Why are museums in each LGU important?

Lorenz Pasion

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Why are museums in each LGU important?

Museo ni Dr. Pio Valenzuela, which opened in January 2023, is the newest museum managed by the local government of Valenzuela City.

Photo by Lorenz Pasion

'A nation without museums is a nation that has nothing to show for where it has been, what it has become, and what it seeks to be,' says Dr. Jose Eleazar Bersales of the NCCA

On a rainy Friday afternoon, grade 12 students Lady Grace Abril and John Percy Sibug visited Museo ni Dr. Pio Valenzuela (MPV), a reconstructed bahay na bato showcasing the life of a doctor, hero, revolutionary, and former Bulacan governor who became the namesake of a city in northern Metro Manila. 

The two took a closer look at every nook and cranny of the museum – from Valenzuela’s personal belongings, letters to politicians, his office desk, and even medical tools he used to treat patients in his clinic where the museum now stands.

RAINY WEATHER. Sibug (left) and Abril (right) still decide to visit Museo ni Dr. Pio Valenzuela despite the rain. Photo by Lorenz Pasion/Rappler

Like every Gen Z would, they posed in every corner, their stifled laughter being the only noise heard inside the museum besides educational audio materials about the doctor’s life. They would be the only visitors of the establishment in the next two hours.

This is Abril’s first time visiting a museum. Sibug, a history enthusiast, asked her to accompany him because he wanted to “see for himself” the things he only learned in lessons taught in school.

Head of the Valenzuela Cultural Affairs and Tourism Office (CATO) Jonathan Balsamo that this is the goal of MPV – to give much-needed historical knowledge to the public that will help them solidify their identity as Valenzuelanos. 

“Each town has their own history, how will you teach it to its townspeople? One way is through museums, which provide learning beyond the limitations of the four corners of a classroom. You can even learn history by visiting museums after you graduate,” Balsamo said.

The national museum system in the Philippines is covered by Republic Act No. 11333, which amended RA 8492. Both RA No. 11333 and the law it amended gave the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) the power to supervise and establish regional, area, and site museums, which put them under the agency’s jurisdiction. However, there are currently no laws covering LGU-run museums. 

Data from OpenStreetMap show that there are only 307 museums all over the Philippines, including all those run by NMP, LGUs, and private groups. Almost a quarter of them are in the National Capital Region. In most provinces, there are only a few museums.

More than just a name

Both Abril and Sibug told Rappler that the life of Valenzuela – he being the city’s local hero – is being taught in history classes, but not as detailed as other heroes.

Valenzuela was a revolutionary and a founding member of the Katipunan. According to an Esquire article, Katipunan leader Andres Bonifacio asked Valenzuela to go to Dapitan and ask for Dr. Jose Rizal’s support and advice for the revolution.

HERO’S LIFE. A detailed timeline of Dr. Pio Valenzuela’s life, complete with dioramas reenacting key moments of his life, is displayed in the museum’s first floor. Photo by Lorenz Pasion/Rappler

He also helped relay the Cry of Balintawak to many Katipunan chapters in neighboring towns, which led to his arrest by the Spaniards, according to an article in the province of Bulacan’s official website.

The same article also said that he became the Presidente Municipal of Polo in 1899, while still in prison. Polo is the old name of Valenzuela City. Valenzuela, the hero, also became the governor of Bulacan in 1921. 

More than common facts about Valenzuela, Sibug told Rappler that the MPV fleshes out the doctor’s life even more through his personal belongings displayed in the museum.

During their visit, both Sibug and Abril learned more about Valenzuela’s life than through any history lessons they were taught in school – the clothes he wore, the kitchen tools he used, and even how his penmanship looked like.

Among the many displays that piqued Abril’s curiosity was a light yellow box that looked like a ballot box used in manual elections. Looking closer, Abril learned that it was a shoe box with a pair of Valenzuela’s shoes inside. “This is a shoe box? It doesn’t look like the ones we have nowadays!” she exclaimed.

