Time Travel at the Museo Sugbo in Cebu

Have you ever wanted to get into a time machine and go back in time? Go back to a time when things weren’t so hectic? Where the air is fresh and clean and unspoiled by industry? A simpler time without all the gadgets of the modern technologies? I think about that once in a while, perhaps that’s why I love visiting museums whenever I travel.

The Museo Sugbo in Cebu is one of those very surprising museums that offer a glimpse into the past and provides a lesson in history of this amazing seaport city. It not only presents a history of Cebu, one of the islands the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan landed on in his world quest for Spain, but it also shows what the entire country of the Philippines has undergone since the earliest arrivals on these islands. For history buffs, this place should not be missed.

The Museo Sugbo was once the infamous Cárcel de Cebú, the provincial jail of Cebu which in its over 140-year history, was not only a prison for criminals. Many Katipuneros of the Philippine revolution who fought against the colonial rule of Spain, who called the insurgency the Tagalog War, were imprisoned here without a trial. The Filipino faction that was formed in Manila as an anti-Spanish colonization organization was the Katipunan (Kataas-taasang, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan) or simply known as the KKK. Most of those imprisoned in the Cárcel de Cebú were eventually executed and buried in nearby Carreta cemetery, which also has quite a history.

During the early years of the American colonization and occupation, from 1898 to 1946, the prison was a stable for horses that competed at the nearby racetrack. It would eventually be called into service as a prison for both the city and province.

Between 1942 and 1945, when Imperial Japan occupied the Commonwealth of the Philippines during World War II, guerrillas were imprisoned here after enduring torture under the hands of the Kempeitai, the Japanese secret police. After the war, many Filipino collaborators in Cebu were also imprisoned here.

Above, the very rare Philippines Legion of Honor- Chief Commander medal on display in the Museo.

Above, this Liberation of the Philippines medal was awarded by the Philippine Commonwealth (now The Philippine Republic) for service in the liberation of the Philippine Islands from October 17, 1944 to September 3, 1945 and is on display in the Museo Sugbo.

The name ‘Sugbo’ comes from the original native name for the city that was later renamed to “Cebu.” The Museo Sugbo is oftentimes also called the Cebu Museum or the Museum of Cebu interchangeably.

Above, a traditional Philippine window, in the Museo Sugbo, made of capiz seashells.

After the defeat of the Japanese in World War II, the period from the 1950s to 1976, the front portion of the complex was used as a city jail and three of the back buildings were used as the provincial jail and was called the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC). In December of 2004, faced with overcrowding, the CPDRC transferred to a more spacious and modern prison complex. Work began to convert the prison into a museum and Museo Sugbo became the storehouse to showcase the Cebuano heritage. The official inauguration occurred on August 5, 2005 when the first four galleries opened.

Above, a model of the Cathedral of Cebu at the Museo Sugbo

The Cárcel de Cebú building, originally proposed as the Cárcel del Distrito, was to be the main prison of the district of Visayas, not just the city of Cebu. Perhaps this was taken into account in 1869 when it was designed by Domingo de Escondrillas, who apparently was the only architect in Cebu at the time. Construction of the building began in 1871 and it is believed that much of the building was fabricated using the coral stone blocks from the Parian church which was demolished in 1878. In 1892, the prison complex underwent a major renovation which added several more buildings behind the main structure.

The museum houses an interesting collection of Philippine artifacts, some of which was collected and donated by Therese Hermosisima-Finnegan who hails from Sibonga town in southern Cebu. Her 30-year collection contains bulol (rice god) carvings, Ifugao tribal weaponry, ornaments, arts and crafts as well as Catholic religious images. There is a total of ten galleries in the museum complex, however some are still under construction and only six are open for visitors. The featured galleries provide a full range of the history of Cebu from the Precolonial times up to the occupation of the Philippines by the Japanese and Americans.

Above, a replica of an early 21-carat gold statue of a female Buddhist Tara found in Northeastern Mindanao, the original is kept in the Gold Room of the Field Museum of Natural History of Chicago.

In the first gallery you will see artifacts and learn about the pre-colonization by the Spanish of the Cebu region. Here you will note that Cebu was once a rich resource for gold which was so plentiful that the native people traded it to the Spaniards for iron nails. In fact, the Spaniards began to systematically loot the area and rob the indigenous people of their gold which prompted the governor to decree that any Spaniard found to desecrate and loot graves looking for gold would be punished. Of course, he went on to decree that all gold found in the Philippines belonged to and was the property of the Spanish crown.

Above, historical Cebuano artifacts from the pre-colonization period.

Above and below, religious artifacts from Spanish colonization period.

In the Japanese occupation gallery, you will see many artifacts from that terrible time in the Philippines and you will get an understanding of what the people had to endure. Philippine money became worthless, neighbors were forced to report the activities of their neighbors and those that resisted Japanese dictatorship were killed as were their families.

Above, piles of worthless Philippine money after Japan invaded the Philippines.

In the gallery that contains artifacts of the period during the American occupation, there is a collection of letters and memorabilia from Thomas Sharpe, one of the 1,065 “Thomasite” teachers who was sent to the Philippines to fulfill President McKinley’s pledge to “educate the Filipinos.” The Thomasites were schoolteachers who travelled in 1901 from San Francisco to the newly occupied territory of the Philippines on the transport ship USS Thomas. They represented Harvard, Yale, Cornell, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of California, and other prestigious American schools and would become the foundation for the Philippine educational system.

Above, a cartoon showing American imperialism and Uncle Sam’s plan to convert the natives.

Along with the artifacts of pre-American occupation, you will find a gallery of the political of the Philippines, and a very nice souvenir shop. In one of the latest galleries there is a display of wonderful photographs of indigenous people of the Philippines by Jacob Maentz, the renowned Filipino a documentary photographer who is based in Cebu. One superb photograph, below, by Mr. Maentz is of a woman who lives in the village of Whang-Od Oggay, the oldest living tattoo artist. Mr. Maentz can be found at: https://www.jacobimages.com/

Below, sitting in the Museo Sugbo is a bust of Leo Tolstoy, the pacifist and writer best known for this novel War and Peace. This was a gift from Russia to the people of Cebu.

After your visit to the Museo Sugbo, you will see how difficult life was “back then” and it makes you realize that perhaps it’s not so bad here in the future. Oh sure, we have problems, much more than anyone from our distant past could ever have comprehended. But we are a hardy species, and one day we may just have the answers to solve all of our problems.

Contact information of the Museo Sugbo:
Their Facebook page is: http://www.facebook.com/angmuseosugbo
Their e-mail address is: angmuseosugbo@gmail.com
Their telephone number is: (032)239-5626
Their location is:
Museo Sugbo Cebu (The old CPDRC Building)
731 M.J. Cuenco Avenue
6000 Cebu City, Philippines

All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography and Nida Jackson Photography. Please contact me for authorization to use or for signed, high-resolution copies.

The photograph of the tattooed woman is the copyrighted property of Jacob Maentz and may not be used in any manner without the written permission of Jacob Maentz. You may contact Mr. Maentz at jacob@jacobimages.com

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