Balayan Church
Batangas, Philippines

from John Silva in the DR <> (Philippines) on Wed Apr 3 06:38:22 2002

Dear Friends of Balayan Church,

After having stopped the construction of a McDonald’s restaurant on the church grounds of historic Balayan Church in Batangas these past four months, the franchise Golden Arches Development Company resumed construction last Easter Monday.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) which stopped the construction after a public outcry has reissued Golden Arches an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), last March 20, 2001 stating that the church grounds on which Balayan Church rests is not considered part of the historical landmark designation covered by presidential decrees and republic laws. Therefore the Catholic Diocese of Batangas and McDonald’s has the right to convert church property for commercial use.

The DENR ruling copies, almost word for word, the petition for reconsideration filed by McDonald’s/Golden Arches.

This construction must be stopped. This was the litmus test and if McDonald’s wins this case, several other landmark churches in the province are being looked into for McDonald’s construction including the Batangas Cathedral.

We need your help. You must do one of the following actions because public opinion can reverse the decision as it stopped construction the first time around.

1. Call DENR Regional Director Samuel Penafiel at 405-0040 or 41. He made the decision to resume construction. I called him and told him my displeasure and warned him that the fight is not over. He faxed me the documents on the decision as well as the petitions from Golden Arches and the Diocese. Ask for them, read them and be even more incensed. He did admit that there are still recourses left including going to the top.

2. Call DENR Secretary Heherson Alvarez. His phone number is 928-0691. Ask to meet with him. But make sure you get to talk to him and tell him to have the ECC rescinded. Embarrass him, goad him, since he is still up for appointment.

3. Call Ms. Emelita Almosara of the National Historical Institute. Her number is 523-0905. Of all the documents filed by the opponents to the construction, NHI had the most clout because their historical landmarking mandate is what Golden Arches fears the most. Golden Arches contends landmarking covers only edifices and not adjoining grounds. NHI believes otherwise. We have been told that if NHI again files a petition with DENR to stop construction, then DENR may rescind its ECC issuance. Tell Ms. Almosara to do the petition immediately.

4. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the National Museum, the Heritage Conservation Society and the Concerned Citizens of Balayan are also fierce opponents to the construction. Alert the heads of these organizations and tell them to plan out a joint action. A public demonstration may be in order to dramatize the situation. Passing on this alert to all your friends will also help.

5. To my Filipino friends in the United States. You are going to be helpful here or else you will come home seeing Golden Arches covering all the great churches in this country. Get in touch via e-mail to McDonald’s USA (they have a website). They manage McDonald’s in this country. Tell them in no uncertain terms that you are going to encourage the two million Filipinos in the United States and your own community of friends to engage in a boycott of all McDonald’s products until construction is stopped. Do a petition campaign and send it to McDonald’s. Get this news in your local paper. Give the media there my e-mail if they need more information. Let McDonald’s know that this insults the religious sensibilities of Filipinos as well as the desecration of a church considered a historical landmark. Please refer to the attached article I wrote and appeared, Dec. 13th 2001, in the Philippine Inquirer.

6. Call Mr. Kennth S. Yang, Executive Vice-President of McDonald’s Philippines telling him your opposition to the construction and that you and your friends will also engage in a boycott until construction is stopped. His phone number is 893-0955 and his fax number is 813-0955

I cannot underscore enough the importance of public opinion and everyone doing their share. We can stop this construction if each and every one of you do something. Please do not let the people of Balayan down. They have a formidable, uphill battle and the whole country must rally around them.

McDonald’s Balayan franchise kept on ice
January 2002

By Jaime Arroyo

The furor raised by concerned parishioners of Balayan, Batangas, and cultural and environmental activists over the construction of a McDonald’s franchise in the compound of the historic Balayan church in Batangas bore fruit on January 16 when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources upheld a cease and desist order it had issued earlier against Art Builders, the Mandaluyong-based contractor constructing the building. 

At a Technical Conference/Hearing held at the Region IV headquarters of the DENR, it was resolved that pending a thorough evaluation of the issues by the National Historical Institute, the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, and the National Museum, the proposed construction of the McDonald's franchise on the Balayan churchgrounds would be put on hold.

Last December 11, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued a Cease-and-Desist Order against Art Builders, a Mandaluyong-based contractor, to prevent its construction of a McDonald's restaurant on the patio of the Balayan Church.

A month later, on January 16, the DENR’s Region IV ruled that pending a thorough evaluation of the issues by the concerned agencies, namely the National Historical Institute, the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, and the National Museum, the construction of the McDonald's franchise in the Balayan church compound would be put on hold.

