Taal Volcano: Hike to the Crater Lake (Talisay, Batangas)

Mt. Binintiang Malaki

This Holy Week, I availed of a standing invitation from Ms. Lily Rodrigo-Canlas, president and C.E.O. of Jesu-Mariae School, my son’s school, to stay at the Jesu-Mariae Center in Tagaytay City.  This retreat/seminar center could comfortably accommodate 80 people in dorm-style facilities.  With this center as a jump-off point, I planned to revisit Taal Volcano via the Kayabok Trail on the other side of Volcano Island.  Joining me were my son Jandy and daughter Cheska who’s been egging me to include her in my escapades.  Joining us were 5 of Jandy’s teachers: Mr. Robert Castaneda, Ms. Veneriza “Vener” Trillo, Ms. Theresa “Thet” Quieta, Mr. Joel Fatlaunag and Mr. Erwin Vizcarra.  All, except Robert, are jittery first-timers at the volcano.     

Picnic Grove with Taal Volcano behind us

We left Manila on the morning of March 27 and arrived at the center in time for preparation of a delicious barbecue lunch.  After customary visits to the city’s Picnic Grove (where we went horseback riding) and People’s Park in the Sky (now in a sorry state of disrepair), we returned to the center for a delicious supper and retired early as we had to leave very early in the morning for the volcano trek. 

Cheska horseback riding with Thet

The next day, Holy Thursday, we all awoke by 5 AM, had breakfast, pack our provisions of bottled water, sandwiches and bananas (good trail food) and left the center by 6:30 AM.  From Tagaytay City, we went down to Talisay (Batangas) via the treacherous concrete zigzag road called Ligaya Drive, down to Brgy. Caloocan.  As soon as we arrived at the boat landing station, we were swamped by boatmen hoping for an early kill, this day being a holiday.   Soon, they were trying to pluck our feathers by charging us a cutthroat rate of PhP3,200 just for the trip (with 6 passengers only).  It was soon watered down and we settled at the still horrendous price of PhP2,400 to bring all 8 of us to our destination.

On our way, by boat, to Volcano Island

We left the station by 7 AM on board a big motorized banca.   The trip was smooth all the way as the waters were calm. As we went around the island, the 311-m. high (the island’s highest point) Mt. Binintiang Malaki (translated as “giant leg”), soon hove into view.   This northwest cone, seemingly featured on most Taal Volcano postcards like an island (actually connected to the real Volcano Island), emerged overnight during the 1707 eruption but is now dormant. A dismal sight during the voyage was the presence of numerous fishpens which our boat had to negotiate to get to the other side.

Nearing the homestretch

We landed on the island’s western shore at Brgy. Kayabok by 7:30 AM.  All throughout the trip, the boatman kept egging me to get a guide (at extra cost of course) but we have decided even before the trip to do without one as the Kayabok Trail was definitely well-trodden.  We also refused a lady islander’s rather steep offer to guide us for PhP500.  Anyway, we had all the time in the world even if it meant getting lost in a small island.   Our seemingly concerned boatmen seem to have other things in their minds.  I wonder why.

The Crater Lake seen from a distance

We began the trek on a happy note, following the well-trodden trail up a hill. The sun soon rose brightly on the sky and we began to feel the effects of the intense heat from the morning sun.   As we soon reached the top of the hill, the trail began to fork, leaving us in a dilemma.  All the while, we somehow had a feeling that we were being followed and, soon enough, our boatmen were hollering for us to come back.  We ignored them.  Later, we encountered our huffing and puffing boatmen along the trail.  We were told that we took the wrong turn and they, in all kindness, offered to guide us in the right direction.  Or were they?    It soon dawned upon me that these boatmen were concerned, not with the guide fee (which I consistently refused), but with the fact that they may lose their first big meal ticket (or buena mano) of the day among the winding trails.  We could just as easily have taken our boat ride back to Talisay from the other coastal villages.  With this in mind, they never left us out of their sights after that.

Finally, at the Crater Lake

Vegetation on the island is sparse, consisting mostly of short grass, tall, nettled spear grass (cogon) and thorny brambles.  The treeless trail we trekked was all loose volcanic ash and the ground underfoot was also hot as volcanic rock retains heat both from the sun and the hot magma trapped deep within its bowels.  This, coupled with the sweltering heat of the sun, soon made our tongues hang out.  Our party was soon divided into two as our neophyte mountaineers Vener and Thet began to lag behind.  Cheska, however, proved to be tough and resilient as she kept up with the guys. 

The island within the Crater Lake

We took solace under the small shade of occasional thorny aroma trees (most of the large trees have been blown away by previous eruptions) where we quenched our parched throats and munched bananas as we waited for the stragglers to arrive.  Along the trail we passed by one of Taal’s 47 craters.  This seemingly dormant crater had a flat, cogon-covered bottom.  We also encountered makeshift refreshment stalls selling canned softdrinks (PhP30) and bottled water (PhP20).  After a tiring uphill hike, the shimmering blue-green waters of the crater lake made its appearance like a mirage on the horizon.  It was all downhill after that and, soon enough, we reached the crater lake’s rim.  It was 9 AM and the hike took all of one and a half hours.    It could have been longer.  Our socks and shoes were soon off as we couldn’t wait to dip our tired feet in those inviting waters.  However, the lake’s waters deepen just a few feet from the shore. About 30 m.  offshore is the small, crescent-shaped island.  The lake’s waters are actually dilute sulfuric acid with salts and other minerals such as sodium, boron, magnesium and aluminum added in.   Acidity in the water, measured in pH (the lower the pH, the higher the acidity), is a “whopping” 2.7 (neutral pH is 7.0) with about 3% sulfur.   Sulfurous waters have medicinal qualities and it did wonders for my mosquito-bitten legs.  Our boatmen also took home 1.5-liter bottles filled with this salty and bitter water.  Also as a result of the sulfur deposits, the stones at the lakeshore are coated yellow.

