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Dr. Serafin D. Quiason, a scholar and a man of integrity

By Renato Perdon
Sydney, Australia
November 25, 2016


It was at the NHC where I became the trusted employee and assistant of historian Agoncillo, journalist Aguilar-Cruz and historian Dr. Abella, all commissioner members of the NHC board.

I learned about Dr. Quiason when he was an ex-officio member of the NHCP, being the director of the National Library of the Philippines. Even in that early part of my career at the NHCP, I was puzzled by politicians, members of the powerful Commission on Appointment, who regularly by-passed Dr. Quiason’s appointment as director of the National Library, despite his credentials.

It was good that the then President Ferdinand Marcos liked working with historians. Every year, when Dr. Quiason’s appointment as director of the NLP failed approval from congress, President Marcos would issue a new presidential appointment. Dr. Quiason served as acting chairman of the NHI in 1981, then became chairman in 1982 until his retirement in 1996.

I worked closely with Dr. Quiason during the Cory Administration when he became the chair and executive director of the NHCP. At that time he was performing both positions of head of the NLP and the NHCP. When Dr. Lourdes Quisumbing, then Secretary of Department of Education, Culture and Sports, asked him to decide which agency he would prefer, he decided to take the chairmanship of the NHCP and leave the directorship of the NLP in 1986.

It was at this point that I learned more about him in terms of administration. He meant business and no hanky panky was allowed.

The first thing he did was to ‘clean’ the NHCP of practices that he might have already known while director of the NLP and ex-officio member of the NHCP board. The NHCP office then was on the second second floor of the NLP building while his office as the director of NLP was on the 4th floor.

I became his trusted assistant at the NHCP. To prevent anyone questioning my authorities allowed by him, he issued an official memorandum designating me as ‘special assistant to the chairman’ which carry some vital authorities. Dr. Quiason was then focusing on the manner bidding and contracts were conducted and approved in the NHCP, including the procurement of supplies for all shines and landmarks throughout the country.

We had a field day traveling various historical sites in China, like the Forbidden City in Beijing, Tiannamen Square, the Terracota Soldiers in Xian province, the birthplace of Mao Tse Tung, and many others of historical importance, including the Freedom Stores the only stores for foreign guests to shop where Ambeth and I would sneak out of the hotel during the night and went around the market but returned empty handed because we don’t have the official currency allowed only for locals.

As head of the Monuments and Heraldry Division of the NHCP, we started calling him as SDQ, a form of endearment. SDQ sent me to Hawaii to represent the Philippines at an international heritage conference. That was the beginning of my attending international conferences representing the Philippines or reading a country paper.

During this time, SDQ also recommended me to be a member of the Philippine delegation comprising the working group on Literary Works and ASEAN Studies Conference in Singapore headed by UP Professor Jovita Castro.

Our working relations at the NHCP was very good and he treated me as a colleague. More often than not, when guests were gone, SDQ would discuss with me about cultural conservation or other matters about the NHCP and it was at this stage that he became interested to make the Philippines a member of the International Monuments and Sites or ICOMOS and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property or ICCROM based in Rome.

Since the DFA would not foot the membership fee to make the Philippines a member country of these international organisations engaged in cultural conservation, SDQ obtained a clearance from the Office of the President to allow the NHCP to use part of my division (Monuments and Heraldry Division)’s budget for country membership fees. I attended the first meeting in Rome where the Philippines was welcomed as new member of ICCROM also known as Rome Centre. It was with the full blessings of SDQ.

This membership allowed the NHCP to send its architects and chemists to train in conservation and preservation training overseas, first in Italy, Germany, and Thailand. In addition to attending conferences to exchange ideas and techniques in the field of conservation and restoration of cultural and historical objects.
It was also during SDQ’s time that we pursued the acquisition of additional important historical sites in the Philippines as part of NHCP’s responsibility like the Quezon Memorial Shrine, the three Rizal Shrines in Calamba, Fort Santiago, and Dapitan, and other historical sites.

