Cebu ideal location in the midst of the Filipino archipelago made the place one of the moist attractive for traders from all across the world. First with Spanish conquistadors headed by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Some 40 years later, once again Spaniards under Miguel Lopez de Legazpi established in Cebu one of their first colonies in the archipelago. Cebu became the first European settlement headed by Spain. In 1595, the Universidad de San Carlos was established, which makes it one of the oldest in Asia.With the opening of ports to foreign trade, Cebu became increasingly important as a centre for trade along the spice road.
In parallel to the arrival of Europeans, Chinese craftsmen and traders moved some 600 years ago. With their innate determination and craftsmanship, they were able to forge strong relations with the Sugbu locals, notably through trade and commerce. And, little by little, their dreams of a better life materialized.
But “dreams must not only come true, it has to live on,” highlighted to local journalists Bob Gothong, Chairman of the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum Foundation Inc. (SCHMFI), which is spearheading efforts to give the legacy of the Sugbuanon-Chinese its rightful space – the Sugbu-Chinese Heritage Museum.
The museum is the first in Cebu to be dedicated in preserving the significant culture and heritage that the Chinese community has imparted to the life of the city and neighboring areas. Among other things, it is aimed at memorializing the history of the first Chinese settlement in Cebu.
The museum will not only interest those with Chinese bloodline; it will also serve to enrich the community with its educational program on history, heritage, culture and Sugbuanon-Chinese integration.
To be housed in the century-old Gotiaoco Building, which itself is an extant symbol of the Cebuano Chinese’s role in the rise of the city, along MC Briones Street across the Cebu City Hall, the proposed three-storey museum is set to consist two major halls and a grand hall of exhibition of artefacts, documents and other pieces contributed by 15 Sugbuanon-Chinese families.
On February 8, on the occasion of the Chinese Lunar New Year, the SCHMFI signalled the start of the restoration project of the Gotiaoco Building with the unveiling of the miniature scale model of the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum.
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama described the museum project as a “labor of love,” having taken almost three long years in preparation. For her part, Cebu City Councilor Margot Osmeña also acknowledged the contribution of the Chinese in the city’s development, describing Cebu as “so much of [a] Chinese community.”
With the assistance of Penang Heritage Trust in Malaysia, an organization responsible in promoting and revitalizing the rich Chinese heritage of Georgetown, Penang, the SCHMFI also strives to have the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum qualify as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization world heritage site, necessitating a meticulous restoration process which is estimated to take at least two years.
It is to be hoped that the new museum will also help revitalizing one of the Philippines oldest settlements. Cebu has indeed a rich and colourful history. But it is hardly to be perceived in the derelict facades of its half-abandoned buildings in the city centre. Time for a change?