L-R, Vener, the author, Jandy, Thet, Robert, Erwin and Joel

After lolling about the waters, taking our lunch of sandwiches and photo shoots for posterity, we left the lake and retraced our way back to our boat and left the island by 11:30 AM.  Any notions of being in Tagaytay for an early lunch were dashed when our boat engine conked out (obviously out of gas) just a kilometer off the shore of Brgy. Caloocan.   We had to wait for half a hour for a relief boat to ignominiously tow us back to shore.  After paying our boatmen (they had the gall to ask for a “tip”), it was back to our car for the uphill drive back to Tagaytay and a well-deserved lunch.  Back at the Jesu-Mariae Center, we collapsed, dead-tired, on our beds. 

Matabungkay Beach Resort and Hotel (Lian, Batangas)

Matabungkay Beach Resort & Hotel

I was invited to join a media familiarization tour of Matabungkay Beach Resort & Hotel in Lian, Batangas on March 23-24, the weekend preceding Holy Week.  Our assembly area was the Department of Tourism (DOT) Bldg. near Rizal Park.  I left my car at my wife’s office at Gil Puyat Ave, took a fully-packed LRT train, overshot my designated stop which was U.N. Ave. and dropped off instead at Central Station where I decided to just walk, for the exercise, back to the DOT.   I arrived at the DOT cafeteria, huffing and puffing and drenched as a newborn kitten, just in time for breakfast.

Joining me at the breakfast table were some of the Who’s Who in travel journalism: Mr. Randy V. Urlanda of Panorama, Mr. Frank A. Evaristo of Manila Bulletin, TODAY veteran photographer Mr. Manny Goloyugo, Ms. Arlene Dabu-Foz of Manila Bulletin, Mr. Romark Mayuga of Manila Times, Ms. Claudeth E. Molon of TODAY, Ms. Lala Rimando of Newsbreak Magazine, Ms. Ruby Gonzalez of Travel Weekly East, Ms. Maggie De Pano of Business World Online, Mr. Michael David C. Tan of What’s On & Expat and Mr. Melvin S. Magtaus and Mr. Dennis Lapan of Lifestyle Asia.  Also present, as host, were Ms. Leona  DG. Nepomuceno and Ms. Camille Cua of the DOT.  Also joining us were Ms. Blessie Zarzuela of Adea Marketing, the TV crews from ABS-CBN (3) and RPN 9 (3) and 2 other DOT personnel.

We left the DOT at exactly 8:30 AM for the 3-hr. airconditioned coaster trip to Matabungay.  I sat at the lone bucket seat up front with its wide legroom suitable for my 5’-10” frame.   I had to buckle up though.  The long 105-km. trip via the Sta. Rosa Expressway was pleasantly uneventful until we reached the junction leading to Lian.  Here the coaster was bodily stopped by resident “commissioners” out to make a killing this early.   This scene was repeated  5 more times as we approached the town and our hotel, the last one a roadblock set up by the barangay soliciting donations for their fiesta.  What a damper!

Media participants by the Nestea swimming pool

This upscale DOT-accredited “Class AA” resort had its beginnings in the 1980s.  A brainchild of the Levistes of Batangas, it is the largest beach resort and hotel in the Lian/Matabungakay vicinity.  The resort was recently named as the “Most Outstanding Beach Resort of 2002” during the 17th Annual Parangal ng Bayan Awards and the 2002 National Consumer Excellence Awards.  Proofs of excellence are seen in its 57 combinations of fully-airconditioned superior and executive guest rooms with private bath and spacious veranda plus 12 suites (junior, senior) and villas (Parkview and Seaview).  Some rooms have 24-hour satellite TV and in-house movies and minibars.

For gourmands, there are four food and beverage outlets.  The Café Caballero, open from 6 AM till midnight, offers sumptuous, a la carte, local and international cuisine with live weekend entertainment.  The beachside Ihaw-Ihaw Bar & Grill, open 7 PM till midnight, offers char-grilled dishes (including seafood).  The Cogon Bar, open, 10 AM till midnight, offers a wide variety of beverages and concocted cocktails.  The 50-pax Poolside Bar offers light refreshments and cool drinks.

For private dining, parties, social gatherings and company outings, the resort offers the 500-pax Fiesta Area, the 170-pax Pavilion I & II, the 30-pax Wishing Well and the 35-pax Inakaya Private Room.  For conferences, seminars, meetings and team building,  there are 4 fully-equipped, airconditioned function rooms; the 100-pax Batangas Room, the 50-pax  Matabungkay Room, the 40-pax Balayan Room and the 40-pax Lian Room.

For the active sports buffs and sun worshippers, the resort has a private 15-m. wide beige sand beachfront, a “Nestea” swimming pool, basketball court, badminton court, 14-hole minigolf, mini-soccer, two floodlit tennis courts, a volleyball area and a giant chessboard area.   The resort also offers scuba diving (there is a well-equipped dive shop) and fishing. Tired of the sun, stay indoors and visit the Gift Shop (handicrafts, beach wear, etc.) and the Gotcha Club which offers darts, billiards, table soccer, card games, table tennis plus a videoke which offers 7,000 songs, computerized in five languages (Filipino, English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean).

