Philippine history

National Museum: More than just Marcos Jr.’s inauguration venue

Jodesz Gavilan
National Museum: More than just Marcos Jr.’s inauguration venue

NATIONAL MUSEUM. A team is seen currently conducting an ocular inspection at the National Museum where President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is expected to be sworn in as the 17th chief executive, on June 2, 2022. Rappler

The National Museum Complex is a place for exploring Philippine history, art, and culture

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 into office in the building.

But while the presidential oath-taking will indeed be an important event, the historical and cultural relevance of the National Museum is already rich as it is.

What else is there to know and explore at the museum?

The National Museum is not just one building

Many people tag the historic Old Legislative Building as the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP). But did you know that it’s just one of the museums that is under the supervision of the NMP?

The building where Marcos is set to take his oath houses the National Museum of Fine Arts and is part of the National Museum Complex in Manila. 

Adjacent to it is the National Museum of Anthropology, located in the former building of the Department of Finance that was rebuilt in 1949 after suffering heavy damage during World War II. 

The museum now houses “Philippine ethnographic and terrestrial and underwater archaeological collections narrating the story of the [country] from the past,” according to its website. 

The National Museum of Natural History, meanwhile, was only opened to the public in 2018. Its building, the former home of the Department of Agriculture and Commerce and the Department of Tourism, was constructed in 1940 but was eventually rebuilt in 1949 after the war. 

The latest addition to the complex is home to 12 permanent exhibitions about “the rich biological and geological diversity” of the country. Perhaps its most significant feature, and undeniably the most photographed, is the “Tree of Life” structure that represents the ecosystems in the Philippines.

There are also 14 museums outside Metro Manila that are under the NMP, in accordance with Republic Act 11333 – the National Museum Act of the Philippines – that mandates the creation of regional museums and satellite offices.

You can check this handy map to find out more about these regional museums.

JUAN LUNA’S MASTERPIECE. Visitors look at the ‘Spoliarium’ by Juan Luna located at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila. Photo from the National Museum
National Museum of Fine Arts: Home of ‘Spoliarium’ and so much more

Marcos will take his oath of office at noon on June 30 at the Old Legislative Building, a historic structure that was first constructed in 1918 and was initially designed to house the National Library of the Philippines, according to the museum’s official website

It was reconstructed in 1949, after it was heavily 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 show the works of Filipino artists – modern painters, sculptors, and printmakers, among others – as well as other artworks that are borrowed from other institutions and individuals. 

But perhaps the most famous painting that calls the Old Legislative Building home is the Spoliarium – Filipino painter Juan Luna’s “most enormous artwork” that won the gold medal at the Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts in Spain in 1884. 

The painting is considered as a National Cultural Treasure, a term that refers to “any cultural property found locally, possessing outstanding historical, cultural, artistic, and scientific value significant to the country,” according to the NMP.

The Spoliarium is displayed in a hall named after it. Just across the painting is The Assassination of Governor Bustamante, one of the famous works of Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, a contemporary of Luna. 

The museum also features a hall dedicated to portraiture works of Filipino artists during the early 20th century. Among the paintings featured are those by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, including an unfinished portrait of a young woman.

If you explore more and end up at the Old Senate Hall, you can also find National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco’s Filipino Struggles Through History, a massive mural painted for the Manila City Hall in 1968. It was eventually transferred to the museum in 2013 for restoration, and exhibited to the public in 2018. 

FORT SANTIAGO. The historical tourist site within Intramuros.
Right at the heart of Manila 

The National Museum Complex is located at the heart of Manila. If you plan on visiting it, you might as well check out other nearby historical sites. 

The Manila City Hall, designed by Filipino architect Antonio Toledo, is just a walking distance from the Old Legislative Building. 

A few minutes of walking – or maybe a short jeepney ride – is the Manila Metropolitan Theatre that just recently opened after undergoing rehabilitation due to years of neglect. It now hosts performances and screenings of restored classics of Philippine cinema. (Fire hit the theater on June 17, 2022.)

The National Museum Complex is also just at the north part of Luneta Park. In fact, the famous sculpture of a relief map of the Philippines is in the middle of the Museum of Anthropology and Museum of Natural History. Just a short walk and you’ll 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 it are the Manila Cathedral and Fort Santiago, where national hero Jose Rizal was jailed 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 historical site that it was declared in 2010 as a National Historical Landmark. 

The building was a silent witness to the inauguration of three presidents so far: Manuel Quezon in 1935, Jose Laurel in 1943, and Manuel Roxas in 1946. It was also the site of the Constitutional Convention in 1934.

In a column in the Inquirer, historian Ocampo noted: “The Fine Arts Building was the site of former inaugurals: Manuel Luis Quezon (1935), Jose P. Laurel (1943), and Manuel Roxas (1946). Had organizers looked closer at the history, they might have opted for another venue because two of the three presidents who took their oath there died in office. All three did not finish their terms.”

But the most relevant – at least in the context of the incoming Marcos administration – are the events the building witnessed during the rule of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

It is where Filipinos held protests to oppose the dictatorship. These included huge protest movements during the First Quarter Storm, a period of civil unrest, that preceded the proclamation of Martial Law in the Philippines. 

In January 1970, about 50,000 protesters gathered outside the building as Marcos delivered his State of the Nation Address. 

Martial Law became one of the darkest periods of the country marked by massive corruption and human rights abuses, which the Marcos family has tried to erase following their patriarch’s ouster during the 1986 People Power Revolution. – Rappler.com

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.