Rediscovering Filipino History, Manila's Museums [sponsored]

Author's Note: This is a much #laterpost, to borrow Twitter parlance, but hey -- it's October and week three of Filipino American History Month. Officially. To me, it's always Fil Am History Month. To check out the many events in the city and suburbs, check the Filipino American Network of Chicago's calendar of events. You'll be happy you did.


Manila, July 9.

Our tab: sisig, a beautifully spicy, garlicky hash of pig’s face, ears and brains, served on a sizzling platter topped with an egg over-easy; a few bottles of San Mig Lite, customary with pulutan; fresh buko or coconut juice out of the husk; kangkong adobo, a mild-tasting, leafy vegetable akin to spinach with a hardy stalk prepared with soy sauce, vinegar, peppercorns and bay leaves.

Around this feast a few of us gathered on our lunch break between visits of our second and third museums: the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and the Money Museum of the Bangko Sentral (Central Bank) and lastly, with the Ayala Museum in Makati to finish.

The day’s museum tour covered broad topics. The first floor of UST’s museum dedicated itself to the richness of the land: taxidermy of mammals large and small; skeletons, exo-skeletons and marine life shells. Adjoining in smaller galleries were artifacts that illustrated the archipelago’s pre-colonial flourishing trade with our neighbors, present-day China, Japan, Indonesia; religious iconography (Roman Catholic); paintings by several turn-of-the-century Filipino masters including Pablo Cueto Amorsolo, younger brother to the much celebrated Fernando Amorsolo. Pablo's work is much more personal, everyday and man-on-the street while his brother's work was more pastoral, grand landscapes and events.

Young UST docents gave short talks, though several alumni broke off from the group with nostalgic impulses to see how their campus had changed.

The Bangko Sentral’s Money Museum was more interesting than I anticipated. Wartime currencies issued by multiple sides of the World War II were displayed: Japanese, American and Filipino guerrilla. Filipinos could trade in these currencies for rations and other goods. These small pieces of paper meant survival because many Filipinos, occupied by various forces, were not allowed to farm their own land. So it was either choosing who to trade with in which currency and/or foraging for food during the Japanese occupation and then the American occupation. Peacetime came and went, temporarily, like the ebb of the sea.

As currencies reached closer to the contemporary, it was interesting to see the change from an American Federalist motif during the Commonwealth Era to the vibrant colors of today, boasting the likenesses of former Presidents, bayani (heroes and heroines) and landscapes like the Banaue Rice Terraces. For obvious reasons, we weren’t allowed to take photographs inside.

The last museum of that day -- the best for last in my opinion -- was the privately-funded Ayala Museum in Makati, the financial center of the nation. The Ayala houses the largest cache of pre-colonial gold artifacts ever discovered in the archipelago.

Manila's Roxas Boulevard designed by American city planner Daniel Burnham


Our group numbered 500 participants, which included the Philippines’ Ambassadors to the United States and to Canada, respectively; Consul Generals and Directors of Tourism based in major cities throughout both countries. And then of course, us delegates. We were from everywhere.

It only illustrated to me how transnational (to borrow a fancy word), migratory people we Filipinos are. Throughout the trip, I met a wide range of people with a strong, shared interest in our heritage: older couples who were veterans of the Ambassadors’ Tour several times over; beauty queens with brains to boot; young professionals who were in the Filipino American Youth Leadership Program (FYLPro group); multigenerational families. I was delightfully surprised with my impressive fellow travelers, and counted myself very lucky to be on such an experience especially with these compatriots.

Seated around me at lunch that first day of the tour was an eclectic group. Consul General Junever Mahilum-West of Toronto and her husband, Dr. John West, himself a scholar of Asian history and economics, just arrived that morning and made it to the hotel only to drop off their bags and hop onto this bus for Day One of the Ambassadors’ Tour. Romel, a coffee farmer from Hawaii, sat opposite me, and across the narrow aisle sat Eloree and Sharon, who were with Hawaiian Airlines.

Between bites, I asked my companions which tour they chose for tomorrow: the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit or the Rizal Shrine in Calamba. None, including myself, had chosen Kawit.

Rizal was an advocate for reforming Spanish rule -- not for revolution (armed or not) that would break from it. Intrigued, I posed the question I really wanted to ask:

If a national hero, by definition, be instrumental in that nation’s building, in establishing its sovereignty -- why, then, is Rizal the national hero? Why or how did that happen?


Posts in this series are sponsored by the Philippines’ Department of Tourism (DOT)The 2013 Ambassadors’ Tour was in July 2013, and the Philippines’ DOT underwrote my participation.