The resort is also kid-friendly.  Aside from its outdoor playground area and kiddie pool, the hotel was also the first to introduce the “Children’s Paradise” indoor play area (open 8 AM-6 PM) where Playstation, V-tech games, playhouse activities, Barbie dolls, Mattel and Matchbox toys are offered to children guests under the supervision of a nanny (at no cost to in-house guests).  The resort also hosts a Hash House Harrier Run (special trekking, running and walking while enjoying nature’s scenic views) every last Saturday of the month and other fun-filled activities during peak seasons.

A fleet of balsas

After lunch and a short rest, we were all invited by Marissa to take a ride on one of the resort’s floating bamboo rafts (locally called balsa) where a merienda of pancit bihon and canned soft drinks awaited us.   Ideal in Matabungkay’s very shallow beach, the shore is lined with lots of these balsas.   They are navigated by long bamboo poles sometimes up to the edge of the drop-off and, once a suitable spot is chosen, anchored in place.  All rafts have shaded picnic tables and grills.  From the balsa, visitors could go swimming, snorkeling and, at the day’s end, sunset watching.

Even after the sun has set, a number of these lighted balsas are used to await fishermen and their much-awaited bountiful catch.   These balsas, in effect, have become a very important contributor to Lian’s tourism and livelihood economy.   As a tribute to this hardy and durable symbol of Matabungkay, Lian has decided to hold its first Balsa Festival this coming May 17-18.

The 2-day festival, proudly hosted by Matabungkay Beach Hotel & Resort, promises to be activity-packed.  Highlights are a Balsa Race and the Parade of Decorated Balsas.  Different sectors of Lian and the nearby towns will be invited to participate, 80 for the Balsa Race and 60-70 for the Parade of Decorated Balsas.  Students from the town’s different secondary and tertiary schools will also showcase their talents in dance and other production numbers.   The festival will be capped, on the evening of May 18, by band performances and a beach party.

Preparing for my trial dive

After the raft excursion, Marissa invited us to try our hand at scuba diving at the resort’s swimming pool.  I, plus  Blessie and Lala, took a crack at it.  The others begged off.   Mr. Jim Waite, the in-house dive instructor, gave us a brief overview on the  basics of diving and its equipment.  The much-awaited actual lesson followed and we were soon fitted with masks, snorkel, buoyancy compensator, tanks, weight belts and fins.   This being my second dive (my first was a trial dive in Club Paradise in Palawan), I was soon diving about at the pool’s floor like a fish within its element.

After a much-needed shower, a torchlit dinner was served along the beach.  Additional lighting was provided by a bonfire.   We were also joined by TV crews of ABS CBN and RPN 9 TV.  Immediately after that, we were again invited to a round of nighttime entertainment at Gotcha Club.  The girls monopolized the videoke while us guys contented ourselves with rounds and rounds of billiards and table tennis.  Still others just watched the girls sing to their heart’s content until the wee hours of the morning.

Press conference by the beach

The next day, after a sumptuous buffet breakfast at Caballero Café, we buckled down to serious business with a mini-conference held at the beach area.   Invited to the conference were Ms. Charlie Leviste-Antonio (the resort’s Vice-President for Operations), Mr. Jim Waite, Ms. Balangue, Mr. Violeta and the town’s Chief of Police.  Here we voiced our concerns (the “commissioner” episode, environmental issues, Holy Week security, etc.) and asked questions concerning the resort’s history, facilities and plans, the upcoming Balsa Festival, scuba diving opportunities and Fortune Island (a sister resort). 

Posing with our hosts

Immediately after the mini-conference some of us opted, it being Palm Sunday, for a mass (complete with the appropriate palms) held at the resort’s pavilion.  After a late lunch at Café Caballero, we packed up our stuff, had a photo session at the resort entrance and said goodbye to our gracious hosts, Ms. Leviste-Antonio, Ms. Balangue and Mr. Violeta.  We left the resort by 2:30 PM  and arrived in Manila by 6:30 PM, after a side trip to Calatagan and numerous stopovers at Tagaytay City for fruits, espasol, buko pie and mazapan sweets.   

Matabungkay Beach Resort and Hotel: Brgy. Matabungkay, Lian, Batangas.  Manila office: Unit H, Garden Floor, LPL Towers, 112 Legaspi St., Legaspi Village, Makati City.  Tel: (632) 819-3080, (632) 752-5252 and (632) 751-6685.  Fax: (632) 817-1176.  E-mail: mrb@matabungkay.net or inquiry@matabungkay.net.  Website: www.matabungkay.net

The National Gallery of Art (Manila)

The next day, I continued on my rounds of the National Museum, this time proceeding to the next door National Gallery of Art, housed in the Old Legislative (Congress) Building.  This historic edifice, a magnificent Neo-Classic-inspired structure with stylized Corinthian columns, is a work of art in itself.  It was designed in the Federal style of architecture as a museum/library in 1921 by American architect and Manila and Baguio City planner Daniel H. Burnham and Filipino architect (and later 1973 National Artist) Juan Nakpil.  It functioned as a museum/library until 1935 when it was made the legislative seat of the Philippine Commonwealth.

This grand, earthquake-proof edifice, was, however, reduced to rubble during the Liberation of Manila.  After the war, the building was rehabilitated with Ralph Doane and Antonio Toledo as architects in charge for its construction and extensive renovation.  A fourth floor was added.  After the declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972, Congress was abolished and the building was closed.  After years of neglect, the building was restored to its former glory as the Executive House, Office of the Vice-President, Philippine Senate and finally as the permanent home of the National Gallery of Art.  It was formally inaugurated as such on October 18, 2001, during the National Museum’s centennial.

