Visiting the Metropolitan Waterworks Sewerage System (MWSS) complex, in Quezon City, one may not expect to be treated to cornucopia of art. However, this experience starts upon entering the MWSS compound, with the replica of the Francisco Carriedo Fountain at the driveway of the MWSS Administrative Building, which was created by the National Artist for Visual Arts, Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (1930-2018).
Entering the lobby of the MWSS Administration Building, one immediately notices the row of busts of the presidents of the Philippines, starting with the former revolutionary general, Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy (1869-1964), and ending with Diosdado Pangan Macapagal (1910-1997). All these sculptures were created Fermin Gomez, between 1957 and 1963. Gomez was the favored artist of the MWSS during the1950s to 1960s, and he had created many of the other sculptures for the MWSS in the Balara Filtration Complex. These busts were originally on display at the old MWSS Building, in Ermita, Manila, before being transferred to the new Quezon City building.
There are four more sculptures by Fermin Gomez in the MWSS Administration Building, but are presently kept from general public viewing. The first is the study for the Balara Filtration Complex’s fountain entitled “Berardine”, which is found at the 4th floor roof deck. The other three are busts of Philippine leaders. The first two are that of the patron of the MWSS compound Pres. Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos Sr. (1917-1989) and his wife First Lady Imelda Marcos Romuáldez (born 1929), who had commissioned many of the artworks found throughout the complex. However, these sculptures were vandalized after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, which saw Marcos ousted from power and exiled to Hawaii. The third bust is a study of Carlos Polistico Garcia (1896-1971), who was the President of the Philippines when Gomez was first commissioned to create these busts.
Fermin Yadao Gomez (1918-1984) is a classical sculptor, from Tarlac. Gomez graduated from the University of the Philippines (U.P.) School of Fine Arts, under the tutelage of Guillermo Tolentino. At the outbreak of World War II, Gomez returned to Tarlac, where he put up a bakya (wooden sandal) shop, where he carved the soles into intricate designs. In the town of Camiling, he created a 10 ft tall image of San Miguel de Arcangel for the 100 year old parish of the same name. This caught the attention of Enginer Manuel Mañosa of the National Waterworks and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA), who commissioned Gomez to create a piece that would embody the company’s service to the public. What Gomez created was a monument of the god Neptune with the goddess Venus astride on top of a giant turtle. This impressed Mañosa, who hired Fermin to create more sculptures for the company. With that, Gomez moved to the Balara area, in Quezon City. Shortly after his move, Guillermo Tolentino invites Gomez to teach at the UP School of Fine Arts, which was now at the Diliman campus, in Quezon City. After his retirement in 1973, Gomez and his family moved to Parang, Marikina; where he continued to create small scaled sculptures, until his death.
Looking at the end of the lobby, there is a large bronze relief entitled “Water from the Source” by Ros Arcilla. Featuring a gigantic central male figure who is capturing water droplets with his left hand and giving drink to a mother and child with the right hand, the sculpture represents the MWSS’s mandate to deliver clean potable water to the communities. Behind the giant are three smaller men, who are also working to capture the water droplets from the sky with shovels and bamboo tubes, which represents the workers who have toiled to create the dams and water piping systems that supply the water to the people.
Rosalio Beltran Arcilla (1938-2006) is a sculptor or modernist and classical styles, who originally hailed from Caramuan, Camarines Sur. Arcilla took his formal art studies at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts (CFA), and pursued further studies at the University of Hawaii and the Ecole de Beaux Arts, in Paris. Upn his return, Arcilla taught sculpture at the University of the East. His gallery works featured a minimalist cubist style, where as his monuments were dynamic pieces of classical sculpture. Arcilla was chosen to represent the Philippines in the International Art Exhibition in Osaka, Japan in 1967 and at the Paris-Sud Biennale in 1973.
At the lobby of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) Building, there is another sculptural relief by Ros Arcilla. The LWUA is a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) that acts as a lending body for districts outside Metro Manila to develop their own water systems. Inside the LWUA Building are more artworks, but they are no longer for public viewing, with Arcilla’s work as the only exception.
Arcilla’s LWUA relief is a seven paneled work in bronze and mounted on the endemic molave hardwood (Vitex parviflora). Each panel features an aspect of the Filipino family’s life, and how water is important to these activities.
On the upper left corner is a woman washing clothes.
On the upper central left panel is a woman cooking a meal.
On the lower left panel is a family saying “Grace” before a meal.
On the center panel is a family celebrating water coming from a faucet.
On the upper central right panel are a mother and daughter washing dishes.
On the lower central right panel is a man watering the crops.
And finally at the right most panel is a father and son showering together.
In both the MWSS Administration Building and the LWUA Building were designed by Arch. Gabriel Papa Formoso (1915-1998), who had closely worked with Ros Arcilla in crafting a story of the MWSS and the Filipino people. As visitors pass through the different floors of the MWSS Administration Building, more tales of the Filipino are presented in paintings. This will be tackled in the next series of articles.