The first time I laid my eyes upon Juan Luna’s masterpiece was back in my grade school years when dad took me along with my siblings. As far as I can remember it was only a sidetrip because dad had some business in Manila that day and then he took us there late in the afternoon and I can remember having the quick tour, literally just passing by the halls and that’s when I saw the Spoliarium for the first time – a massive painting on an also massive frame with chains, like it was a secret unveiled for the first time.
Fast forward to college in 2008, I was student at the old Letran in Intramuros and me having this insatiable thirst for history, I spent my time walking around Intramuros after class, sometimes with my classmates, but mostly on my own, because I think I was the only one that time really interested in old, rusty, decaying stuff put inside glass containers. A running joke with my college friends was whenever we’d have 3-5 hour breaks, I would ask them if they want to go to the National Museum with me, and I did ask them, weekly! Some of my classmates would ome out of pity. (Poor me, I know)
But most of the time I’m on my owe, I’d disappear from the school grounds and I’d spend around two hours sitting in front of the Spoliarium, I shit you not, I kill time trying to imagine how Juan Luna did this national treasure. And during that time no one really visited the National Museum, it was old, decaying, rusting all over the place – it was in disrepair, it wasn’t even fully airconditioned at that time and I was allowed to sit around because no one really was there but me, except for a few foreigners.
My visits to the Spoliarium was annual, I think it was only in 2013 when I missed the chance visiting the National Museum. There’s always something new in display there.
But there’s something in the Spoliarium that I keep coming back to it, like it was connected to me. I just love staring at it, looking at the details, thinking of the hours spent in it. Spoliarium spoke history, it’s speaking to the generation of today, reminding us how Filipinos achieved great heights before. He, along with the revolutionary heroes were our nation builders and let’s not forget that.
My greatest frustration in my fellow Filipinos is that we have no idea of our history, the pillars of this once great nation is down in the filth of the Pasig River, our history is barely surviving, we destroy heritage sites for “development”, I do not want to live old Manila in photos anymore, I want us to learn our past, because our history is our identity.
And if we have no idea of our history, then who are we really?