The museum’s ground and fourth floors houses offices, laboratories and storage.  The second floor houses art exhibits while the third floor has a seminar hall and two major halls, also airconditioned, for science exhibits.   Today, the National Gallery of Art has amassed a collection of 1,204 visual art pieces, most of which are paintings housed in three major halls and three smaller halls at the second floor, all airconditioned.  A session hall, for formal lectures and concerts, has just been refurbished.

The National Gallery of Art

The star attraction of the National Gallery of Art is the Juan Luan Hall facing the front entrance lobby of the second floor.  It houses the Juan Luna Collection, a September 19, 1990 bequest of the now defunct Far East Bank and Trust Company.  Inside are 162 oil paintings (on canvas, panelboard and wood panels) and charcoal sketches of foremost Filipino master painter Juan Luna y Novicio (October 23, 1857-December 7, 1899) as well as Andres Luna de San Pedro (1887-1952).   The remarkable Juan Luna studied and perfected his craft by living in the art capitals of the world: Rome (Italy), Paris (France) and Madrid (Spain).  In Spain, he was commissioned by the Spanish Senate and King Alfonso XII to paint El Batalla de Lepanto (The Battle of Lepanto) which now hangs at the halls of the Spanish Senate.  Another work, La Muerte de Cleopatra (Death of Cleopatra), won the silver medal at the 1881 Exposicion General de Bellas Artes in Madrid, Spain. His last major work, Peuple et Rois (People and Kings), completed in 1889, was acclaimed as the best entry in the 1904 St. Louis Exposition.  Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire during World War II.  But these were not his greatest obra maestras.

Juan Luna’s Spoliarium

Populating a whole wall in the gallery is Luna’s famous and awesome (425 cm. x 775 cm.) mural masterpiece Spoliarium which won the first gold medal (grande prix) awarded by the elitist Salon des Beaux Arts during the 1884 Exposicion General de Bellas Artes in Madrid, Spain.  Luna, upon the instigation of Francisco de Paula Redoreda, painted this colossal multi-figure mural depicting a scene of dead gladiators being mourned by relatives.  Rendered in frenzied fin de siecle brushstrokes, it was identified by Jose Rizal as an allusion to the exploitation of the country by Spain.  This art achievement underscored the ability of Filipinos to compete with Europeans at their backcourt and it was also a subtle affirmation of the Filipino’s capability to run affairs back home.  
The Art Donations to the National Museum Hall displays notable donated art pieces by rising stars Emilio Aguilar-Cruz, Lex Cachapero, Elizabeth Chan, Papo de Asis, Jaime de Guzman, Gene de Loyola, Josie de Ocampo, Zozimo Dimaano, Miguel Galvez, Elmer Gernale, Ang Kiukok, Gregorio Lim, Hernando R. Ocampo, Joaquin Palencia, Al Perez, Jonathan Pulido, Carlos P. Valino and Roy Veneracion.

A retablo at the Religious Art Hall

The Religious Art Hall houses Spanish era statues of saints, paintings and retablosRetablosare intricately carved and decorated altar pieces which are often gilded, polychromed and embellished with rosettes, scrolls, Solomonic columns and cherubs.  On display are a huge retablo from Leyte (late 18th century) and another smaller one from Dimiao (Bohol).  The oldest painting in the collection is the unsigned, circa 1800 oil on wood painting “Coronation of the Virgin.”  Another hall houses the still ongoing Centennial Celebration of Wood & Form by Jerusalino “Jerry” Araos which was opened last October 24, 2001. 
The Colonial Art Hall houses oil paintings on canvas and wood as well as pencils sketches of genre scenes, typical landscapes known as pasajes, still life as well as portraits done by prominent Spanish and American-era Filipino painters.  The most noteworthy is Juan Luna contemporary Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo (1855-1913) who won the second prize for Virgenes Cristianas Espuestas al Populacho in the same Madrid competition won by Juan Luna’s Spoliarium  His teacher (as well as Juan Luna’s), Lorenzo Guerrero (November 4, 1835 to April 8, 1904), is a painter of religious and native landscapes. Gaston O’Farrell (1879 to 1942), on the other hand, was a student of Juan Luna.  Fabian de la Rosa (May 5, 1868 to December 14, 1937) is famous for his painting Planting Rice which won in the 1904 St. Louis Exposition.   Rafael Enriquez (July 1, 1850 to May 5, 1937) was the first director of the U.P. College of Fine Arts.  Prominently displayed at the center of the gallery is a terra-cotta bust of Gov. Ricardo Carnicero done by National hero Dr. Jose Rizal in 1892. 

The Colonial Art Hall
The Old and Contemporary Figurative Art Hall houses works done by seven of the country’s National Artists as well as other noted artists.  These National Artists are painters Fernando Amorsolo (1892 to 1972), Victorio Edades (1895 to 1985), Carlos V. “Botong” Francisco (1913 to 1969), Cesar Legaspi (1917 to 1994) and Vicente S. Manansala (1910 to 1981), and sculptors Napoleon V. Abueva and Guillermo Tolentino.  They consist of oil paintings done on canvas or wood, pastel on paper and charcoal on paper as well as sculptures. 
The Zoology Division, born in 1901, is one of the oldest pillars of the National Museum.  Their exhibits are both interesting and captivating, providing a true-to-life showcase of our rich and diverse Philippine fauna.  The country is home to 172 terrestrial mammals, 351 reptiles and amphibians, 573 birds and 1400 butterflies.  Of the 1,236 species known to occur in the country, 512 are endemic.  As the Department of Tourism Building hasn’t been officially turned over to the National Museum, the zoological displays are still confined at the National Gallery of Art.