The two also told Rappler that MPV’s interactive approach is what they loved the most about the museum.

Abril and Sibug took the chance to sit on Valenzuela’s wooden living room chair set during their museum visit. Sibug sat on a stool Valenzuela used when he played his piano and clacked a few keys on the doctor’s typewriter sitting on his office desk.

INTERACTIVE. Visitors of Museo ni Dr. Pio Valenzuela can take a closer look and even sit on the original chairs of the doctor. Photo by Lorenz Pasion/Rappler

“They allow visitors to touch many parts of the exhibit, unlike other museums. As long as an item is not cordoned off, everybody can take a closer look,” Sibug told Rappler.

Both said that this level of interactivity makes it easier to be immersed in Valenzuela’s life and feel closer to him. They agree that this is a better experience than just “looking at the items inside glass boxes.”

NOT JUST FOR DISPLAY. Past visitors of Museo ni Dr. Pio Valenzuela pose while sitting on the wooden chairs display. Photo from Museo ni Dr. Pio Valenzuela Facebook Page.
Foot traffic

Only 18 individuals visited MPV on June 24, the same day that Abril, Sibug, and Rappler visited the museum – less than half the museum’s average number of visitors that week. MPV’s number of visitors might seem few compared to other museums, but several factors can explain this. 

Based on foot traffic records Balsamo provided to Rappler, 14,057 visitors went to the Valenzuela museum from January to May 2024. In 2023, a total of 48,442 people visited the museum compared to NMP-run museums’ 2.79 million tourists. Aside from three central museums, NMP also manages 16 regional museums.

Unlike NMP-run museums, which are mandated by law to conserve and protect cultural and historical artifacts of national significance, LGU-run museums are more focused on “telling the story of the towns or cities where they are found,” Dr. Jose Eleazar Bersales, head of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ (NCCA) committee on museums, told Rappler via email. 

This difference in scope and purpose is why, according to Balsamo, LGU-run museums like the one in Valenzuela, have far fewer visitors, stressing that the two shouldn’t be compared based on factors like foot traffic.

Balsamo, who directly supervises MPV, pointed to the museum’s location as being one of the factors that limit the number of museum visitors.

“We are far from the main highway. Valenzuela is different, we are located at the northernmost part of the metro. You have to intentionally visit us if you want to see MPV because we are out of way. That means braving the traffic of MacArthur Highway,” Balsamo said.

But to Valenzuelanos like Abril and Sibug, this same reason is why they visited the MPV. Their proximity to the museum makes it an “easy commute,” Sibug said. 

Aside from location, Balsamo also told Rappler that the MPV is more focused on the city’s local history, spotlighting Dr. Pio Valenzuela whom the city was named after. This also explains its foot traffic. 

Balsamo said that compared to Dr. Jose Rizal, who is more “prominent” and well known all over the country, fewer people know of the Katipunero Valenzuela. 

Unlike those that are handled by LGUs, museums handled by NMP offer a wider array of collections. In the National Museum of Fine Arts, for example, several artworks of renowned Filipino artists are housed, including the Spoliarium of Juan Luna. 

Smaller manpower, budget

LGU-run museums do not have the same resources as those run by the bigger NMP. Museums in cities and municipalities often only have small teams to manage their daily operations.

Balsamo told Rappler that including him, only eight people manage MPV’s daily operations: one building administrator, two tour guides, and four maintenance staff.

“If there’s a big event, we usually ask help from OJTs and volunteers to assist our guides,” Balsamo said.

VOLUNTEER. A volunteer is assigned to big groups that visit Museo ni Dr. Pio Valenzuela. Photo from Museo ni Dr. Pio Valenzuela Facebook page.

LGU-run museums also have lower budget allocations compared to those run by NMP. Balsamo explained to Rappler that the funding for these museums is sourced from an LGU’s CATO budget allocation.

