The National Museum of the Philippines can trace its history to the establishment of the Museo-Biblioteca de Filipinas, established by a royal order of the Spanish government on August 12, 1887. 


The Museo-Biblioteca opened on October 24, 1891 at the Casa de la Moneda on Calle Cabildo in Intramuros, then home of the Philippine Mint, later moving to Calle Gunao in Quiapo. It was abolished in 1900 at the onset of the American occupation of the Philippines, and what is considered the direct precursor of the National Museum, the Insular Museum of Ethnology, Natural History and Commerce, was soon afterwards established under the Department of Public Instruction by the Philippine Commission on October 29, 1901. One of the reasons for the creation of the Insular Museum was to complement the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes, and it was subsequently integrated with the Bureau of Ethnological Survey under the Department of the Interior.


In 1904, after the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition at St. Louis, Missouri, the name of the Museum was changed to Philippine Museum. At the same time, the Bureau of Ethnological Survey became the Division of Ethnology under the Department of Public Instruction in 1905 and then under the Bureau of Science, which housed considerable natural history collections, in 1906. A decade later, in 1916, the Fine Arts Division of the Philippine Museum was merged with the Philippine Library (precursor of the National Library and National Archives) to create the Philippine Library and Museum under the Department of Justice. The Natural History Division and Division of Ethnology were maintained in the Bureau of Science.


In 1928, the National Museum of the Philippine Islands was created and placed under the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and housed in a building in the Port Area adjacent to the Manila Hotel. The National Library was also established as a separate institution. The Museum consisted of the Ethnology Division and the Division of History and Fine Arts (the Division of Natural Science was not included in the organization). However, this was reversed in 1933, when the Division of Fine Arts was transferred to the National Library, and the Division of Ethnology and the Division of Anthropology, which included archaeology, ethnography and physical anthropology, were combined with the sections of natural history of the Bureau of Science and organized into the National Museum Division of the Bureau of Science. In 1939, the National Museum Division was renamed the Natural History Museum Division of the Bureau of Science under the office of the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce.


During the Battle of Manila in February 1945, virtually the entire national collections were destroyed when the Legislative Building, where most items were placed for safekeeping, as well as the Bureau of Science building, were reduced to ruins. After the war, the Natural History Museum Division in 1945 was reunited with the National Library’s Fine Arts Division to become the National Museum – its final change of name – under the Office of the Executive Secretary.


In 1951, the National Museum was placed under the Department of Education. Regulatory functions were added to the National Museum, starting in 1966 with the passage of Republic Act No. 4846, which provided for the protection and preservation of Philippine cultural properties, and continuing through the 1970s, including management of important cultural sites around the country. In addition, the National Planetarium in Rizal Park was established under the National Museum in 1975. During this time, the National Museum was housed in one floor of the Legislative Building, as well as in a government building in Ermita, Manila. The establishment of the National Historical Institute in 1972 led to the transfer of diverse historical collections from the National Museum.


In 1996, President Fidel V. Ramos established a presidential committee to oversee the creation of a National Museum complex. Earlier in 1994, he had instructed the Secretaries of Finance and Tourism to prepare for the eventual transfer of their neo-classical buildings in Rizal Park to the National Museum, and in 1995, the Finance Building was turned over. The Department of Tourism was scheduled to transfer custody of the Tourism building by the end of 1997, but this initiative was delayed. In a historic move, the Senate of the Philippines also vacated its chambers in the Executive House to allow for the landmark building to be incorporated into the National Museum precinct.


On February 12, 1998, Republic Act No. 8492, The National Museum Act of 1998, was approved as the new charter of the National Museum that reestablished the institution as an autonomous government trust instrumentality under a Board of Trustees, and which designated the President of the Philippines as the Honorary Chairman and Patron of the National Museum. Later that year, the first stage of the National Museum complex was realized with the formal inauguration of the Museum of the Filipino People in the converted Old Finance Building, a key part of official commemoration of the centennial of Philippine independence that culminated on June 12, 1998.

Under the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III, the vision for the National Museum complex in Manila as formulated in the 1990s was revived, with the turnover of the Tourism Building that will allow for the establishment of the permanent home of the national natural history collections, in line with the housing of the national anthropological and archaeological collections in the Old Finance Building and the national fine arts collections in the Old Legislative Building. Together these collections all encompass a significant and considerable part of the national patrimony that the National Museum preserves in perpetual trust for the Filipino people

2018 to Present

One of the recent milestones of the National Museum of the Philippines is the long time coming realization of its National Museum Complex, which is enacted by the law in 1998 under the Republic Act 8492.  It was on June 28, 2016 that the National Museum of Natural History was initially launched through a ceremonial turnover of the Tree of Life with its unveiling by then President Benigno Aquino III with his cabinet secretaries as representatives.  Finally, on May 18, 2018, highlighting the International Museum Day celebration, is the public opening of the National Museum of Natural History.

With the growth and expansion of the National Museum’s scope and functions, on April 26, 2019, the Republic Act 11333, also known as the National Museum of the Philippines Act, was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.  The law was enacted to strengthen the mandate of the institution in the management and development of museums and collections of national importance in field of arts, cultural heritage, and natural history making the museum more responsive to the 21st century and needs and demands of its stakeholders.