Through the help of SDQ, I was able to convince the Agoncillo and Apacible families ot Taal, Batangas to entrust the ancestral houses in Taal, Batangas, of Mrs Marcela Mariño-Agoncllo and Galicano Apacible to the NHCP. Both historic houses were acquired during the time of SDQ as chair of the NHCP.

Returning from three years stay in Australia as a Colombo Plan scholar while studying conservation restoration techniques, SDQ supported my recommendation to establish a Cultural Conservation Laboratory at the old National Library building where I first converted the janitor’s little room on the second floor as an improvised conservation laboratory and hired a contractual chemist to start the laboratory conservation work, mainly cleaning paintings.

Then, with SDQ’s go signal, we converted an area on the ground floor of the NLP building, next to the medical clinic as more adequate conservation laboratory. This was followed by his go signal to construct a bigger laboratory at the vacant exhibition ground floor of the NLP building, next to the national archives office where we installed laboratory equipment acquired from a Japanese grant.

When the Cory administration came, middle cultural managers were courted by the government to assist the new government to correct the ‘damage’ inflicted by then First Lady Imelda Marcos using culture in her various projects.

President Cory Aquino issued an executive order creating the Presidential Commission on Culture and the Arts and designated SDQ as the overall-chairman. SDQ assigned me to draft the PCCA structure with the help of my assistant then, Mely Almosara. I was appointed consultant to the PCCA, which later became the present NCCA structure.

It was SDQ’s leadership that we were able to setup all the three major sub-commissions on the arts, cultural heritage, cultural dissemination and cultural communities and traditional arts and its various national committee members under the PCCA structure. The paramount idea then was the eventual creation of a Ministry of Culture of the Philippines.

During this time, SDQ also entered into a joint venture with the Department of Local Government to write and publish the histories of local government units, with corresponding individual heraldry symbols. This project became known as ‘The Symbols of State’. Upon my recommendation, SDQ agreed to appoint Heraldry expert Galo Ocampo as consultant for no one in the NHCP, even me as head of the division, knows about heraldry. It was a successful project documenting the heraldry symbols of cities and provinces, later another book on towns heraldry followed.

Another project that was close to SDQ was the General Carlos P. Romulo Memorabilia that he discussed with the general to be donated to the NHCP, but knowing that we only use a small wing of the NLP building, he decided to use a major part of the fourth floor of NLP building where the government Publications Division was located.

It was a rush job for my group for CPR and his wife Beth Day Romullo were scheduled to open and inaugurate the exhibition in a matter of weeks. We had to work late in the night to finish the task. The success of the CPR exhibition attracted then Speaker Qurube C Macalintal, speaker of the Interim Batasang Pambansa, to have his own exhibition of personal memorabilia at the Batasang Pambansa which SDQ also agreed to mount. Again, we have to accomplish this project in a short period of time.

Same happened when the late Dr. Chinben See discussed with SDQ on the possibility of organising the Filipino-Chinese Heritage Committee and to mount a pictorial exhibit at the ground floor of the NLP building. My division was again mobilised and work overtime to comply with the commitment. The exhibition was a success and it was decided to have it toured the country for maximum exposure that eventually inspired the setting up of the Tsinoy Museum in Intramuros.

On the international scene, SDQ was instrumental in getting funding from UNESCO to sponsor ‘A Symposium on the Western Presence in South-East Asia’ in 1982 bringing to the Philippines historians from major countries in the region.

One exhibition project that also became a success was the commemorative exhibition and program that SDQ and Dr. Uwe Schmilter of the Goethe Institut agreed to mount at the Rizal Shrine in Fort Santiago to commemorate the stay of Rizal in Germany. The members of the diplomatic corps were invited and the event was a success.

In recognition for a job well done, Dr. Schmilter and SDQ sent me to West Berlin to study the German language for three months. Initially I refused to go but they would not accept no from me, so I went and stayed in West Berlin for three months and visited East Berlin during study break. Berlin was still divided at that time of my visit.

One major achievement of SDQ is the construction of the NHCP building on the site next to the NLP building on T.M. Kalaw, in Ermita, Manila, formerly the parking lot of Doroy Valencia’s Luneta Park. We had a close discussion on what strategy to use to convince the Philippine Congress to give the NHCP its own building and to pave the way to moving out of the NLP building which we had occupied since the 1960s.

