Testament to Faith and History

Transcribed answers of retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN, President of the Metro Manila Cathedral-Basilica Foundation, Inc., to two questions asked during the launching of the coffee table book “Manila Cathedral, Restoring a Monument to Faith, Architecture and History” on March 9, 2019 held at the Manila Cathedral, Intramuros, Manila


Question: “You played a central role in the making of this book, how did the idea of publishing a coffee table book start? Whose idea was it? Was everything smooth flowing?”


Answer: Those are complicated questions that need a little background. The task of restoring, retrofitting and beautifying the Manila Cathedral began in 2010 when Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales, the then Archbishop of Manila, summoned us, the officers and members of the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica Foundation, to help in strengthening the belfry of the Cathedral which swayed ominously when cargo trucks passed nearby. He was afraid that a major earthquake may topple the belfry and damage the entire Cathedral. Upon inspection and study, the engineers we hired concluded that it was not just the belfry that needed to be strengthened but also the entire edifice.

In the process, we found to our dismay that there were no existing as-built plans from which we could start our work. No architectural designs, much less structural plans, were found anywhere; not in the archives of the Archdiocese, not in the National Library, not in the Manila City Engineer’s Office. No one knew on what pilings or rock the Cathedral stood. Complicating the situation is the fact that the edifice was built on reclaimed land which our structural engineers said could liquefy and cause the Cathedral to collapse.

The structural engineers submitted this dismaying report when our new Archbishop, Luis Antonio G. Tagle (he was not yet a Cardinal at the time) took over after the retirement of Cardinal Rosales. And his first major decision was to close the Cathedral, at my legal advice and those of others, that should the Cathedral collapse, he and the trustees of the Foundation would be held liable for any death or damage that may occur since we have already been forewarned by the structural engineers’ written report.

Fortunately, after reflection and prayer, with the guidance of the Lord and the help of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, we were able to complete the job of raising funds and to strengthen, retrofit and renovate the Manila Cathedral.

Drawing lessons from that experience, I proposed to our Board of Trustees chaired by Cardinal Tagle and vice-chaired by Ambassador Tita de Villa that the Foundation should publish a coffee table book to show how the Cathedral was strengthened, retrofitted and beautified, complete with the structural and architectural plans so that 50 years or 100 years from now, when – hopefully and prayerfully – we would all have all joined our Lord Jesus in the heavenly mansions our Father prepared, future generations who may wish to re-strengthen, retrofit and re-beautify the Cathedral will no longer meet the same baffling problems we faced. The Board of Trustees welcomed my proposal but the problem of funding came about. Thus, I proposed that we tap the Metrobank Foundation for funds. But because the Metrobank Foundation had already exhausted its budget, it referred our funding request to its sister foundation, the GT Foundation, which gallantly and kindly agreed at short notice to issue the check to cover the publication. Thank you, Mr. Alfred Ty (who is with us now) for your generosity and for delivering the check today.

At the suggestion of many people, principally Dr. Gerald Lico who was tasked to design and edit it, the book metamorphosed into a world-class, grand coffee table book that we can humbly dedicate to our Lord and our Lady, and that we can, modesty aside, be proud to distribute to all Catholic personalities and offices in the Philippines and in the world. Indeed, more than merely essaying how the Cathedral was strengthened, retrofitted and beautified, the book has evolved into its present form as a veritable witness in “Restoring a Monument to Faith, Architecture and History.”


Question: “What will be the legacy of this book for the future generations? For the Church and for our Faith?”


Answer: More than brick and mortar, the Manila Cathedral is a symbol of our deep faith and a monument of our religious heritage as a people. In turn, the coffee table book is a testament not just to the herculean effort to restore, re-strengthen, retrofit and beautify the mortar and brick of the edifice, but it is now also a witness to the architectural and historical genius of our faithful in their adoration of our Lord and in their veneration of our Lady.

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