On Rosario Drive, in the middle of the Cubao and the New Manila districts of Quezon City is the Movie Workers Welfare Foundation (Mowelfund) compound. The Mowelfund was founded in 1974 by the actor and then San Juan City mayor, José “Joseph Estrada” Marcelo Ejército Sr. (born 1937), who was also the president of the Philippine Motion Picture Producers Association. One of the primary directives of the Mowelfund was to create programs and raise funds for the welfare of movie industry workers; such as stuntmen, bit players, technicians, checkers, make-up artists, cameramen, props men, and other film crew members who do not have private insurances. This is done by providing financial support for medical needs and death benefits, along with aid with housing and employment for its 4,500 members. The Mowelfund is also integral in developing the next generation of filmmakers with the establishment of the Mowelfund Film Institute (MFI) in 1979, which gives workshops on film production. There is also the Mowelfund Audiovisual Archive (MAVA), which is tasked in collecting and preserving Filipino audiovisual materials. And lastly, there is the Dr. Guillermo C. De Vega Memorial Library of print materials on film; which was named after Guillermo Cruz de Vega (1931-1975), the first chairman of the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures, from 1969 to 1975. One of the major programs of the Mowelfund was to help reorganize the Board of Censors to become the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) in 1985, as well organizing the first Manila Film Festival in 1975; which would become a major financial source for the Mowelfund and its programs.
In the Mowelfund compound is the Film Academy of the Philippines building (FAP), which was established in 1981 by President Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos (1917-1989), with the Executive Order No. 640-A, as a local counterpart of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The FAP is a “union” of the different guilds in Philippine cinema: the Assistant Directors and Production Managers Association for Motion Pictures (ADPM-AMPI), the Directors Guild of the Philippines (DGP), the Filipino Society of Cinematographers (FSC), the Katipunan ng mga Artistang Pilipino sa Pelikula at Telebisyon (KAPPT), the Katipunan ng mga Direktor sa Musika ng Pilipinas (KDMP, formerly the Pilipino Musical Directors Association), the Motion Picture Audio Society of the Philippines (MPASPI), the Movie Producers and Distributors Association of the Philippines (MPDAP), the Movie Workers Welfare Foundation (Mowelfund), the Philippine Motion Picture Directors Association (PMPDA), the Philippine Motion Picture Producers Association (PMPPA); the Production Designers Guild of the Philippines (PDGP), the Screenwriters Guild of the Philippines (SGP), and the United Film Editors Guild for Motion Picture (UFEGMP). Aside from serving as an umbrella organization for the film guilds, the FAP institutionalized the Luna Awards in 1983, to give recognition the outstanding work and performances of in the movie industry.
In 2005, the FAP established the Pambansang Museo ng Pelikula (National Film Museum) in three floors of the FAP building, to showcase cinema memorabilia from the early movie houses of the 1910s, to the first film studio in the 1910s, and all the way to the present. The Pambansang Museo ng Pelikula is not the first institution that exhibited mementos from the entertainment industry, with the first as the singer, Maria Socorro “Kuh” Ledesma’s (born 1955) Music Museum that opened in 1988, in the Greenhills Commercial Center, San Juan City. Another entertainment museum is the Jose R. Gullas Halad Museum, on Jakosalem Street, Cebu City. Opened in 2010, the Halad Museum showcases the collection of local and international musical instruments and appliances by Don Vicente Arandia Gullas (1888-1977) and his wife, Josefina “Inday Pining” Rivera Gullas (1905-1983), the founders of University of the Visayas (est. 1919), as well as a tribute to Cebuano music and broadcasting.
Before the Pambansang Museo ng Pelikula opened in 2005, an exhibition activity memorial hall was christened as the Bulwagang Jose Nepomuceno in 2004, at the third floor of the FAP building. Dedicated to the “Father of Philippine Movies,” Don José Zialcita Nepomuceno (1893-1959). Don José, along with his brother Jesús, founded Malayan Movies in 1917. The Nepomuceno brothers produced the first Filipino silent film, “Dalagang Bukid” (Country Maiden), 1919; and the first Filipino sound film, “Punyal na Ginto” (Golden Dagger), in 1933. Although there are no memorabilia of Don José in the room, there are many film posters on display, including the 1937 classic “Ang Kambal” by Mar I. Esmeralda and the 1964 “Andres Bonifacio: Ang Supremo” by Teodorico C. Santos.
