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Rediscovered Treasures in the National Library of the Philippines

by Anne Rosette G. Crelencia
Books, manuscripts, photographs, serials, maps and assorted memorabilia make up the treasures of the National Library of the Philippines (NLP). Every year, these collections are added to, increasing the breadth and depth of our recorded cultural heritage. Sadly, the vagaries of time, politics, and budget constraints sometimes make it difficult to keep track of everything in the library's charge.
Recently, a nearly-forgotten part of our art history was rediscovered as a priceless gem of history in the NLP. Several pieces of one of National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco's most magnificent works were found sitting quietly in a storage room during an inventory of artwork conducted in 2011. Despite some damage, the paintings were still quite legible. With the assistance of renowned historian, Dr. Ambeth Ocampo, the works were tentatively identified as portions of a vast Botong mural which somehow vanished decades ago.
 Francisco was commissioned by the government to produce an 88 meter long and eight meter wide mural with the theme “500 Years of Philippine History” to serve as an attraction at the 1953 International Fair held in the Philippines. The enormous mural was finished with the help of protégés and Paete woodcarvers, and would capture the admiration of the world. Though a point of national pride which was featured in the likes of Newsweek and Time Magazine, the mural was apparently improperly and carelessly dismantled, the pieces taken by whoever had the interest or the gall.
Nine (9) segments of the mural have turned up in the NLP, spurring a quest to recover the rest of it.  To that end, the NLP is now coordinating with the late national artist's descendants. Carlos “Totong” Francisco II in particular was ecstatic upon receiving images of the segments for evaluation, and quickly confirmed that they were his grandfather's originals.
The Botong pieces, together with other artwork in the NLP's care, are now part of a proposed project under the Filipiniana Division entitled “Preservation and Restoration of Artwork in the National Library”. It is hoped that the project will qualify for a one million peso grant from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, which will be used to implement conservation and restoration standards for each piece of art in the NLP, then build a small gallery for public viewing. In this way, the NLP hopes to further fulfill its mission of both preserving our cultural heritage, and making it accessible to posterity.
Individuals or organizations that have information on Botong Francisco's mural, especially where other pieces may be found, are encouraged to contact the Artworks Project coordinators: Ms. Maricel M. Diaz <>, Ms. Ma. Loreta Go <> and Ms. Anne Rosette Crelencia <> with contact nos.  (02) 3105029.

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