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Wisdom of the ages: la Señora Doña Benita Marasigan vda. de Santos

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With the granddaughter of national hero Marcelo H. del Pilar, la Señora Doña Benita Marasigan vda. de Santos

“Anó ang nangyari sa buhay có? Namulubi lang ang familia co. Ualáng nangyari sa mañgá guinauá co…” thus said a dying and remorseful Marcelo H. del Pilar, as relived by his 92-year-old granddaughter, Atty. Benita Marasigan-Santos.

Del Pilar died for country and principles. But precious time that was supposed to be for his wife and two young daughters Sofía and Anita went with him to the grave. Despite of it all, Lola Bening was still proud of his Lolo Celo for his patriotism.

Last 5 September, I had the rare opportunity to “speak with history” when a cousin of my dad, Paul Évora III, happened to read the article that I wrote about del Pilar which coincided with the national hero’s 160th birth anniversary. He was the one who arranged my lunch meeting with Lola Bening. And since, to the best of my knowledge, I have never met Uncle Paul all my life (I found him only through this wonderful online creature called Facebook), little did I know that his partner, Corina Unson, is actually the youngest daughter of Lola Bening.

We were welcomed by Uncle Paul and his gracious better half at their homely enclave within the bustling party district of Malate. For me, it was a queer sight to see such a handsome bahay na bató in highly urbanized Manila, still standing proudly and mysteriously behind a youngish narra tree (the house sometimes spooks the wits out of unknowing passersby, Uncle Paul told me).

The Marasigan-del Pilar ancestral house. At the gate are Uncle Paul, Yeyette, and Auntie Corina.

Lola Bening, despite her old age (she was born on 4 April 1918), was still sharp of mind. Very sharp. Like her grandfather, she used to be a writer. In fact, her English translation of her grandfather’s Spanish letter to her Tía Josefa landed a spot in Dr. Celedonio G. Aguilar’s Readings In Philippine Literature (Rex Book Store, Ciudad de Quezon, 1994). Trained as a laywer, she wrote numerous articles but mostly about her favorite subject: Philippine History.

“When I was a student at the University (of Santo Tomás), I befriended the librarian there. Once, I asked her if I could gain access to the archives to read the works of my grandfather, “La Frailocracía Filipina” and “La Soberanía Monacal en Filipinas“. I was hoping that I could translate them (from Spanish into English). When I was not allowed access, I spoke with the rector who explained to me that ‘the times have already changed’, that it is really not necessary to read them anymore.” I immediately understood the reason why she was denied access. I explained to her that due to the anti-Catholic content of the two essays, the Catholic university thought it best not to have them exposed to a new generation of Filipinos who no longer deserved a useless war between the religious and secular thought. But I assured her that translations are now available everywhere, including the internet.

If not for her blindness, I am quite certain that Lola Bening would still be writing.

Lola Bening also recounted how her family lost their fortune due to her grandfather’s costly eight-year self-exile in Barcelona, Spain. Whenever they could, the family sent del Pilar money to sustain himself as well as to keep his anti-clerical activities up and running. Although a devout Catholic, Lola Bening seemed not to be ashamed of her grandfather’s stance towards the friars because she believed that what del Pilar did was right and was for the benefit of the masses.

After del Pilar’s death, the family was somehow able to rise from the ashes of poverty due to the hero’s youngest daughter’s marriage to businessman Vicente Marasigan.

“On the day of my mother’s marriage, she was crying the whole time because she never wanted to marry my father,” said Lola Bening. The reason? “It was a planned marriage. And besides, my mother preferred to study than get married.” She then bade us to a sepia photo hanging on the sala wall to examine the countenance of her then young mother who was with her father. The photo was taken shortly before the marriage.

Portrait of Lola Bening's parents: Anita del Pilar and Vicente Marasigan.

“Take a good look. Notice the sadness in her face. She was crying before that picture was taken,” Lola Bening added.

The downcast countenance of Marcelo del Pilar's youngest daughter.

The wedding rings of Lola Bening's beloved parents, made of pure gold. They were married on 12 March 1912. The date is engraved in Anita's ring (the one with the name of Vicente engraved on it).

The couple's wedding rings with 13 gold coins or arras dating back to the Spanish times. The custom of giving 13 arras originated from Spain.

Fortunately for the rest of the family, Anita learned to love Vicente in the course of the marriage (Auntie Corina said that she and her siblings used to call them Lola Tâ and Lolo Tê respectively). The marriage produced nine children. As a testament of Anita’s background of grief, their first two children died. But as compensation —and quite ironically for the “Father of Philippine Masonry”— the Marasigan brood grew up to be god-fearing individuals. They were never influenced by their grandfather’s reputation as a high-ranking Mason. In fact, there were two religious among Vicente and Anita’s children: Ateneo de Manila University’s Fr. Vicente Marasigan, S.J., and; Sr. Mother Mary Aurora Marasigan of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (she globally headed the “Pink Sisters” a record four times). Lola Bening herself had her schooling in two Catholic institutions: the University of Santo Tomás (which was then in Intramuros) and Saint Paul University Manila. She eventually took up law, but was never able to practice it fully; she taught law and history at Saint Paul and also served time as a corporate lawyer. However, her husband, the late Justice Arturo B. Santos, took her place in the practice of law and served as judge of the Court of First Instance of Tarlac, Branch II.

Lola Bening proudly said that her father once owned a handsome house along Calle Isaac Peral (now United Nations Avenue in nearby Ermita) which eventually became the model of and setting for Nick Joaquín‘s Portrait Of An Artist As Filipino (even the Marasigan last name Nick adopted into that play’s main characters, but in no way do the fictional Marasigan players reflected the lives of the real ones, said Auntie Corina). They had another house near the Remedios Circle. It was there were Lola Bening spent her earlier years before transferring to their present home (built in 1929) in Calle Miguel Malvar (first known as Tennesse street; renamed Mindoro Street during the Japanese Occupation).

At the height of the controversial snap presidential polls of 1986, Lola Bening was one of the leaders of the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections. During that stint, she was interviewed by a then struggling correspondent who later on became an Emmy-Award-winning journalist: Jim Clancy of CNN International.

During our lunch meeting, I was actually expecting to learn more about del Pilar (the man, not the hero) that I have never read nor heard before. Quite embarassingly, I was told of the anecdote of “Ang Piso Ni Anita“, something quite famous in the academe but was totally unfamiliar to me. However, I learned more about Anita and her pains throughout her life. Throughout her childhood, she was yearning for fatherly love. Lola Bening said that as a child, her mother used to look at photos of her dad, contemplating on how he looked like in person, asking her elders more about how her father’s physical appearance beyond the photos.

As history had taught us, Anita and her Ate Sofía (whom Lola Bening took care of during her final years) never saw their father again when the latter left for Spain in late 1888. All for the love of country. They saw him one last time, though — inside a coffin on a cold December day in 1920 amidst cheers from Masons and government leaders at the Manila pier. Then many years later, just as when Anita had learned what love is with Vicente, the latter was dead set on offering his services to join the struggle against the 14th Imperial Japanese Army. All for the love of country. A dramatic confrontation ensued, as witnessed by Fr. Marasigan (Auntie Corina shared that —fortunately for Anita— Vicente’s love of family prevailed over him).

Anita’s death was perhaps as painful as her depressing moments in life. In 1955, she suffered a stroke and was in comatose for 40 days before Death finally took pity on her.

Anita’s life was a revelation. Something about her story made me love my wife and kids more and more, for they never had to endure the sufferings of a sorrowful wife and fatherless children.

Lola Bening continued sharing her thoughts not only about her grandfather and Philippine history (she even knows the controversial and delicate issue of “Le Fableux Doña Ysidra” but was careful not to mention any name), she was also up to date with current events. A few years ago, at the height of the much-publicized Subic rape case, she advised close friend Fr. James Reuter, S.J. to be cautious in the issue that was then confronting American Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith. And wisely so because the much-beloved Jesuit became spiritual adviser to the accused and their respective families. His task indeed should be more spiritual than mundane. Fr. Reuter thus avoided the controversial political aspects where he would have been up against a much powerful force: the radical feminist groups who were behind Smith’s “victim”.

“In the end, to settle the issue out of court, they (the US government) gave her (Nicole, Smith’s purported rape victim) a US visa which appeared to be what she wanted in the first place,” said Lola Bening, “because, strangely, her relatives got to the US ahead of her!”

She also asked us about what we thought of Noynoy. I wisely decided not to comment since it’s too early into his presidency to do so. But she was an anti-charlatan when it comes to opinion. She was, after all, basing her viewpoints on account of her age and experience throughout the decades. She wisely observed that our country, throughout its sad history, has been led too much by the elite (Auntie Corina kidded her on this comment, pointing out as if she’s in a glass house throwing stones!). She observed how our country’s natural resources have been exploited by outsiders, and how the WASPs have thrown their weight around our national leaders. Classic features of neocolonialism, I commented. To which she replied:

“Maybe it’s time that we recover our identity.”

