Botong Francisco’s grand mural painting, “Filipino Struggles Through History,” declared a National Treasure—struggles on its own
National Artist Carlos Modesto “Botong” Villaluz Francisco (1912-1969) is known for his grand murals. His big break was winning first prize at the first national exhibition of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP). Purita Kalaw-Ledesma established AAP in 1948.
In the same year, Botong also won first prize at the Philippine National Museum’s annual exhibition of Philippine Art, for his painting “Kaingin.”
Francisco grew up in Angono, Rizal. Fascinating, several artists hail from this town. His father made and sold wine but died when Botong was only five. He was able to study at UP but had to stop. He worked as an illustrator in La Vanguardia and the Manila Tribune.
Botong was a member of the “Thirteen Moderns,” a group formed in 1938. The group broke away from the classical tradition.
As one of the first generation of Philippine modernists, along with Victorio Edades and H.R. Ocampo, the three became known as the “Triumvirate.”
The three artists commissioned (recommended by Irineo Miranda, “Dean of Philippine Cartoonists.”) to create a series of murals that depicted stylized Filipino imagery.
It adorned the lobby of Capitol Theatre, designed by National Artist Juan Nakpil, the Dean of Filipino Architects.
The mural titled “Rising Philippines” (1935-39) was a narrative of Philippine history leading to the Philippine Commonwealth. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the war. Henceforth, Botong known for this style of painting.
“Filipino Struggles Through History”
Botong Francisco’s most famous work is the “Filipino Struggles Through History.” Manila Mayor Villegas commissioned it in 1964. The seven panels were finished months before his death on March 31, 1969.
It is the most recognized cultural Filipino painting because of its fluid style, color, and composition. It reflects the most artistic interpretation of Philippine history, customs, and traditions.
A national treasure
The grand mural was initially installed at the Bulwagang Katipunan (later renamed Bulwagang Gat Antonio Villegas), Manila City Hall, in 1968.
The painting was declared a National Cultural Treasure on April 8, 1996. An “Obra Maestra” retelling the 600-year history of the Philippines.
The panels of “Kasaysayan ng Maynila”
The mural divided into seven ‘oil on canvass’ painting canvasses measuring 80 meters long. These are conjoined to depict ten important events in Philippine history. Collectively, it was originally titled “Kasaysayan ng Maynila” (History of Manila).
Datu of Maynilad and the barter system
The first story from the left depicts the trading and barter system with Chinese merchants and Arab traders. Below are the ethnic Filipino fishermen. It moves to Datu of Maynilad and unto the arrival of the Spaniards who brought Christianity.
From Rajah Sulayman, it flows to the “cross of conquest” and the “sword of Spanish oppression.” As the Spanish conquistador raises his cup for a truce, the Datu sits and ignores the colonizers begrudgingly.
The Spanish Galleon trade
The painting progress to Lim Ah Hong and the three Spanish authorities—Gobernador, Friar, and General. Beside them is the Galleon trade.
The ‘Manila Galleon trade‘ dominated the Pacific ocean, and the “known world” for more than a century.
The Lady of Peace and Good Voyage brought by Governor-General Taboro, guides the Galleon ships that sailed from Manila to Acapulco.
The next section was the war and truce between France, Britain, and the short British occupation of Manila and Cavite. Amidst the Manila Galleon trade is the Virgin Mary.
The panel moves to Francisco Balagtas, where Florante and Laura (malakas at maganda) are depicted.
GomBurZa and Jose Rizal
One of the highlights of the painting is the death and execution of “GomBurZa.” On its side are the struggles of Filipinos during Spanish colonization symbolized by their resistance and heroism.
The story progress towards the revolution where National Hero Jose Rizal, in despair, writes “Noli Me Tangere.” Around him are the characters of Simon, Maria Clara & Elias, Sisa, Crisostomo & Basilio, Pilospong Tasyo, and Padre Damaso.
Gat Jose Rizal faced the firing squad, and his death ignites the revolution. The painting emphasizes KKK (Kataas-taasang, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan), the rise of Filipino patriots during the “himagsikan.”
Then comes Andres Bonifacio with all his valiant and glory together with the “katipuneros.” Below is a poem, Bonifacio wrote.
“Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya sa pagka-dalisay at pagkadakila gaya ng pag-ibig sa sariling lupa? Aling pag-ibig pa? Wala na mga, wala!”
Treaty of Paris and American colonization
Americans enter the scene with the Treaty of Paris in 1898. After Spain left, a brief war of independence against the Americans ensued. However, the Americans were portrayed not as conquerors, but the country’s deliverer.
Japanese invasion and the Commonwealth
The next story show Manuel Quezon with Manuel Roxas, during the commonwealth inauguration of the Philippines in 1935. Then comes the Japanese invasion of 1942.
As the Philippines liberated and declared independent in 1946, both American and Philippine flags painted to show appreciation, partnership, and the freedom Filipinos today enjoy.
Restoration from 2014 to 2017
In 2014, the murals of “Filipino Struggles Through History” were transferred from the Manila City Hall to the National Museum.
The grand mural’s home was initially displayed at the ‘Bulwagang Gat Antonio Villegas’ of the City Hall. However, it deteriorated over time.
In 2013, Mayor Alfredo Lim sent the panels to the National Museum for extensive restoration.
reach a larger audience to appreciate the National Treasure.
Mayor Estrada and the National Museum
In 2017, Mayor Joseph Estrada and the Manila City Council signed an agreement with the National Museum to leave the paintings at the museum.
Doing so will reach a larger audience to appreciate the National Treasure. In exchange, high-quality reproduction replaced the originals at the Bulwagan.
It took four years to restore the paintings. On February 19, 2018, the murals were opened for public display for the first time.
The battle for Botong’s paintings
In 2019, Mayor Lito Atienza invited to the inaugural ceremony of current Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso. He felt disgust that a tarpaulin replaced the painting. Atienza demanded the murals returned to its rightful place.
Domagoso echoed the sentiment. The National Museum, as acting trustee or the painting, acknowledged the return. Unfortunately, the pandemic struck.