The Philippine Terrestial Fauna at the third floor was opened last October 30, 2001 with the theme “Ride the Green Wave.”  It features a walk-in diorama of preserved and mounted endangered specimens in their simulated habitats.   They include the Mindoro dwarf water buffalo or tamaraw, scaly anteater or tangiling, Palawan bearcat or binturong, Philippine brown deer or usa, mouse deer or pilanduk and Gray’s monitor lizard or butaanBirds include the critically endangered Philippine eagle or haribon (our national bird), rufous hornbill or kalaw, black-naped oriole or tulihao/kilyawan, grey-headed fish eagle and the pink-bellied imperial pigeon.  Mounted in glass cases on the walls are various insects like butterflies, moths, beetles, grasshoppers, locust, bugs, ants, wasps, bees, crickets and cicadas.  Also on display are a glass enclosure of a termite colony plus another of anthropods of a more pesky nature but still of medical importance: dog louse (garapata), sucking lice (lisa), human lice (kuto), bedbug (surot) and the mosquito (lamok).
The Bones from Prehistoric Times to the Present
The Bones from Prehistoric Times to the Present Exhibit, an exhibit with a lot of stories to tell, is also located on the third floor.  It was opened last October 10, 2001.  On display are skeletons of man, mammals, frogs, birds, fishes, snakes, dolphins and sharks (entered through a bite-size portal surrounded by huge shark teeth).  There are also fossilized specimens of a stegodon (Stegodon sp.) tusk found at the Espinosa tusk site in Solana (Cagayan), an Elephas sp. molar, a Rhinoceros philippensis mandible with teeth and a giant tortoise (Gechelone sp.) limb bones and claw. There are also bone awls and ivory seals from the Ambangan site (Butuan City, Agusan del Norte) and Stone Age tools and knives.

Also noteworthy, as a shining example of the Filipino’s oftentimes wildly fertile imagination, are the remains of a basking shark found near the shores of Burias (Masbate).  It was mistakenly identified as those of a Loch Ness-type monster or dinosaur, and presented as such in sensational Jurassic stories featured by the Philippine Star (February 24, 1997) and the Pilipino Star Ngayon (March 1, 1997).    The exhibit’s star attraction, however, is a huge, complete and centrally displayed skeleton of a sperm whale (Physeter catodon).  A “must see” for medical detectives and forensic scientists, this whale skeleton has a tale to tell. It is not a whodunit tale but rather a “who didn’t do it” story of extreme pain as this specific specimen suffered from osteoarthritis as shown by an extra bone along the margin of the articular surface of vertebra no. 24 and 25.  It also had a fractured rib.  However, this was not the smoking gun that killed the whale because signs of healing are seen on several broken ribs.

National Gallery of Art: National Gallery of Art Bldg., cor. Taft and P. Burgos Ave., Manila.  Tel: (632) 527-0278 and 527-1215.   Fax: (632) 527-0306. Open 10 AM-4:30 PM.  Admission is free.  Website: www.nationalmuseum.gov.ph 

Museum of the Filipino People (Manila)

After a 20-year hiatus, I returned to my old training ground (the National Museum was my college thesis) to see for myself how the rehabilitated National Museum was faring and to write an article about it.    I sought the assistance of Ms. Francis Caberoy (Assistant Chief of the Museum Education Division) and Ms. Phoebe Espinas (Information Officer 3), before I was given the necessary passes and permits to photograph.

Museum of the Filipino People

Housed in the former Finance Building, this museum was the second building pledged to the National Museum.  As a cultural center, it takes the lead in the study and preservation of the nation’s rich artistic, historical and cultural heritage in the reconstruction and rebuilding of our nation’s past.

The impressive, Neo-Classic-influenced, 5-storey Finance Building was built in 1940 on the same Federal architectural style concept of American architect and Manila and Baguio City planner Daniel H. Burnham.  Its construction was implemented by Arch. Antonio Toledo of the Bureau of Public Works.  He was responsible for the construction of Manila government structures under the American colonial regime.

Trapezoidal in plan, its planning called for a vast extensive system of parks and walkways with views of Manila Bay.  The building was barely finished when World War II broke out on December 7, 1941.  During the Liberation of Manila, the building, because of its strategic location, became a Japanese stronghold that was intensely bombarded by the Americans.  Its recapture on March 3, 1945 actually marked the end of the Battle of Manila. After the war, the building was rebuilt by the company of A.M. Oreta.  Half a century later, during the centennial celebration of Philippine independence, the building was refurbished and inaugurated to house the Museum of the Filipino People.

The building has approximately 7,000 sq. m. of display area and it houses anthropology, archaeology and history collections.  At the ground level are the Gallery of the “Best of Philippine Art,” four seminar rooms (Cabinet Ladies Foundation, Nestle Philippines, SGV & Co. and the SSS) and the Pamana Museum Shop, a souvenir shop.  At the open court is an actual Ifugao House (Fhaley Ad Henenga) from Mayoyao presented by Petron Corporation.

The “Treasures of the San Diego are  are displayed at the 4 seminar rooms at the ground floor (Cabinet Ladies Foundation, Nestle Philippines, SGV & Co. and the SSS) and at Asianbank Corp./A. Soriano Corp./Phinma Group Gallery at the second floor.    The San Diego’s 5,000 artifacts on display represent a time capsule of the known world at that time.  Its recovery confirmed the Philippines’ reputation as a rich ground for underwater archaeology.  And why not?  Records show that 59 galleons alone sank in Philippine waters.  Of this total, only three – the Nuestra Senora de la Vida, the San Jose and now, the San Diego, have so far been retrieved.

