Century-old prison is now a museum

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By Louine Hope U. Conserva
Correspondent

ILOILO CITY — What used to be the Iloilo provincial jail is now a regional extension of the National Museum and is being prepared to house five galleries showcasing the rich history and culture of Western Visayas.

The Iloilo provincial government officially turned over to the National Museum what is now called the Western Visayas Regional Museum, located along Bonifacio Drive, on April 11, coinciding with the 117th founding anniversary of Iloilo province.

The century-old facility was built in 1911 and stopped functioning as a jail in 2006 after the prisoners were transferred to the new provincial jail in Pototan town.

The provincial government spent P19 million to retrofit the old structure while the National Museum allotted P80 million to convert the jail into a museum.

National Museum Director Jeremy R. Barns led the blessing and turnover ceremony and also made the formal declaration of the building as an “important cultural property.”

Museum Declaration No. 22-2017 states that “the old Iloilo provincial jail is a cultural property enjoying the presumption of law as an important property; possesses exceptional cultural and architectural significance relative to the local areas, history and culture; and merits official recognition as an intrinsic part of the heritage and patrimony of the Filipino people…”

The declaration also indicates that the building represents a state-of-the-art prison as it remains substantially intact since it was built in 1911.

In an interview with the local press, Mr. Barns said the declaration would give the building official status as an “exceptional” property in the region.

“When you say an ‘important cultural property,’ it is outstanding but not necessarily unique but it is worth drawing attention to. That is why we declare it to signal the public that there is something exceptional about this — either historically, artistically, culturally, and technologically,” he said.

Other important cultural properties in Iloilo include the old Jaro Municipal Hall and the Camiña Balay Nga Bato.

“The declaration would also allow the National Museum to prioritize the building if ever it will be destroyed by a calamity,” Mr. Barns added.

The Western Visayas Regional Museum is the fifth regional extension of the National Museum. The others are located in Ilocos, Bohol, Butuan, and Zamboanga.

It will exhibit hundreds of archaeological artifacts, fossils, and textiles, among other cultural relics.

Mr. Barns said it will also house the Oton Death Mask, a pre-Hispanic gold mask found in a grave site in Oton town, which is currently kept in the vault of the National Museum in Manila.

The first gallery, which will showcase the region’s textile, will open in May in line with National Heritage Month.

Admission will be free to complement the National Museum’s mandate of educating the public.

Iloilo Gov. Arthur D. Defensor Sr. said the building reflects the glorious past of the province and the entire region.

Mr. Defensor said, “It is historical because, imagine, it is an old provincial jail. It is like in London in the United Kingdom. The structure that houses the crown jewels in England can be found in the fort.”