Indeed it is time.

I would have asked her more about Intramuros and the Spanish language during her heyday. But out of courtesy, I didn’t — the family invited me mainly because of what I wrote about Marcelo H. del Pilar, so it was expected that I ask more about the propagandist. Hopefully, I’d be able to talk to her again to learn more about my beloved Walled City which she saw before the last war destroyed it.

Throughout the end of the visit, Lola Bening exhorted me and Yeyette to visit the 4,027-square-meter Marcelo H. Del Pilar Shrine in Bulacán, Bulacán, the land of which she donated to the government in 1983. She was beaming with pride on how she had helped build the shrine together with the government, and contributed to its many modifications for the sake of national posterity.

As we said our goodbyes while promising her that we will visit her dear grandfather’s shrine very soon, my mind was somehow drifting towards that lonely Barcelona room where a tubercular propagandist, more in pain from being away from his wife and daughters than from his ailment, was quietly weeping while writing letters to his loved ones. And as my mind drifted, I dreamily promised Lola Bening that “we will visit the Mabini Shrine very soon.”

The 92-year-old lady, still sharp of wits, corrected this absent-minded 31-year-old blogger of his unforgivable mistake:

“Del Pilar Shrine! Not Mabini, Pepe!”

Undoubtedly, Lola Bening’s grandfather would have been as alert as her if only he had reached his 90s. But such is the grand design of our history.

Uncle Paul, Auntie Corina, Lola Bening, Yeyette, and del Pilar's mascot.

The National Hero’s Crib (Calambâ, La Laguna)

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Calambâ is a lovely town in Laguna province, Luzón, the largest of the Philippines’ seven thousand islands. A crystalline river flows through the town while the hills gracefully curve against the blue sky. From these hills and from the modern highway that now runs through the town, one can see Laguna de Bay softly lapping its shores.

The traveler who passes here may pause to admire the scenic beauty of palm-covered mountains, fields green with young rice stalks, and the lake’s sparkling water.

A century ago, Calambâ must have been even more beautiful, although not equipped with modern conveniences. There were neither motorcars to raise the dust off the highways nor electric lights to disturb the tranquility of its rustic streets. It had about three or four thousand inhabitants, a tribunal, a church, a convent, a few well-constructed houses, and the so-called Casa Hacienda of the Dominicans. This was the town where Rizal was born on June 19, 1861. –Asunción López-Rizal Bantug (Indio Bravo: The Story of Rizal)–

Calambâ was a very pastoral town many years ago. I can still remember how much of it looked like whenever we pass by the place during summer vacation trips to Unisan: vast farmlands, crystal clear rivers, a vista of the picturesque mountain of Maquiling, majestic pine trees along the tollway, endless green, and the sweet smell of green and earth!

But during the years surrounding the town’s incorporation into a city on 21 April 2001, very much has changed. Gone were the vast agricultural lands, emerging industrial centers produced much pollution, the remaining pine trees along the now traffic-stricken tollway are dying, the rivers decayed, shanties here and there, envelope-wielding Badjáo beggars everywhere, prostitutes in hot springs resorts, residential subdivisions around and along the slopes of Monte de Maquiling, etc. So, this cityhood is for who’s betterment?

Oh well, “progress” will always be “progress”.

Today, Calambâ is the most populous town —or rather city— in the province of La Laguna (yes, La Laguna, and not just Laguna). And because of the place’s current economic condition, it is now considered as a first class city (this means that the town’s average annual income is 400 million pesos or more — not bad). Calambâ is perhaps the most well-known place in La Laguna mainly because it is the birthplace of the country’s national hero. Other than that, it is also the site of many hot springs resorts (like its neighbor, Los Baños) as well as the popular Canlubang Golf and Country Club in Barrio Canlubang, the biggest among Calambâ’s 54 barrios or barangáys (occupying almost a third of the city!).

According to a popular legend, the name Calambâ was derived from —again— a miscommunication between Spaniards and natives. Two guardias civiles lost their way into a nameless settlement where now stands the old town of Calambâ. They encountered a lady carrying a clay pot (bañgâ) and a wooden stove (calán). The soldiers asked the lady for the name of the place. Unwittingly, they used the Spanish language, a tongue unfamiliar to the poor lady. Thinking that the soldiers were asking what her items were called, she nervously gave their names: calán at bañgâ. The Spaniards, unable to pronounce Tagalog correctly, assumed that the place they bumped into was called “Calamba”. This legend is now immortalized with a huge clay pot in Calambâ’s plaza, just across the Church of Saint John the Baptist where Rizal was baptized. The clay pot or bañgâ is said to be the largest in the world.

For a significant point in history, Calambâ used to be a part of Tabuco. On 28 August 1742, it became a full-fledged pueblo or town. Cityhood finally followed nine years ago.

Rizal Shrine

I lost count on the number of times I’ve visited the Rizal home in Calambâ, La Laguna. Actually, the house is just a replica of the original that was burnt down during the last world war. The replica was designed by renowned architect Juan F. Nákpil (the only son of the musical-revolutionist Julio Nákpil) using an old photograph of the house as well as oral descriptions from the Rizal family and some neighbors.

So much has already been written about the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ. So I might as well just give you a pictorial tour of our visit last 19 June 2010, on the occasion of Pepe Rizal’s 149th birth anniversary.

This is Krystal's second time to visit the Rizal shrine (2006 was her first). This is just Momay's first visit.

An old map of Laguna de Bay and its environs. When I first traveled to this house with Arnaldo Arnáiz and our friend mutual friend Mike Adzuara a few years ago, I meticulously studied this map. This is where I found out that the name of that small river beside Festival Supermall in Alabang was Río Albán. It is now called Alabang River or sometimes as Mañgañgate. And it is from Albán where the name Alabang comes from.

A recipe from Narcisa Rizal de López!

=)

This well is said to be the only original remnant of the Rizal house before it was totally destroyed during the last war.

Rafaél Palma (1874-1939), the politician, journalist, and Mason who became the first Filipino president of the University of the Philippines, wrote a prize-winning biography about Rizal written in the Spanish language entitled Biografía de Rizal (Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1949). In the said book’s first chapter, Palma made a detailed description of the Rizal house. I translate it here:

The magnificent two-storey house was high and was of solid and massive construction. The upper floor was made up entirely of wood except for the roof which was made of red tile in accordance with the architectural style of such houses found in Manila. Cápiz shells adorn the sliding windows. As defense against earthquakes, the first floor was made up of thick walls of lime and stone. Francisco Mercado (Rizal’s dad), supervising the construction himself, chose only the most durable wood from a nearby forest. It took two years to build the house. Behind the house was a terrace roof (azotea) and a wide and deep well which used to gather rainwater for household purposes.

Rizal Day

A view of the shrine's museum.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is here!

It's not easy being green. The Rizal house as viewed from the garden.

Itatapon co sana, eh. Caso ang daming táo.

My kids with sculptures of little Pepe (not me, of course) and his dog Alipato.

Coinciding with Rizal's birthday was the oath faking, err, taking (hehe!) by local officials under Chief Justice Renato Corona.

The festive atmosphere spills outside Rizal's bahay na bató. Actually, the whole town is in merriment every 19th of June.

Soldiers in a nearby restaurant.

Vocalists.

The tall Chief Justice in the background.

Standing tall.

Above us red and blue.

¿Baquit maraming militar dito? Anyway, my kids got to experience going inside a battle tank!

Masons

Rizal never went beyond the third degree of Masonry (Master Mason). For some reason, while in Spain, he had a falling out with some high-ranking members of the craft (Marcelo H. del Pilar and, more specifically, Pedro Serrano). He spent his last years in the Philippines (Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte) as an inactive Mason, and this he vehemently upheld during his trial in late 1896. And on his final night on earth, he signed a retraction paper and peacefully went back to the Catholic fold — a fact that is supported by an overwhelming evidence put forth by Catholics, Protestants, and Masons alike (as collected and recounted in Fr. Jesús Mª Cavanna’s Rizal’s Unfading Glory). But Masons in the Philippines are stubborn — they still refuse to believe that the world is round. So every Rizal anniversary, they still honor my tocayo as their exemplary brother. I may cry.

Some jolly members of the ancient enemies of my faith.

The Most Worshipful Brother Avelino I. Razón, Jr. of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines.

Razón and his brother Masons, honoring Rizal who they thought died as a Mason.

Speaking with the media.

Masons, the enemies of Christianity.

In the presence of my enemies.

Masonic District No. 6, Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines, Dr. J.P. Rizal Lodge No. 270, Calambâ, La Laguna.

Iglesia de San Juan Bautista

Rizal was baptized in this church three days after he was born. As a matter of fact, the baptismal cistern which was used to baptize him is still preserved despite the tragedy which befell the church and the town (Calambâ was razed to the ground during World War II where around 2,000 people were killed). Unfortunately, when me and my kids visited the church after our tour of the Rizal Shrine, it was closed tightly shut (perhaps to avoid the noise coming from the Masons across the road?). Of course, this won’t be our last visit. Besides, we will be certified Calambeños by next year, when all plans fall into place.

