Inside the new National Museum of the Philippines-Cebu 2
The Aduana Building, once a satellite of Malacañang during GMA’s time, is now the home of the National Museum of the Philippines-Cebu. Photo by Leylan Romarate
Culture

This old landmark is Cebu’s latest attraction: Inside the Nat’l Museum of the Philippines-Cebu

Aside from showcasing local culture, the new national museum in Cebu will also be a scientific institution
CLINT HOLTON POTESTAS | Aug 03 2023

While the newly opened National Museum of the Philippines in Cebu (NMPC) could become a real cultural mirror for Cebuanos, it will also soon strengthen the agency’s existing excavation efforts and empower the organization to collaborate with locals. This is according to Director for Visayas National Museums Cecille Tirol.

Part of The Philippine Center New York Core Collection of 1974, a moving exhibition at the second floor on display until early 2024.
Part of The Philippine Center New York Core Collection of 1974, a moving exhibition at the second floor on display until early 2024. Photo by Leylan Romarate

“Our aim is to be known as not just an exhibitions place; we are not just a cultural hub. We are really a scientific institution. We want to integrate into our system more scholars, more researchers,” Tirol, who is also a lawyer, told ANCX. “As we develop more museums in the future, we cannot just work in isolation. We work with the community. We have to go down and discover kung saan kami pwedeng pumasok.”

An area where viewers can appreciate the works of painters Cid Reyes and Raul Isidro among others.
An area where viewers can appreciate the works of painters Cid Reyes and Raul Isidro among others. Photo by Leylan Romarate

The NMPC now occupies the storied Aduana building which in itself is a sight to behold. Standing proud along the city’s harbor since it was erected in 1910, it functioned as customs headquarters of the Port of Cebu until 2004 when then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo converted the structure into “Malacañang Sa Sugbu,” the administration’s satellite office, throughout her term. 

“Productivity Improvement” by Solomon Saprid.
“Productivity Improvement” by Solomon Saprid. Photo by Leylan Romarate

“We already had a presence in Cebu before, wala lang kaming sariling building or physical presence,” Tirol said of the museum. “But now, we have a feeling of permanency.” 

Previously, the NMPC had moving exhibitions at local museums such as the Museo Sugbu under the Provincial Government and Fort San Pedro. “We can now work on something more stable, especially na hindi kami ngayon takot to do excavation throughout the province na wala kami’ng mapaglagyan. Also, the processing of the finds can’t just be done onsite or anywhere else. We have to bring them to a safe place. That was the constraint back then. At least now, we have a safe place where our experts can do processing.”

Cecille Tirol is the director for the Visayas National Museums.
Cecille Tirol is the director for the Visayas National Museums. Photo by Karla Katrina Arriba

A visit to the new museum promises to be a rich learning experience, especially for Cebuanos like myself, about our own heritage. For example, I just learned that the distinct structure and composition of the “baroto,” our non-motorized wooden boat, serve as our territorial identity, as shown at the gallery called Paglawig: Cultural Movement Across the Seas.One can view the shipwrecks from the San Diego Galleon, a merchant vessel built in Cebu during the 17th century, including the gold seal engraved with the heraldic coat of arms of its captain, Antonio de Morga.

I discovered, too, that dwarf tamaraws once settled in Cebu. A life-sized scale model is showcased at the gallery called Kinaiyahan: Cebu’s Natural Wonders, and they are smaller than the extinct tamaraws of Mindoro. Like the Tamaraw, unique to the section are the preserved Cebu flowerpecker and the Cebu hawk owl. Meanwhile, sedimentary rocks found in Dalaguete and Balamban referred to as “black lignite” are on display in the same division.

“Rizal the Reformist” by Cebuano master painter Martino Abellana.
“Rizal the Reformist” by Cebuano master painter Martino Abellana. Photo by Karla Katrina Arriba

For Tirol, the most unique gallery is the “Ang Karaang Sugbo ug ang mga Kabiling Bahandi” (Ancient Cebu and its Archaeological Heritage). This room is painted in black from floor to ceiling. “Ang exhibitions team namin always wanted to put out a theme that the objects on display are the only ones illuminated. If you go around the central office, ang archaeology section namin hindi ganito. This is the first time that they tested this kind of concept here.”

The gallery of “Kinaiyahan: Cebu’s Natural Wonders.”
The gallery of “Kinaiyahan: Cebu’s Natural Wonders.” Photo by Karla Katrina Arriba

The lighting design brings in the drama in this section. Notable is the death mask at the center, dug out from Plaza Independencia during the 15th Century—proof that early settlers in Cebu were already involved in intricate craftsmanship.

Another gallery is for moving exhibitions. Currently on display is the Philippine Center New York Core Collection of 1974– 120 artworks by Filipino artists from the 1970s once housed for a very long time at the Philippine Center at Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. These include works by Filipino masters like Jose Joya, Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, and Cesar Legaspi.

Miniature models of “baroto” or boats used by fishermen. Designs and specifications differ according to a town’s customs.
Miniature models of “baroto” or boats used by fishermen. Designs and specifications differ according to a town’s customs. Photo by Karla Katrina Arriba
Gold death mask unearthed at the nearby Fort San Pedro.
Gold death mask unearthed at the nearby Fort San Pedro. Photo by Karla Katrina Arriba 

The NMPC’s location is strategic. It’s near Cebu’s historical sites such as the Fort San Pedro and Plaza Independencia. Only a few blocks away are the Gotiaco Building (now the Sugbu Chinese Museum), the Magellan’s Cross, the Basilica del Santo Niño, and the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. According to Tirol, the National Museum of the Philippines and Cebu City Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia, who heads the Cultural and Historical Affairs Commission, are working on legislating a walkable heritage district that links these important landmarks.