During the budget hearing, with SDQ and Dr. Victor Ordonez, then the deputy minister for education, culture and sports in the panel, we underscored a building to house the NHCP and to mount a political history museum covering the EDSA event.

After, doing his introduction, SDQ gave me the floor to justify our request. It was a big challenge for me talking and convincing the members of Congress to grant us our own building.

I was brave enough to tell and promise the politicians that if they grant us a our own building we can guarantee that the next generation of young boys and girls would be aware and knowledgeable about their political history.

I was surprised later when SDQ called me to his office and told me about the good news that a budget for a new building was included in the NHCP appropriation. But I was not happy because only a couple of millions were allowed in the approved NHCP allocation. I even asked myself, that amount would only be good for an NHCP toilet.

I was not aware how SDQ able to ask additional funds for the building because by that time I already resigned from my post and migrated to Australia while the building was being built on the same site it is located now.

SDQ has been recognised as an experienced historian and cultural administrator. I can add the idea that he was a man of integrity proven during my association with him.

The only negative comments I heard about him was his association with the Marcos presidency, particularly his major role in the ‘’Tadhana: A History of the Filipino People research project that was handled by a group of scholars headed by him, including a couple of similar publication projects under the auspices of then First Lady Imelda Marcos, as head of the Southern Mindanao Commission.

My work experience with SDQ during the last part of my career as a cultural worker in the Philippines would always be remembered and associated with SDQ, a great influenced in my career.

Dr. Serafin D. Quiason was born on June 15, 1930 and became one of the 1965 TOYM Awardees for history. He graduated cum laude for his AB in history from UP in 1952, his MA on Far East History from the University of Pennsylvania in 1954, where he also obtained his PhD in History in 1962.
He was an associate history professor and later chair of UP history department. He also became a visiting lecturer in University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur in 1996.

He also served other prestigious positions such as Secretary General of the Southeast Asian Regional Branch of the International Council of Archives(SARBICA); member of the Rome-based Advisory Council of the International Center of the Study of the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM); member of the Ad-Hoc Numismatic Committee of the Central Bank of the Philippines; member of the UNESCO Advisory Committee for the Study of Malay and Southeast Asian Cultures; trustee of the Museo ng Malacañan Foundation; member of the Silk Road Expedition Across Central Asia sponsored by UNESCO Paris; member of the National Centennial Commission; a former regent of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila; project director of the Museo ng Maynila; consultant to the Lopez Museum & Library until his retirnement in the U.S. SDQ received countless recognition and awards during his long career in history and culture.

As an author, he wrote ‘The English Country Trade’ with the Philippines: 1644-1765, University of the Philippines Press, Quezon City, 1965; ‘Ang Kasaysayan ng Asya’, S.D. Quiason, et al, Phoenix Publishing House, Quezon City, 1990; and ‘Kasaysayan ng Daigdig’, Quiason, Serafin, Bernardita Churchill, and Fe Mangahas, C & E Publishing House, Quezon City,. 2008.

Dr. Serafin D. Quiason passed away on 13 August 2016 in Plainsboro, New Jersey, he was 86.

    Add a Comment

    Mita N. Quiason
    Princeton NJ
    Sun 18th December 2016

    Mr Perdon 

    May I extend my deepest gratitude for this awesome writing and historical events about my dad. I hope to kindle and preserve his memories in donating some of his works and artifacts to the NHI and create a room there that upholds the history of the Filipino people that my dad takes great pride for. MITA N. QUIASON aka SONIA QUIASON  ANG.

    Thank you again and please get in touch with me  at this email  Soniaang321@gmail.com thanks  mita
    Cynthia Ongpin Valdes
    Unit 10B  West Tower   One Serendra 11th Ave.  BGC  Taguig  Metro Manila
    Sat 26th November 2016

     Dr. Serafin D. Quiason  scholar and academician par excellence.  A man of many parts and achievements  in government service and in private life.

    The last good and honest man of his generation.  May he rest in peace. Pax et Bonum

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