Iglesia de San Juan Bautista.

Sa guilid ng iglesia.

The town

The world's biggest clay pot was completed in 1939.

This is considered to be biggest clay pot in the world. It is found in the plaza fronting the Church of Saint John the Baptist. The origin of Calambâ's name was said to have originated from a clay pot.

Calambâ still has a handful of handsome bahay na bató left.

Like many kids of my generation, I used to gather santán flowers for their sweet nectar. Fewer kids, especially in the urban areas, do that nowadays.

City College of Calambâ behind the Church of Saint John the Baptist. This used to be the municipal hall of Calambâ (when the city was still a town).

Well, he ought to be here coz he's from here.

Color of green: I love you green!

The General’s staircase

Aside from Rizal, Calambâ has another hero: Brigadier General Vicente Lim (1889–1944). He was the highest-ranking Filipino soldier under General Douglas MacArthur during World War II. Lim was a survivor of the infamous Bataán Death March. He led many secret guerrilla activities against the Japanese. He was later caught and beheaded by the enemy. But check out the photos below of how his “house” was treated by the government.

A staircase -- what is left of General Vicente Lim's once fabulous bahay na bató.

And these officials had the nerve to put up a historical marker instead of having saved the house from being destroyed (by a typhoon, says an oldtimer who I interviewed the day I took the photos). What is that — adding insult to injury?!

May tauag dian sa Tagalog, eh: cagaguhan. Abá, mabuti pá ang inútil nating policía, may budget. Tapos para sa herencia natin, ualâ. And this will become the fate of most of what is left of our country’s casas solariegas once apathy continues to hang onto our backs like monkeys.

*******

No matter how much Calambâ has changed over the years, it will always remain the “town” that I came to know of in history books.

¡Viva Calambâ!

La casa solariega de Rizal.

On the term “pre-Hispanic Philippines”

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When we say “pre-Hispanic” or “pre-Spanish”, it pertains to a period in a particular nation’s history that was not yet colonized by Spain. In the phrase “pre-Hispanic Philippines”, pre-Hispanic is the adjective while Philippines is the proper noun. Looking into the term more closely, the adjective pre-Hispanic is composed of two words: the prefix “pre” (meaning “before”) and the adjective “Hispanic” which relates to, is characteristic of, or is derived from Spain (or Spanish-speaking nations).

In scholarly circles and (most especially) history classes, the term pre-Hispanic Philippines is a by-word. It ascribes to the period either before 16 March 1521 (the coming of Fernando Magallanes) or 27 April 1565 (the coming of Miguel López de Legazpi).

In both dates, historians contend that prior to the advent of the Spaniards, we already have our own culture, our own civilization. They speak as if we were already a nation, as if the concept of the term Filipino was already in existence. That is not even half-truth but a total falsity. The nominative plural pronoun “we” is used here in a rather anachronistic sense. This is because before the coming of the West, there was no Philippines nor Filipinos to speak of. The concept of the Filipino Identity had not yet been perceived (by Philippines we mean the country which we know and speak of today, i.e., all the political and geographical attributes that are comprised of by the Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo regions). What the Spaniards found or discovered in this part of the world which we speak of right now was but a multitude of islands whose inhabitants had been in perpetual war against each other (or either that, had been distrustful of one another). In short, there was no Philippines yet to speak of.

A bigoted nationalism

The trouble with the term pre-Hispanic or pre-Spanish is that it is commonly used by hispanophobic nationalist purists to forward their claims of a mythical and blissful past that was halted and stunted by Spain. The coming here of the West they keep on negating as not Filipino at all, thus the need to come up with such terms as pre-Hispanic and pre-Spanish to describe what they claim as a time when our nation was not yet “invaded” and ruled by a “foreign” nation.

But then, if the Tagalogs, Pampangueños, etc. all migrated here from neighboring Malay islands (using ancient boats called barangáy or balañgáy), then aren’t they considered foreigners, too? It is because this archipelago we speak of is not their native soil anymore if they are from other lands. In this case, the definition of the term “foreign” fades into oblivion. But that is another story.

When the Spaniards arrived in this part of the world, they forged the myriad of islands which they discovered into one, single, and compact nation. Thus, it is also safe to assume that their incumbency here, including everything else they disseminated into our culture (as astutely observed by Arnaldo Arnáiz), ceased to be Spanish but Filipino. Take, for example, the stately architecture of the bahay na bató. Misled nationalists claim that it is merely a Spanish-style house or —worse— a colonial house, but it is not. Although it has influences from Western architecture, it is rudely incorrect to deny that it is not a product of Filipino architecture. Cultural anthropologist Fernando Z. Ziálcita, a fellow member of the Círculo Hispano-Filipino, pointed out that it is first important to distinguish between two types of nationalist discourses in order to appreciate (and eventually realize) Filipino architecture: dialectical and reductionist. Applying his observations (based on undisputable analogies from various cultures), it is best, if not imperative, that we utilize a dialectical approach in studying Philippine history in order to comprehend the nature of our identity.

Thus, when Spain brought here, say, the cuchara and tenedor, they ceased to become anything Spanish but Filipino. When the Spaniards brought here the cooking technique called the guisado, it ceased to become Spanish; it became Filipino. Even Christianity was Filipinized. And so were the Spaniards who were born here — the insulares or creoles, although purely Iberian, were naturally more loyal to their patria chica (Philippines) compared to their patria grande (Spain). In short, although still Spaniards (albeit being born here), they ceased to become Spaniards but Filipinos. And that is why they are called —and should be regarded as— the First Filipinos.

This could go on and on.

In the words of José Miguel García, what Spain bequeathed to us has become part of our so-called “national developmental code”:

Can we exist as a nation without having been born acquiring a unique identity? Could we as a nation have been born without having been conceived? Could we as a nation have been conceived without having parents undergoing through a process of developmental intercourse? There are the Iberians, the natives of a group of islands now known as Filipinas, the North Americans, the Chinese, and the Japanese. Who among these entities could have engaged in a developmental intercourse that resulted to our conception and, finally, birth as a nation as Filipinas? If based on information, we have come to know WHO we really are; if based on information, we have come to know that WHO we really are has been lost; if based on information we know that WHO we really are is our inheritance as part of our national developmental code; then it is our birth right to recover it. But based on information, where can we find our inheritance?

Obviously not from our bleak and dark “pre-Hispanic past”.

Pre-Philippine, not pre-Hispanic

Here then lies the predicament surrounding the term pre-Hispanic Philippines.

If we delete the prefix “pre” from “pre-Hispanic”, what will remain solely is the adjective Hispanic (Hispanic Philippines). But, using Professor Ziálcita’s dialectical approach towards Philippine History as an analogy, there should be no such thing as Hispanic Philippines. It is but incorrect to impose the adjective Hispanic to a nation that had just been born. Although it is true that Spain created our country, upon inception it was not Hispanic anymore but simply Philippine.

Therefore, it is high time we get rid of the term pre-Hispanic Philippines from our historical vocabulary. It should be replaced with the more correct term PRE-PHILIPPINE whenever we refer to events before 1565 or 1521, an obscure era when we were still but a scattered group of heathen islands.

And may we all stop degrading ourselves by looking for a past that was never there.

A local yet global style

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The following article was written by a contertulio of mine (in Círculo Hispano-Filipino), the erudite scholar Fernando Ziálcita y Nákpil.

He is a professor of Cultural Anthropology at the Ateneo de Manila University and is also the director of the Cultural Heritage Program of the said school. Professor Ziálcita has written several articles and books, namely Notions Of Justice: A Study Of An Ilocos And A Bulacán Barangay, Nick Joaquín: a portrait of the existentialist as Filipino, and Philippine ancestral houses (1810-1930). He specializes in the encounter between indigenous culture and Spanish influence.

This article, A Local Yet Global Style, was first published in the book Endangered: Fil-Hispanic Architecture which is actually a compilation of selected papers which were presented at the 1st International Congress on Fil-Hispanic Architecture that was held in Manila (27-29 November 2002). The book was published by the Instituto Cervantes de Manila five years ago.

Remember that “architecture is another form of language” (Guillermo Gómez Rivera).

The author, Fernando Ziálcita y Nákpil (third from right), with members of the Círculo Hispano-Filipino (from left to right): José Ramón Perdigón, Alberto Hernández Miño, Guillermo Gómez, Ziálcita, Atty. Cirilo Lubatón, and me.

A LOCAL YET GLOBAL STYLE
Fernando Ziálcita

During the 16th-19th centuries, new architectural styles using timber and stones emerged in Luzón, Visayas, and Northern Mindanáo. My interest centers on what I call the “Wood-and-Stone style” of urban dwellings. I have tried to show that it should be called “Filipino” rather than either “Spanish” or Antillean (Ziálcita 1980; 1997; 1997B). There is more public interest in these structures at present than there was previously. Still, a number of architects continue to deny that there is any Filipino architecture other than the bahay kubo (the farmer’s house-on-stilts). One who has built many mansions for the rich has commented that these houses and churches, shown in a traveling exhibit organized in 2000 by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts to draw attention to Filipino architectural heritage, were “colonial impositions”.

