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The Jars of Maitum and the Monument of General Douglas MacArthur
 
By Elson T. Elizaga
 

"Arts and letters shall enjoy the patronage of the State. The State shall conserve, promote, and popularize the nation's historical and cultural heritage and resources, as well as artistic creations." -- Section 15, The 1987 Philippine Constitution


In May 2008, I received an invitation to join the 4th Photo Safari from Beth Ramos, the municipal information officer of Maitum, Sarangani. The contest was held, as usual, during the annual Binuyugan Festival. Unfortunately, I couldn’t join because of a project in Cagayan de Oro.

But I was surprised to read two phrases in the guideline. The heading of the article was "Colors and Shapes of Maitum, 5 BC to 2008 AD." This, Beth told me, refers to the famous anthropomorphic burial jars and potsherds in Piñol and Linao caves. The theme of the festival was "Maitum: Linking Progress to Prehistory".

These messages were quite unexpected. I would normally see similar titles in Discovery Channel, but not in an activity organized by a Philippine local government. As we know quite well, prehistoric individuals cannot vote.

Maitum's concern for prehistory goes beyond traditional tourism. The municipal and provincial governments protect and preserve the archaeological caves. I wouldn't be surprised when I see Maitum featured in National Geographic Channel.

In contrast, an archaeological site in Cagayan de Oro remains exposed to exploitation and "development".

Recently, City Hall and several private individuals cooperated to build a memorial for General Douglas MacArthur in Cagayan de Oro. While this construction has important historical basis -- MacArthur set foot in Cagayan de Oro on his way to Australia -- it should not have been given priority because a great deal about MacArthur is already known. Even if the monument is delayed, no information about him can possibly be lost. Years ago, we had a MacArthur Park that was renamed Vicente de Lara Park, apparently because of anti-American sentiments then. The change didn't cause international outrage.

But the continuous neglect of the Huluga archaeological site is appalling. Every artifact, every piece of bone, is a rich repository of scientific information that if lost is gone forever. Scientists here and abroad are disappointed about the destruction of this settlement site, with one US expert on obsidian flakes calling the desecration "a shame".

I am certain that if MacArthur were alive today, and asked to select which should be assigned priority -- a memorial for him or the preservation of an archaeological site  -- that he would certainly choose the latter.

MacArthur would also castigate our officials for making a sisterhood pact with Norfolk, Virginia when they can't even establish a healthy connection with their ancestral home. MacArthur was born in Little Rocks Barracks, Arkansas, but chose to be buried in Norfolk because of his mother's ancestral ties to the city.

Most likely, US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney would consider helping preserve Huluga if asked by our local officials: In 2007, Kenney’s fund for cultural preservation donated $39,000 for the restoration of the deteriorating paintings of Carlos “Botong” Francisco. Kenney also promised to donate $38,000 to help efforts in preserving the Ifugao rice terraces.

*****

An excavation in Opol, Misamis Oriental was conducted in May according to the website of the University of the Philippines-Archaeological Studies Program (UP-ASP). Why were there no reports about this activity from the local government, unlike in Maitum where informed journalists came to see?

 
June 1, 2008. Copyright © Elson T. Elizaga.