Old Ilocos Sur jail now an art center
Many Filipinos want their presidents to end up in jail. But who is the only Philippine president to be born in one?
Mariano Quirino was a warden of the provincial jail in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, when his wife, Gregoria Rivera, delivered Elpidio on Nov. 16, 1890, in a room on the second floor of the complex. Fifty-eight years later, the baby would become the country’s sixth president.
The jail, located behind the provincial capitol and beside the Burgos Museum, still served its purpose until last year when it began its transformation as the new art center of Ilocos Sur.
The National Museum returned the 14 paintings of Esteban Pichay Villanueva of the 1807 Basi Revolt and assembled them in a wing of the former facility. Beside the paintings, a new exhibition was created to highlight the “basi,” the quintessential Ilocano liquor made of fermented sugarcane juice which caused the regionwide revolt when the Spaniards decided to monopolize its production and sale.
The Syquia Mansion on Quirino Boulevard, which housed the Quirino memorabilia, also donated five large paintings of Quirino and his wife, Alicia Syquia, all done by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, and a bust by National Artist Guillermo Tolentino, which is displayed on the other wing.
Ilocos Sur officials and National Museum Director Jeremy Barns opened the new art center during the recent Kannawidan Ylocos Festival.
The jail makeover was initiated during the term of then Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson in 2013 when talks with the National Museum started.
Museum officials pulled out the Basi Revolt paintings from the Burgos Museum and had these restored. The works were then exhibited at the National Museum in Manila last year and returned to the province early this year.
The provincial government, meanwhile, transferred the provincial jail to nearby Bantay town and rebuilt it into a Spanish “centro” (town center) with a fountain, a garden of giant yam (“bigaa,” where Vigan supposedly got its name), arched windows and cobblestone passageways.
The 14 Basi Revolt paintings, the oldest secular Filipino set of paintings and one of the cherished treasures of the Ilocandia, now stand out in the white stucco walls, unlike the more subdued red walls of the National Museum’s Friends for Cultural Concerns of the Philippines (FCCP) Hall.
Done in the naif style by Villanueva in 1821, the paintings were done in earth colors with superstitious symbols, such as comets and dark skies, but these were unflinching in depicting violence, such as decapitation and spearing.
The guide notes were done in Ilocano, Filipino and English. The supplementary exhibition shows the making of basi and how the local wine shaped Ilocano history and culture.
The Quirino wing is equally resplendent with the towering Amorsolo portraits of Elpidio and Aurora flanking the entrance.
Another notable portrait is that of Quirino, with the words “QUIRINO FOR PRESIDENT” in bold face. Long before posters and tarps, this painting was paraded on the streets during the 1948 presidential campaign.
Singson’s son, incumbent Gov. Ryan Singson, said the museum would soon feature more Ilocano artifacts. With a report from Leoncio Balbin Jr., contributor
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