Feature: UNESCO heritage site damaged in Philippines' quake

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MANILA, July 29 (Xinhua) -- With its cobbled streets and horse-drawn carriages, Vigan City, capital of Ilocos Sur province and approximately 350 km north of Manila, is the best-preserved Spanish-style city in the Philippines.

"While the public buildings, the cathedral, and even private ancestral homes are of Spanish-influenced design, a closer inspection reveals Chinese, Mexican, and Filipino influences," said the late journalist Abby Tan when she described Vigan in her travel guide book.

Arlene Gajeton is a tour guide. She and her guests were just sitting down to breakfast in their hotel when the room began to shake, as a 7-magnitude earthquake rattled the northern Philippines on Wednesday morning. On her Facebook page, Gajeton posted pictures of damaged buildings along the famous street of Calle Crisologo.

At least five people were killed in the quake and another 130 were injured. The Department of Tourism is still assessing the earthquake's impact. The tremors destroyed the facade of Vigan Cathedral, part of the Historic City of Vigan, a UNESCO world heritage site.

The quake also damaged the walls and windows of Syquia Mansion, an ancestral home-turned museum. The Hotel Linda and other houses in Vigan Heritage Village also reported minor damage.

A portion of the bell tower in Bantay, another town in Ilocos Sur province, fell off. The quake also damaged the facade and ceiling of a church in San Juan. At least two other churches recognized by the National Museum of the Philippines as national cultural treasures were also damaged.

In Abra province, at the earthquake's epicenter, the 19th-century baroque Santa Catalina de Alejandria Parish Church, commonly known as the Tayum Church, was damaged, as was the San Lorenzo Ruiz Shrine in Bangued. Hundreds of aftershocks continued. The quakes also destroyed bridges, cars, and buildings and triggered landslides and rockslides.

Tourism secretary Christina Frasco said the government will focus on restoring the damaged "cultural treasures." No tourists were reported harmed, but the government advised those with travel plans to the quake-hit northern provinces to be extra cautious.

The quake struck barely two days after President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos emphasized the role of tourism in his first state of the nation address on Monday, where he unveiled plans for the industry.

"Tourism is not only an important economic development tool but the abundance of opportunities that the sector creates in terms of regular employment and even job creation at the grassroots level is undeniable," said Marcos.

As a key economic driver, tourism contributed 12.7 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic badly affected the sector, forcing hotels and airlines to lay off staff. Almost 1.1 million workers were affected. In 2021, the tourism industry contributed only 5.2 percent of GDP. Enditem

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