In this article, I would like to point out the following:

• It is important to distinguish between types of nationalist discourses.
• To appreciate the complexity of the Filipino’s architectural heritage, we need a dialectical rather than a reductionist discourse.
• When viewed properly, the Wood-and-Stone style is both a unique local product and a product with multiple international connections.

Assimilation versus Exclusion

Nationalism is a discourse that crystallized during the 1789 French Revolution. It proposes that members of a large extended group “imagine” themselves as a sovereign, political “community” that transcends ethnic, religious, and class divisions because of a shared history, heritage, and mission (Anderson 1983). Nationalism thus excludes outsiders even as it defines criteria for membership. But who are the members? And what is the heritage that unites them? I distinguish between two types of nationalism. The first I call “reductionist”; the second, “dialectical” nationalism.

Reductionist nationalism uses “race” as the criterion for membership and “indigenous culture” as the substance of the shared heritage. It assumes that race, an inherited set of biological characteristics, determines how you think and feel. If you do not look like the majority, or if you are not of the same “race” as them, then you cannot share their feelings. This nationalism also yearns for a mythical past that was supposedly more authentic because it was truly “indigenous” — that is, it had no foreign admixture. Its static perspective has no room for mutually transformative encounters between cultures. It thus ignores what 20th century anthropologists say, namely: 1) that no empirical data can support the notion that race shapes ability, 2) that racism fosters the persecution of minorities, and 3) that culture, being a set of symbols, values, and practices that is socially learned, is therefore permeable and changeable.

In contrast, dialectical nationalism believes that feelings transcend race. By joining a community and imbibing its ideals, you become loyal to it. Sympathy has nothing to do with looking like the majority. Dialectical nationalism can thus regard as local what was once imported: 1) if it has been assimilated to local symbols, values, and practices, or 2) if it has a positive contribution to the local. A dialectical view sees the world as consisting of forces that may oppose each other at particular points in time and space, but may also modify each other and fuse into one.

German nationalism of the late 19th century down to 1945 was reductionist. Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) extolled the Volksgeist and the need to build institutions that emanated from it. Every people (Volk) have their own ethos (Geist) which is manifest in its language, literature, and law. A people should think and act according to its Geist, for it is unnatural to ape foreign fashions (Ergang 1966: 100-1). Herder inspired nationalists all over the world, like our own Rizal and Isabelo de los Reyes, to study popular songs, dances, architecture as manifestations of the folk’s lore. His “Volksgeist” anticipated the notion of “culture” that British anthropologists would popularize in its present form, starting in the last decade of the 19th century. However, according to Wolfgang Welsch (1995: 195), Herder’s notion has serious deficiencies. It ignores the fact that modern societies are multicultural. Moreover, its insistence on purity leads to political conflicts and wars. Carriers of a Volksgeist are supposed to experience “insensibility, coldness, blindness” and even “contempt and disgust” towards outsiders.

Meanwhile, during the late 19th century, another development took place. Since the Germans lived in many small states that were independent of each other, German nationalists argued for blood as the determinant of nationality. Anyone of German ancestry, regardless of residence, was German. This included even those who had migrated to other Eastern European countries centuries ago. In the 1930s, the Nazis equated Germanness with belonging to the “Aryan race”. Nazi policies were junked after their defeat; contemporary Germany is an open and tolerant society. But even today, migrants, who are born in and educated in Germany, face hurdles in applying for citizenship if their parents are non-Germans (Brubaker 1992: 75 ff.).

In contrast, French nationalism has generally been dialectical and assimilationist. Being French has more to do with sensibility than with genes or skin color. To be French is to embrace the ideals of the 1789 Revolution (Brubaker 1992: 35 ff.). Thus the French call their patrie a “Terre d’asile” — a land that shelters all migrants who believe in liberty, equality, and fraternity. To be French is also to appreciate the achievements of French civilization. French citizenship is thus open to Africans, Indians, Caribbeans, Indochinese, or anyone who participates in French culture.

Moreover, anything created on French soil that either contributes to France’s glory or carries the imprint of the French sensibility is French, even if the creator is a foreigner by birth. The 20th century Ecole de Paris, which invented modern painting and sculpture, was the creation of Frenchmen (Matisse, Braque, Leger), Spaniards (Gris, Picasso, Miró), Russians (Chagall), Germans (Hartung), Italians (Modigliani), Romanians (Brancusi), and others living and working in Paris. These non-Frenchmen are often classified as “French” by French authors. A work of art can be French yet cosmopolitan. French identity is thus not something determined once and for all by race and ethnicity. Writing on the diversity and conflicts between French regions, Braudel (1986: 94) says that “France” had to be “invented”. We can infer that, for it to remain flexible and open, it must be reinvented today.

Mexicanness is likewise a sensibility that is the product of tradition rather than biology. During the 20th century, following the 1910 revolution, which was both economic and spiritual, Mexicans came to appreciate the diversity of their traditions. While they affirmed their once-despised Amerindian tradition (Olmec, Zapotec, Aztec, and Maya), they also claimed that the Spanish tradition constituted an integral part of their culture. Likewise the Afro-American. The magic word was “mestizaje” or the fusion of cultures (Fuentes 1992). Thus “baroque” in Mexico is Mexican rather than Spanish.

How should we characterize the discourse of Filipino nationalism? Is it reductionist or dialectical? I believe it is in-between. On the one hand, textbooks and the press say that Filipino culture is diverse. It has “Malay, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic, and American influences”. Our folk dance troupes showcase the diversity of the archipelago’s dance traditions in each performance. Nick Joaquín, in his novels and essays, has shown how to approach history as a process that assimilates the diverse influences, especially the Hispanic, upon the Filipino (1989). On the other hand, however, the educated casually talk of either a “Filipino race” or a “Malay race”. For instance, in preparation for the second millennium AD, the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran a daily series of short articles on its front-page on the achievements of the “Filipino race”. From anthropology’s perspective, the better term would have been “Filipino culture”, for values and world-views are acquired by anybody who commits himself to a group. But physical characteristics, such as skin and hair color, are inherited genetically. Moreover, “Filipino race” would exclude Negritos, Chinese, and Euroamericans who consider themselves Filipinos. Unfortunately, anthropology’s clarifications about “race” are ignored by the current discourse.

The permanent exhibit on the Filipino people at the National Museum has a wonderful English title, “History of the Filipino People”. But the Tagalog translation is an unacceptable “Kasaysayan ng Lahì” (History of the Race). Ignored likewise by many nationalists is anthropology’s concept of “culture” as a permeable, changeable set of symbols, values, and practices. I have heard many educated Filipinos characterize Filipino achievements in cookery, dances, and sculpture as “bastardized/mongrel/derivative/imitative”. They imagine that a culture has to be “pure” and free of outside influences in order for it to be respectable.

Renato Constantino exerted much influence on the nationalism of the 1970s to the present. While he does not idealize pre-Hispanic culture, he has nothing positive to say either about Hispanized Filipino culture. He characterizes both the masses and the elite during the Spanish period as suffering from a “relative ignorance” brought about by the colonizer’s values (Constantino 1978:52-54). Those reading him must therefore conclude that Spanish influence in any form is cause for embarrassment.

A preoccupation with race stumbles when confronted with figures like Fr. José Burgos. Born of a Spanish lieutenant and of a mestiza from Vigan, Burgos spearheaded the Filipino clergy’s demands for equal treatment with Peninsular priests (Villaroel 1971). His execution in 1871, together with Frs. Gómez and Zamora, shocked the public into discovering that they were being oppressed by peninsular interests. But the highly influential historian Teodoro Agoncillo wondered if Burgos, because of his ancestry, can be called “Filipino” (Nolasco n.d.:2). On the other hand, Marilou Díaz-Abaya, in her film on Rizal, depicted Burgos as a brown-skinned Indio. In effect, nationalism became skin-color.

I sympathize with the concerns of Filipino nationalists. The Philippines is indeed a society that continues to be colonized by outside forces. Moreover, it is highly stratified with widespread poverty. But, as I have shown (Ziálcita 2000), exploitation and stratification antedate the Spanish conquest. Our national honor is not diminished by admitting that the Spaniards did positive things like eliminating slave raiding for sacrifice. Also, there are two things to consider: 1) The Philippines is a multi-ethnic society. Many Filipinos, especially in the major cities, are descendants of foreign migrants, some of whom sacrificed much on behalf of the Philippines (Nolasco 1970-71:178 ff.). Surely, they are no less Filipino than the purely indigenous; 2) Our country has to assert its presence in the world forum, and attract more interest in its culture and its products. To respond to both, we need a nationalism that can deal with complexity and multiple connections.

