War museum in Tarlac town at risk of shutting down due to DPWH project

Rose Carmelle Lacuata, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 22 2020 10:49 PM

Rhonie Dela Cruz talks to a group of visitors at the Bamban Museum of History. The museum is at risk of closing down due to a DPWH road widening project. Photo courtesy of Rhonie C. Dela Cruz, Bamban Historical Society

MANILA - A World War II museum in the town of Bamban in Tarlac is at risk of shutting down due to a road-widening project by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The Bamban Museum of History is privately owned by Rhonie Dela Cruz of the Bamban Historical Society.

Dela Cruz, a descendant of war veterans, opened the museum in 2005 to keep the memory of war veterans alive.

"Gusto kong maipakita na ang mga bayani, mga lolo natin, mga uncle natin," he told ABS-CBN News.

(I want to show people that our grandfathers and uncles are also heroes.)

The museum contains photos, artifacts, and a narrative of the battles fought in Bamban town. Everything in the museum is curated and researched by Dela Cruz with the help of some volunteers.

"This is a poor man's museum," he said, noting that museum survives on donations from friends and other people.

Aside from showcasing wartime photos and artifacts, the Bamban Museum tells the story not only of Filipino war veterans, but also of American and Japanese fighters as well.

Probably one of the most important contributions of the museum to Philippine wartime history is the story of the indigenous Aeta who also fought in the war.

The museum, however, is now at risk of shutting down because of a DPWH road widening project.

According to Dela Cruz, authorities talked to him in September, informing him that around 60 square meters will be taken off his for the project, which is supposedly part of the development for New Clark City.

The museum will be losing its main gallery should the road widening project, slated in the second half of 2021, pushes through, Dela Cruz added.


"The impact of the road widening without the guarantee of replacement of Main Gallery put our Bamban Museum in a difficult situation, as its exhibit facilities are beyond capacity for the displays affected. We do not have the means to construct a second floor for the replacement of the Main Gallery. We do not intend to transfer the contents of the exhibits to other venue, as there will be complicated questions taking care of the artifacts and displays, curatorship, research and publications without my control," Dela Cruz wrote in his official statement dated Sept. 24.


The World War II exhibit at the Bamban Museum of History. Photo courtesy of Rhonie C. Dela Cruz, Bamban Historical Society

When he first posted about the road-widening project, Dela Cruz admitted that the future of Bamban Museum is uncertain.

Though the details of the project are still unclear, Dela Cruz knows for sure that it will have a substantial effect on his museum.

Among the areas that may be affected by the DPWH project are the main entrance of the museum, its fence and gate, some WWII memorial stone tables, the main gallery and the entrance of the Private Macario Dela Cruz memorial hall.

What he hopes now is to get support from the government, especially in having a second floor added to the existing museum to replace the main gallery that would be razed for the road widening project.

"The only option for the Bamban Museum to remain operational in the future is to secure a replacement gallery for the affected artifacts and collections in display, by constructing a second floor on the museum library. At present, there is no confirmation yet from our Government to consider our proposition. This leaves us in a very disadvantaged situation, as we are not capable financially to carry on in the construction of a new main gallery," Dela Cruz said.

Dela Cruz said he has written a letter to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), asking for support.

However, since his museum is still relatively new, the NHCP cannot consider it as a historic structure.

According to the NHCP's Guidelines on the Identification, Classification and Recognition of Historic Sites and Structures, historic sites should be at least 50 years old.

"I'm getting hopeless," Dela Cruz said, noting he needs more than half a million pesos for the construction of a second level for his museum.

But as a full time researcher who manages the museum with the help of volunteers, Dela Cruz needs all the support he can get to keep it open.

"As the future of Bamban Museum is still in question, we embark on project Save Bamban Museum to inform the public challenges we face, and to seek help from concerned agencies and individuals in the hope that the institution will rise again after the road widening project of the Government," he added.


Photo courtesy of Rhonie C. Dela Cruz, Bamban Historical Society

According to Dr. Ricardo T. Jose of the Department of History of the University of the Philippines Diliman, the Bamban Museum of History plays a very important role in the study not only of World War II in the Philippines, but also of the Philippine-American War.

Aside from the manuscripts, photos and other wartime artifacts displayed in the museum, it also highlights the contribution of the Americans, the Japanese, and even indigenous people, in the war.

Jose also said the museum puts Bamban town in the roster of places often associated with World War II such as Bataan, Corregidor and Manila.

For Jose, the museum can also be considered as a tourist destination, often visited by scholars and other foreigners interested in the history of the war.

"The museum is known all over the world. Everyone who studies World War II knows about it," he told ABS-CBN News.

Jose added closing down the museum will be a huge loss for Philippine history since it is one of the few private museums of its kind in the country.

He likewise hopes the government can do more to protect historical and cultural landmarks, like the Bamban Museum, which are being sacrificed in the name of development.

"We have lost a lot of structures like this because of development," Jose said, adding that in Europe, places with historical and cultural importance are preserved even when the area is being developed.

For Dela Cruz, who opened the museum to preserve the legacy of Filipino war veterans, its imminent closure may also mean losing the fruit of his hard work for the past 15 years.