Wednesday, November 21, 2018
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Business Matters

Remarkable gift from government and business

The National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) will be inaugurated today, marking the completion of the conversion of the Department of Tourism (DOT) building into a world-class museum. The NMNH is an outstanding example of a successful collaboration between the national government and private business in a project of national significance that will benefit Filipinos and help develop better appreciation of and greater respect for the gifts of nature with which our country is so richly endowed.

This project was initiated in 1997 with the enactment of the National Museum Act, which designated three historical government buildings near Rizal Park as the home of the National Museum: the Legislative Building on P. Burgos Avenue, and the twin buildings that originally housed the Department of Agriculture (later the DOT) and the Department of Finance in an area in Rizal Park then known as Agrifina Circle. The first of these buildings to be converted was the Finance Building, which was transformed into the National Museum of Anthropology in time for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Philippine independence in 1998. The conversion of the Legislative Building into the National Museum of Fine Arts commenced around the year 2000.

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It was President Benigno Aquino III who pursued the conversion of the DOT building into a natural history museum as one of his administration’s major projects under the Department of Education. In 2014, the DOT vacated the building and the national government provided the first tranche of P500 million for the project. While the government was prepared to provide very generous funding, the National Museum board believed it appropriate to enhance the project by developing a partnership with private business in its implementation.

After exhaustive planning and discussion, a plan was developed where the government would undertake the conversion of the DOT building, through extensive retrofitting and renovation, into a building suited to house the natural history museum. The private sector, through a private foundation created to assist the National Museum called the Philippine National Museum Foundation Inc. (PNMFI), offered to enhance the NMNH project by building in the courtyard a magnificent Tree of Life structure. The structure would include a glass and aluminum dome that would fully cover the courtyard, and a scenic elevator that would bring visitors to the fifth floor where the exhibits would commence. The PNMFI committed to raise funds from the private sector, hire the needed contractors, and deliver to the National Museum the completed Tree of Life structure as the business community’s gift to the Filipino people.

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In sum, of the total project cost of P2.4 billion, the government provided budgetary allocations in five tranches, amounting to a total of P1.8 billion including P100 million from the 2017 budget of the Duterte administration. Sixteen private entities including corporations, foundations and families donated a total of P600 million, of which P500 million was donated to the PNMFI for the Tree of Life structure and the fees of specialized contractors.

Not only is this project a showcase of cooperation between the government and the business community, it is also a prime example of an unusual project pursued through three administrations: the Ramos administration that laid the legal foundation for the project, the Noynoy Aquino administration that launched and aggressively funded the bulk of the project, and the Duterte administration that supported its completion.

Space does not allow me to name all who should be thanked, but the following deserve special mention: Presidents Fidel V. Ramos, Benigno Aquino III, and Rodrigo Duterte; former secretaries Br. Armin Luistro, Florencio Abad, and Ramon Jimenez; Secretaries Leonor Briones and Benjamin Diokno; and of course the Museum team led by Jeremy Barns and Ana Labrador. The private-sector benefactors are led by Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Bloombery Cultural Foundation, Phinma Group, Ayala Corp., Hyundai Asia Resources, BDO Unibank, Sun Life Philippines, Ramon V. del Rosario family, and Megaworld Foundation.

The National Museum of Natural History now stands as a remarkable example of what can be achieved through persistence and a spirit of cooperation and generosity.

Ramon R. del Rosario Jr. (rrdelrosario@ gmail.com) is chair of the National Museum.

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