A Day at the Museum

The city of Manila is a frequent topic of discussion here on LiP. Some love it, some hate it. There seems to be no middle ground for most folks. I’ve also sometimes voiced my distaste for the capitol city. That feeling is rooted in my dislike for any large city. That feeling has also been tempered a bit through the years. My education in the real world has shown me that these places are, more or less, necessary economic engines. But that doesn’t mean that I would want to live in any big city. Our retirement home, and Marlyn’s family ties are in central Luzon. That means, like it or not, Manila is a fact of life for us.

Another thing I’ve learned is that big cities are often cultural centers for the area they serve. This is especially true of Manila. For all the crowds, grit, grime, poverty, and pollution, Manila houses many cultural treasures. I spent the day in one of them during our last trip there. I managed to escape the mandatory shopping trip. Instead, I was dropped off at the National Museum on Padre Burgos Street. The National Museum is comprised of three parts; a fine arts museum, a planetarium, and the Museum of the Filipino People. I spent the day in the latter. This portion of the museum is made up of several galleries on three floors and an outdoor courtyard. Each gallery has its own theme.

Of course, there is plenty of space dedicated to history and culture. In one room are Stone Age artifacts. Another fascinating gallery focuses on the Asian maritime trade and boat building. This exhibit also includes info on the colonial Spanish galleon routes that connected the Philippines to the entire world. The incredible biodiversity of the islands has its own gallery. Still another spotlights the cultural aspects of the Philippines. The multitude of ethnic groups and dialects are represented there. Of interest to me in this gallery are the stories of artisans who have worked to preserve traditional and historical designs in weaving, pottery, music and storytelling.

My own favorite is the gallery housing the artifacts recovered from the wreck of the ship, San Diego. . The story of the ship is worthy of an action drama. There is an inexperienced, politically appointed Spanish admiral pitted against an ambitious Dutch pirate. A merchant ship is hastily converted into a warship. The climax is a fiery naval battle on Manila Bay. And the epilogue is filled with political wrangling and “spin”. The recovered artifacts show us a moment forever frozen in time. We have a glimpse of a cross section of Manila society in the year 1600.

We can see Filipino sailors, Chinese cooks, Japanese mercenaries, and Spanish gentry all on board the doomed vessel.

Whenever I’m at this museum, I spend hours in the San Diego gallery. But all too soon, it was time to meet Marlyn and head back to the hotel. Should you find yourself in Manila, I highly recommend a visit. I can’t think of a better way to soak up so much of the history and culture of the Philippines than a day spent at the Museum of the Filipino People.

Post Author: Pete McKee (15 Posts)

Pete McKee grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. After a 20 year career in the US Army, he worked as a museum professional, and in the transportation industry. Marlyn, his wife of 29 years, was raised on a rice farm in Nueva Vizcaya. She has worked in Europe and the US in hotel and restaurant management, and as an IT professional. Their dream of retiring to a small farm in the mountains is coming true in the foothills of the Cordillera Mountains of central Luzon.


  1. says

    Thanks for this article, Pete. To be honest, during all the trips I have made to the Philippines over the course of many years, I had never set foot inside the National Museum, nor its component museums, although I had been in the general area countless times at Intramuros, Rizal Park and the grand Manila Hotel. But, I will now the next time I am over there.

    I can sense the overwhelming feeling of being in a different world when viewing and in close proximity of such artifacts that speak silently of hundreds of years of history, then to be disappointed somewhat as one steps outside of the museum and gaze at the faces of ordinary people and find no trace whatsoever of the footprints in history their own ancestors had created.

    • says

      Thank you John. Do put the National Museum on your itinerary next time. You should really enjoy it.

      I tend to get that let down when I leave any museum. The average person, no matter where in the world they might be, seems to have no idea of the rich heritage that surrounds them. I feel Ambeth Ocampos’ frustration when he writes that most prefer the myth to the documented history.

      Take care,

  2. Corey says

    Having lived in the province for over 8 years I can now say I could not be happier living in Manila (I am sure there are some other folks who are glad I am here as well LOL) It is a vibrant city that is not nearly as bad as many make it out to be. The traffic is really no better or worse than any of the other fast growing cities like Cebu or Davao during the usual time of the day for bad traffic that being rush hour otherwise I move about fairly easily. As an example to get from say Makati to Malate at 7:00am takes all of 20 – 30 minutes but wait an hour and it will take up to two hours to get there. Just use common sense. The city of Makati is one of the great walking cities and Fort Bonifacio is a model for the World. Culturally speaking there are plenty of things to see and do here as well. Wonderful antique an art galleries, Museums, Old Architecture and so forth. For those folks that like to propel the myth of horrible Manila I can only say that attitude is rooted in ignorance and similar to the myth that Davao is somehow the safest place in the Philipppines because of Duterte. Absolute NONSENSE!!! Davao is no different than any other city safety wise. I have walked them all at various times of the day and night in different neighborhoods without any fear or problems. Come visit Manila and see for yourself it is a very worthwhile place to come to in many aspects

    • says

      All true, Corey. I was raised in the country, and won’t go into any big city unless I have to. But when I do, I won’t sit and moan about it. I’m going to get out and see things. I don’t care a bit for flashy shops or night life. But, I truly enjoy museums, historic sites, and fine food. Even if I can’t get out and about, I enjoy people watching.
      Take care,

  3. John Miele says


    Yeah, Manila bashing seems to be a hot topic on web sites related to the Philippines. I live here, and though the city is far from perfect, there are definite conveniences and advantages to living here. I’m not blind… I see the traffic, poverty, and so on. We also rarely experience problems with availability of imported goods, poor medical care, brownouts, and other provincial problems. This is also the business, financial, and cultural capitol of the nation.

