Manila Cathedral closed to undergo major repairs

The Manila Cathedral (Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception) has been closed beginning February 7, 2012. The Cathedral’s closing was officially announced by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio G. Tagle in a press conference on February 13, 2012 at the Arzobispado de Manila.

Earlier in February, in a circular, Archbishop Tagle informed all the priests in the Archdiocese of Manila of the planned closure in view of a report pointing to questions on the structural integrity of the Cathedral, the mother church of the Archdiocese. In a circular to them the Archbishop said that the decision to close was done after consultations with the Archdiocese’s College of Consultors, and Board of Trustees of the Manila Cathedral Basilica Foundation. The report was made by Angel Lazaro and Associates International (ALAI), a reputable structural engineering consulting firm.

In the circular, Archbishop Tagle pointed to three items of greatest concern (which were also tackled during the press conference):
1. The reported failure of the soil bearing capacity (i.e., the capacity of the soil to bear the weight of the structure) which is only one third that of the required design loads. This in itself presents unsafe conditions even in normal circumstances given that the whole structure is held up by the soil.

2. The reported presence of potentially liquefiable soil materials verified in the shallow region of three to five meters depth in two (2) of four (4) boreholes. Note that the boreholes were dug near the footings in order to determine the type of soil, its bearing capacity and liquefaction potential. Soil liquefaction is a phenomenon that occurs mostly in loose, saturated, medium to fine grained sands wherein a mass of soil loses a large percentage of its bearing capacity when subjected to monotonic, cyclic or shock loading (as in an earthquake), and flows in a manner resembling a liquid. Much of the damage on substructures and foundation during a seismic event is attributed to this phenomenon.

3. The reported failure of the twin columns on the central part of the Manila Cathedral in meeting design standards.

The Archbishop said that remedial measures will be undertaken at the soonest possible time to address these concerns and will involve having a structural design made of the necessary retrofit of the structural members deemed deficient; commissioning a contractor; and actual structural retrofit of the Cathedral.

Fr. Carlos V. Reyes, head of the Archdiocesan Commission on Ecumenical and Inter-religious affairs, a licensed civil engineer, is overseeing the project.

In his circular Archbishop Tagle told the priests, “the temporary closure of any Church, especially of a Cathedral causes pain to the Church community and to the edifice itself. But we cannot ignore the common good and renege our responsibility… (Finally) we are reminded that as the structure of the Church needs constant checking and strengthening, we, the living Temple of the Holy Spirit, are to recognize our need for constant purification, conversion and renewal. We pray to Mary our Mother, immaculately conceived, to protect the Body of Christ from all harm.

In view of the Cathedral’s closure, a temporary “official Church” will be designated for the Archdiocese of Manila.