Entering the Pambansang Museo ng Pelikula, the first thing that greets visitors is the life-sized wooden sculpture of the actor and director, Cesar Montano (born Cesar Manhilot, 1962), as the character “Machete”, for the 1990 film of the same name. The statue was carved by Justino“Paloy”A. Cagayat Jr. (born 1960), a third-generation woodcarver from Paete, Laguna. Cagayat graduated from the Mapua Institute of Technology with a degree and license in Mining Engineering, but he opted to return to his hometown and continue the tradition of wood carving. Cagayat was already known in Paete, when he gain fame for sculpting the fictional “Machete”, and was asked to do a version of the actor, Gardo Versoza (born Mennen Torres Polintan, 1969), for the 1994 “Machete 2.”
The fantastic premise of “Machete” may be linked to Philippine cinema’s relationship with local comic books, starting in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Filipino filmmakers have been adapting successful comics to the screen, which range from period dramas to superheroes, comedy strips to horror. One of the best examples of this adaptations in the Pambansang Museo ng Pelikula are the photographs and actual costumes of Regidor “Rogelio” de la Rosa (1916-1986) as the titular Prinsipe Amante, in the 1950 movie of the same title. The comic book Prinsipe Amante was published earlier in that year, and it was written by Clodualdo Del Mundo (1911-1977), and illustrated by Alfredo P. Alcala (1925-2000). Another example of the comic book movie is the life-size cutout of Vilma Santos-Recto (born 1953) as the super heroine Darna, whom she portrayed in the 1973 films “Darna and the Giants” and “Lipad, Darna, Lipad!” Darna was first published in 1950, and was written by Mars Ravelo (1916-1988), and illustrated by Nestor Purugganan Redondo (1928-1995). Next to Darna, the most popular comic hero is Carlo Magno Jose Caparas’ (born 1958) “Ang Panday” (The Blacksmith), which was published in 1979, and made into a film starring Fernando Poe Jr. in 1980.
There are many costumes on display at the museum, whether they are photograph or the actual clothes worn by the actors. For the 1969 “Perlas ng Silangan,” Susan Roces (born Jesusa Purificacion Levy Sonora, 1941) is dressed as the character Dayang Mahalina, while her real-life husband Fernando Poe Jr. (born Ronald Allan Kelly Poe, 1939-2004) plays Amid. There is also the unassuming tunic worn by Nora Aunor (born Nora Cabaltera Villamayor, 1953) as Elsa, in the critically acclaimed and award winning 1982 “Himala.” And there is the funky 1980s gown worn by Sharon Gamboa Cuneta-Pangilinan (born 1966) as Bianca Eleazar, in the 1986 “Sana’y Wala Nang Wakas.”
There are also special niches and corners that host large collections donated by actors and directors,and their families; which consist of their many film awards, costumes and even film posters. Among those with large donations are actress Anita Linda (born Alice Buenaflor Lake, 1924), actress and television personality María Elisa “Boots” Cristóbal Anson-Roa-Rodrigo (born 1945), director Celso Advento Castillo (1943-2012), actress Rosario Violeta “Charito” Solís Hernández (1935-1998), actress Elizabeth Oropesa Freeman (born 1954), actor Leopoldo Salcedo (1912-1998), actress and singer Nora Aunor (born Nora Cabaltera Villamayor, 1953), and actor turned senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. (born José Maria Mortel Bautista Jr., 1966).
Some of these donations are portraits of the actors; such as Charito Solis by Ben Filomeno, and Leopoldo Salcedo by Jane del Rosario. However, the most notable artist commissioned for a portrait is Cesar Amorsolo, whose painting of Charito Solis was while she was acting in the 1962 “El Filibusterismo.” Cesar Amorsolo Sr. (1903-1998) is the nephew of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo (1892-1972). His father, Alejandro was a lawyer by profession, but also painted. However, when his parents died in 1909, Cesar moved in with his uncle, who trained the young boy in painting, and he eventually become his uncle’s assistant for almost 30 years. The young Amorsolo would eventually take formal lessons at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) School of Fine Arts. Amorsolo excelled in the classical style, with his most noted works featuring dignified portraits of the traditional Philippine ethnic groups and rural scenes. Amorsolo also worked as an illustrator for the books of Ginn and Co. After the AAP walk out of 1948, Amorsolo joined the Mabini artists, specifically Gabriel Velasco Custodio’s (1919-1993) Friday Group, of conservative painters. In 1973, Amorsolo decided to migrate to Los Angeles , California; however he eventually returned to the Philippines in 1980.