The Treasures of the San Diego

Navigational instruments recovered from the San Diego are a major scientific find as they represent a much delayed, but altogether appropriate, reply to Chinese inventions such as the compass, an 11th century Chinese innovation.

One of the most important treasures recovered from the San Diego is an old astrolabe, one of only 67 that have been preserved and, more uniquely, 1 of 5 oldest as well as 1 of 6 or 7 known examples dating before 1600.  As one authority exclaimed, “the entire cost of the whole expedition was worth that one piece of nautical antiquity.”

Called the oldest scientific instrument in the world, the astrolabe is used to determine latitude accurately by measuring the angle a heavenly body (sun or stars) makes with the horizon. It is derived from the planispheric astrolabe invented by Greek mathematicians in ancient Alexandria (Egypt).

The San Diego astrolabe

The astrolabe appeared in Europe in the late fifteenth century, first used in Portugal and adapted by nearly all Western mariners.  The San Diego astrolabe weighed 2,434 gms. had a diameter of 182.5 mm. and was 17 mm. thick at the top and 18 mm. at the bottom.

The absence of a date and signature on makes it impossible to determine the astrolabe’s geographic origin or date of manufacture.  The instrument, however, bears a remarkable resemblance to the Valencia astrolabe at England’s Greenwich Maritime Museum (which almost certainly came from the Spanish Armada).  The only difference is that its spokes have footers and no handles.  Its similarities lead us to believe that they were made in the same workshop.

Another important discovery was an astronomical ring, the only known example of this type, in terms of both mechanism and shape.  Its exact function has not been determined; although it is known that the position of the Philippines on the map was calculated using a similar instrument.

A compass was also recovered with its glass intact and the original liquid still present inside the glass casing.  Other navigational instruments recovered include sounding weights and a ruler which were more suitable for reading charts and navigating in coastal waters than for open ocean voyages.

Model of the San Diego

According to the ships inventory list, the San Diego brought 14 cannon from the fortress of Manila.  They were outstanding examples of bronze casting techniques and gave an excellent overview of artillery at the end of the 16th century.  Of the 14, 7 are dolphin-types (with handles shaped like dolphins), 2 are foot-types, 1 lion-type, 1 box-type and 2 are unidentified.  Their maximum lengths range from 208 to 359 cms., their mouth diameters range from 14.5 to 27.5 cms. and their bore diameters range from 7 to 18 cms.. They were fabricated in the Philippines, Flanders (Netherlands) and Portugal.

The cannons from Portugal were more advanced and were called breech loaders.  Eleven of the cannon are displayed at the museum’s ground floor and the rest at the second floor. There were 8 grades of caliber which required different types of ammunition.  There were 197 cannonballs recovered.  The iron cannonballs were for the smaller cannons and the stone for the bigger ones.  The cannonballs range from 6.5 to 14 cms. in diameter and weighed between one and 7 kgs..

Aside from the cannons, little remains of ship’s offensive weaponry:  arquebuses, muskets and swords.  Arquebus spring shots (lead, brass or iron wire) range from 0.4 to 3.5 cms. in diameter.  Also found were a gunpowder shovel and cases for musket shot made of lead that were attached together by brass coil.  A glimpse of the soldier’s outfit came from 3 morions (military helmets of copper alloy), pieces of armor (shoulder and neck armor, breastplate), sword handles, belts and shoe buckles.  Also a ball mold to press musket and arquebus balls was found.

The possibility of high ranking Japanese samurai (possibly mercenaries) on board the ship can be seen from a pair of recovered Japanese bushi swords, 2 dozen sword decorative elements, a writing set with a rare aubergine (fruit of the eggplant)-shaped porcelain water dropper and two stones for mixing ink.

Cannons of the San Diego

It must be remembered that the San Diego was a galleon (trading ship) before she was pressed into service as a battleship by Antonio de Morga.  As preparations were being rushed to meet the Dutch, there had been no time to unload the bulky porcelain cargo in the main hold and these all went down with the ship.  To the Western world, Chinese porcelain seems to be the most accurate reflection of China and it was an important part of trade in Manila.

The San Diego carried a cargo of assorted ceramic objects that survived in a much better condition than the metal objects. A majority of the recovered ceramic ware was intact and many pieces were restorable.  They include a precious cargo of more than 500 fine, exceptionally strong, blue and white China porcelain. They date from the Wan Li Period (1573 to 1619) of the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) and come in the form of plates, dishes, bottles and kendis (pitchers).  This special class of pottery is made from kaolin from Jiangxi, near the city of Jingdezhen in China.  Their white background is decorated principally with cobalt oxide and applied with a brush under a glaze.

It is believed that the San Diego also carried over 750 Chinese, Thai, Burmese and Spanish or Mexican stoneware jars to store food, water and cargo as well as serve as ballast.  They date from the sixteenth century and many have applied handles where a rope could be strung to secure and protect them from breaking.  Animal bones from preserved meats as well as coconut shells and seed (prunes and chestnuts) remains have been found inside the jars.

There are also over 70 Philippine-made amphora-like earthenware jars influenced by European stylistic forms and types. They were originally used to transport olives and oil, but they also have been used to hold wine, preserved fruit or the tar used to caulk the ship.  Their capacity varied from 4 to 15 liters (4.2 to 15.9 quarts) and they weighed between 3 and 9 kgs. (6.6 to 19.8 lbs.).

