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Posted by on Jun 15, 2015 in Blog |

Rare, important and significant

Rare, important and significant

I can’t wait to view the 1734 Murillo Velarde map of the Philippines that will be donated to and displayed at the National Museum of the Philippines. It is a rare artifact from England where it had been kept, for over two centuries, in the library of the Duke of Northumberland, the same Duke whose castle was used as the set for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft in the Harry Potter movie series.

I saw the notice online at Sotheby’s London, which estimated the sale price within £20,000-30,000, way beyond my budget. It ultimately sold for £170,500, or roughly P12 million—almost six times the estimate. At a Manila auction the day after the sale in London in November last year, an art dealer asked me in a whisper: “Were you the buyer of the Velarde map?” I replied in the negative but was flattered to be counted within a small group of suspects.

When CNN asked me to comment on the importance of the map, I said: The map is rare (with less than 50 copies extant in the universe); our National Library and the Lopez Museum have the later “mini” version. This map is important because it will be the second original 1734 Murillo Velarde map in the Philippines. One is in a private collection while this one will be accessible to the public in the National Museum. The map is significant because it not only shows a detailed representation of the Philippines in the 18th century (complete with mountains, hills and waterways), it also comes with charming vignettes that show typical people and scenes from the period. In 1734 the Jesuit Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde did not have Google Earth or satellite imaging. Yet he was able to draw a very accurate map of the archipelago. The map is noteworthy because it was engraved and signed by Nicolas de la Cruz Bagay, one of the earliest native or Filipino artists on record.

The contemporary relevance of the Murillo Velarde map, however, is that it is proof against the China claim to Scarborough Shoal. The Chinese have been saying that they have historical rights to Scarborough but cannot produce a Chinese map to support their claim. The Murillo Velarde map shows what we know today as “Panatag” within the territory of Spanish Philippines when it was known as “Panacot” (Threat). Panacot is not only aptly named in the map; it is also located near “Lumbay” (Grief) and “Galit” (Anger).

The repatriation of the Murillo Velarde map should open a discussion on tax breaks for Filipinos who acquire important Philippine art abroad and bring them back to the country, as well as tax incentives for people who donate money or art to the National Museum and the National Library. It is hoped that the people who will view the Murillo Velarde map when it is finally in the National Museum will look beyond its eight-figure price tag to see it as a significant work of art and science in 18th-century Philippines. Someone told me that the map is being kept abroad because it might be used in discussions over our dispute with China over Scarborough Shoal. They do not need the original map because it is available online; a high-resolution copy can be sent to the Chinese side for comment. The sooner the map is conserved and displayed in the museum, the better.

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On Facebook the other day, someone commented on a newscaster who made the usual claim about the Philippines casting the deciding vote in the recognition of Israel in the United Nations. My friend, Rene Guatlo, asked how the Philippines could have cast a deciding vote when the results were: 33 in favor, 13 against, 10 abstentions. Someone commented that since the voting was conducted viva voce, then the Philippines probably cast the 29th vote. To summarize, someone else commented that the Philippines cast a clinching vote, not a deciding vote.

It was amusing that in the age of Google, nobody clicked their mouse to find out. The website of the Foreign Office of Israel says that UN General Assembly Resolution No. 181 (aka the “Partition Plan”) called for the partition of British-ruled Palestine Mandate into a Jewish state and an Arab state. This was adopted at the 128th plenary meeting with the following votes:

  • 33 in favor: Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Byelorussian SSR, Canada, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, Liberia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Sweden, Ukrainian SSR, Union of South Africa, United States, USSR, Uruguay, Venezuela.
  • 13 against: Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Yemen.
  • 10 abstentions: Argentina, Chile, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, United Kingdom, Yugoslavia.

I clicked my mouse a few times and discovered that at the same 128th UN Plenary meeting on Nov. 29, 1947, the General Assembly elected the following members of the United Nations Commission on Palestine: Bolivia, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Panama and the Philippines.

One of the issues this committee decided on was the internationalization of Jerusalem. I was not able to access the actual committee report from the depths of the Internet, but I’m sure our mission to the UN or our Department of Foreign Affairs can tell us how, in this smaller committee of five countries, we cast deciding votes.

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