There are also several paints by the actor Mario Montenegro (born Roger Collin Macalalag; 1928-1988), exhibited all around the museum and FAP building. Montenegro was a film actor best known for his heroic leading roles. When Japanese occupied the Philippines in World War II, Montenegro was just as student at the age of 14. Never-the-less, Montenegro joined the Hunters ROTC guerilla unit, fighting off the Japanese, and was given medals recognizing his valor during the war. After the war, Montenegro took his aim at acting, and was given his first role in the WWII drama “Capas”, in 1949. The next year, Montenegro was given his first leading role, by director Manuel Conde, in the film “Apat na Alas” (Four Aces). Throughout the 1950s, Montenegro would be cast in numerous films as the leading man, in drama and action roles, with the occasional comedy to break the monotony. Throughout his career, Montenegro was nominated for various film awards, but had never won any. As he aged, Montenegro was relegated to supporting character roles, usually that of a father. Montenegro is still best remembered for his portrayal of historical characters in films such as Dagohoy (1953), Lapu-Lapu (1955), Kilabot ng Makiling (1959) and Alyas Sakay (1959). As a visual artist, Montenegro studied in the Univesity of the Philippines (UP) School of Fine Arts, under the tutelage of National Artist, Carlos Modesto “Botong” Villaluz Francisco (1912-1969). However, Montenegro had to put painting aside, to focus on his acting career. He would take painting seriously upon his retirement in showbiz, and launch his first solo exhibition at the Peninsula Hotel, in 1979.
One unusual movie “prop” on display is the billiard table, used in the 2003 buddy action-comedy “Pakners.” The film starred Fernando Poe Jr. and the international pool master, “The Magician” Efren “Bata” Manalang Reyes (born August 26, 1954). The film capitalized on Reyes fame, like many other films feature sports heroes: such as basketball legend turned politician Robert Vincent Salazar Jaworski (born 1946), boxing legend turned politician Emmanuel “Manny” Dapidran Pacquiao (born 1978), boxing champion Rolando Navarrete (born 1957), boxing Olympian turn comedian Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco Jr. (born 1974), and basketball payer turned comedian Venancio “Benjie” Johnson Paras, Jr. (born 1968).
There is a special hall dedicated to the pioneers of Philippine cinema. There are photographs and film poster of “The Father of Philippine Movies” José Nepomuceno and his wife, Isabel Acuña de Nepomuceno (1904-1986). Isabel met José while he was filming his third film, “Un Capello Marchito” (The Wilted Rosebud), in 1920. Isabel was on set, accompanying her older sister, Luisa (born 1893), who had the lead role in the film. Marrying in the same year, Isabel started helping her husband as scouting talent, costume design, and make-up. Working always by her husband’s side, Jose taught Isabel the basics of casting, scriptwriting, production design, and art direction. So when Malayan Movies was replaced with the Malayan Pictures Corporation in 1931, Isabel took on the role as vice-president.
The location of the Mowelfund and the Pambansang Museo ng Pelikula give a subtle hint of the New Manila district as the “Hollywood” of the Philippines, with several films studios opening in the area during the 1930s, along with many celebrities moving into the mansions nearby. One of these film productions was the LVN Studios, which opening 1936. The film group was named after the founding families: De Leon, Villonco and Navoa, but the Villonco and Navoa immediately bought off by Don José “Pepe” Roura Santiago de León (died 1934) and Doña Narcisa “Sisang” Buencamino-de León (1877-1966), who to the reins of the company and produced many classics of Philippines cinema. The first movie produced by LVN was the 1939 romantic musical “Giliw Ko” (My Joy), starring Mila del Sol (Clarita Villarba Rivera, born 1923), Fernando Poe Sr. (born Allan Fernando Poe y Reyes, 1916-1951), Ely Ramos, and Mona Lisa (born Gloria Lerma Yatco, 1922). After the deaths of Don Pepe and Doña Sisang, their children took over the company with LVN studios continuing to produce films until 2005.
Another movie studio that operated nearby was Sampaguita Pictures, which opened in 1937. The company was founded by Judge Jose Olfinas Vera (1888-1956) and his wife, Doña Dolores Morato Honrado Vera (1896-1980); but pass on all responsibilities to their daughter Doña Azucena “Nene” Honrado Vera-Perez (1917-2014), and her husband, Dr. Jose Roxas Perez (1915-1975), in 1951. The first film produced by Sampaguita Pictures was the 1938 romantic musical “Bituing Marikit” (Beautiful Star), starring Elsa Oria (Elsa Maria Louisa Purificacion Rineo Oria-Eastman, 1916-1995) and Rogelio dela Rosa (Regidor Lim de la Rosa, 1916-1986). Sampaguita Studios continued operations until 1984, while their other rivals from the 1950s, Lebran and Premiere productions, had closed years before.