For the benefit of elderly priests

It all began when Fr. Ernesto Mandanas, parish priest in charge of Balayan church, thought to lease part of the land occupied by the church complex to the multinational hamburger chain, supposedly to raise money to build a retirement home for the elderly priests of the parish. He convinced Lipa Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales of the merit of his idea, and together they entered into a lease agreement with McDonald's.

The initiative was met with considerable resistance from the townsfolk of Balayan, led by Benjie Martinez, former town mayor who had spent his entire term trying to prevent McDonald's from establishing a branch on the church grounds.

Martinez’s efforts notwithstanding, however, the erection of the restaurant proceeded in full force when his term ended after last year's elections. In fact, the local municipal council, finding no legal impediment to the construction of the restaurant, gave it the go-signal. Construction started on October 25, 2001 when Fr. Mandanas was issued the necessary building permit.

An interest group who identified themselves as "Concerned Parishioners of Balayan" wrote to Environment Secretary Heherson Alvarez on November 28, 2001, to call his attention to the construction of the restaurant, pointing out that no Environmental Compliance Certificate had been issued by his office for the project.

Secretary Alvarez dispatched Ernesto Malimban, who in now Region IV Director, who reported that there was reason for the DENR to issue a Notice of Violation. This was followed shortly by the cease and desist order.

Opponents out in full force
Representing the proponents at the January 16 DENR hearing on the project were Catherine Cham of McDonald's, and Teddy Malabanan and Fernando Tongol of Art Builders. The complainants, on the other hand, comprised a considerably larger group of concerned Balayan parishioners and environmental and cultural workers.

Among the principal complainants was Senen Lainez, a Balayan parishioner, whose condemnation of the McDonald's project appeared in a letter published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on December 31, 2001.

In addition, representatives from three concerned national government agencies, namely the NHI, the NCCA and the National Museum, as well as representatives from the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS), came to air their views on the matter. On the periphery sat the Municipal Council of Balayan, which, according to its spokesman, did not have any vested interest on the matter.

Presiding over the hearing was Director Malimban, assisted by Atty. Adolfo de Guzman and Engineer Sonny Jornilla.

'We're not out to break any laws’

Cham, speaking for McDonald's, invoked the lease agreement that the company had entered into with the Archdiocese of Lipa, calling it a valid contract and invoking good faith. "We're not out to break any laws," she said.

Cham also invoked a letter dated January 10, 2000, from NHI Executive Director Pablo Trillana to Augusto Alonzo, Senior Real Estate Officer of Golden Arches Development Corporation, which is responsible for the construction of McDonald's restaurants.

In the letter, Trillana opined that such construction would be "contrary to national and international conservation principles, and urban planning and development practices." He said that "inasmuch as a historic monument or structure not only includes the single architectural work but also the setting in which it is found, the preservation of the Church of Balayan embraces also that of its setting."

Cham said McDonald's interpreted this to mean that by "conforming to the architecture of the church" and by "constructing their building 60 meters from the edifice of the church" they would be conforming to these principles.

Garish and completely discordant

Esperanza Gatbonton of the NCCA dismissed McDonald's interpretation of Trillana's letter as "a mistaken interpretation."

It was revealed at the hearing that apart from the Trillana letter, McDonald’s did not secure any kind of permission from the NHI to construct a building on the church grounds. The matter is clearly within the cognizance of the NHI, which has installed, on December 8, 1986, a marker classifying the church as an historic structure, and its area as an historic site.

Under Presidential Decree No. 1586, without the clearance of the NHI, the DENR cannot lawfully issue an ECC to a contractor who plans to build on a site expressly classified as historic by the NHI.

The opponents of the project did not confine themselves to condemning the restaurant on the basis of legal issues. John Silva, a consultant of the National Museum, was quite vocal.

"A fast food restaurant will never conform to such surroundings," he asserted. "It will always look garish and completely discordant."

Atty. Fidel Borja of the Solicitor General's office, speaking on behalf of the NHI, pointed out that not only the construction, but the subsequent activity of going to the restaurant would severely impair the value of the church.

Worshipping God and buying hamburgers

"Instead of teaching them to worship God, you will teach the parishioners to buy hamburgers," Borja said.

Senen Lainez added that a more crucial issue was the historical value of the site on which the building was to be erected. The site, apparently had once been a fort from where residents of Balayan fought off marauding pirates centuries ago.

Atty. Trixie Angeles of the Heritage Conservation Society pointed out that the issue extended even further than that--to the power of the state to limit activities which it feels are detrimental to the cultural or historical value of its property. The proposed construction, she said, would bring about such an impairment.

Although it initially sat on the fence on the issue, the Balayan Municipal Council eventually voiced its displeasure at the DENR for overriding its approval of the McDonald's project. It seemed to be even more annoyed to learn that the permission of the NHI, the NCCA and the National Museum are necessary for the issuance of an ECC.

