Gabii sa Kabilin

Friday, May 31, 2013 - 6:00am

The Ortigas Foundation has shared for the past few years a traveling exhibition of selected Philippine antiquarian postcards from its library collection.

The images, circa late 19th to early 20 century, were usually of Manila scenes, given its economic and cultural importance in relation to the rest of the country.

The postcards chosen for the exhibit in this year’s Gabii sa Kabilin, are rarer images of cities, towns, and countryside in the Visayas and Mindanao. There is special concentration on Cebu but the other postcards are those of sights and views in Leyte, Samar, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Palawan, Misamis Oriental, Sulu and Zamboanga.

When the photographic scenery and its period are compared with the same scenes and time period as that of Manila, one can discern the urban differences and infrastructure. One can appreciate the idyllic charm of small towns, the makeshift piers and the beach landings of the south. The absence of a population is revealing since the country had less than 10% of the 100 million people we have currently. 

Cebu architecture, its pier and roads, its markets, its old fort, plazas, and Spanish presence in comparison to the other Visayan and Mindanao cities suggest an importance equal to that of Manila. Iloilo’s main streets, churches, and the home sizes of its middle class seem to also indicate a city with a character as robust as Cebu and Manila. 

Just outside the limited city limits, these cities would still have scenes as rural as that of the other towns in nearby island provinces bypassed by commercial activity. Postcards in these parts show a dominant agricultural activity, be it in the sugar fields, a lone mill, hemp bundles, a winding country road, or the vast expanse of a beach. A hundred years later, these bucolic countryside scenes have been encroached and disappeared from view. Do we see a nipa house or a carabao slushing through the rice fields today?

A small selection of Zamboanga and Jolo postcards are shown. The inclusion of the Bayot Hotel, a traveler’s favorite to stay in (later renamed Lantaka), and other photographed landmarks suggest a healthy tourist activity in these two towns. 

In looking at old photographs and postcards, one needs to pause and appreciate the lens capturing a lost building style, rare expansive views all the way to the horizon, and a pace fast disappearing or eradicated all together. 

Old photographs contain images that seem static, sparse, and do not grab attention. They are different from contemporary images that indulge and surprise us, obsessed with entertaining us. In viewing our past, we must have a sense of wonder and curiosity. If we read up on our local history and wander our cities and towns and come across a rubble or a forlorn building that once shined in an old postcard, then we shall find importance and meaning to these images. You are on the road to preserving our heritage.

John L. Silva
Executive Director
Ortigas Foundation Library


For more information please go to the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation website: