MANILA. The National Museum of the Philippines received this series of early 19th century panels depicting the founder of the Augustinian Order from private collectors Edwin and Aileen Bautista.
MANILA. The National Museum of the Philippines received this series of early 19th century panels depicting the founder of the Augustinian Order from private collectors Edwin and Aileen Bautista.Photo from NMP

National Museum open to dialogue with Cebu officials over 'stolen' 19th century panels

THE National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) said Monday, February 19, 2024, that it is willing to engage in a constructive dialogue with Cebu officials and other concerned individuals to address concerns in relation to the four 19th century panels that were allegedly stolen from a church in Cebu but ended up being donated to the NMP.

In a statement, the NMP maintained that the donors of the panels procured it through legitimate means, noting their commitment to ethical acquisition.

It said the donors’ decision to donate the panels to NMP reflects their dedication to preserving cultural heritage and promoting patriotism.

“We recognize the broader historical context surrounding the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Patrocinio de Maria Santisima in Boljoon, Cebu. A revered cultural landmark known for its architectural uniqueness and historical significance, the church and its artifacts hold a nostalgic and spiritual place in the hearts of many Boljoanons and Cebuanos, embodying centuries of religious and cultural heritage,” it said.

“We acknowledge the historical vulnerability of church artifacts to looting and improper disposal in the past. While ethical concerns may arise, it is essential to consider the intricate historical context influencing these actions. The dynamic ownership and circulation of these cultural assets underscore the necessity for open dialogue and collaborative initiatives to address these complexities,” it added.

The NMP reaffirmed its commitment to preserve, curate and exhibit cultural and historical artifacts for the Filipinos, noting that the transfer of the panels under its care, particularly in the National Fine Arts Collection, will ensure that they will benefit from the expertise and resources necessary for their proper study, display, and conservation for generations to come.

It assured Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia, Mayor Jojie Derama, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, and the community of Boljoon that it is open for a constructive dialogue and exchange of technical assistance to facilitate “sharing” the four panels with the people of Cebu as soon as possible.

“In the meantime, in order to prioritize the welfare of these panels, we will continue to pursue preventive conservation measures necessary to prepare them for public display in due course,” the NMP said.

“This demonstrates our steadfast dedication to fostering understanding, appreciation, and access to our rich cultural heritage for all Filipinos,” it added.

The panels, which feature the image of Saint Augustine of Hippo, trace its original provenance from the pulpit of the Patrocinio de Maria Santisima Parish Church in Boljoon, Cebu.

They were donated to the NMP by Union Bank chief executive officer Edwin Bautista and were turned over last week as “A Gift to the Nation.” (TPM/SunStar Philippines)

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