Filipino Modern

The Philippine has diversified its exports by selling high-quality furniture and home accessories. Designers like Ched Berenguer-Topacio, Budji Láyug, Jeanne Goulborn, Kenneth Cobonpue, and others have projected contemporary Filipino design internationally. But what is “Filipino modern”? Why has it attracted rave reviews and orders? If we examine their best sellers carefully, we shall see that some combine the indigenous with imported traditions.

For instance, a fashionable chair pioneered in by Filipino designers combines an exposed metal frame with rattan weaves that form a seat and a backrest. Sometimes the metal frame evokes a boxy armchair; at other times a curvaceous lounging chair. Always, however, the textured rattan weaves give these chairs a relaxed tropical feel. Two traditions meet in these chairs: the indigenous, which skillfully manipulates rattan for basketry, and the Spanish, which makes wrought iron furniture and lamps. The Spanish baroque tradition also shows in the generous S-curves of some of these chairs. Or, consider another example: wall hangings and shades. Filipino wall hangings made of silk have a translucent quality that evokes the Japanese, which currently is the vogue. At the same time, they have playfully inserted pieces of bamboo and rattan, for added texture. Filipino modern reinterprets international styles using skills and preferences inherited from once-foreign but localized cultural traditions.

Together with Alice Reyes and Paulo Alcazaren, I worked on a book on the best of the contemporary Filipino house designs (Reyes 2000). The staff of the Singapore-based publishing firm that produced the book was enthused by the varied forms exhibited in contemporary Filipino architecture. While some villas had strong affinities with Italian-Spanish-Mexican houses, others had rooms that, because of their shell-paned panels, recalled Japanese interiors. Other villas, though modern, had a more indigenous feel because of their imaginative local materials. As a whole, regardless of their stylistic orientation, the various houses had a common denominator: interior spaces dialogued with the surrounding gardens.

A reductionist approach accepts only the “indigenous” as Filipino. This cripples the Filipino’s options in a competitive global market. In contrast, a dialectical approach appreciates the variety of both our contemporary designs and our 18th-early 20th-century urban houses, because it looks at history as a process.

Distinct yet many-sided

I have discussed the history of the Wood-and-Stone House (Bahay na bató at cahoy) in previous writings. Rather than repeat this, I would like to highlight particular points in order to show how the style is both local and global.

1. The indigenous style of architecture prevailing in the 16th century Luzón and Visayas was suited to a rural but not to an urban environment. The indigenous dwelling was essentially a frame construction where the heavy roofwork was supported not by the walls, which were either of timber planks or of bamboo sidings, but by many wooden pillars dug deeply into the ground. This type of structure thus merely swayed during an earthquake. The floor was elevated above the ground as protection against floods and insects. The steeply pitched roof made of thatch shook off the heavy downpour and allowed hot tropical air to circulate upwards.

But this style had a disadvantage when used in an urban environment where buildings press against each other. Its materials were flammable. The first Spanish Manila, whose cathedrals and dwellings were built of bamboo and thatch, was consumed by an accidental fire in 1583. This prompted a shift to construction in stone, using the deposits of volcanic tuff (locally called “adobe”) that were newly discovered in Macati along the Pásig River.

Similar shifts had occurred earlier among other Southeast Asian peoples. Bas-reliefs I have seen on the temples of Prambanan (9th century), in Central Java, depict houses-on-stilts. However, during the heyday of the Majapahit Empire in the 13th-14th centuries, the Central Javanese shifted to all-brick dwellings resting directly on brick platforms (Schoppert 1997: 32-34). This continues to be the norm today in that region which is Indonesia’s cultural heartland.

The famous bronze drums of Dong-son from Vietnam (5th century AD) likewise reveal longhouses-on-stilts with steeply pitched roofs, which are still common today among the upland peoples of Vietnam. But the Chinese, who incorporated what is now Northern Vietnam into their empire from the first century BC to the 10th century AD, brought in houses whose plastered brick walls stood on stone platforms a few meters above the ground (Bezacier 1955; Taylor 1983). These one-story, tile roofed dwellings of brick continue to be the norm both in rural villages and in the town centers of Vietnam.

I mention these shifts because many Filipinos reduce Filipino architecture to the house-on-stilts; they do not accept subsequent developments as relevant. Also, they reject Spanish-influenced architecture as an obstacle to an Asian identity. They believe the house-on-stilts to be more Southeast Asian, being more indigenous. The truth is that some of our neighbors long ago shifted to more durable houses, partly in response to urban environments with limited land.

2. Spanish architectural styles, which are many and varied, may have been suited to an urban environment, but not necessarily to a tropical, earthquake-racked environment. Spanish urban styles are the product of a long process reaching back to at least 1000 BC, to Celtiberian towns and urban settlements established by Phoenician and Greek colonists on Spain’s Mediterranean seaboard. With their thick walls of cut stone or brick, and their roof of tile, these dwellings protected against fire. Their rigidity posed no threat in a land where earthquakes were uncommon. Their relatively small windows gave better insulation against cold.

However, these advantages failed them in the Philippines. In 1630, the Augustinian Juan de Medina ([1630] 1903-1909: 242) remarked that Manila was cooler and healthier when the buildings were made of wood, rather than stone, for this allowed the wind to blow through.

3. In 1645, 1658, and 1677, severe earthquakes collapsed Manila’s tall stone dwellings. Following these earthquakes, two contrasting traditions —the Spanish and the indigenous— fused into a major synthesis. A wooden framework to carry the trusses and rafters of the roofwork extended all the way to the ground. Thick stone walls tended to be confined to the first floor, though brick walls were used in the second story for some partitions. Wooden curtain walls enveloped the second story. But these were opened up by an ensemble of three windows. On the exterior transom was an immovable opening (espejo) covered with shell panes. Between the windowsill and the floor sill was another window: the ventanilla, which was protected by a screen or either wooden balusters or a metal grille and by sliding wooden panels.

This Wood-and-Stone style was called arquitectura mestiza by the end of the 17th century, not because it was for mestizos, but because of its mixture of wood and stone (Alcina [1668] 1980). Mestizo, like the English word “mixed”, comes from the Latin word “mixtus”. The new style was one major response to Philippine conditions. However, it is not the only possible response.

Ilocos, particularly Vigan, developed a house, starting probably in the 1970s, that used brick on both stories (Ziálcita 1997A) but had no wooden framework (Manalo 2003). Most likely this was in response to the fire that struck the city in the late 18th century (King 2000). Despite the absence of a wooden framework, the Ilocano All-Brick-House-with-Pilasters has survived the earthquakes that have struck the coast over the past two centuries. During the 20th century, new technologies, such as the embedding metal frameworks in concrete, entered the Philippines. These have opened new possibilities for urban constructions.

When I speak of the Wood-and-Stone house as “Filipino”, I claim that it was a reasonable response at a point in time, given the knowledge and skills then available, to a particular set of environmental challenges that remain with us. Surely it is not the only possible Filipino style. I like the French and the Mexicans as well. I prefer to dwell on their positive contribution to our culture, rather on how indigenous their makers were.

4. Components of the Wood-and-Stone house connect it to other traditions in particular countries. This opens intercultural bridges that should help us when projecting our country.

The house on stilts was widespread among Austronesians (the peoples of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines; some upland peoples in Vietnam like the Jarai), Austroasiatics (Cambodians and most Vietnamese), and the Thais before the entry of Chinese, Indian, Arabic, and Western influences. The irony is that the Wood-and-Stone house of Hispanized Luzón and Visayas exhibits greater continuity with this millennial Southeast Asian tradition than do the one story stone dwellings of Lowland Vietnam, post-Chinese conquest, or of Central Java, post-Majapahit.

The Wood-and-Stone style likewise connects with the several versions of the longhouse that continue to be built in Borneo as houses-on-stilts. A Sundanese graduate of mine from West Java, Budi Gunawan, made a highly significant remark before a print of a 19th century Tagalog Wood-and-Stone house. “It looks like a Bornean longhouse,” he said. The house had a tile roof, it was horizontal in orientation with sliding shell windows, and had a cantilevered wooden second story over a stone first story. I thought he might have been referring to the pronounced horizontal orientation of the Wood-and-Stone house and its use of the second story as opposed to the preference by both Sundanese and Central Javanese for one-story stucco brick dwellings.

But a visit to the Dayak country in the Four Lakes District of Eastern Borneo clarified what he meant. During that visit, another Indonesian student, Martinus Nanang, and myself went to a longhouse that was still in use. The main entrance was on the long side: a log with notches led to a verandah with a series of wooden arches and fretwork. Here was the main door. The two-story house was on stilts with wooden boards for both stories. The roof was of wooden shingles. The house’s ambience was not Javanese. Save for the notched log, the house exterior evoked 19th-century Visayan plantation mansions.

A common feature of houses in the Arabian peninsula, Iraq, and Western India is the screened wooden balcony. The Arabs call it mashrabiyya, also rowshan this three-meter-high balcony is supported by wooden consoles embedded into stone walls protruding 60 cm from the building. It has its own roof; its roof line is decorated with entablature. This balcony protects the occupants’ privacy while permitting the air to circulate through the adjoining room through grilles (Earls 1997A, Earls 1997B, Earls 1997C). The Arabs brought it to Spain where it acquired the ajimez, two windows that share a common column in-between.

