Balayan church drops plan to lease convent to grocery chain
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MANILA, Philippines – Thanks to an online petition, a centuries-old convent in Batangas will no longer be leased to a national grocery chain.
More than 6,114 people signed the Change.org petition urging the Archdiocese of Lipa in Batangas province to drop its plans of leasing the convent of Immaculate Conception Parish Church, popularly known as the Simbahan ng Balayan (Church of Balayan).
One of the most beautiful churches in the Philippines, the Church of Balayan is a National Historical Landmark and National Cultural Treasure. This means that, under the law, it should receive government protection from damage or physical changes that could mar its authenticity.
The 18th-century convent beside it currently houses the nuns and is being used as an elementary school building by the Immaculate Conception College.
Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles admitted in a release by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines that the financial administrator of the archdiocese was toying with the idea of leasing the convent to a grocery chain after representatives from the company expressed interest in using the space.
Balayan parish priest Father Edgardo Pagcaliuangan confirmed to petitioners that negotiations to lease the 250-year-old convent already started.
Arguelles said priests were then asked to do a feasibility study on the proposed project but it was immediately stopped after "a barrage of angry responses."
"Don't betray history," urged the online petition started by The Lopez of Balayan, Batangas Foundation.
It complained that the move would wipe out history in "one sweep" and would be a form of "desecration."
On November 1, Arguelles released a statement saying "it is not part of the intention of the Archdiocese of Lipa to lease that portion of the building for a commercial end, convinced of its intrinsic evangelizing force and cultural valence."
"To the advice for us to stop some diggings and all development projects affecting the church building, I say we cannot stop anything that has never been started," he added.
Protecting a legacy
Vicky Lopez of The Lopez of Balayan, Batangas Foundation said it was the online petition that turned the tide against the proposed leasing.
"If not for the 6,110 signers of our petition on Change.org urging the Archdiocese of Lipa to stop the lease of an 18th-century convent-school that forms part of the 400-year-old Balayan Church complex, our beloved town would have lost a priceless treasure,” she said in a letter of thanks.
"The victory in Balayan will boost the confidence of all other Filipino fighting to preserve our cultural and historical and ecological treasures. We have shown that unity brings forth change."
A concern of a small town in Batangas became the advocacy of thousands of Filipinos all over the world through the online petition, said Inday Espina-Varona, Philippines Campaigns Director of Change.org.
"Half of the petition signers were not directly affected by the archdiocese’s plan but considered the Church and its compound as part of the national cultural legacy," she pointed out.
Petitioner Monette Alcantara from California wrote: "Our church and our beloved ICC (Immaculate Conception Church) holds a special place in my heart. It will be a big anachronism to put a big box grocery next to the church. NO!"
Rommel Mea from Lipa City wrote that the church is "something to be treasured and be proud of by the Lipeños and the whole of Batangas." If the church has to generate income "there must be some other ways to raise the 'money' and still preserve the site."
Petitioner Mye Atienza from Batangas likened Balayan's dilemma to that of her hometown Taal, where the parish priest plans to erect an events venue beside the historic Taal Basilica. (READ: Artist, priest fight over Taal Basilica project) – Rappler.com