Just last Friday, we opened the NHCP Museum of Philippine Maritime History in the Iloilo Customs House, Iloilo City. It features the rich history of the Filipino people's relationship with the sea and bodies of water.
Rather than focus solely on how ships were built through time, how they sailed and how they navigated, it also showed on how the sea was also a source of livelihood and a part of people's daily lives.
Among the displays of the museum are three baskets for fishing that Opinyon Quezonin columnist Gemma Suguitan graciously lent to the NHCP for the Museum: a galalan and a tain from Lopez, Quezon and an alat from Vintar, Ilocos Norte. These items, though they may seems simple in our eyes, actually tell of the perseverance and ingenuity of our ancestors.
It also brings out cherished memories of my visit to our fishponds in Gihay, a barangay in which my family had to ride a skate from Lopez town center. Despite the distance, my mother's family ate well and lived well through the blessings of seafood which grew there.
The museum also has a dedicated space for seamen who became modern equivalents of the Austronesians who sailed the seas in search of a better life. I know all of us have at least one relative who chose to take this path, separating oneself from family for long periods of time to bring prosperity to them and ultimately to the nation.
However, the Museum is not just meaningful for me because of these personal connections. I also saw how much Quezon was connected to our national history.
One important trend in maritime history that can be observed in Quezon was the construction of watchtowers to look out for raiders from the South. It was both a continuation of centuries-old traditions on the part of the raiders but also a sign of separation between the Muslim South and the peoples under Spanish colonial rule. Many of these watchtowers have survived. I visited one in Gumaca and my friend Albert Barretto was able to document many others, including those in Atimonan, Gumaca, Macalelon, Pitogo and Unisan which had recently been declared National Cultural Treasures.
Quezon also saw an early instance of a Filipino-led navy. In June 1898, revolutionaries in Mauban caught the Spanish infantry captain stationed there as well as soldiers who would have served as reinforcements to the Spaniards in Tayabas. Not only did they get weapons, but they also captured the steamship Bohol, killed a Spanish colonel who was leading another set of soldiers who were on board, and then used it to defeat the Spaniards in the towns of Atimonan, Gumaca, and Lopez.
I hope that through collaborative research, we can tell and retell these stories and histories of Quezonins and the sea, enriching our national history and revisiting the way we see bodies of water not just as places that cause flood but as integral parts of our lives, worth preserving, worth making history with in the near future.