Many recovered artifacts provide fascinating insights of life on board a galleon.  Recovered were a piece of rope made of Manila hemp; a wooden pulley; writing implements (3 inkstands, 2 powder cans with powder used to dry the ink, a metal pen, etc.); a silver candle snuffer; a bronze candlestick; ivory and wood chessmen; locks; keys; a well-preserved wood pole with a hammock tied to it; a hammer; a glass plate with wooden frame (probably from the captain’s cabin); barber’s kit (2 razors, various weights, remains of a beam balance); and a block of hardened resin that was noted, in historical accounts, to have been used in caulking and for making fire in stoves. Also recovered were two coral-encrusted iron anchors.

A meager haul of 8 gold artifacts was also recovered.  They provide a rare look at ornaments of 16th century Philippines and, ultimately, an insight into the Spanish and Filipinos of that time.  One of the artifacts is an Asian coin while the rest are articles of personal adornment or functional objects crafted in gold: a neck ring of gold wire with scrolled clasp; a 78-inch long, multiple loop-in-loop necklace woven with fine gold wire; a dress ornament; a book clasp with pin for girdle prayer book; a ring with granulation; an oval document seal cap of Morga (which “seals” the positive identification of the wreck); and a rosary with ivory beads and crucifix and chain of gold wire.  None were stamped or hallmarked.

The rosary, girdle prayer book and the ring may have been made for women.  Were there women on board the San Diego? Initial studies on human bones recovered from the site indicate that some of them may have been females.  Or were they good luck keepsakes given by shore-bound lovers?  God only knows.

A total of 428 sixteenth century silver coins, as well as six small and one big cluster of cemented coins, were recovered.  Most are of uneven roundness and flatness and its markings and designs are unclear.  Struck the year before its sinking (either in Mexico or Potosi), the majority are 1, 2, 4 and 8 reales of American origin, an indication of the lively trade between New Spain (Mexico) and the Philippines.

The “Best of Philippine Art” Gallery houses selected art pieces from the National Museum Collection.  They include 3 Juan Lunas, 3 Hidalgos, works of 6 National Artists (Napoleon Abueva, Fernando Amorsolo, Victorio Edades, Carlos V. “Botong” Francisco, Cesar Legaspi and Vicente Manansala), a bronze (Mother’s Revenge) and terra cotta (El Ermitanio) sculpture by Jose Rizal, other sculptures in glass (Ramon Orlina), adobe (Abueva), bronze (Abdulmari Imao, Solomon Saprid) and wood (Abueva, Jose Alcantara, Graciano Nepomuceno) plus paintings by other noted masters.

Best of Philippine Art

Before the coming of the Spaniards, merchant vessels were already sailing through Southeast Asia, charting new routes for trade and commerce and venturing into the unknown.  The Exhibit on “Five Centuries of Maritime Trade,” at the museum’s second level, reaffirms this active interchange that existed among peoples of the region.  On display are artifacts recovered from sunken Chinese merchant junks at five wreck sites.     The blue and white Ming Dynasty chinaware from the San Isidro Wreck Site were recovered at 50-m. deep waters off the coast of Zambales.

The Lena Shoal artifacts, numbering 5,000 pieces, date from the 15th to early 16th century and were excavated in 1997 at the north of Palawan.  They include elephant tusks, small bronze cannons and greenware (celadon), 2,183 of which were recovered whole, 213 slightly damaged and 1,501 heavily damaged.

The pre-colonial Pandanan artifacts, recovered in 1993 off Pandanan Island in Southern Palawan, date from the Long Ye Period (1403-24) as seen from a Chinese copper coin recovered.  They consist of 4,722 pieces (80% of which were intact) recovered after 947 dives totaling 1,044 hours.

The Investigator Shoal artifacts, dating from the 12th-13th century, were found under three to four-meter deep waters in a coral environment.   It had a cargo of greenware and quingbai in the form of cups, saucers, bowls and plates.  The junk was probably used for the illicit trade of smuggling as 54 kgs. of bronze bracelets were hidden in a large jar under a layer of tea.

The Breaker Reef artifacts, mostly copper items, date from the late 11th to early 12th century (1004-1100) and were found off the western shore, halfway along an island on a reef known as “Breaker” in Northwest Palawan.

The museum’s main attraction is the “Story of the Filipino People,” a permanent, 1,600-sq. m. exhibit located at the third floor.  It provides a thematic “story-telling display” of the museum’s anthropology and archaeology collections.  Anthropology deals with the study of the structure and evolution of humans as animals while archaeology deals with the study of human history and prehistory through excavation of sites and analysis of physical remains. The triumphant partnership between Filipino and foreign researchers has reaped dividends for Philippine archaeology.

On March 28, 1962, American Dr. Robert B. Fox (National Museum Anthropology Division Head) and Manuel Ma. Santiago (also of the National Museum), discovered the fossilized Pleistocene skullcap of the “Tabon Man” (actually a woman’s) in Tabon Caves in Quezon (Palawan).  It was carbon-dated to be between 22,000 to 24,000 years, the oldest known habitation site and trace of man in Southeast Asia.

The archaeological excavations in two of the three limestone caves of Bato Caves in Brgy. Bato in 1959, also by Dr. Robert Fox, have unearthed Late Neolithic artifacts dated to 100 B.C. such as stone tools, blades, bowls, drinking cups, burial jars, strung shell beads and nautilus shell spoons.

