Century-old Sorsogon provincial jail converted into a modern museum

By Rhaydz B. Barcia


The century-old provincial jail in Sorsogon province has been converted into a modern museum, which now houses indigenous artifacts, educational, scientific, and cultural documents donated by notable Sorsoganons in the 21st century with significant contributions in the country’s history.


The museum includes 10 galleries and a 875-square meter open-air amphitheater located at the capitol compound where the century-old building, formerly a provincial jail, stands.


Gov. Francis Escudero decided to convert the old provincial jail building into a museum, when he saw the potential of its 1900’s architectural design and envisioned it as a historical and cultural hub of Sorsogon.


“This is not only my simple dream but of all the Sorsoganons where we can showcase our cultural heritage, the way of life of our ancestors, that would tell the history of our province and where we are heading to. A museum is a living institution that’s why I am encouraging all local government units to put up their own museum,” Escudero said during the inauguration and blessing of Museo Sorsogon on Friday (Mar. 12) afternoon.


The P40-million museum’s inauguration was attended by: National Historical Commission of the Philippines chair, Dr. Rene Escalante; National Museum Director Jeremy Barns; Sorsogon Rep. Evelina Escudero; and other local officials.


Escudero said that the Sorsogon Museo is a doorway to the province’s historical landmark where the Sorsoganons will walk through, experience and emerge into Sorsogon’s historical past that will make them proud of the province cultural heritage.

The Museo Sorsogon (Photo by Rhaydz B. Barcia)


The construction of the museum started in 2019 but the original structure was preserved. Its jail cells were also preserved and are now transformed into galleries showcasing the province’s rich history and cultural heritage including its top tourist destinations, specifically the popular whale sharks locally called “Butanding”.


On display inside the two-storey Museo Sorsogon are significant historical and cultural items showing how communities started in Sorsogon, its participation in the Philippine revolution, and the ensuing American occupation of the province.


Also,biopics display of the “Sons of Sorsogon,” which highlighted political and social leaders such as former Gov. Juan Frivaldo, former Congressman Bonifacio Gillego, Senator Gringo Honasan and Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) founder Eugenia Apostol. These personalities fought during the dark days of Martial Law under the dictator Pres. Ferdinand Marcos.


Also included are pictures of prominent persons such as: film director Lino Brocha of Pilar town; Manuel “Manny” Dorotan of Irosin, a UP Chemical Engineering graduate and a human rights defender who led the “Diliman Commune” in 1971; Juan “Jhonny Escandor of Gubat, a graduate of medicine at the UP and head of the research department of the Cancer Institute of the Philippines who organized the Kabataan Makabayan (KM), Sorsogon Progressive Movement, and an activist during the First Quarter Storm in 1970.


Artifacts on loan from the National Museum as well as from local residents will also be part of the display. Museo Sorsogon is looking to acquire more artifacts in the near future, Escudero said.


Unique items to be seen on display in Museo Sorsogon are the original artworks done by prisoners of the provincial jail. These include a painting of the Lady of Justice on the second floor as well as works of art by members of the notorious Sputnik gang, which include a painting of Che Guevara, the famous Cuban revolutionary.


The 875-square meter open-air amphitheater at the back of the museum is refurbished for events and stage performances. It has six tiers of benches that could accommodate a big number of spectators.


The museum also houses a souvenir shop where visitors can purchase locally-made products. Aside from this, there are also a coffee shop and cafeteria where visitors can eat and buy refreshments.


To help the small and medium traders the provincial government also partnered with the Department of Trade and Industry to give micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) an opportunity to display their products at the Museo to be featured as “Made in Sorsogon” indigenous and local products.


Curated by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines in partnership with the Sorsogon Provincial Tourism, Culture and Arts Office, Museo Sorsogon tells the story of Sorsogon and its people.


Historically, Sorsogon is part of Albay province. Sorsogon province became independent on Oct. 29, 1894 through a Royal Decree. The Sorsogon provincial capitol, which symbolizes its separation from the province of Albay had a colorful history as the seat of power.


The first office of the governor was the residence of Vicente De Vera, near the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. The provincial high school also served as its capitol in 1913.


The need for a permanent location for the provincial capitol was paved for by Architect William E. Parsons, who drafted a plan for a government center, which would occupy 11 hectares that included a capitol, a jail, a courthouse, and a park. The plan materialized under Architect George Corner Fenhagen and was awarded to B.F. Millis on July 16, 1915 for P71,300.00.


District Engineer HB Liley supervised the construction of the Capitol on April 1, 1915. In the following year, the provincial capitol and the provincial jail and courthouse were constructed.


Notable Filipino architects Juan N. Arellano and Tomas Mapua were responsible for the maintenance of the provincial capitol and provincial jail beginning Jan. 1, 1926.


Further, the provincial capitol, provincial jail and courthouse encompass the Neoclassical architecture, which was a prominent design during the American period.


Giving emphasis to history, culture and the arts, Escudero spearheaded the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the provincial capitol compound, while the newly renovated jailhouse was transformed into state-of-the-art museum,


“The Museo Sorsogon is one way of loving our province and appreciating its rich culture by knowing our history. It is a link to our past and a best guide for Sorsogon’s future,” Escudero said.


The museum officially opened on Mar. 15, 2021. It is open to visitors from 8:30 to 4:00 PM from Monday to Friday.


Bobby Gegantone, provincial tourism officer, said that persons allowed to visit the museum are those age 15 to 65 years old and they should strictly follow existing health protocols. (With reports from Mario S. Arguelles)