Lost History | Opinion of the applicant
Every year on International Museum Day, I celebrate all the museums in the Philippines and thank them for the important, but often thankless, work they do. Let’s not forget that when the Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases allowed shopping malls to operate, it closed libraries, archives and museums because they were not deemed ‘essential’. to Filipino life. After two years in limbo, many museums have reopened to welcome visitors back as beacons of truth amid a turbulent sea of fake news, misinformation and online distortion.
A bronze historical marker installed outside the National Museum of Fine Arts (former Legislative Building) indicates that the current National Museum of the Philippines began as the Insular Museum of Ethnology, Natural History and Commerce established by the Philippine Commission in 1901. However, if one will drop the anti-Spanish bias we learned in school and look beyond the American “benevolent assimilation” of the Philippines and Filipinos in the early 20th century, you will find the Museo-Biblioteca de Filipinas, established in 1887, the Lolo of the present National Museum and the National Library of the Philippines, institutions that have served me well for research and enjoyment.
Our public cultural institutions are today separated: the National Museum is the guardian of art, anthropology, archeology and natural history; the National Library for books and printed matter; the National Archives for manuscripts and archival documents; the Philippine Cultural Center for the Performing and Visual Arts; the Intramuros administration for the built heritage of the Spanish era; and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines for Historic Sites, Shrines and Monuments. I have researched each of them since the 1980s, happy with what they have on hand but saddened by all that has been lost or destroyed in the last 77 years from the Battle of Manila in 1945.
In 1938, the National Library and the Museum were united under one roof, in the Legislative Palace, their paintings, sculptures and historical objects listed in a published catalog. At that time, they only had one copy of Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium” by Jose Benlliure. Today we have the original “Spoliarium” presented as a gift from Spain and Francisco Franco in 1958. Of the six original paintings by Juan Luna in the catalog, only one remains. Of the nine paintings by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, only two remain. As a historian, I am drawn to 75 “Historical Objects” listed in the 1938 catalog, especially those that belonged to or are associated with our heroes and personalities:
Three 19th century bolos are listed. The one brought by Andres Bonifacio during the gathering of the Katipuneros in Balintawak (or Pugadlawin depending on which source you read). That of the revolutionary Julian M. Garcia “killed many enemies in 1896”. The one belonging to Anacleto Inovejas saw action against the guardia civil on the night of November 27, 1897 in Lagatik, now New Washington, Capiz. Inovejas’ pistol was also on the list of weapons used by Jose Rizal and General Vicente Lukban. Instead of arms, flags, or insignia, Emilio Aguinaldo was represented by a bottle and glass he used during the Philippine-American War. According to the catalog: “in the absence of a canteen, the general used it to transport drinking water”.
The tourniquet used at Bilibid to execute criminals during the Spanish period was a museum crowd drawer due to its gruesome history and the claim that it was the same instrument used at Gomez, Burgos and Zamora in 1872. Of a more personal nature were the eighteenth-century black silk undergarments or “calsoncillos” worn by Rizal’s great-grandfather. Politicians were represented by four hammers. Those of Sergio Osmeña, Quintin Paredes and Manuel Roxas as presidents of the Chamber, those of Claro M. Recto as president of the Constitutional Convention.
Too bad these and other relics from the past weren’t photographed, leaving us with bland titles and dimensions in an inventory. Historical objects are essential to our memory, those that still exist must be documented and made available to the public online. Even more so today when the inconvenient truths of our history are subject to modification, erasure and suppression so that we who should remember are compelled to forget.
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