How Cebu’s New National Museum is Keeping Local Heritage Alive

Cebu’s New National Museum Local Heritage
The centuries-old legacy of Cebu is now on display at the National Museum of the Philippines-Cebu. Department of Tourism photos.

Cebuanos can now immerse themselves in the island’s breathtaking art, eye-opening history, and unique flora and fauna at the newly opened National Museum of the Philippines (NMP)-Cebu.

Unlocking its doors to the public on August 1, 2023, the museum houses five key art galleries featuring the best of the island. Apart from displaying Cebu’s endemic plants and animals and profound archaeological history, the museum will exhibit the maritime traditions of Cebu’s people and the iconic works of Cebuano artist Tinong Abellana. Visitors can also browse the museum’s special collection from the Philippine Center New York, which will shine a light on the works of Filipino artists 50 years ago.

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The museum is the first National Museum in Visayas and the first in Cebu. The current exhibitions at the museum are as follows:

  • Kinaiyahan: Cebu’s Natural Wonders (geology) – Gallery 1
  • Ang Karaang Sugbo ug ang mga Kabiling Bahandi (archaeology) – Gallery 2
  • Paglawig: Cultural Movement Across the Seas (ethnography) – Gallery 3
  • The Philippine Center New York Core Collection of 1974 (artworks) – Gallery 4
  • Ang Kamamugnaon ug Kinaadman ni Maestro Tinong (artworks) – Gallery 5

“With the newly-inaugurated National Museum of the Philippines in Cebu, the cradle of Christianity in the Philippines, we open the doors to a temple of history and culture, inviting tourists – local and international alike to witness the archaeological and natural wonders and rich culture and artistry of this side of the country,” Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco said following the inauguration of the museum on July 28, 2023.

Frasco continued, “The NMP-Cebu is not just a museum but a bridge to our past and a window into our future, highlighting the commonalities and strengths of our identity as Cebuanos and as Filipinos.” She added that the museum is seen to stimulate tourism in the whole Visayas region.

The former Cebu Customs House is the building where NMP-Cebu is situated. The structure, which is marked a cultural treasure, was constructed in 1910 by American architect William Edward Parsons to boost trade and shipping in the Visayas. Standing tall after World War II and a fatal earthquake in 2013, it has seen the many lives of Cebu since the colonial era. It also became the official residence of the Philippine president in Cebu in 2004, bearing the name “Malacañang sa Sugbo”.

The project to convert the customs house into a museum began in 2019. According to an agreement between NMP and the Cebu Port Authority, the museum will be located at the Cebu Customs House for 25 years. The restoration was endorsed by the Cebu Port Authority, the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, the Office of the President, and other provincial executives.

“When we look for properties [for a museum], we don’t build from the ground up. We don’t identify a piece of land, then construct. We look for buildings that have cultural and heritage value,” NMP-Visayas director Ma. Cecilia Tirol told Cebu Daily News. She further noted that the location is scientifically significant as archaeological excavations have been conducted in the area.

The National Museum of the Philippines-Cebu has no entrance fee and can be visited from Tuesdays to Sundays (excluding religious holidays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is located at A. Pigafetta Street, Cebu City near Fort San Pedro and Plaza Independencia.

In 2021, Filipinos were encouraged to proclaim their heroism in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of Lapu-Lapu’s Victory at Mactan. In the same year, the Santo Niño de Cebu giant solar artwork commemorated the Philippines’ 500 Years of Christianity.

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Summer is a political science student with a twin passion for journalism. Her hobbies include watching geography documentaries, searching the metro for plant-based food, and free-falling through Wikipedia rabbit holes. Her works have previously been featured in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.