Window to the past: The saga of the Museo Iloilo

Architect Sergio Penasales is an angry man these days. That’s because his “baby”, the 47-year old Museo Iloilo, is scheduled to be demolished and give way to more infrastructure development on the Iloilo Capitol grounds. His anger isn’t because he was the architect who designed the 500-sqm. building and supervised its construction in 1971. He can’t stand seeing an institution that served as the soul of Iloilo torn down just to make way for “development”.

In the almost five decades of its existence, the Museo Iloilo has drawn hundreds of thousands of young Ilonggos to enter its doors and gain a deep understanding of Iloilo’s rich history and cultural heritage. It gave Ilonggos a sense of identity, a soul that has its foundation the bravery of our forefathers, making them proud of their heritage. No other institution has provided that kind of service to a people.

“It’s not just a building,” Penasales told this writer in a chance meeting at the Prestige Lounge of SM City Iloilo last Sunday. “It’s an institution that helped shape who were are as Ilonggos.” But his protestations seem to have fallen on deaf ears. With the opening of the Regional Museum in the restored Iloilo Provincial Jail building, TIEZA, which has been given control over the Museo Iloilo, may no longer use it for its original purpose. It’s not clear if the building will remain standing, or be demolished to make way for new structures.

Penasales vividly remembers how the Museo Iloilo came about. In 1969, Gregorio Araneta II, commissioner of the Bureau of Travel and Tourist Industry (BTTI), broached the idea of building a local museum in his home province. He had a budget of P100,000 for the project. The Province of Iloilo, through the late Governor Conrado J. Norada, donated a 2,000-sqm. lot on the west side of the provincial grounds as site for the museum. Araneta had hoped both the Province and City could chip in funds to pursue the project. But these LGUs had no money. The Capitol promised to haul 350 truckloads of earth soil as back filling instead.

The National Museum had a prepared design for the project. However, when this was put to a bidding, the bids were several times above the budget that Araneta had set aside. Penasales, then in his 30s, was recruited into the project and asked to present a design in one week’s time. Penasales worked long into the night to finish his design. The night before his deadline, he fell sick. But that didn’t stop him from meeting Araneta the next morning to show him the design which is now what we see is the present Museo Iloilo.


After getting the go-signal to proceed with the project, Penasales encountered a new challenge: how to execute his facade which shows the centuries-old churches in the province. “I had no experience with this technique,” he said. He asked another architect for advice. He decided to experiment. He drew the silhouettes of the churches on plywood sheets and had them etched, layer over layer to serve as form when the concrete was poured. The drawings of the churches were to be cast into the wall, not carved out of the concrete.

A stroke of luck accompanied the construction of the Museo. Just as it was about to be finished, fishermen discovered the sunken remains of a British merchant ship off the beaches of the Arevalo district. Among its contents were rare china — plates, bowls, etc. The fishermen had initially kept their find a secret. They dove under water to the sunken vessel instead of fishing out in the sea to recover a few artifacts at a time and sell them to collectors. But somebody tipped them off to the police, and the area was quickly cordoned off. The National Museum was alerted, and Navy frogmen (as they were known then) took over the recovery of the artifacts. This started the collection of artifacts and historical items at the Museo Iloilo.

Next came the debate on the name of the museum. There were people who insisted that the place be called, “Museo de Iloilo.” Penasales argued that it was better to just stick to “Museo Iloilo.” Penasales prevailed in this debate.

With this turn-over of the Museo to the TIEZA, Penasales is upset that the more than four decades of culture and history that was showcased here would be lost forever. The new regional museum at the old site of the Iloilo Provincial Jail has just opened, and there were talks about demolishing the Museo to give way for the development of the Capitol grounds. He feels this would be a great disrespect for the institution that became the source of Ilonggo pride.


An ICC on a silver platter?

