OPINION: Historical documents belong to the nation, not in private collections

A portion of the Naik Military Agreement signed by Andres Bonifacio. The document was also sold at León Gallery’s Kingly Treasures auction. Photo from LEON GALLERY/FACEBOOK

The context is clear: it’s a state of affairs where historical facts are questioned, this time and place where unless an original document is surfaced, what we all know to be truth is deemed untrustworthy or invalid, or both. We are exasperated and exhausted. In the face of false news and alternative facts being repeated until it becomes true, one holds on to the hope that in the final analysis, what will hold water are documents, data, statistics.

And so it is the worst time to have to deal with one León Gallery selling historical artifacts and documents from its consignors, with no apologies and no shame — and worse, with pride at what they’re doing. Don’t forget the marketing blitz before the auction, and the token historian(s) who will justify the fact that this auction house is putting up history for sale.

And we’re not talking art as history. We’re talking historical documents, written artifacts about historical moments from which we continue to build our identity as a people, from which we gain understanding of who we are, what has happened, and where we might be going.

There is a difference between the auction of art and the auction of historical documents and artifacts. The former is the sale of collectibles, a matter of taste, heirlooms to hand down to the next generation, or symbols of an embarrassment of riches for the Imeldific elite.

The latter carries with it the weight of a nation’s making and unraveling, our collective sense of who we are as a people. These are documents that belong to the nation, that were kept in family vaults and handed down from one generation to the next by our forebears, not with the intent of profiting from these, but of contributing to national discourse at some point.

It is of course the state of national cultural and heritage affairs that has led us to this: where instead of descendants handing over these documents to government agencies with the goal of making these public, these are handed over to auction houses for sale to the highest bidder. But this falls squarely on auction houses like León Gallery, because there are many way to handle acquisitions like this one, so that Katipunan documents are not treated in the same way, are not put on the same level, as artworks for sale.

Certainly León Gallery owner Jaime Ponce De Leon can start by operating and speaking with less arrogance, and even less double-speak. We after all have enough of that coming from the president.

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