The city’s budget for its two museums (including the Valenzuela City Museum), is “integrated into the operations of the tourism office,” Balsamo said. For 2024, for example, the city’s CATO budget is at P19 million – a small amount because tourism is not Valenzuela’s main economic driver, he added.

He also explained that other expenses, like the infrastructure projects for museums, are not included in CATO’s budget. An LGU’s engineering office funds infrastructure projects. 

Compared to the MPV’s budget, NMP-run museums have a big wallet. According to a Department of Budget Management document, the NMP has 387 permanent employees and a budget of P296 million for its museum program in 2023. 

NCCA’s Bersales told Rappler that different types of museums have different means of getting funds.

“LGU-run museums or government museums have budgets that are part of the LGU budget cycle. Privately-owned museums are, however, funded by their owners. For school-based museums, there may be annual budgets to sustain them, no matter how small,” he said.

He also said that the government should “support non-school-based private museums” like house museums or lifestyle museums that, he said, could greatly need a helping hand, especially in terms of subsidies or tax incentives.

Big impact on community

Museums handled by LGUs might be smaller in many aspects compared to NMP-run museums, but they still have a big impact, especially on the communities they are in. 

Bersales said that museums managed by LGUs can even “take the place” of national museums in places without a branch, adding that they could be a “good first stop not only for locals but also outsiders…to get a grasp of the town/city within a short span of time.”

Architect Gio Abcede, president of the Heritage Conservation Society, meanwhile, said that LGU-run museum initiatives have a “unique draw” for visitors from different provinces.

“These museums have the capacity to promote the local craftsmen’s work, the art, food, music, or other practices that can boost more economic benefits for their own locality. These places have unique characteristics that they can play on, through the creative use of their museum spaces,” Abcede said.

In Valenzuela, Balsamo said that the museums also indirectly help the local economy as they encourage small businesses to set up nearby operations. But more than this, LGU-run museums help solidify the identity of a community. This means helping families who migrated there “develop love in one’s place and [have a] sense of place” given that “majority of the people who live [there] don’t have roots in the city.”

Museum exhibitions also provide physical evidence that are “designed to educate Filipinos, inspire them, make them proud” as a people and encourage them to reflect on the human condition, Bersales said.

“A nation without museums is a nation that has nothing to show for where it has been, what it has become, and what it seeks to be,” Bersales said.

More LGU museums needed

The impact of LGU-run museums on their respective cities and towns is significant to building their communities and is a “trend in the right direction” said Abcede but only a few LGUs have museums.

At least 65 of all museums in the country are located in the National Capital Region, which both Bersales and Abcede said, would most likely have to do with the “high concentration of academic institutions” in the region.

Both experts told Rappler that the high human population, along with the high concentration of academic institutions and businesses in the nation’s capital, are vital to supporting museums.

There are 23 museums in Manila City alone, the highest in the country, which Abcede links to the city’s large proportion of tertiary-level institutions.

The proximity of these institutions to each other is “vital in most museum operations” which include access to research facilities, existing documents, collections, and resources by funding private entities.

Support for state-funded museums in rural areas should be continued by the government whether through national cultural agencies or the local government units as these “help the Filipino youth have a wider perspective of what is beyond their own classrooms.” They also “connect people from different communities,” Abcede said.

Just like how MPV and the Valenzuela City Museum help Valenzuelanos know more about their history, Balsamo hopes that all LGUs will someday have museums of their own. Having them can inspire people to act more with pride. 

“You are planting in them the love for their town,” Balsamo said. “All towns should have their own museums because all towns have their own history.” –

This story is from Rappler’s research and data innovation team that focuses on finding and telling stories from datasets. The map was produced in collaboration with data analysts and scientists from TheNerve, a Manila-based consultancy that specializes in analyzing data to generate powerful insights and narratives.

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Lorenz Pasion


Lorenz Pasion

Lorenz Pasion is a researcher at Rappler and a member of its fact-check team that debunks false claims that spread on social media.