FVR: How the National Museum was given its home

One of Fidel V. Ramos’ most enduring legacies

On June 12, 1998, during the celebration of the Philippine Centennial, President Fidel V. Ramos handing the author a token of recognition for her advocacy work in the Concerned Citizens for the National Museum, later to be known as Museum Foundation of the Philippines, with National Museum director Fr. Gabriel Casal looking on; bottom photo, President Ramos and First Lady Ming Ramos with the Presidential Commission for the National Museum, representatives of Canadian Museum Planners Lord Cultural Resources and other members of the Ramos Cabinet, on June 12, 1998, at the steps of the National Museum. (Photos from Tata Poblador)

President Fidel V. Ramos, also fondly known as FVR, who passed away July 31, 2022, was the best President the Philippines has ever had. He was truly a visionary leader and a tireless one, who led by example. He steered the country to peace and economic progress. But very few people know of the greatest legacy he has bequeathed to the Filipino people: He gave our National Museum its permanent home.

In the early years of his term (1992-1998), I was elected president of the Concerned Citizens for the National Museum (CCNM), a citizens’ group founded by Purita Kalaw Ledesma to help and support our neglected National Museum in its needs. I chose to continue its advocacy of fighting for a permanent home for the National Museum, particularly since the centennial of the birth of our nation in 1998 was just around the corner. This meant that the building, which had been appropriated by the Philippine Commonwealth Congress in 1926 and was still being occupied by the Philippine Senate, had to be returned to its original owner, which was the National Museum.

In 2003 dinner tribute for FVR, former First Lady Ming Ramos at the keyboard with the Executive Jazz Band (Photo from Tata Poblador)

To do this, we issued a Manifesto for a Permanent Home for the National Museum, drafted by our CCNM Board composed of culture movers such as Ramon Villegas, Amando Doronila, my former SGV boss Cesar Macuja, Augusto “Toti” Villalon, Virgil Reyes, Esperanza Gatbonton, Bambi Harper, Lourdes Montinola, Oskar Atendido, Tony Gutierrez, and Cynthia Ongpin Valdes.

With this Manifesto published in the major national dailies, we started a nationwide signature campaign, aside from doing blitzkrieg visits of all influential columnists, legislators and opinion leaders to lobby for the National Museum.

Finally, we wrote a letter to the newly installed President Ramos, explaining that with the Philippine Centennial only six years away, it would be a pity if our country still did not have a permanent home for its National Museum that Filipinos could be proud of. I also added that if he as President could work for the return of the National Museum Building to its original owner, it would be the greatest legacy any Philippine president could leave his country.

President Ramos gallantly responded by informing us that the Department of Finance, then headed by Secretary Bobby de Ocampo, was ready and willing to vacate the Finance Building in Agrifina Circle to provide the National Museum its new home.

Mrs. Purita Kalaw-Ledesma stood up and declared that we had to stand pat on our demand for the return of the original building

We called for a CCNM board meeting about whether or not we would accept this offer and abandon our quest for the return of our original building. After some reflection, Mrs. Ledesma stood up and declared that we had to stand pat on our demand for the return of the original building to its original owner.

In the 2003 dinner tribute for FVR, from left, Marietta Goco, the author, ex-Finance Secretary Bobby de Ocampo, Inquirer founder Eugenia Apostol, Ching Montinola

In other words, we would not accept the Finance Building in place   of the original building we were asking for. This was a gamble, the outcome of which we were uncertain of.

To our complete amazement and sheer joy, President Ramos not only gave the National Museum the Finance Building to occupy, he also penned a decision that the Old Congress Building and the Department of Tourism Building would be, in the years ahead, assigned to the National Museum as its permanent home!

And that is how the Filipino people and the whole world can now get to discover and appreciate the wealth and wonder of our cultural and natural heritage, housed in the three buildings of the National Museum Complex.

Sen. Raul Roco was progressive enough to draft a bill for that purpose, co-sponsored by Senate President Ed Angara and Rep. Bella Angara Castillo in the Lower House, supported by Speaker Joe de Venecia.

Republic Act No. 8492, otherwise known as the National Museum Act of 1998, was passed into law on Feb. 12, 1998, separating the National Museum from the Department of Education (DepEd), thereby giving the Museum its own mandate as an institution.

It was a proud and jubilant occasion on June 12, 1998, when we finally celebrated the Centennial of Philippine Independence at the Old Finance Building, now renamed the National Museum of the Filipino People, inaugurated by President Ramos.

There’s more. The National Museum Foundation was created by FVR, headed by Ramon del Rosario, Cesar Bautista, and Marinella Fabella, which raised funds to refurbish the Museum. The Canadian group Lord Cultural Resources did the refurbishing plans for the three buildings.

In 2003 dinner tribute for FVR, doing a fun cane-and-cigar-chomping dance (FVR was known for his cigar) are Mina Gabor, Raffy Alunan and Maan Hontiveros (Photo from Tata Poblador)

At the dinner tribute for FVR on Feb. 16, 2003 in the open-air quadrangle of the National Museum of the Filipino People (the former Finance Building), former First Lady Ming Ramos played with the Executives Band and FVR’s former Cabinet members did a cane-and-hat dance.

The National Museum of Fine Arts (old Legislative building) was opened a few years later, after the Philippine Senate relocated to the GSIS Building in the reclaimed Manila Bay area. The National Museum of Natural History  (the old Tourism building) was inaugurated in 2016.

In 2003, FVR with, from left, National Museum director Gabriel Casal, the author, Metropolitan Museum director Cora Alvina, Maribel Ongpin

About author


She has been involved in Philippine culture and the arts, entrepreneurship, and concerned about Philippine politics—in that order.

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