In the National Museum of old – the one on Herran Street that was split and housed on the second floor of the Bureau of Mines and the ground floor of the former Bureau of Science – each division would set up noteworthy exhibitions to comply with the museum’s mandate.
The “Kalinangan: Ifugao-Maranaw” drew raves and so did the shell exhibit to which Dr.N. Quisumbing loaned a gorgeous Conus gloria maris and the largest Golden Cowrie I had ever seen. There was a bird exhibit, each specie displayed against a painting of its habitat;the fish exhibit had an aquarium from which a friendly cowfish ogled the visitors. In those days, a “santos” exhibition was de rigueur as collecting colonial icons was the fashionable rage; my husband’s uncle, Luis Araneta, dutifully lent me a few significant pieces.
By far my most memorable field trip was to Lagawe where we acquired a hagabe after going through the indigenous pomp and circumstances, ancient rituals and animal sacrifices. I was made a kadangayan to become worthy of receiving the village’s precious hagabe.
The hagabe is still there at the National Museum and so is the herbarium I knew with plant species neatly filed in the same narra closets. Assistant Director Ana Labrador told me that she saw a folder with my name containing plant species, probably the ones I had collected during a trip to Santa Cruz Island, in search of Samal grave markers.
While preparing the HOCUS exhibition (which opened on 18 April) those recollections glimmered like palimpsest, a zone of contact of the past and present, and the future as well. The National Museum is once again geographically split, but beautifully so. During the Centennial of the Philippine Revolution it was moved to the Agrifina Circle behind the Rizal monument. The old Senate building on P. Burgos, across the street from Intramuros, is now the National Museum of Fine Arts. The Department of Finance (at the Agrifina) is the repository of the archeological, anthropological, ethnographic collections. The then Department of Agriculture had been occupied by the Department of Tourism since the Marcos regime, but before the year ends it will re-open as the Natural History Museum. I can hardly wait to see what they did to my former office.
I remember asking the venerable Vice President Fernando Lopez, then concurrent secretary of agriculture, if he would consider turning over his building to the National Museum. The idea was my husband’s and I thought it was brilliant, but VP Lopez must have been flabbergasted by my audacity. Our wish has come true, even if it has taken a century.
I had always wanted to work in the National Museum. In 1963, directly after graduation, I went there to apply for a job. I began as a casual, with no definite job description so I helped restore broken pots from archaeological diggings and served as chief docent (guide). Quite suddenly, there was a vacant item, Information Writer I, for which I had to take the civil service exams. Modesty aside, I passed with flying colors. Rather painfully, I had to resign from the job I loved and enjoyed because, in 1971, my husband, Tonypet, decided to run as delegate for the Constitutional Convention.
The Araneta family rallied behind him and I accompanied Tonypet during campaign sorties. Perhaps I could have just gone on leave, but we decided it was best for me to resign to avoid conflict of interest issues. As it turned out, it was worth the sacrifice because Tonypet won the seat for the 4th district of Manila in the Con-Con. Lamentably, that Constitution, written by the “best and the brightest” of that period was mangled by Pres. Ferdinand Marcos after he declared martial law; he removed the provisions that limited his term and others that did not suit his plans.
The HOCUS exhibition was like a home coming for me. Ominously, there are rumblings about drafting a new constitution because President R. Duterte believes federalism will do wonders; there are conjectures about emergency powers, if not martial law, ostensibly to strengthen his war against drugs. All that gives off a feeling of a sinister déjà vu. That is why I wish a psychic could tell me what is in store, now that I have come full circle.