The screened wooden balcony acquired a different configuration in the various localities that adopted it in the Hispanic World. According to the Spanish art historian Dorta (1973:403), the screened balcony’s evolution attained its final stage in the galería volada (jutting gallery) of the Filipino house of the Spanish period. It was neither open as in the Caribbean, not closed with lattices as in Lima. Instead, it was enclosed with shell-paned window panels.

The galería volada connects the Philippines not only with Spain and with Spanish America, but likewise with the Near East and India. This hanging gallery became commonplace in Manila by the last decade of the 17th century (Ziálcita and Tinio 1980: 8, 244 ff.). A topic for research should be the routes by which this gallery reached the Philippines. Was it only via Mexico? Or also via Indian merchants who came here during the Galleon Trade?

A particular house type that developed in Java during the Dutch period was the Rumah Gedong. This literally means the “office house”, perhaps because it was originally associated with offices. Unlike the conventional Javanese house, it has two stories: stone below, wood above. It recalls our Wood-and-Stone house except that the windows are different. As is the case throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, the wooden shutters that protect the windows hang from the façade like wings. They open outwards. The window itself is a vertical opening that extends from lintel to the floor and has a protective wooden railing and balusters. It looks like a modified French window.

The Rumah Gedong is widespread in South Sumatran villages near Palembang. Is there any connection between them and our own Wood-and-Stone houses? I do not think the Rumah Gedong influenced the development of the Wood-and-Stone house in 17th-century Manila. Based on existing documents available, the phases in the emergence of the latter do not suggest influences coming from Java. Could it be that the Rumah Gedong may have been influenced by our Wood-and-Stone house? This deserves investigation.

I mention these similarities between our 17th-19th century house and the Rumah Gedong to underline once more that what may seem so “Spanish” and so alien to Southeast Asian converges in fact with parallel developments in the region. Outside Palembang, I did see bamboo-and-thatch houses-on-stilts scattered among the fields. But in towns and even the tiny village where I stayed, the preference was for solid materials which, in the South Sumatran case, meant using stone below and wood above, with a roof of flat tiles.

Finally, there is Chinese-Japanese influence. There were only a few Chinese in Tondo when the Spaniards came in 1570. Their numbers soared to 8,000 by 1600 because the Galleon Trade exchanged Chinese silks and porcelains for highly coveted Mexican silver coins (Scott 1977: 207). Among the Chinese who settled in Manila were artisans. The Galleon Trade also attracted the Japanese who came in, though in smaller numbers.

While Chinese migration has been continuous to the present time, Japanese migration ended in 1624 after the shogun limited foreign contacts (Hedinger 1977). However, after the opening of Japan to world trade in the 19th century, the Japanese began coming again as migrants. Among them were carpenters.

In some Wood-and-Stone houses, the roof’s corner eaves curl upwards. An example is the Constantino house in Balagtás (Bigaá), Bulacán. But the more substantive Chinese-Japanese contribution may be in the framework and the openings. Both Chinese and Japanese use a wooden framework to carry the roof. The Chinese combine this with non-load bearing brick walls (Knapp 1990: 37). The Japanese raise all-wood walls (Yoshida 1954). Moreover, both of them like to expose their beams and pillars, including twisted ones.

While this was also the case in indigenous Filipino tradition, this practice’s persistence in the Wood-and-Stone style may have been encouraged by Chinese-Japanese builders. The use of translucent material as windowpanes may have come in from these northerners that paste rice paper on window frames. In the Philippines, the flat shell of the cápiz, abundant in shallow waters, substituted for paper. Filipino wooden frames use a plain checkerboard pattern. A similar window pattern is universal in Japan, and in some areas in Southeastern China.

The Japanese signature is evident too in that Filipino window panels slide in a sill whereas in China, they push out. Because of these translucent panes, Filipino interiors have a parchment-like glow, which Japanese visitors say recall their own. During the late 19th century, the transforms in the interior partitions were opened with tracery, which permitted more light and air to circulate while providing decoration. These cutwork panels are found in Chinese and Japanese dwellings. Japanese called these ramma. They can feature either fine wooden latticework or a wooden panel with a variety of patterns (Yoshida 1954: 156).

In some Filipino houses, Chinese motifs, like the peony, are present. In others, like the Festejo house in Santa Lucía, Ilocos Sur, the interlocking diamond-shaped frames reveal a Japanese hand. In general, however, the motifs in these cutwork panels are inspired by the Filipino’s preferences, for instance lyres and flowers — poetry and romance. These cutwork panels, though with different motifs, are also found in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Perhaps originally Chinese and Japanese, they create another bridge between us and our neighbors.

The Galleon Trade (1565-1815) was the first trade network to encompass three continents: Asia, the Americas, and Europe. Aside from Chinese goods, products from all over Asia were purchased in Manila with coined Mexican siliver. Traders from other Asian countries came here, bringing ideas as well. For the French economic historian, Pierre Chanau (1960: 18), the Philippines was where cultural currents originating in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and flowing in opposite directions met each other again, for the first time in world history. They also met currents from China and Southeast Asia. The Philippines is thus “the only true end-point of the world” (le seul vrai bout du monde).

The music scholar John Summers (1998: 208, 213) says that Manila’s musical life was truly cosmopolitan. In 1611, entries to a citywide poetry contest were in “Latin, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Basque, Castilian, Mexican, Tagalog, and Visayan”. Non-Spanish dances and Tagalog-speaking residents formed part of the festivities. If I am correct, the story of the hanging gallery further illustrates how globalization became a reality in Manila. The gallery may have come in from two directions, from Mexico and from India and Arabia. Here it met the Austronesian preference for constructing dwellings on piles and the Chinese-Japanese tradition of woodworking, and merged with them.

Local Yet Global

Filipinos find themselves in an international environment where, on the one hand, they are expected to affirm an artistic style that is uniquely theirs. On the other hand, they are expected to show commonalities with their Asian neighbors. We should be careful of discourses on identity that imprison. A more dialectical, rather than a reductionist, approach can better show how the initially foreign can become localized. Imported Spanish traditions in stone construction had to be modified to suit the unstable Philippine floor. A dialectical approach can also disclose paradoxes. Though influenced by a non-Southeast Asian tradition, Filipino houses retain continuities with the Southeast Asian house-on-stilts that traditional Vietnamese and Central Javanese houses do not.

Finally, a dialectical approach is more open to surprises in the empirical data. The cantilevered wooden second story of the Filipino house connects in fact with traditions of both East and West. Because of the Galleon Trade, 17th-century Manila became a meeting place for different cultural currents. The Philippines developed a distinct local, urban style, from the 17th-early 20th centuries, that resonates globally. It continues to do so, as shown by its current success in furniture and furnishings.

Tabuco (Cabuyao, La Laguna)

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After our Santa Rosa Easter Sunday walk, Krystal and I proceeded to nearby Cabuyao town.

A handsome bahay na bató across Saint Polycarp Church's south transept.

A long time ago, the northern part of La Laguna province was once a very huge town. It used to comprise what are now known as San Pedro, Biñán, Santa Rosa, Cabuyao, Rizal’s beloved Calambâ, and perhaps areas of today’s Santo Tomás town in Batangas province. This large lakeshore town was then known as Tabuco (usually spelled as Tabuko).

Like in many parts of the pre-Philippine era, Tabuco was then inhabited by people who originated from Malay nations. When Manila was possessed by Miguel López de Legazpi in 1570, he sent his grandson, Juan de Salcedo, to explore these parts of La Laguna de Bay. But the first indio settlement conquered by capitán de Salcedo was the lake’s eastern portion known today as Taytay and Caintâ in the province of Morong (now Rizal province). Afterwards, he and his men crossed the lake and Acherón at Barrio Pinagsañgahán (now known as Pagsanján, La Laguna). They continued inland and conquered the nearby settlements of Nagcarlán and Majayjay, also in La Laguna.

Since the place was already mountainous, the party of de Salcedo went back to the Lake of Bay (or Ba-í) and continued to conquer the lakeshore’s northern settlements. Later on, they anchored along the shores of Tabuco. Just like the settlement of Bay, the Spaniards discovered that Tabuco had large plains and thick forests. Among them who were knowledgeable with agriculture agreed that Tabuco’s climate was also suitable to farm crops.

On 16 January 1571, Miguel López de Legaspi converted Tabuco into an encomienda or a town under the helm of Gaspar Ramírez. The barrios of Malabanan (Biñán), Santa Rosa, and other territories was placed under the administration of the Tabuco government. The boundary to the north was: San Pedro Tunasán (which was also a part of Tabuco; it is now simply known as San Pedro; Tunasán is now a mere barrio or barangáy of Ciudad de Muntinlupà); to the south was the town of Bay (a stone’s throw away from Los Baños); west was Suñgay (now divided into two barrios of Ciudad de Tagaytay, Cavite: Suñgay del Norte and Suñgay del Sur), and; to the east was the Lake of Bay (or Laguna de Bay).

