A STORY OF HOPE
Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
Published in Zee Lifestyle, June 2010
My family called it, “Ang Palacio ni Yvonne - Yvonne’s Palace.” We used to drive by it most afternoons after Papa picked us up from our schools and took us on a ride. The route included a stop at the kiosk near Magellan’s Cross for Coca Cola and packages of M&Ms; a drive down the pier for fresh sea air; a stop at Monay’s Bakery for hot Pan Frances and Pan Monay; then the ride home down what is now M.J. Cuenco Avenue. That’s when we’d see old stone Provincial Jail and we children used to point and exclaim, “Ang palacio ni Yvonne!” We were referring to my Yaya Yvonne who had stolen some things from our house and ended up in the Provincial Jail of Cebu – the Carcel de Cebu. I used to feel sad that she had ended up there. She had after all taken care of me; she had even taught me to love raw green onions.
These memories were running through my head when I visited the old Carcel one January day, Sinulog week in fact, when traffic was impossible, and to my surprise discovered that the Carcel was walking distance from old Historic Cebu where I stay when I am in Cebu. I heard that the Carcel had been turned into a museum in August 2008, another welcome addition to the increasing cultural developments in Old Cebu. I was curious as I made my way to the place. I remembered it as a dreary place with gray walls and electrified barbed wire; it was near the old cemetery and the ice plant. It was heartening to see the pretty landscaping in front and the new signs announcing its respectable new name, Museo Sugbo. I liked the elegant ring of the name too – Museo Sugbu –which made me think of the Museo de Oro of Lima, Peru.
I stared at the clean walls of the Carcel, surprised that they were made of antique coral stone blocks after all. All my life, I thought it was made of cement that had turned dark and dingy. It was Jobers Bernales, Director of the Museum who explained that the walls had been stripped off its cement plaster to uncover the coral blocks, which probably came from Parian Church, a grand structure in historic Cebu, demolished in 1877-78 by the Bishop after a long battle with its parishioners. Indeed the Carcel displayed a Spanish Colonial look. Jobers explained that this was the look that Governor Gwen Garcia wanted when she envisioned the creation of the museum. The Provincial government developed and funds the museum.
The museum had been built in the tailend of the Spanish Occupation as a one-story building to house prisoners of the entire Visayas District, accounting for its fairly large size. Don Domingo de Escondrillas, the only Cebuano engineer-architect, designed it. The second floor was added during the American occupation. The Americans not only used the facilities for prisoners, but at some point used the place as horse stables. When the Japanese occupied Cebu, they used the Carcel to imprison guerrillas, the lucky ones who survived the torture they endured at the Cebu Normal School. When World War II ended, Cebuanos threw Japanese collaborators into the Carcel.
Steeped in this dark history, the Carcel should have been a depressing place but somehow the work done to the facilities – the chipping off the cement, the removal of extraneous rooms and shacks – erased any negative feelings of the place. The ten galleries surrounding a courtyard have a crisp solid look. The galleries are not huge; they are not crammed with a lot of artifacts, but there’s a respectful elegance in the display of the items that document Cebuano history on culture.
On the left near the entrance is one of my favorite galleries – the Pre-History Gallery. It gives visitors a good idea of how ancient Cebuanos looked like physically, the tattoos they had, what they wore, what tools they used, how they lived, as well as how they died. The Pre-History Galley has pottery shards, earthenware, ceramics, stoneware, shell beads, log coffins, and other funerary items. What caught my attention was a skull with pinprick holes on the forehead, possibly a result of syphilis, but more significant was the sloping shape of the forehead, indicating the person had undergone skull formation; the baby’s skull had been bound somehow to create the sloping elongation. The only other place I’d seen skull formation was in Peru’s National History Museum in Lima, where I saw elongated skulls and skulls with two large protrusions on top. It was interesting to relate the similarities of these two cultures.
The galleries unfold as if telling a story, and from the pre-Hispanic section, I climbed the steep stairs to the second floor with the Spanish gallery which shows
copies of the official appointment of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi as governor of Cebu, dated August 6, 1569; there is a copy of Legazpi’s letter to the King of Spain, dated May 27, 1565, the oldest letter to have been sent from the Philippines.
There is a Katipunan Gallery with an anting-anting vest as well as an anting-anting handerchief that belonged to Leon Kilat, a name I used to puzzle over whenever I saw his statue in Carcar. Born Pantaleon Villegas, he was the Katipunero who led the Cebuanos against the Spaniards in the Tres de Abril (April 3, 1898) Revolution. The story goes that the Spaniards had informed the Cebuano families that Carcar would be destroyed if they didn’t turn over Leon Kilat; the old families obliged by having Leon Kilat assassinated.
Another section that fascinated me was the National Museum Branch which has artifacts from recent excavations done in Plaza Independencia and Boljoon Church grounds. Most interesting are gold death facial covers, the skull on which these gold coverings were found, gold chain, a rare blue and white ceramic ewer, celadon ware, and a rare underglaze blue covered powder box decorated with a Chinese boy carrying a puppet. The gold death facial covers interested me most because I had also seen similar gold death masks and facial covers in Peru.
The other museum galleries include: the War Memorial Gallery; and memorabilia of Edward Sharp (a Thomasite), Justice Sotero Cabahug, Senator Vicente Rama, and Gregorio Abellana (a Katipunero). These galleries also document interesting periods of Cebuano history.
Jobers Bernales says the museum plans to add interactive facilities in the form of LCD monitors with videos in the prehistory and history galleries. They will be adding a changing gallery, which will showcase monthly or quarterly exhibits. There will also be a media gallery complete with old printers and broadcasting equipment. A gift shop and small café will be opened on the ground floor of the former bartolinas or isolation cells, near the old Spanish-period wishing well.
By August, the museum hopes to have a branch of the National Library, a multimedia library with internet facilities. Finally, once the twelve galleries are complete, Museo Sugbo plans to print a Museum Guide for Teachers, with lesson plans and questionnaire for classroom use.
By the time I leave the Museo Sugbo, any dread about the old Carcel has vanished and in its place I feel pride for my Cebuano heritage. The documentation of Cebuano culture and history in the Museo Sugbo validates what I had always known, what had always been there, but which had been ignored for so long.
The sad story of Yvonne’s Palace has been replaced with a story of hope.
Life in Parian Now
Cebu's 1730 Jesuit House
The Secret Hall of Angels
A Story of Hope
Finding Jose Rizal in Cebu
Lola Remedios and her Sayas
Lunch with F. Sionil Jose
Pre-Colonial Gold in Cebu
tags: Cebu, Philippines, Sugbo Museum, history, Spanish Colonial, architecture, Filipino