Several hallways are dedicated to the stars of decades past, starting with the 1950s to the 1990s. Film posters and studio portraits of these matinee idols line the walls, including stills for key scenes of some movies. There are also life-size cutouts, where visitors can place their faces into, so that they can take a photographed as if they were part of the film cast.
There is a hallway dedicated to the props and practical special effects used in films. At the end of the hallway is the “Horror and Suspense Chamber”, which opened in 2007. Inside are movie monster props and costumes, mostly from the 2000 FILM “Spirit Warriors.”
Another hall is devoted to war films, with stills of key scenes, props, uniforms, as well as dioramas on how some battle scenes were staged, using photo-cutouts of film scenes.
Finally there is the FPJ Hall at the basement of the FAP building. The multi-purpose hall is dedicated to Fernando Poe Jr. (Ronald Allan ‘FPJ’ Kelly Poe, 1939-2004), after his posthumous induction as a National Artist for Film, in 2006. Before entering the FPJ Hall, there are photographs of other National Artists for Film: 1976 Lamberto Vera Avellana (1915-1991), 1982 Gerardo de León (1913-1981), 1987 Honorata “Atang” de la Rama-Hernandez (1902-1991), 1997 Catalino “Lino” Ortiz Brocka (1939-1991), 2001 Ishmael Bernal (1938-1996), 2003 Edgar Sinco Romero (1924-2013), and 2006 Ronald Allan ‘FPJ’ Kelly Poe (1939-2004). Not yet exhibited at the hall are Manuel Conde (born Manuel Urbano; 1915-1985) and Kidlat Tahimik (born Eric de Guia, 1942), as they were bestowed with the National Artist honor in 2009 and 2018, respectively.
Entering the FPJ Hall, there are awards and other memorabilia for Fernando Poe Jr.’s life. One striking feature is the large and long mural of all the iconic characters that he has played over the decades.
In truth, everything that I have presented in this short tour cannot capture the full experience of the Pambansang Museo ng Pelikula and the rest of the Mowelfund compound. With all the movie memorabilia in this building, it will take more than a day (or two), to really soak in all the artifacts exhibited. Never-the-less, that is the charm of the museum, to keep visitors coming back, and learning more and more about the history of Philippine cinema, one visit at a time.
A long time ago, I was a production designer in film, and I worked with many products of the Mowelfund Film School. This includes doing pre-production work at the Mowelfund compound. Most notably is the 2003 “Memories of a Forgotten War,” which we shot in the island of Sulu, where we did reenactments of the Mindanao campaign of the Philippine-American War.
Other artworks seen at the FAP offices:
José W. Hernández (born 1944) is a genre painter, whose themes revolve around scene of the rural communities. Although born in Tondo, Manila, Hernandez’s family migrated to San Fernando, Pampanga Province, after his father was offered at teaching position at the Harvadian College. In Pampanga, the Hernandez family established the Luzon Women’s Fashion School, which ran from 1948-’62. By the 1950s, Gonzales returned to Manila, and started working for a certain Nards Mendoza, who operated a film and theater poster atelier. After learning some techniques in billboard painting, Gonzales transferred to the studio of the National Artist, Fernando Cueto Amorsolo (1892-1972). While working for Amorsolo, Gonzales would also visit other artists such as Carlos “Botong” Francisco, Vicente Manansala, Ben Alano, Simon Saulog, Miguel Galvez, and Cesar Buenaventura, to learn from them and join in several exhibitions. After Amorsolo’s death in 1972, Gonzales returned to Pampanga, and set up his own gallery in Angeles City, the Friendship Art Shop, which ran from 1974-1977. By the 1980s, Hernandez and his family migrated to the United States, where he has been practicing his art ever since.
Roberto Balajadia (1945-2005) is a figurative painter from Manila, who is known for his impressionistic paintings of ruined colonial structures. Balajadia was first influenced by his father Cornelio, who was an occasional painter. When his parents separated, his mother remarried to the Cebuano artist, Gabriel Custodio (1912-1993), who tutored the young boy in art. Balajadia would later take his formal studies at the University of the Philippines (UP) School of Fine Arts, and finish in 1967; while competing and winning in several student art competitions. Balajadia would hold his first solo exhibition in 1975, and has continued to exhibit and win competition from then on.