Very few know that one of our declared National Cultural Treasures, the mural “ Filipino Struggles Through History” by Carlos V. Francisco, a worthy recipient of the Order of Filipino National Artist, was saved by the Department of Tourism when the late Mr. Ramon Jimenez, Jr. was Secretary. It was pure serendipity.
Carlos Franciso, better known as Botong and a native of Angono, was one of the post-impressionist painters and a member of the Triumvirate of Modernists with Vitorio Edades and Galo Ocampo. The latter was a former National Museum director and my first boss. Secretary Ramon Jimenez was a graduate of the UP College of Fine Arts and a prominent member of the advertising world.
Originally titled, “ Kasaysayan ng Maynila” ( History of Manila) the mural was commissioned, in 1964, by then Manila Mayor Antonio Villegas for the ceremonial chamber of the Manila City Hall, the “Bulwagan ng Katipunan”. Because it was about Manila, Carlos Francisco did not give Malolos cradle of the First Philippine Republic a significant place. The eye-catching highlights of the mural are Rajah Sulaiman, Legazpi and Urdaneta, Balagtas, GOMBURZA, Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, the Philippine- American War, eminences of the Commonwealth period, horrors of WWII and Independence restored. The center panel above the Mayor’s ceremonial chair shows the palisades of Sulaiman’s Maynila and a smiling Mayor Villegas surrounded with lockets of his predecessors.
When I worked for Manila Mayor Alfredo S. Lim ( 2008-2013), I noticed that the mural was in a progressive state of deterioration as it had not been cleaned for 50 years. The corners often peeled off and were glued with rugby; some parts were scorched due to wrong lighting, new restrooms were mindlessly constructed behind its walls, worms and insects had gnawed through the thin canvas. Yet, Botong’s mammoth masterpiece l continued to attract busloads of students who came for a bird’s eye view of history and never failed to enthrall foreign dignitaries, VIPs, as well as lakbayan study tours of local government officials.
One fine day, DOT Secretary Jimenez came to call on Mayor Lim; he arrived early, the Mayor had not dispatched a previous guest, so I met Sec. Jimenez at the Bulwagan to show him Manila’s “piéce de resistance “ which he had seen only in pictures. I said the mural had to be urgently restored and recited my litany of woes. When Sec. Jimenez asked, “ how much?” I was pleasantly stunned. Fortunately, I did have an estimate ( in the millions!) from the group that restored Juan Luna’s Spoliarium. The DOT will pay for it, Sec. Jimenez affirmed; he did not haggle.
. A week or so later, after a stormy night, the panel with Bonifacio calling katipuneros to arms fell in a crumpled heap. I called the National Museum director-general, Jeremy Barnes, who arrived instantly with staff carrying gigantic cardboard spools and rolls of non-acidic paper. They laid out and rolled the damaged panel and took it to the National Museum of Fine Arts (NMFA). Why not take everything, I said boldly, knowing that the DOT offered to pay. To make a long story short, Mayor Lim agreed to have everything sent to the NMFA; the DOT prepared the Memorandum of Agreement; there were formal signing ceremonies and Bengie Toda was commissioned by the DOT to make an exact replica on photographic canvas. It took three and a half years to complete the restoration during which time Ms. Jackie Estrada asked where I had kept the mural; fake news circulated that, on his way out, Mayor Lim purloined all the 19 panels to decorate his condo in Legaspi Towers. The Tulfo brothers made a fuss so Mayor Lim asked me to invite trimedia personalities to the NMFA.
Today, Botong’s mural, a Declared National Cultural Treasure, has the former Senate session hall all to itself. There are humidifiers, proper lighting, temperature control, no weepy walls, vermin or rodents. Most important is the anti-fire equipment designed to protect the mural from flames. When the Manila Post Office burnt down I was too terrified to even imagine what could have happened to Botong’s mural had the Manila City Hall, an edifice of the same vintage, burst into flames.
The Department of Tourism was supposed to have celebrated its 50th anniversary today although its real date is May 11. I was informed that there was a mix-up in the reservations at the still majestic Philippine Convention Center so the event was canceled, or postponed. All surviving DOT Secretaries are invited and will be asked to speak. I plan to reveal how the DOT and two of its Secretaries had “connived” to save the Botong mural.