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Unfolding Half A Century: A Sense of Historical Continuity

Oscar M. Lopez
Chairman of the Board of Trustees
Eugenio Lopez Foundation, Inc.

My late father, Eugenio Lopez, Sr. left his children and grandchildren many legacies and one of the closest to our hearts is the Lopez Memorial Museum. I wish to reiterate what I had said in the past, that this institution was born of three driving forces in my father’s life: his deep and abiding love of country, his lifelong love affair with books, and his incorrigible passion for travel.

In a very real sense, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary is paying tribute to the man who took on the responsibility of acquiring (1) all the rare and important Filipiniana books currently in the collection, including six incunabula and fifteen post-incunabula books (the term incunabula refers to book s printed during the first fifty years of printing in this country, a period falling between 1593 and 1643, while post incunabula refers to books printed from 1643 to the end of the 17th century); and (2) the numerous masterpieces by Juan Luna, Felix Hidalgo, and Fernando Amorsolo. My father acquired many of these paintings from the renowned collection of Don Alfonso Ongpin, who was a personal friend.

Despite the importance of this painting collection, my father considered the Filipiniana publications as his most prized, perhaps because he understood and always felt more at home with books than with paintings. When it came to books, money was no object as he became obsessed with the idea of building the finest Filipiniana rare book collection in the country.

From the late 1950s and onwards, he spent three to five months out of the year traveling with a retinue of business associates, employees, friends, and family visiting part s of the world that he particularly liked or had never been before. Invariably, he visited book dealers in the major cities to inquire about publications that made reference to the Philippines. In this way, he became acquainted with the leading antiquarian book sellers in the United States and Europe who helped him build what was to become one of the most important book collections in the country.

I was privileged to accompany him on many of those exciting book-hunting expeditions. I remember one day in the summer of 1960 when we paid a visit to Mr. James Wingo, a former Manila newsman and a well-known Filipiniana collector residing in Washington D.C. We almost purchased his entire Filipiniana collection. I also have vivid memories of our trip to Mexico City in 1961 that resulted in the acquisition of the bulk of the ex tensive Filipiniana collection of Luis Miranda, another former resident of Manila. The Cellar Book shop in Detroit, Michigan run by a dedicated couple, Morton and Petra Netzorg, was a good supplier of materials for my father’s collection. He also periodically visited numerous antiquarian book dealers in Spain, especially in Madrid, and some in London and Paris.

He obtained the choicest and most valuable items from a handful of antiquarian book dealers whom he got to know well. Some of them included John Howell in San Francisco, Lathrop Harper in New York, and Libreria El Callejon, Luis Bardon, and Atre in Madrid.

Above every thing else, the book he sought to own was the Doctrina Christiana of 1593, the first book published in the Philippines. But it eluded him as it eluded ever yone else. The only known copy is in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. The closest my father came to this book or, more accurately, the earliest Philippine imprint that he acquired during his lifetime was the 1620 edition of the Doctrina Christiana translated into Ilocano by Father Francisco Lopez, an Agustinian friar. Entitled LIBRO A NAISURATAN AMIN TI BAGAS TI DOTRINA CRISTIANA, my father bought this book from Libreria El Callejon for $3,500.

Over the years, my father built a mar velous collection of book s, paintings, old maps, old photos, prehispanic pottery, Chinese trade ceramics, and much more. When the collection outgrew his residence on Lancaster street in Pasay City and his office vault in Aduana St., Intramuros, he built a four-story building next to his residence. By launching the museum and opening it to the public, my father heeded to a purpose larger than the display of an outstanding collection.

An old friend noted as much when the museum opened in Februar y 1960. Then Senator Claro M. Recto gave the keynote address and through it delivered one of his best speeches before his demise in Rome that year. Don Claro, as he was known to us, was a dear friend and colleague of my father. Both were fierce nationalist s, loved culture and books, and were fellow graduates of the Ateneo from the Spanish Jesuit period. As junior law yers in the firm of Vicente Francisco, they became close friends. The title of Don Claro’s speech succinctly phrased the museum’s reason for being: to offer el sentimiento de continuidad historica (a sense of historical continuity).

The senator hailed my father and his brother, Fernando, for creating a private museum to serve the public’s greater interest. Recto was particularly happy that the museum chose to highlight the works of Rizal, Hidalgo, and Juan Luna, men who they both considered ”los tres genios de la raza.” Recto pointed out that Filipinos were in dire need of a sense of historical continuity and that the museum was a tremendous contribution towards this goal. He also felt that the real audience of the museum should be young Filipinos. He said that if the youth developed a common sense of the past and were armed with the notion of a shared destiny, they could go forward to build a future. He invoked Padre Florentino’s words at the close of Rizal’s El Filibusterismo:

Where are the youth who will consecrate
their golden hours, their illusions and their
enthusiasm for the good of the country?
We wait for you, O youth. Come, for we await you!

 

In creating the Lopez Museum, my father had also created a place and the opportunity for young men and women to have direct contact with the works of Rizal, Luna, and Hidalgo, the maps of Father Pedro Murillo Velarde, and the book s written by Father Horacio de la Costa and Nick Joaquin or printed by Tomas Pinpin. My father took pride in his race and wanted young Filipinos to be as proud.

As heirs to Eugenio López, Sr., we support the Lopez Museum as a way of honoring our father. We continue efforts to safeguard the museum’s irreplaceable examples of Philippine heritage and document materials that deeply and critically reflect on the country’s collective past. The Lopez Museum will be guided by el sentimiento de continuidad historica and continue to bridge the discontinuities imposed by our way of life and the transitions in our cultures, from the Spanish, to the American, and to the realities of a globally dispersed but interconnected diaspora of Filipinos. In the end, a nation’s inability to appreciate its past will hinder all efforts to reach its destination.

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