Another extensive archaeological project was the discovery in Calatagan (Batangas) of over 500 pre-Hispanic (late 14th-early 16th century) Tagalog grave sites yielding coins, glass beads, metal ornaments (including some with gold leaf covering), bracelets, native pottery (including some with syllabic inscriptions), statuary and weapons.  The discovery of 1,135 pieces of Chinese Ming Dynasty, Annamese and Siamese porcelain and stoneware indicated pre-Hispanic trade with neighboring Asian nations

The Manunggul Jar

The splendid Manunggul Jar, a late Neolithic secondary burial jar (dated 890 to 710 B.C.), was found in Palawan’s Manunggul Cave.  This painted, incised jar has impressed decoration on its lid, on top of which is a unusually compelling finial of 2 small round-eyed human figures representing souls paddling to the afterworld on a death boat.  The branched-curl designs at the upper portion of the jar had been dabbed with hematic. The jar was found along with other highly developed earthenware burial jars and relics including bone fossils of at least 3 other individuals, pebble flake tools from the Late Pleistocene and early post-Pleistocene Period, deer bones, Sung and Yuan Dynasty porcelain and stoneware, spoons and other utensils.

The Bolinao skull of gold was recovered from the excavation of a 13th and 14th-century burial cave at the mouth of the Balingasay River in Brgy. Balingasay, 6 kms. south of Bolinao in Pangasinan.  It indicated a rich and flourishing early culture as seen from remarkable fish-scale patterned gold embedded in skull teeth, earrings, necklaces, gold bracelets as well as Tang, Sung and Ming dynasty porcelain. However, most of the valuable pieces have been spirited away by antique collectors and treasure hunters for their private collections.

Maitum Anthropomorphic Pottery

The Maitum Anthropomorphic potteries found in Ayub Caves in Brgy. Pinol in Maitum (Saranggani) are large earthenware jars sculpted to represent humans.  Dated to approximately 5 BC to 370 AD, they are characteristic of the Metal Age.

Maitum Anthropomorphic Pottery

The Banton relics were found at the Hanging Cemetery, a cliffside burial cave located a short distance from Banton town (Romblon).  It contained 17 small hollowed hardwood log coffins dating from the 14th-15th centuries which indicate that early inhabitants practiced secondary burial.  Also found were skulls, two burial jars and pieces of Chinese and Siamese tradeware.

Another milestone in Philippine prehistory and archaeology was the discovery in 1976, by pot hunters in search of Chinese ceramics, of nine balanghai boats at Brgy. Ambangan in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte.   When news of its discovery reached the National Museum, 8 of its water-logged timber boats were excavated.  One of these boats has been preserved and reconstructed for public display at the museum.

These large sea-going wooden plank-built and edge-pegged outrigger boats are 15 m. long and 3 m. wide across the beam.  Carbon-14 dating indicates it belongs to the 4th and 13th to 14th century AD. The oldest was dated to 320 AD by Tokyo’s Gakushuin University.  Two others were dated to 990 and 1250 AD. These predate the relics of Viking ships in European museums and they represent the oldest fleet of boats excavated in one place.

Balanghai boat

Other star archaeological exhibits of the museum are the limestone urns of Kulaman Plateau (Cotabato), the gold mask and nose shield of Oton (Iloilo), Duyong Cave excavation (Palawan), the Laguna copperplate inscription, musical instruments, fishing, farming and kitchen implements, Ifugao bul-ols, Maranao Art and sample writings of the Hanuno Mangayan and Pala’wan tribes.

These veritable goldmine of interesting pre-history discoveries are displayed at the “Kaban ng Lahi Archaeological Treasures” at the Don Vicente Madrigal Gallery, “Origins” at the Cabinet Ladies Foundation Gallery and “The Filipinos Today” at the Meralco Lopez Group of Companies Gallery, all at the 3rd floor.

The “Silk and Brass: Highlights of the Datu Matsura Collection,” at the 4th level, showcases the creativity of the Maguindanao and Maranao textile silk weavers and brass artisans.  On display are various malong cloth and a pedal frame loom known as irwan.  Brass items include bells, a sword (kris), pitcher (kendi) and a ladle (sakdo).

A brass frog, used as a container for tobacco or money, signified the high position, power and authority held by Datu Michael Matsura, a direct descendant of Sultan Kudarat, in Maguindanao society. Prominently displayed at the corner, opposite the exit, is a lavish platform-type bed with a canopy found in a torrogan, the sultan’s residence.

The “Cloth Traditions,” at the  4th level Metrobank Foundation Textile Gallery, displays different types of clothing materials made from calado and sombrado needlework techniques, bark beating (to produce bark cloth) and reserved dying tradition.  The latter is called Bedbed or Budbud and refers to the process known elsewhere by the Indonesian terms ikatplangi or tritik.   At the entrance is a glass case with the remains of a Banton cloth death shroud, a warp-dyed ikat cloth found enshrouding the remains of a person in a wooden coffin in a 400-year old grave site in Banton Island (Romblon).

At the end of the gallery are a display of clothes worn by Bukidnons, B’laans and Ubos of Mindanao as well as abaca clothes, all from the early 20th century collections of John M. Garvan, O.V. Wood, Dean Conant Worcester, Robert B. Fox and Harold C. Conklin.  Some were exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis Exhibition and subsequently returned to the National Museum.

The “Mga Hinabing Panaginip” Exhibit, also at the 4th level, features the long and tedious t’nalak weaving of the T’boli weavers.  T’nalak, made of the whitest abaca and dyed red and blackest brown, are used in rituals and are considered works of art.  Its patterns, bestowed on the weaver by Fu Daku, the spirit of the abaca, are handed from mother to daughter.