A couple of years later, the barrios which made up Tabuco became independent from the local central government. Barrio San Pedro (my current residence), for instance, became a separate town on 18 January 1725. Biñán, Santa Rosa, etc. followed suit. All that is left of that local government is what we now know as the Municipality of Cabuyao, the town that is sandwiched by the cities of Santa Rosa and Calambâ.

Up to 1997, the people of Cabuyao celebrated 16 January as their town’s feast day. But former Santo Sepulcro (in Landayan, San Pedro) parish priest Monsignor Jerry Bitoon changed it to 23 February which is the feast day of Saint Polycarp.

Inside a jeepney, on our way to Cabuyao from Santa Rosa (04/04/2010).

A Nestlé Philippines plant along Mahárlica Highway is one of Cabuyao's industrial engines. A dear uncle of mine was a top-ranking manager here before he transferred to Malaysia.

National Road/Mahárlica Highway.

True Brown Style!

When Tabuco was transformed into an encomienda, The Order of Missionaries of the Augustinian Recollects arrived. This is, of course, due to the fact that the receiver of the grant (which, in this case, was Ramírez) had the responsibility to protect the indios from warring tribes (and from warring against each other), to teach them the Spanish language, and to Christianize them. A little later, the Augustinian Recollects handed Tabuco over to the Franciscans.

Like most towns, Cabuyao also has its share of legends as to how its name originated. It is said that when the Franciscans arrived by boat, they saw women washing clothes along the lakeshore. They asked these women the name of the place. Due to language barriers, the ladies thought that the friars were asking for the name of the fruit extract that they were then using to wash their clothes. These fruits were from the nearby cabuyao (or cabullao) trees. And so these unknowing ladies replied “cabuyao” to the friars. Another similar version says that the women thought that the friars were asking for the names of the trees growing around the wharf where they first docked.

In compliance to Spain’s Christianization mission, the friars started building a stone church for the indios in the second half of the 1700s. It was actually the second church to be built since the first one was destroyed by floods and strong waves. The church was finally finished some time in 1771. It was dedicated to Saint Polycarp — bishop, martyr, and titular head of the Catholic Church in Asia.

Thankfully, the church has retained its original feature throughout the years. It is also famous for having the controversial secular priest Father Mariano Gómez of the GómBurZa as its parish priest from 1848 to 1862. Together with the town’s alcalde, José Deasanta Rivera, Fr. Gómez built a cemetery in front of the church on the right side of the tribunal. Eerily, this site is now the home of the Monastery of Saint Clare.

During the American era, The Church of Saint Polycarp was witness to the town’s single bloody event in its history: the Sakdalista attack of 1935. The Sakdalista was an anti-American movement founded by Senate employee Benigno Ramos (the same man who, together with Artemio Ricarte, organized the infamous MAkabayan KAtipunan Ñg Mg̃a PILIpino or Alliance of Philippine Patriots, more popularly known in its abbreviated form MAKAPILI). When Ramos’s opposition to the Tydings-McDuffie Law failed (because he demanded for the Philippines’ absolute independence from imperialist US), his 20,000-strong group attacked 14 towns in various provinces. One of the ill-fated towns was Cabuyao, La Laguna. Today, one can still see bullet marks within the vicinity of the church.

Crossing a road to get to Cabuyao's parish church.

Iglesia de San Policarpo de Esmirna.

Behind the calachuchì.

Shrouded by an acacia tree.

St. Polycarp, the martyred Christian bishop of Smyrna (in parts that is now covered by the Republic of Turkey).

Liceo de Cabuyao, located within the vicinity of the Church of Saint Polycarp.

The church's nave is not that long.

The simple yet appealing altarpiece.

Cupola.

The good news on Easter Sunday (04/04/2010).

A painting of Saint Polycarp being martyred (somebody get rid of that wall clock, hahaha!).

A chapel dedicated to the Saint Polycarp, located inside the church's north transept.

The church's old bell, dating back to the Spanish times. No longer in use due to a crack, it is now on display outside the church. I wasn't able to figure out if it was made by Hilarión Sunico of San Nicolás, Manila because the bell was protected by a steel fence.

At the choirloft.

Church tower.

Krystal just loves church towers!

A wall painting at the choirloft, probably of a saint. I asked the choirmaster who she is, but he didn't know.

A holy water stoup with Spanish inscription.

Krystal with the young choir.

The choirmaster did not allow us to go further up the church tower.

The entrance to the Monastery of Saint Clare fronts the church and the town plaza.

A wide chapel within the monastery grounds.

The town plaza is in front of the monastery and beside the town church.

It's tocayo again.

Only a handful of Antillean houses or bahay na bató is left here in Cabuyao. Fortunately, they are well taken care of by the owners.

Nestlé break. A show of support for Uncle Amador Alas y Évora who helped my family dearly many years ago. =)

I had a hard time taking a picture of this house, whether near...

...or far.

Commercial boon/bane.

Like the UnionBank branch in Santa Rosa whose photo I took, this bahay na bató is now known as Rose Pharmacy.

Going home.

I just love taking pictures of roads (especially the smooth ones) while inside vehicles!

It is sad to note that Cabuyao has somehow lost its touch of rural charm, something that the Philippines is known for, and something which still sparks our generation’s childhood delights and memories. The curse of cityhood is slowly creeping into the municipality. Gone are the large farmlands and thick forests, and its share of the lake is not fit anymore for swimming nor frolic like it used to be in the glory old days of Spanish Philippines. But the unchanging Church of Saint Polycarp and the few remaining bahay na bató still stand as living testaments to this town’s hispanic past.

Saint Rose of The Lagoon (Santa Rosa, La Laguna)

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Much of La Laguna’s towns were Franciscan frontier. But among a handful of its picturesque towns, the now bustling City of Santa Rosa earns the distinction of being a Dominican haven. The hardy Order of Preachers gave it the distinguished name of Santa Rosa, named after that young and beautiful beata from Lima, Perú, Isabel Flores de Oliva (some sources say Isabel de Herrera).

Santa Rosa de Lima por Claudio Coello.

Born on 20 April 1586, her name was changed to Rosa a decade later, owing to a claim that her face miraculously transformed into a rose when she was still a child. Later on, she modeled her life to that of St. Catherine of Siena. And as a testament of her linkage to everything holy, Rosa was confirmed by another blessed hispanic: Turibius of Mongrovejo, the Archbishop of Lima.

Despite being one of the most beautiful women of her time, Rosa was often disturbed by that fact. Surprisingly, she treated her beauty to be a distraction and a magnet for temptation especially since at an early age, she had already decided to give her life only to Christ Jesus. To remedy it, she disfigured her face with pepper and lye! Like other mystics and beatas, she also practised corporal mortification and fasting, focusing her mind to prayer.

It is said that beauty invites temptations, and Rosa was no exception to it. As a woman of exceptional beauty, she did many strange things to ward of temptation — aside from rubbing her face with pepper and lye, she cut off her long hair, did manual labor to make her delicate hands rough, wore coarse clothing, etc. And to finally defeat the temptation to get married, she joined the Third Order of Saint Dominic, thus taking a vow of perpetual virginity.

After a brief life of holiness, the Lord gave her eternal rest on 24 August 1617. Fifty years later, on 15 April 1667, she was beatified by Pope Clement IX and was finally canonized on 12 April 1671 by Pope Clement X. Rose became the first Catholic in the Americas to be declared a saint.

A statue of St. Rose of Lima fronting the parish church of Santa Rosa City, La Laguna province.

The Dominican missionaries who arrived and preached in Barrio Bucol of Tabuco (later to be known as Cabuyao), La Laguna brought with them the Peruvian saint’s memory and legacy. And when the said barrio separated from Tabuco some time in the late 1600s, it was renamed after Saint Rose of Lima. But the municipality itself was formally founded on 15 January 1792.

Today, Santa Rosa is a bustling first-class city, proud of bearing the nickname “The Investment Capital of South Luzón” due to its many multinational companies and industrial estates, popular malls, as well as high-end residential communities. It is also the home of the world-class Enchanted Kingdom, a 17-hectare theme park.

Truly, this once picturesque Hispanic town –once tinged with pastoral scenes of fresh farmlands, cool forested areas, and a crystal-clear Laguna de Bay– has gone a long way. Sadly, the “curse” of cityhood which sprang forth from nearby Metro Manila (air pollution, congestion, greed and criminality, etc.) has crept up. Nevertheless, Santa Rosa still has retained vestiges of its former beauty through its remaining Antillean houses which still stand around the handsome old church of Santa Rosa de Lima.

Here are the pictures which I took of Santa Rosa’s oldest parts last Easter Sunday (04/04/2010) with my daughter Krystal.

The Santa Rosa Arch.

Iglesia de Santa Rosa de Lima.

Gusaling Museo.

Santa Rosa de Lima Parish Church, since 1792.

A jampacked Easter Sunday mass.

An image of St. Rose (holding an infant Jesus) of Lima, Perú. The town (now a city) of Santa Rosa was named after her.

