MANILA, Oct. 15, 2013— The country’s culture agencies formed a task force to handle rehabilitation efforts of old churches destroyed by a strong earthquake in Visayas on Tuesday.

Officials of at least three national cultural agencies met in Manila, few hours after the quake, and formed the “Heritage Task Force” for the rescue and rehabilitation works as soon as possible.

The lead agencies include the National Historical Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), National Historical Commission for the Philippines (NCHP) and National Museum.

Starting on Oct. 17, a joint team of experts will visit Bohol and Cebu provinces to inspect and evaluate the damage.

In a statement, the NCCA said the action is intended to identify properties that immediately need to be secured and draw up priorities for restoration.

It also seeks to estimate the amount of human and financial resources necessary and establish important linkages with stakeholders.

“The Heritage Task Force, as the joint group is called, shall coordinate closely with the Church, national and local government agencies in the rescue and restoration effort,” the agency said.

The NCCA added that it would provide a mobilization fund for the initial assessment, pending the national government’s decision on the wider rescue and rehabilitation efforts.

After the task force’s assessment, the culture agencies would then submit an official report to Malacañang.

The 7.2 earthquake struck Central Visayas on Tuesday morning killing people and damaging properties including centuries-old churches in Bohol and Cebu provinces.

The NCCA said majority of these structures have been declared National Cultural Treasures, National Historical Landmarks and Important Cultural Properties.

“All of which are protected by the Heritage Law,” the agency added.

Among those badly damaged include the three of the oldest in the country – Baclayon and Loboc churches in Bohol and Sto. Niño Basilica in Cebu City.

As of 6 p.m., the death toll reached 85 – more than 60 of the deaths came from Bohol, at least 16 in Cebu and another on Siquijor Island. (CBCPNews)