Heritage Sites

The Day History Came Crashing Down: The Fall of Cebu's Ancient Belfry


Berniemack Arelláno
Berniemack Arelláno | Oct 14, 2014


When the earth shook violently that Tuesday morning, October 15, 2013, at Cebu, we thought everyone was safe from harm. We were wrong. Through the power of social media, and thanks to the stability of communication lines in the city, information steadily streamed to my tab. Offices were immediately evacuated.

That morning, we thought we would be seeing only minor damages, but we did not have an inkling that it was Visayas’ most powerful earthquake in more than 20 years, and that it has toppled several buildings. I was moved when I saw the photo of the belfry of Santo Niño de Cebu Basilica, ruined. I was stunned, shocked, and a bit teary-eyed.

Basilica Minore de Santo Nino de Cebu’s belfry ruined by the quake.

I immediately hurried up from IT Park to downtown Cebu, not minding the aftershocks. When I was there, I saw my fellow colleague Ka Bino Guerrero, who was mourning the damage to the church. The belfry was gone, with the bells on the ground and the rocks scattered.

The facade. The belfry lies ruined in the ground.

I was moved to tears when I saw it.

Fortunately, it was a holiday. There weren’t many people around at the time. No one was seriously hurt.

The church belfry as seen from the street with Ka Bino.

The Basilica’s belfry, along with its façade, had just been recently renovated. There also had been plans to have the area closed in preparation for a big celebration in which the Pope himself may visit the city. Yet, it all came crashing down.

The belfry and the Santo Nino Basilica when it was still standing.

Belfries have been known to be the first ones to fall during an earthquake. The Spanish priests were aware of it. That is why some churches in the country have their belfries far from the church itself, just like in Ilocos, Jaro in Iloilo, and perhaps Loboc and Baclayon in Bohol (with their fare share of earthquake heartbreaking stories).

The moment the belfry came down. Video still shot from ABS-CBN. Video by Alain Avelino.

The Head Priest of the Basilica, Father Mejares OSA, has made a statement that Mass would be held at the Pilgrim Center, located in front of the damaged church. He then also added that they will need the help of the stakeholders in order to rebuild it.

I then heard this, “We are also thankful for the Muslim holiday. If it wasn’t for this, there would be a lot of casualties, especially children, since every morning students and even street kids converge near the belfry. God has still been merciful.”

Prophetic? The performance of Sinanduloy Cultural Troupe in this year’s Sinulog Festival seems to have seen the fate of the belfry of the Basilica, with it swaying till stable. The ending was, the belfry was fastened.

Indeed, for it was a holiday, lives were spared from the falling bell tower. No matter what faith we believe in, we're thankful for the minimal casualties…but still.

It became an instant tourist attraction a few hours after it collapsed. The vicinity of the belfry remains off-limits though.

It was heartbreaking to see the belfry toppled down by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake, but I know it will be rebuilt. It reminded me of one photo I took from the Sinulog Festival just this year—prophetic as it may seem. The champion contingent performed a scene where the belfry was seen wobbling and yet it ended up standing. I guess that’s the Visayan resolve. We may wobble, but still we stand up.

We were heartbroken but hopeful. Then the first photos from Bohol came streaming in. We were aghast and shocked…

The belfry and the curious people of smartphones.

The 15th of October 2013 is a day to be remembered in Visayan history. Many people perished, and at the same time a part of our culture crumbled down. Bohol’s churches were far worse. The day hasn’t ended.

VIEW: What else to see in Cebu? Explore with the Choose Philippines Cebu Map:


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(These travel essay and photos were previously published on www.habagatcentral.com. For more features about Philippine travel destinations, food, delicacies, festivals and products, as well as hotels, resorts and restaurants, LIKE HabagatCentral.com.)

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