ Tentative List as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for Baroque Churches of the Philippines (Extension),” she said in her letter.

Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco
Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco Credit: Department of Tourism

Frasco sits on the NMP board as an ex-officio member. She said that cultural heritage has a significant role in the approved National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) 2023-2028.

Under NTDP, “the primordial goal of the Department of Tourism is to establish a Philippine Tourism Industry that is anchored on Filipino culture, heritage, and identity. Hence, as the Department of Tourism supports the protection and conservation of our nation’s religious and cultural treasures and artifacts, it also advocates that the destinations and communities from whence these treasures and artifacts emanate should be proactively sustained and duly respected,”said Frasco.

She also stressed that pilgrimage tourism, which is an important tourism segment in the country, “hinges on destinations like Boljoon Church in attracting tourists and supporting local economies.”

“One of the identified priorities of the Department of Tourism is pilgrimage tourism wherein tourists visit destinations to pay homage to religious artifacts and sites that are of significance to their faith. Religious artifacts and sites such as the pulpit panels and the Boljoon Church enrich the culture and history of tourism destinations, driving travelers to visit, supporting the local economy by providing tourism-related livelihood and employment,” Frasco said in her letter to Aboitiz.

The four pulpit panels were lost from the Archdiocesan Shrine of Patrocinio de Maria Santissima in Boljoon for decades until they resurfaced on February 13 as a “Gift to the Nation” donation by private collectors to the NMP. Their resurfacing has spurred widespread calls in Cebu, especially in Boljoon, for their return to the church that was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the NMP.

Max Limpag is a journalist, blogger, and developer based in Cebu. He started as a reporter covering Cebu City Hall in 1996. He has written on technology for various print and digital publications since...