MANILA, Philippines — President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is set to be inaugurated at the National Museum of the Philippines on Thursday, June 30, becoming the fourth president to be sworn in at the building.
But while the presidential swearing-in will indeed be a significant event, the historical and cultural relevance of the National Museum is already rich.
What else is there to know and explore at the museum?
The National Museum is not just a building
Many people refer to the historic Old Legislative Building as the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP). But did you know that this is only one of the museums that is under the supervision of the NMP?
The building where Marcos is to take the oath houses the National Museum of Fine Arts and is part of the National Museum complex in Manila.
Next door is the National Museum of Anthropology, housed in the former Ministry of Finance building which was rebuilt in 1949 after suffering heavy damage during World War II.
The museum now houses “Philippine terrestrial and underwater ethnographic and archaeological collections that tell the story of the [country] of the past,” according to its website.
The National Museum of Natural History, on the other hand, was only opened to the public in 2018. Its building, the former headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture and Trade and the Ministry of Tourism, was built in 1940 but was finally rebuilt in 1949 after the war. .
The latest addition to the complex houses 12 permanent exhibits on the country’s “rich biological and geological diversity”. Its most prominent feature, and undeniably the most photographed, is the “Tree of Life” structure which represents the ecosystems of the Philippines.
There are also 14 museums outside of Metro Manila that come under the NMP under Republic Act 11333 – the National Museums of the Philippines Act – which makes the creation of regional museums and satellite offices mandatory.
You can check this practice map to learn more about these regional museums.
National Museum of Fine Arts: the house of the “Spoliarium” and much more
Marcos will be sworn in June 30 at noon at the Old Legislative Building, a historic structure that was first built in 1918 and originally designed to house the National Library of the Philippines, according to the official museum website.
It was rebuilt in 1949, after being badly damaged during the war.
After being used by Congress and other government agencies, the building was eventually turned over to the NMP and now houses the National Museum of Fine Arts.
The museum’s website says it has 29 galleries that feature the works of Filipino artists – modern painters, sculptors and printmakers, among others – as well as other works of art borrowed from other institutions and individuals.
But perhaps the most famous painting that inhabits the Old Legislative Building is the Spoliarium – “The most enormous work” of the Filipino painter Juan Luna who won the gold medal at the Exhibition of Fine Arts in Madrid in Spain in 1884.
The painting is considered a national cultural treasure, a term that refers to “any locally found cultural property possessing outstanding historical, cultural, artistic and scientific value significant to the country,” according to the NMP.
The Spoliarium is exhibited in a room that bears his name. Just in front of the painting is The Assassination of Governor Bustamanteone of the famous works of Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, a contemporary of Luna.
The museum also includes a room dedicated to portraits of early 20th-century Filipino artists. Among the paintings on display are those by national artist Fernando Amorsolo, including an unfinished portrait of a young woman.
If you explore further and find yourself in the Old Senate Chamber, you can also find National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco. Filipino struggles throughout historya massive mural painted for Manila City Hall in 1968. It was eventually transferred to the museum in 2013 for restoration and public display in 2018.
In the heart of Manila
The National Museum complex is located in the heart of Manila. If you plan to visit it, you might as well discover other historical sites nearby.
Manila City Hall, designed by Filipino architect Antonio Toledo, is a short walk from the Old Legislative Building.
A short walk away – or perhaps a short jeepney ride – is the Manila Metropolitan Theater which has just opened after undergoing rehabilitation from years of neglect. It now hosts performances and screenings of restored classics of Filipino cinema. (Fire in theaters June 17, 2022.)
The National Museum complex is also just in the northern part of Luneta Park. In fact, the famous sculpture of a relief map of the Philippines sits in the middle of the Museum of Anthropology and the Museum of Natural History. Just a short walk and you will reach the Rizal monument.
To complete your tour of the country’s rich history in Manila, you can also visit Intramuros, the walled city that dates back to the Spanish colonial period. Inside are Manila Cathedral and Fort Santiago, where national hero Jose Rizal was imprisoned before his execution in 1896.
Place for presidential inaugurations, protest movements
The significance of the Old Legislative Building as the site of Marcos’ inauguration is not lost on many. It is, after all, such a historic site that it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2010.
The building has been a silent witness to the inauguration of three presidents so far: Manuel Quezon in 1935, José Laurel in 1943 and Manuel Roxas in 1946. It was also the site of the Constitutional Convention in 1934.
In a column in requester, historian Ocampo noted, “The Fine Arts Building was the site of past inaugurations: Manuel Luis Quezon (1935), Jose P. Laurel (1943), and Manuel Roxas (1946). Had the organizers taken a closer look at history, they might have opted for another venue because two of the three presidents who were sworn in there died in office. All three have not completed their term.
But most relevant – at least in the context of the incoming Marcos administration – are the events the building witnessed during the reign of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
This is where Filipinos staged protests to oppose the dictatorship. These included huge protests during the First Quarter Storm, a period of civil unrest, which preceded the declaration of martial law in the Philippines.
In January 1970, approximately 50,000 protesters gathered outside the building as Marcos delivered his state of the nation address.
Martial law became one of the country’s darkest periods marked by massive corruption and human rights abuses, which the Marcos family tried to erase after their patriarch was ousted in the revolution of popular power in 1986. – Rappler.com