Secretary of Foreign Affairs

for the Philippine Center New York

Core Collection of 1974 Homecoming Exhibition and Spoliarium Tour,  

National Museum

on 11 March 2021


Chairperson Luli Bernas;  

Deputy Director-General Ma. Rosenne Flores-Avila, representing Director-General Jeremy Barns;

Ms. Cyril Santos, Head of Fine Arts Division, representing Deputy Director-General Dr. Ana Maria Theresa Labrador;

Ambassador Steven Robinson;

Esteemed guests, ladies and gentlemen:


Good afternoon. I am grateful to be here today, more grateful still to take respite from the pandemic, and surround myself with artworks. Thank you, Luli, and to the National Museum for making this happen.

It gives me immense patriotic pride that we are showcasing the Philippine Center New York Core Collection of 1974.

The Philippine Center is a rotten building smack in the middle of the length of 5th avenue — just for emphasis and give tourists and the younger generation of New Yorkers a glimpse at what 5th Avenue looked like at the turn of the 20th century — after a century of wear and tear. Charming in a way: one huge elevator whose parts are archaeological artefacts; / so replacing them is a bit tough.  In my early days as PR of our permanent mission to the U.N. I thought to navigate my new role — that was easy, and a building that seemed labyrinthine, but which quickly gave me a shock. After stepping past the bathrooms on the first floor I ran smack up against a brick wall. There was no backdoor. Which means that in the event terrorists get in we all basically sit there while they mull how best to throw away our lives as a message that none of us would get to read. I also discovered two top floors that were bodegas or warehouses; in one of them were kept part of this collection that awaited their turn on the walls. Of course, I easily found the way back to my office to be welcomed by the familiar sight of Manansala’s carabao painting, which I would be glad to see here. Along with another charming farming scene which is all cracked up — and that may be part of its charm. But even so I think it much better than the Manansala. I’d like to see it restored in part and hanging here instead.

I didn’t get to see all the artworks while I was in New York; I saw only the dedicated and doleful building maintenance guy and curator, Victor Cruz who has been doing his best to keep them safe like his babies. I would like to express our collective gratitude for what he has done with near nothing. I hope that when he retires, he will have a place in the National Museum as the foster parent of these babies now gracing these walls.

That’s why I was excited when I got Luli’s invitation to this exhibit. Finally, I’ll get to see 115 paintings all in one floor and in good shape.

The Philippine Center New York Core Collection of 1974 is a treasure trove, containing works of national artists and other masters of renown; many of them discovered by Imelda Marcos without whom we’d be back in the immediate postwar 1950s in our taste in art. Thank you, Ma’am; and thank you also to my uncle Tito Lindy Locsin whose genius housed in tasteful monumentalism her vast and rich taste in art; starting with the Cultural Center about which I wrote that it was, quoting Simone Weil, Gravity married to Grace. 

Today, we will be regaled with genius and talent: the likes of Ang Kiukok, HR Ocampo, Federico Alcuaz, old friend who painted my mom and my dad; BenCab, who made as much of a stir as a handsome man about town as he was an original artist; Joya, Arturo Luz, Manansala, Jerry Navarro who did the illustrations for my father’s collection of short stories printed in Hong Kong; Malang, Manuel Baldemor, and Cesar Legaspi who invited students and onlookers to his studio to watch him painting a nude. That was engrossing. I was apprenticed to the painter Dumlao whose studio was in Azcarraga until my mother discovered that my nudes in pastel were done with living models. Anyway, I don’t think Philippine art lost much.

The Philippine Center’s partnership with the National Museum for the restoration and conservation of these artworks is a gift to future generations of Filipinos. It would be a tragedy to lose them to time, neglect or theft for that matter; things so valuable and integral to what we are as a people and lose the chance to show ourselves in our best light to the world. No less than the Philippine constitution — the embodiment of our collective aspirations if seldom reality — declared that “all the country’s artistic and historic wealth constitutes the cultural treasure of the nation;” and that it is the responsibility of the state to “conserve, promote, and popularize the nation’s historical and cultural heritage, as well as artistic creations.”  

We all know what these artworks are worth; and it is our sacred — no better yet our legal duty neglected at penal risk — to preserve and secure these treasures; and not wake up one day to see them flaking off the canvas or only as empty rectangles of a lighter shade of the wall where some of them were hanging…until they were not.

For me, it’s quite simple, really. To capture the creative nature of being human into something tangible is a touch of the divine, like a passing breath of creation frozen in winter air; as well as to fulfill our duty not to lose any of that frozen stuff to neglect or theft. An understanding of these cardinal truths imparts significant meaning to our shared stewardship of our cultural and artistic heritage. Thank you. I’ll ask Babes in Washington if he has any art works whose fate he fears might be in doubt ; or which he dislikes because some of the paintings really need very kind understanding to endure on your wall. 

But the ownership of these art works of course remains with the Department of Foreign Affairs, to take back whenever there is a need to display them abroad or even keep them here if they can do it as well as the National Museum. That won’t happen until 10 years from now. I returned our building fund to the Departmenrt of Budget and Management to fight the pandemic. Permission from the DFA will be needed for any reproductions in art books and monographs on Philippine works of art. Also, anyone with a DFA ID gets to come in here for free. Thank you, Luli. END