17 October 2017





The Philippines has been a country of recent international interest. From Cold War-esque standoffs with China over land claims to President Rodrigo Duterte's contested war on drugs consisting of the murders of thousands, the Philippines is currently undergoing a major shift in policy, mentality, and government.

Whenever a country gets a new, questionable leader, something that I always wonder about first is the status of culture: museums, heritage sites, archaeology, art, and so on. What happens to it? Where does it sit on a list for someone like Duterte and his government? Today, I will be writing a brief overview of the situation.

The Philippines

A map of the Philippines and surround nations. Source.

The Philippines is a collection of 7,107 islands located in the junction of three seas: The South China Sea, the Philippine Sea, and the Celebes Sea. The Philippines was not always one nation, and in fact has a long and complex history of trade between islands as well as with China and Japan, as far back as the 3rd century, with Muslim Arabic settlements landing in the southern islands in the 1300s and retaining control until the 1600s.

In the 1500s Magellan, a Portuguese explorer who worked for the Spanish crown, landed in the southern region. Despite his death soon after, Spain continued to send explorers to the islands and retained control for roughly 356 years.

In the l898, the Spanish-American war changed the face of the Philippines, when the US attacked a Spanish base in Manila. Spain conceded defeat and gave control of the islands to the USA. One month later the Philippines declared independence under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo. The USA was strongly opposed, which led to guerrilla war until 1901. Under the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934, the Philippines was granted independence in 1946 and became the Republic of the Philippines. We can tell from this basic summary that the Philippines has centuries of colonial history, which still affects it today.

Making Museums in the Philippines: 1901-1998

What has been the trend in Philippine museum development in the last century? The first government museum was created under American colonial policy as the National Museum of the Philippines. In the first quarter of the 20th century, places that were rapidly urbanizing, such as Manila, became gathering places for Filipino artists. It was a time of museum creation. During WWII, much heritage was lost with the invasion of opposing forces. Under 3 years of Japanese occupation, the museum division was dismantled and approximately 95% of the museum's collection holdings was destroyed. This demonstrates war's destructive toll on a nation's cultural heritage and patrimony.

The National Museum of the Philippines in Manila. Source.

The Marcos era of the 70s was seen as the time of "high art", with many art galleries and cultural centres - as well as military museums - being opened. With the 80s and 90s and a new democratic government, these systems were reorganized to be more educational, local, and scientific; for example, this is when the Archaeology Division of the government came into being to help promote pre-Spanish Philippines history. More recently, ecomuseums have become a popular trend to showcase traditional craftwork.

Around 2011 and 2012, the government came under fire from journalists for not supporting museums and heritage conservation or protection enough, with national museums operating on budgets so small air conditioning had to be shut down on weekends and important collections left to grow moldy and rot.

Cultural Policies Under Duterte

But what does all of this history mean for the present? What are the museums in the Philippines today? One place to start is by looking at how the current president, Duterte, sees culture and heritage and if it has a place on his list (above or below murder?).

Man of the People or Human Rights Violator? Rodrigo Duterte. Source.

As of yet, all that I can find are policies on economic growth, the decentralization of power, and of course, his war on drugs. Based on his typical dictator-style leadership, it is possible to assume that he may promote certain aspects of culture if only to support the continued promotion of Philippines history and self-identity, similar to the Marcos era of the 1970s.

Museums and Repatriation

So far, it is interesting to see how museums are functioning under Durterte's leadership. Earlier this year, he made the Presidential Museum virtually accessible to everyone in the Philippines for free. The Presidential Museum houses artifacts and documents pertaining to the leadership of the Republic of the Philippines.

He has also been a strong supporter of repatriation of Filipino artifacts, particularly those that tell a story of Filipino independence. For example, as recently as July 2017, he has been vocal about the USA returning the Balangiga Bells from a 1901 Filipino uprising and particularly brutal US backlash. The bells have not yet been returned.

The Balangiga Bells are currently displayed in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Source.

Memorializing Duterte Regime: Now and in the Future

Interestingly, two museums have been created in Duterte's honour: one in his childhood home and one in the high school he attended. Both museums focus on Duterte himself and his assent to power.

This may tell us more than we realize about the focus of museums and culture under Duterte, and how he wants to be remembered into the future. The idea of Duterte and his current regime is a hot button topic, both in the Philippines and around the world. Despite not a lot of information on cultural policies and museums being out there, it will be interesting to see what happens over the next several years in this regard.

Do you have any thoughts on the current leader of the Philippines and what it may mean for cultural patrimony on the islands?

No comments:

Post a Comment