Arts & Leisure

Met showcases rare Philippine maps, charts

Posted on March 22, 2017

AT A TIME when interest in the country’s geography is high thanks to issues over shoals, continental shelves, and tiny islands, the public now has an opportunity to view a collection of rare and antique Philippine maps which may perhaps settle arguments -- or strike up new ones.

PHILIPPINE Map Collectors Society President Jaime C. Gonzalez speaks at the launch of the exhibit Mapping the Philippine Seas.
This is a rare opportunity to see all these maps and charts gathered in one venue, noted Philippine Map Collectors Society (Phimcos) President Jaime C. Gonzalez at the launch of Mapping the Philippine Seas, on March 15 at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. The exhibition focuses on Philippine maps and sea charts from a time when the aspiration was to map the country’s shores to help foreign voyagers navigate, and establish political and economic relations.

“The maps and sea charts were painstakingly gathered from the collectors,” said Mr. Gonzalez. “It is the only time that this will be gathered in one venue, and is highly unlikely to be shown [together] after the event ends.”

Mapping the Philippine Seas, which is on view until April 29, features 165 original maps and sea charts loaned for the exhibit by the Government Service Insurance System, Phimcos members, and other private collectors.

The items on exhibit, which date from the early 16th to the late 19th century, played a vital role in the history of maritime trade in the Asian region, and demonstrate its importance in the European colonial conquests and trade explorations.

“The significant events in the history of the country have inevitably been intertwined with this archipelagic nature. From the pre-historic migration of our forefathers, with trade networks existing then, to the pre-colonial days with the increasing development of barter and commerce with neighboring countries, and the colonial period which resulted in trade with the Americas and Europe,” he said.

Included in the exhibition are the famed Murillo Velarde Map of 1734, published by Jesuit priest Pedro Murillo Velarde, which is known as the finest map of the Philippines ever made; 12 illustrations of Philippine genre and country types by Filipino artists Francisco Suarez and Nicolas de la Cruz Bagay, who were also considered pioneers in printmaking; and the Treaty of Paris map, a montage of six sea charts published in 1899 which formalized the turnover of colonial rule of the Philippines from Spain to the United States.

Easily seen in the exhibit are the inaccuracies in the basic maps dating back to the 16th century, and the greater precision charted in the 19th century versions. The Philippines’ topography, shorelines, and maritime voyage obstructions such as islets and rock formations were drawn in the later maps which eventually made exploration safer and economical.

Philippine Navy Vice-Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado, a guest speaker during the launch, said the exhibit reflects the main reason why the Navy constantly updates its maps and charts. “In the same way, that later on you will see that the maps and charts evolved through the years, becoming more accurate and more detailed,” he said.

“[It] touches on the very existence of our country’s heritage -- [showing] the inherent skills of our forefathers and their ingenious foresight in preserving onto canvas or paper the geography of our archipelago to establish the rights of future generations.”

He added: “In defending our claims in West Philippine Sea, these maps and charts made centuries ago were used to justify our claim.”

The exhibition will be complemented by lectures every Saturday at 10:30 a.m. These are: Ancient Maps and Modern Mindanao: Memories and Boundaries by Jay Batongbacal on March 25; The Direccion de Hidografia in the Philippines by Dr. Carlos Madrid on April 1; Questions I Used to Ask About Maps by Raphael Lotilla on April 22; Ways of Seeing: The Linked Worlds of Maritime Trade and the Making of the Selden Map by Stephen Davis on April 29.

Mapping the Philippine Seas is on view from until April 29 at the Tall Galleries, Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Complex, Roxas Blvd., Manila. For queries, e-mail or call (02) 708-7829. -- Camille Anne M. Arcilla