    I have yet to live in a place, however, that does not have its’ problems. I think a lot of Manila’s negative image is because of four things:

    1. The fact that as soon as soon as you land you are pretty much given a visual, developing world experience. Seeing secirity guards carrying guns and compounds with walls and barbed wire next to squatter areas simply reinforces the image… all within a km or two of the airport (you see it from the plane while taxiing)

    2. The traffic is pretty much worse than anywhere in the developed world. Manila does not have the motorway systems that Jakarta or Bangkok have (and those cities also have horrendous traffic). Manila is also much larger, in a much more confined area, than most big, sprawling cities in the USA.

    3. Jibber jabber from OFWs who have never actually Manila constantly talking about how dangerous it is. (Likewise about Mindanao… same thing… It all becomes urban legends)

    4. Filipino news reports that sensationalize every robbery, murder, etc.

    The museum is well worth a visit (Not too far from the BI or US Embassy if you need to go anyway). It showcases the culture of the Philippines. Though most provincial capitols have a small museum, none are as thorough as the National Museum, and Manila is where that is located.

    • says

      That’s a pretty good assessment John. For myself, I couldn’t live in Manila for the same reasons I couldn’t live in New York, L.A., or Atlanta. I’ve visited all of those and more, and enjoyed it. But the negatives of city life far outweigh the positives for me. One of the thing http makes visits to any city enjoyable for me are the cultural attractions. Usually, only a large metropolitan economy can afford such things.

      Bayombong, the Capitol of Nueva Vizcaya, does have a small museum. The collection is mostly examples of artifacts from the mountain tribes that local folks have donated. Last time I was there, they were involved in the preservation of a small cultural site up in the mountains.

      So yes, usually the best of any areas cultural treasures will be found in a large metro area.

      Take care,

  4. Jay says

    Hi Pete,

    Nice article and I loved your pictures! The National Museum sounds interesting. This question will show how cheap I am,”Ïs there an entrance fee to the museum?”

    I also think Manila gets kind of a bad rap. I have enjoyed my short stays there. I think another aspect that gives Manila a bad rap is when you get out of the airport and you immediately step into the heat and humidity. We always arrive in the night time and I immediately start sweeting like a pig on Fiesta Day.

    • says

      Thanks Jay! I checked my notes, and the admission is 150 pesos for adults. I didn’t take note of the price for children. But the info should be in the link provided in the article. Whenever I’m in country, and notice that I’m sweating, I look around me. The Filipinos near me are also usually sweating. But as Sugar often reminds us, shower several times a day. Those closest to us will appreciate it.

      Take care,

  5. sugar says

    Hey Pete – I’m from Manila! And I think I’m the only one defending the city.. ha ha ha :) Come on folks.. you’ll learn to like the city. Don’t have to love it, but it’s livable :). There are other countries with far worse traffic than our city… right? Ha ha. EDSA gets respite from traffic, only during Holy Week.

    As for the National Museum,.. well, I think the last time I was there was grade school field trip .ooops. Long long time ago. Try Ayala Museum, Mind Museum, Science Museum (MOA). Have fun. ^_^

    • says

      Yes Sugar, sometimes it seems that you are the Lone Ranger defending Manila. The National Museum and the ones you mention are also great places to beat the summer heat as you mentioned in your latest article. I found another by accident in Greenbelt. I wish I could remember the name, but it had a very good historical timeline of Philippine history. I especially liked seeing the Philippine side of the Philippine-American War (1899 – 1902).

      Take care,

      • says

        Hi Pete – Interesting to note that you are interested in seeing the Philippine side of the Philippine – American War. I think we all do. I’m sure you already know that there is a great disparity between American and Filipino views of the Philippine – American War. For starters, the word, “insurrection”, was the term given by the Americans (except Mark Twain LOL) to refer to all military action undertaken by Filipinos (both military and civilian) against the U.S. military in the Philippines from 1899, following the shooting incident in Sta. Mesa, until the conclusion of the conflict. In the Filipino mind, however, it was never an insurrection, but a war that pitted uniformed and organized soldiers of the regular Army of an already independent Philippines (June 12, 1898, Kawit, Cavite) under General Emilio Aguinaldo against American infantry.

        • says

          Yes John, learning the Philippine side of both the revolution and the Philippine- American War was an eye opener for me. The American textbooks taught us that the Americans saved the Filipinos from the cruel Spanish. Then, some few ungrateful folks started an “insurrection”. I’m glad I found “the rest of the story”.
          Take care,

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