Written on history’s walls
Three decades ago, when I was a young teacher, I would take my students on a half-day walking tour of Intramuros as part of Philippine history class. I had better legs then, and smaller class sizes too. Last weekend, the Intramuros Administration offered an open house or free admission to Fort Santiago, Casa Manila Museum, and the Bastion de San Diego, so I decided to check these out as well as the newly renovated exhibit spaces in San Agustin Church. It was not a requirement but I was happy that half of my small Introduction to Philippine Visual Arts class joined me as I revisited old haunts.
San Agustin was clearly the winner with ample air conditioning and thoughtful bi-lingual labels that made it possible for the curious to go on a self-guided tour of this historic structure that survived the Battle for Manila in 1945. There was, surprisingly, no wedding that day in San Agustin and the halls were quiet because the museum did not offer free admission unlike Casa Manila and Bastion de San Diego, which were just as I knew them from years ago but with so many families on tour. Perhaps the Intramuros Administration can follow the example of the National Museum and the National Historical Commission and open its museums and historic sites for free as a public service.
Weather forecast warned us of rain so we all came prepared with umbrellas but the sky did not weep. Clouds kept the sun out long enough to make a walk on the walls quite comfortable. At the end of the tour, as we sat on the ancient walls on the corner facing the Manila Hotel and Rizal Park, I realized that my classroom that day had visual aids that were larger than life and better than any powerpoint presentation in a classroom. I pointed out some of my favorite things to see if these would make their minds wander and wonder: from the macabre image of San Pedro Martir with a bloodied bolo slicing into his skull in San Agustin to the toilet seats for two in Casa Manila. The exhibits brought out smiles and insights.
Walking through a museum with students is always an experience because I get to see the world from their eyes and learn more from them than they do from me. For example, I was explaining the different religious orders that settled in the Philippines in Spanish times: Augustinians, Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans and Recollects. We looked at the saints of each order to distinguish their habits and to realize that not all of the four centuries of Spanish occupation were made up of suffering and torment. While religious orders like the Franciscans and Dominicans were the focus of bad press by Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Graciano Lopez-Jaena and the newspaper La Solidaridad all remembered as the “Propaganda Movement,” it is but fair to be reminded that these orders established churches, schools, and hospitals that became the nucleus of many Spanish-era towns, cities, and provinces.
While showing them a selection of Jesuit saints: Ignacio de Loyola and his merry men—Francis Xavier, Robert Bellarmine, Stanislaus Kostka, Aloysius Gonzaga and John Berchmans—one of the students’ eyes lighted up in recognition of the surnames that are commemorated in the various buildings in the Ateneo Loyola Schools campus in Quezon City. As I narrated stories on the lives of these saints, she exclaimed: “They are saints pala, I thought they were benefactors!” All of us turned to her and asked: “Benefactors?” All along she thought the Ateneo buildings were named after the generous benefactors who donated funds to build them! Experiencing an “A-ha moment” is probably what education is for.
From there, I took the students to the crypt to show them where the remains of the 19th century painter Juan Luna lie. I explained that Luna’s son, Andres, kept his father’s remains in a pail under his bed and that these were only interred after the war when Andres Luna passed away. Luna’s grave never fails to impress on students that the painter of the Spoliarium is more than a name to be remembered from a textbook, but a person who once lived and whose life and work made the Philippines a better place. Millennials interpret the past in different ways and a sympathetic teacher can bridge the gap and teach them more than Fake News can.
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