City of Manila

An Inauguration at the Museum: the National Museum and presidential ceremonies

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is set to take his oath of office on June 30, 2022 at the steps of the National Museum of Fine Arts at Padre Burgos Street, Ermita, Manila. This marks the first time in a long while that an inauguration ceremony would be held here since the Commonwealth times when the building used to be known as the Legislative Building where both houses of Philippine Congress were located.

We have already discussed the history of the National Museum of Fine Arts, which I highly recommend you check out here. But it’s important to take note of the ceremonial role this building has played as the former home of the Philippine legislature.

But first, check out my latest video on YouTube regarding the works going at the National Museum of Fine Arts, as well as a quick history lesson.

In particular, we are talking about the building as the site of presidential inaugurations, a tradition that hearkens back to the tradition of the Philippines’ former colonial master the United States. Since 1829, most US presidents took their oath at the steps of their legislative building, AKA the United States Capitol building. As a spectacle, the Filipinos then may have thought, “Hey, we should have this too!”

The first time the Legislative Building figured in a presidential ceremony was in November 15, 1935, when Manuel L. Quezon was sworn in as the first President of the Philippine Commonwealth, the self-governing government of the under the auspices of the United States. Quezon would also be the first president to be sworn in the steps of the Legislative Building. Quezon would win a second term in 1941 and was again sworn in at the Legislative Building, as the spectre of the war going on in Europe is feared to make its away into the country.

Quezon’s 1935 inauguration

True enough, in December that year, the Japanese began conducting bomb raids across the country soon after their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on the 8th. Japanese forces effectively occupied the country by mid-1942 and immediately made plans to “grant” independence to the Philippines, this time under Japanese auspices. The result was the inauguration of the Second Philippine Republic on October 14, 1943, The Japanese-sponsored Philippine legislature elected Jose P. Laurel to be its president and was inaugurated that day at the steps of the Legislative Building. The Second Republic would last until August 17,1945, two days after Japan’s surrender which marked the end of World War II.

The last time a presidential inauguration was held in the old Legislative Building was on May 28, 1946 when Manuel Roxas was sworn in as the last President of the Philippine Commonwealth. At that time, the Legislative Building was in the middle of reconstruction and it still bore heavy damages from the Battle of Manila which happened in February 1945.

The Philippine Commonwealth government would end over a month later in July 4, 1946 with the independence of the country from the United States and the start of the Third Philippine Republic. Roxas would have the distinction as well of being the first President of the Third Republic, but those ceremonies would be held not at the Legislative Building but at the newly-constructed Independence Grandstand right across the Rizal Monument in Rizal Park, the forerunner of today’s Quirino Grandstand.

The Quirino Grandstand would become the favored inauguration site of succeeding Third and Fourth Republic presidents from Elpidio Quirino to Ferdinand Marcos Sr. The tumult of the 1986 presidential elections and the succeeding EDSA revolution brought about separate inauguration sites for Ferdinand Marcos Sr. (at Malacañang’s Kalayaan Building) and Corazon Aquino. (at Club Filipino) After that, the Quirino Grandstand was only used twice as an inauguration site: 1992 for Fidel Ramos and 2010 for Benigno Aquino III. Other than that, Philippine presidents tend to follow a tradition of not following tradition as far as inauguration site is concerned.

It should be noted that the Quirino Grandstand was reportedly one of the choices for Marcos Jr.’s inauguration since his father took his oath of office there thrice. But the area around the grandstand is being used at the moment as COVID-19 vaccination facility by the City of Manile. (That did not stop from having a thanksgiving concert for Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to be held there on June 26 though)

This makes the choice of having the old Legislative Building as the site of the presidential inauguration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. both traditional and non-traditional in a way, whether it was intentional or not. For one, it hearkens back to the memory of the first modern presidential inauguration ceremony in 1935, a tribute as some might call it. On the other hand, the building no longer serves as the home of the legislature but rather a home for the country’s arts and artists so the significance is already lost there somewhat.

Still, there is an air of authority and grandeur the National Museum of Fine Arts building possesses that the likes of the Quirino Grandstand cannot match, especially for a spectacle like a presidential inauguration. As such, it will be interesting how the venue and the ceremony will be like on June 30, regardless of one’s sentiments about the incoming president.

Acknowledgements as well to Wikipedia and the Architect of the US Capitol

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