NOTE: THIS STORY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE BOHOL CHORNICLE’S SUNDAY PRINT EDITION.
The National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) turned over last Friday the Plaza Rizal and the Escuela de Niñas Building to the Provincial Government of Bohol. The ceremony was attended by Bohol Governor Arthur C. Yap and NMP’s Director-General, Jeremy R. Barns, as well as guests from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the City Government of Tagbilaran.
Located at the heart of the capital of Bohol, Plaza Rizal and the Escuela (school building) are part of the core of Tagbilaran City’s Heritage District.
Both are declared Important Cultural Properties (ICP) as part of the Tagbilaran City plaza complex and both have been included in the NMP’s National Heritage Restoration and Reconstruction Program in the Visayas.
The plaza complex was established in accordance with the 1573 ordinance of King Philip II of Spain which prescribed the layout of towns in the Spanish colonies. Plaza Rizal is situated between the former Provincial Capitol, now the National Museum Bohol, and St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of the Diocese of Tagbilaran.
From being a stretch of open space at the turn of the 20th century, major features were introduced during the American period such as the Rizal Monument, erected in 1912, which lends its name to the site today, and the neoclassical bandstand. A fountain was built in the latter half of the 20th century and tucked in one of the corners of the plaza is another important feature – the concrete kiosk created by Bohol’s first architect, VenerandoMiñozaDumadag, built for players of chess, the favorite sport of Bohol’s famous son, Carlos P. Garcia.
President Garcia’s statue, created by Boholano National Artist Napoleon V. Abueva, which was formerly erected in the plaza, can now be admired at the President Carlos P. Garcia Courtyard of the National Museum Bohol.
Across the street from Plaza Rizal is the Escuela de Niñas, built to serve as a primary school for girls and one of two identical 19th-century Spanish period school buildings. The two Escuelas were built on either side of the former Provincial Capitol. The other building, the Escuela de Niños, which served as a primary school for boys, was damaged during World War II and was demolished in the 1950s to make way for the Bohol branch of the Philippine National Bank.
During the American period, the Escuela de Niñas building was still used as a school. It was run by the Thomasites, school teachers deployed by the U.S. Government to establish an American educational system in their newly occupied territory. War halted the school’s operation and on 8 June 1958, the building was opened to the public as the Bohol Provincial Library. For forty years it catered to the educational needs of Boholanos until the library was transferred to another location in 1998.
On 22 July 2007, the building was inaugurated as the National Museum of the Philippines Bohol Branch and served as a repository of archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, as well as paleontological, geological, botanical and zoological specimens collected from the province. After the 2013 Bohol Earthquake, the building also became the headquarters of NMP’s Bohol Heritage Task Force.
Here, experts and technical personnel from the National Museum assessed the damages sustained by Bohol’s declared built heritage, most of which have already been restored. Today the National Museum of the Philippines is supervising the ongoing reconstruction of two remaining heritage churches damaged during 2013 quake, the Sta. Cruz Parish Church in Maribojoc and the Nuestra Senora de la Luz Parish Church in Loon.
The Escuela remained the home of the NMP in Bohol, until it moved to the repurposed old Provincial Capitol building in 2018.