IloiloCenter1Is the Iloilo Convention Center going to be offered to Megaworld on a silver platter?
This question has occupied my mind since I received a letter from Atty. Joy M. Bulauitan, Assistant Chief Operating Officer of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), last week informing me that the agency conducted two biddings for the management of the ICC, and that both resulted in failed bids.
Yesterday, I wrote Atty. Bulauitan another letter asking whether TIEZA intends to conduct a negotiated bidding for the contract, which is the logical move after two failed biddings. There seems no hurry now on the part of TIEZA to find a private sector partner to operate the ICC.
Why is this a cause for worry?
That’s because the Deed of Donation between Megaworld and DOT stipulated that the management of the ICC shall be awarded to a private entity. If the TIEZA fails to find a management contractor, then DOT/TIEZA will be in violation of the contract of donation.
I am not a lawyer but I know enough law to understand that failure of one of the parties to perform any one of the conditions could be ground for rescission of the donation. If the contract is rescinded on this account, the entire ICC will go to Megaworld as donor.
Heaven forbid, but this is the sweetest sweetheart deal that could possibly happen between Senate President Franklin Drilon and Megaworld. Without working up a sweat, Megaworld will have a convention center on its laps, courtesy of the government.

Sweetheart deal

Anytime soon — if it hasn’t happened yet — the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) will award the management contract for the soon-to-be-finished Iloilo Convention Center at the Iloilo Business Park of Megaworld Corp. in Mandurriao, Iloilo City.

The management of the ICC, which is expected to be finished at a “reduced” budget of P679 million by late June this year, is one of the conditions set by Megaworld when it donated the 1.7-hectare lot to the Department of Tourism as site of the facility.

And guess who will be the ultimate contractor to manage the ICC?

No other than Megaworld Corporation.

It will be a classic case of Megaworld having its cake and getting to eat it, too. It donated land which it bought at P2,500 per sqm. between two of its five-star hotels, Richmonde Hotel and Marriot Inn. Its act of “generosity” will reap enormous returns because it will now have a convention center at no cost to the company.

This was made possible, of course, by its benefactor, Senate President Franklin Drilon, who packaged the transaction that would cost the national government a whooping P679 million! It is a scam that is not likely to be investigated in earnest until a new administration comes along. As it is, Drilon enjoys the full protection of the “matuwid na daan” President, Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.

But no matter how Drilon tries to deodorize the transaction, it is so rotten that its stink could be smelled as far away as Boracay, where I am writing this piece. Quite a number of people I met here groaned in dismay when the conversation turned to the ICC. That’s because the construction boom in Boracay hasn’t abated, and businessmen here know what it costs to build huge hotels and resorts. One businessman told me, “With that amount, I could have built a convention center with a five-star hotel.”

Hence, Megaworld will get the better end of the bargain when the ICC is completed, one that will be the envy of other big developers like SM and Ayala. It gave DOT a design for the ICC and it is getting it at no cost. All it needs to do is making a semblance of giving government a share of the income. With the ICC, it can market its two five-star hotels as venue for large national and international conventions. It is being handed over by the DOT on a silver platter.

The graft cases I filed against Drilon et al are now in the final evaluation stage in the Ombudsman. Am I confident that the Ombudsman will hold the principal characters culpable for the litany of violations of the government procurement law and anti-graft and corrupt practices act? Ultimately, the Ombudsman will be compelled to charge them. But maybe not soon enough. The Ombudsman is pre-occupied with running after the Binays.

The facts, and the law, are on my side. That’s the reason I can confidently say the Ombudsman will ultimately indict the respondents. The violations of law and policy are so glaring, and the defenses put up by the respondents have been weak. Most of them attacked me for supposedly saying I had no evidence when I appeared before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee four months ago. Unfortunately for them, it’s not what I said that matters to the Ombudsman. It’s the evidence on the record.

In this case, I was able to turn the table around and used their own documentary evidence against them. This is the beauty of the law. Innocent-looking documents submitted by your opponents can prove more lethal to them. I take great pride in waging this battle because I was pitted against the best lawyers in the country. For a non-lawyer, it flatters me to be able to cause seasoned lawyers consternation and great labor.

There’s nothing I can do to stop the transaction. Drilon, in his speech during the Dinagyang, arrogantly boasted that no Ilonggo can derail his pet project. Of course, it wasn’t the project that I intended to stop. It was the wanton plunder that took place in the guise of implementing the project.

I am now just awaiting the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City to set my arraignment on the four counts of libel that Drilon filed against me. Facing Drilon’s libel charges against me is the greatest challenge ever to confront me. But I am not afraid. I know I am in the right. In the end, truth will triumph, and justice will be mine.