At the end of the day, the DENR ruled that McDonald's had acted in violation of the law, and maintained the CDO it had imposed on Art Builders.

The NHI, NCCA, and the National Museum, for their part, asked the project proponents for copies of all pertinent documents regarding the construction plan, in order for the agencies to draw up a written position paper, which they would submit to the DENR for final adjudication on the matter. Art Builders promised to submit the documents to the concerned agencies by Friday, January 18.


Stop McDonald's Construction on Church Grounds!

11:00 AM Mass
by John L. Silva

We all grew up knowing the biblical story of Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple. Jesus was transformed from a usually meek man to one enraged, clutching a whip to drive away the business louts. The message was clear: Businesses and places of worship do not mix.

Fr. Ernesto Mandanas, parish priest of Balayan Church has forgotten Jesus’ admonition as he has gone full swing in having a MacDonald’s built on church grounds. He, along with Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales have agreed not only to put a MacDonald’s in this town but also on the church grounds of the Batangas Cathedral. If they have their way, ringing cash registers and hamburger grease smell will commingle with altar bells ringing during the transformation of the host and the scent of incense. Jesus would be so upset at this prospect and would resurrect again if only to go after the money hungry priests.

Why does Fr. Mandanas want the money? It seems he needs it to build a rest home for their aging priests. That’s a compassionate reason. But the way these priests are going about it, they violate the elementary understanding that religious entities are exempt from paying taxes because they are in the business of saving souls and not making money. Once the church starts using its resources, like property, to make a profit, they lose their non-profit status.

Parishioners who have benefited from the religious counsel and guidance of priests have a responsibility in caring for them in their twilight years. Parishioners have many options in raising funds but desecrating church grounds with a commercial establishment shouldn’t be one of them. Suspicions are raised because the parishioners are not being informed as to the size of the rest home and how many elderly priests will be taken care of. There are estimates though that up to 100,000 pesos a month will be received by the parish for rental of church grounds to MacDonald’s.

The violation of tax laws isn't the most important thing that riles the townspeople of Balayan and people who value heritage conservation. Spanish colonial churches are the most distinctive identity markers of the nation rivaling the Banaue Rice Terraces and the Tubataha Reefs and other natural wonders in this country. Yet, an untold number of churches have been destroyed by ignorant parish priests who have altered facades, painted over frescoes, chipped off architectural details, and in the more extreme cases, totally demolished a structure for a hideous "modern" replacement. In the case of Balayan, the planned MacDonald’s will cover the church from one angle of the road and will pose many aesthetic and practical problems. Will the huge golden arch now be raised higher than the church steeple? Will other parts of the church grounds be used for parking? Will the diners enter MacDonald’s through the main church entrance or will they tear down the grilled wall of the church? In the blind greed for money, Fr. Mandanas will now make MacDonald’s, its corporate symbol, and its dining function overshadow the solemnity and spirituality of church grounds and will lead to the further loss of parishioners and devotees to the Catholic Church.

MacDonald’s, an American corporation, has decided to go ahead and build on property that has a National Historical Institute marker placed since December 8, 1986. The Balayan Church was also deemed as a National Cultural Treasure along with 26 other churches in 2000 by the National Museum. In addition, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts has nominated this and the other churches for restoration and as a flagship project for the millennium. MacDonald’s brazen and anti-Filipino act would be comparable to Jollie Bee opening up a food outlet on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Benjie Martinez, the last mayor of Balayan fought successfully during his term not to have MacDonald’s placed on church grounds. There was a local ordinance passed to ensure there would be no such construction. Soon after Mayor Martinez ended his term on July 31, the local Sangguniang Bayan declared the local ordinance null and void. By November, a portion of the church grounds, sited for construction was fenced.

As of today, diggings and earthmoving are occurring on the church site, since Fr. Mandanas obtained a building permit last October 25, 2001. The planned MacDonald’s construction on church grounds blasphemes the religiosity of our people and insults a nation trying very hard to preserve the heritage of our country. Allowing this to occur gives a green signal for other commercial establishments to mushroom in all other church grounds throughout the country. Our children will grow up spiritless, knowing only foreign consumer indulgence rather than a love for their faith and their country.

Express your opposition to this construction by calling Fr. Ernesto Mandanas today at (6343)2114-371 (office), (6343)2115-327 (house) or (6343)407-0364 (fax).

Tell Mr. Jojo Samson, MacDonald’s Communication Director, your opposition to the construction and that they stop it immediately. His phone number is (632)815-9683. You can bear pressure on Macdonald’s by declaring you will encourage all your friends to express their sentiments and boycott Macdonald’s products until construction has stopped.

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