The Cat-al house museum
The greatest collection of WWII memorabilia’s in the Philippines can be found in Valencia, Negros Oriental. Its not a modern fancy museum building with spotlights and tour guides, its actually the humble home of familia Cat-al.
The collection was started by the patriarch of the family, Mr. Porforio Cat-al, who joined the resistance against the Japanese and fought in the jungles of Negros Oriental. He then started bringing home guns and ammunitions left in the battlefields after the war. His son, a local Valencia geothermal staffer, significantly expanded the collection.
Now in his 50’s, the young Cat-al gained the admiration of many WWII memorabilia aficionado. People ranging from WWII Veteran groups to Japanese diplomats has visited his distant Valencia home. It was in the late 90’s when he handed over the remains of more than a dozen Japanese soldiers to a Japanese Parliament man and embassy representatives. The Japanese declined to compensate him for discovering and excavating the bodies, “our ancestors are not for sale” they told Mr. Cat-al, obviously, misunderstanding what the man wanted – a fair compensation for his hard work. He could have just left them in the jungle but he believes that their “spirits” led him to them. The good Negrense not wanting to see his proud guests go home empty handed gave the boxes containing the skulls and bones. Since then, he has acquired more than a dozen dead Japanese soldiers from his excursions. He stored them all in his garaje. He’s expecting a visit from his Japanese “friends” soon.
His most priced possessions are his Samurais. Several blades with ivory tsuba (handle) are displayed in a glass counter. The handle is intricately engraved art. He also showed several samurais that was “mass produced” during the war, the quality of these sword he said were “no good”. There are also offers made for a Samurai he suspects belonging to a high ranking Japanese officer. Recently, the Veteran Bank of the Philippines loaned some of his collections. They offered him money to borrow the items. The loaned item includes an extremely rare ship gyroscope but he declined.
He presented some of his rare “believe it or not” items. Like a bullet that got stuck on another bullet. An American army helmet with two bullets holes on it. A lacoste button from a Japanese leather garment. Countless Medals, bullets, guns, spectacles, toiletries, lamps, uniforms, raincoats and many more – he even have a place dedicated to Japanese gold postizos! Asked if he have a catalog of all his collection, “No, I don’t do that”. He said he plans to pass his collection to his sons.
Another interesting memento in display is a document recognizing the sacrifice of one his grandfather, an army private, who died defending Manila. He was never found. The plaque of appreciation was signed by no less than American President Dwight Eisenhower.
Just outside his house are his disarmed “Big Mama” bombs. As tall as a normal person, these heavy bombs with its ominous whistling sound made the Japanese “wet their pants” and scramble for cover. The mountains and towns were extensively bombed during the “liberation days”. these bombs greatly diminished the Japanese operations in Negros he said. Cat-al said that many of these bombs can still be found in the jungle, including one that got stuck on top of a tree!
The Negrense family could easily make a fortune out of their collection but had refuse numerous offer including that of the provincial government to house his vast collection in a permanent museum, but they “always decline” such offer because they believe that their discoveries are best shared in their humble abode. They don’t ask for any fee. Asked why he continues to this day to search for more items to add to his already enormous collection, the young Cat-al borrowed the notebook I was holding and wrote down the following:
“Timeless, an experience, a memory of how time flies quickly without intention you become sentimental and attached. With care my heritage will remain for a thousand years or even more for generations to behold the joy of these treasures lie in the promise of a bright long future of giving the present an inkling of yesterday. Of being mesmerized by the beauty, elegance and grace of a once opulent era. Beauty, elegance and grace that transcends ages, a rare find, timeless and priceless”
I’m not sure if this is an original composition but I’ve never met a man with an overflowing passion for collecting pieces of our past. Men like him is as rare as the items he collects.