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INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

‘Filipinos prefer visiting malls than museums’

Between malls and museums, chances are more Filipinos would choose to go shopping than scrutinizing a tattooed Benguet mummy or other artifacts showing how Igorot ancestors caught fish or panned gold along the Agno River.

Knowing the Filipinos’ penchant, the Ayala Foundation built a museum right within a mall complex in Makati City, said Kenneth Esguerra, senior curator and conservation head of the Ayala Museum. “But even if the museum is attached to a mall, we don’t get that much number of people.”

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Esguerra was among the speakers of the 3rd Tam-awan International Arts Festival held in Baguio recently. He tackled the importance of museums in teaching culture to citizens, and the proper ways of conserving and handling documents and other artifacts.

Filipinos in general have yet to appreciate the role of museums in education, said Gemma Estolas, assistant curator of the Baguio Museum. “Students only come here when their teachers require them to do reports about history and culture.”

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Estolas has been used to being practically alone in the quiet three-story Baguio Museum on Governor Pack Road. The facility keeps artifacts and documents from the six provinces of the Cordillera and Baguio City.

One day, her quiet morning was interrupted when a couple from out of town inquired and paid the P40 entrance fee. They were the only clients then.

After a 15-minute tour, the couple asked for directions to the city’s biggest mall. “At least the couple visited first the museum before going to the mall,” Estolas said.

She cited her own case in explaining why people care less about museums. “I didn’t know about this museum until I was obliged to take my practicum in 1999 as part of my course requirement as a Bachelor of Tourism student,” she said.

It was during her practicum under the late curator Leonora San Agustin that Estolas came to appreciate working at the museum. After earning her degree, she applied for work there and was taken in as a secretary. She later trained in museum conservation in a workshop sponsored by the National Museum.

Since 1977, San Agustin has been writing school heads to inform them about the Baguio Museum and how educators can use it to supplement classroom lessons.

Some school officials and teachers responded. And through the years, some schools have been occasionally arranging for group tours.

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During these tours, museum staff would lecture on the particular interests of students, such as local culture and history, traditional mining and woven crafts.

In 2010, the Baguio Museum received 12,039 visitors, many of them elementary, high school and college students coming in in groups. The figure was 25 percent more than the previous year’s total number of visitors.

Still, the museum remains vacant most of the time, Estolas said.

At the Bontoc Museum in Bontoc, Mt. Province, most of the visitors are foreign and local tourists, according to Erlyn Ruth Alcantara, a consultant who is working on the collections management system of the museum.

Increasing

She noted an increasing number of local visitors—people from neighboring towns and from other provinces. If they stay for some hours, they are assigned to do specific papers, she said.

Other students come in groups with their teachers from as far as Ifugao or Baguio.

“There appears to be a lot of interest in material culture, culturally significant objects or functional art,” Alcantara said.

At the Benguet Provincial Museum, several visitors would drop by, especially during summer. “Some would come after visiting other attractions, such as La Trinidad town’s strawberry farms,” caretaker Felix Nayusan said.

Often empty

Still, the place is most often empty.

Compared to Americans and Europeans, Filipinos are less interested in going to museums and valuing their importance, Estolas said.

She cited the case of a visiting Filipino woman and her Caucasian spouse. The man stayed the whole morning musing at the artifacts and reading most of the documents, while his wife was outside, busy with using her mobile phone.

Lawyer Damaso Bangaoet Jr. and his wife Laurel, both art and culture enthusiasts, would shun group tours when they travel overseas. Their reason: The itinerary would include museum tours that other group members were often not interested.

Many Filipinos going to the United States would prefer casinos in Las Vegas than the Smithsonian and other important museums, Bangaoet said.

The role of museums in helping educate citizens cannot be underestimated, according to the museum curators and caretakers.

Alcantara cited some ornaments that she considers valuable, such as the “ginuttu” or shell belt and the “palangapang” of the Ifugao, the “tikám” and “akósan” of the Bontoc, and the beads of the Kalinga.

“They are significant not only because they are heirloom objects but also because they show the skill, artistry and native technology of local artisans,” she said. “These valuable ceremonial objects represent certain aspects of the people’s ritual life.”

She also cited the museum’s basket collection. “These baskets are valuable because they show the skill creating intricate baskets for specific functions—like fish traps, locust baskets, containers for hulled rice and back baskets,” she said.

The old wooden plows at the Benguet Provincial Museum “can teach today’s generation how our ancestors survived during their time,” Nayusan said.

At the Baguio, Benguet and Bontoc museums, the old Chinese jars displayed there tell and show about a flourishing trade relations with the Chinese since the Ming Dynasty, long before the Spaniards reached Philippine shores.

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