Paintings of apostles at the ceiling of the church's west transept.

The handsome retablo.

Paintings of the four gospel (New Testament) chroniclers underneath the cupola.

Young choir singers behind Krystal (by the east transept).

Gravestones in Spanish. Gravestones are a usual sight inside old Philippine churches. They are installed inside the sidewalls in honor of a church's patron/donor.

At the choirloft. Many choirlofts today are no longer used for what they are supposed to be.

Inside the churchtower. I was hoping that perhaps renowned metallurgist Hilarión Sunico, who lived during the Spanish times, cast those bells. Krystal and I found out that he actually did, and that they are still in use after all these years!!!

Sunico's bell overlooking the town and the lake yonder.

More or less 75% of church bells inside old Philippine churches were cast in Sunico's home in Calle Jaboneros, San Nicolás, Manila.

Unafraid of heights!

The old municipio, now a museum.

Casa Zavalla.

Casa Zavalla.

Casa Tiongco.

Casa Perla.

Another Zavalla house.

Pahiñgá muna. =) But hey, do you see another bahay na bató casualty in the background? Adding insult to injury, campaign posters were posted on the exterior walls. Talk about double murder! Anyway, I think those Langháp Saráp peeps should pay me for this photo. Seriously!

And yes, UnionBank should pay me too, LOL!!!

But seriously, this UnionBank branch should be commended for preserving this bahay na bató. Good job, folks!

Casa Gonzales. This was the home of Basilio Gonzales, a local Katipunan leader who successfully invaded the townhall in 29 May 1898, eventually becoming the leader of the town until the American invaders arrived. What goes around comes around.

What a travesty. But that carving over the gate...

...what does it mean? Cornucopia?

That electrical post is an eyesore. So much for city planning.

An old house with another queer symbol on top of it.

SM City Santa Rosa.

Here’s hoping that the city government of Santa Rosa will also strongly focus on its town’s namesake (and how come it is not a sister city of Lima, Perú?). Although the city bears no roses nor beatas, its holy name still evokes its holy Dominican origins. Aside from Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Saint Rose of Lima is also the Philippines’ patron saint. And may that fact bring around a multifaith sentiment among the people of Santa Rosa City.

Biñán is in the heart (Biñán, La Laguna)

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Indians brought their game-cocks to be admired, but we did not encourage the display of their warlike virtues. There was much firing of guns, and a pyrotechnic display when the sun had gone down, and a large fire balloon, bearing the inscription, “The people of Biñán to their illustrious visitors,” was successfully inflated, and soaring aloft, was lost sight of in the distance, but was expected to tell the tale of our arrival to the Magidenne in Manila Bay. Biñán is a place of some importance. In it many rich mestizos and Indians dwell. It has more than 10,000 inhabitants. Large estates there are possessed by the Dominican friars, and the principal of them was among our earliest visitors. There, as elsewhere, the principalia, having conducted us to our headquarters, came in a body to present their respects, the gobernadorcillo, who usually speaks Spanish, being the organ of the rest. Inquiries about the locality, thanks for the honours done us, were the commonplaces of our intercourse, but the natives were always pleased when ” the strangers from afar” seemed to take an interest in their concerns. Nowhere did we see any marks of poverty; nowhere was there any crowding, or rudeness, or annoyance, in any shape. Actors and spectators seemed equally pleased; in fact, our presence only gave them another holiday, making but a small addition to their regular and appointed festivals. Biñán is divided by a river, and is about a mile from the Laguna. Its streets are of considerable width, and the neighbouring roads excellent. Generally the houses have gardens attached to them; some on a large scale. They are abundant in fruits of great variety. Rice is largely cultivated, as the river with its confluents affords ample means of irrigation. The lands are usually rented from the Dominicans, and the large extent of some of the properties assists economical cultivation. Until the lands are brought into productiveness, little rent is demanded, and when they become productive the friars have the reputation of being liberal landlords and allowing their tenants to reap large profits. It is said they are satisfied with one-tenth of the gross produce. A tenant is seldom disturbed in possession if his rent be regularly paid. Much land is held by associations or companies known by the title of ‘Casamahanes.’ There is an active trade between Biñán and Manila. -Sir John Bowring-

My son Jefe looking at the busy Biñán town plaza during his third birthday a few months ago (01/13/2010). The Alberto Mansion is obscured --nay, VANDALIZED-- by colossal political campaign ads. Will Jefe and his siblings ever see this house again?

“When’s your next travel to Biñán, man?”

This Arnaldo guy never fails to tease me in this manner whenever he urges me to travel. It’s because he has traveled to many parts of the country: Luzón, the Visayan islands, and Mindanáo. My record is a measly one compared to his — I’ve only traveled mostly in and around the La Laguna provinces, and most of those travels were in Biñán.

What’s with Biñán, anyway? =)

I dunno. But Biñán is in the heart. It reminds my wife Yeyette of its public market’s bargain prices, and of Barrio Canlalay’s garden plants and flowers for sale, and of course, the famous puto biñán. For me, it reminds me of its rich history and culture when the Philippines was still an overseas Spanish province. It reminds me of the town’s sector de mestizos filled with grand Antillean houses or bahay na bató, of the incorruptible Santa Filomena de Almarínez, and of the Rizal connection. And the best part of it is that it is just beside our current home, San Pedro Tunasán, the sampaguita capital of the Philippines.

All of my visits in that municipio-turned-city were mostly unplanned, such as the first one in 2004. Napagcátuwaan lang naming mag-asawa. That is when I first saw the Alberto ancestral house. I fell in love with it immediately. That is why it is devastating and heartrending to hear about this historic house’s impending doom. Its sale to controversial businessman Jerry Acuzar created quite a stir within cultural and historical circles.

The townhall of the then Municipality of Biñán. I recently learned that by virtue of last year's Republic Act 9740, this historic municipio is now a city. But its cityhood does not even manifest in itself.

Somewhere along this river, Rizal used to swim and frolic during his youth. He even almost drowned here when a naughty cousin of his pushed him on its deeper parts. Sometimes, I wonder what would he feel if he sees this river again in its polluted state. To the people of Biñán: congratulate yourselves for a job well done!

Another old house almost as big as the Alberto's. It stands across the Alberto Mansion at the town/city plaza. Soon, it will be another casualty of cultural and historical ignorance, and I will not even be surprised when that happens.

It is as if a heavenly light that rainy afternoon (11/04/2009) was bidding the Alberto Mansion to come up to the heavens.

THE SAGA OF THE ALBERTO ALONSO ANCESTRAL HOUSE

From where I sit, the status of Teodora Alonso’s ancestral home remains unclear: will it continue staying where it has been standing for centuries or not? The last time I heard, the sale of the Alberto Mansion to Mr. Acuzar will still push through despite the valiant efforts of Dr. Rosauro “Bimbo” Sta. María and the United Artists for Cultural Conservation and Development, City of Biñán, Inc. (UACCD), to save it from being dismantled (“demolished” is what they call it) and transported to the businessman’s Bataán resort. In his Facebook account, the good doctor seemed to confirm that the good fight is indeed over; he wrote an emotional letter to the members of the UACCD, and its title: PAALAM BAHAY ALBERTO!. A part of that letter read:

To keep the Alberto House in situ would mean at least ₱150,000,000 to buy the property, restore, and maintain it for the next five years. Adaptive reuse can be in the form of a museum, but will take time for it to become self-liquidating. Neither the City nor the National Government have this enough money for a single purpose.

Finis es?

*******

Whether or not this house is related to national hero José Rizal is beside the point. It has been part and parcel of Biñán for hundreds of years, alongside other historic Antillean houses. Moreover, this same house was visited by a famous foreign dignitary at that time: Sir John Bowring (1792-1872), the fourth Governor of Hong Kong. In his A Visit to the Philippine Islands, he wrote the following about the Alberto Mansion:

The roads are generally good on the borders of the Laguna, and we reached Biñán before sunset, the Indians having in the main street formed themselves in procession as we passed along. Flags, branches of flowering forest trees, and other devices, were displayed. First we passed between files of youths,then of maidens; and through a triumphal arch we reached the handsome dwelling of a rich mestizo, whom we found decorated with a Spanish order, which had been granted to his father before him. He spoke English, having been educated at Calcutta, and his house —a very large one— gave abundant evidence that he had not studied in vain the arts of domestic civilization. The furniture, the beds, the tables, the cookery, were all in good taste, and the obvious sincerity of the kind reception added to its agreeableness. Great crowds were gathered together in the square which fronts the house of Don José Alberto.

Inside the patio of the controversial Alberto residence. This is the house's zaguán where the Alberto's carromatas and horse-drawn carriages were kept. It now serves as a decrepit bodega.

At the patio.

What was once a beautiful garden is now an untidy heap of woebogone structures.

The patio stairway from another angle.

The stone escalera from the patio leading towards where the azotea and cocina are.

There are actually two zaguanes in the Alberto patio. The zaguán, in a way, is today's equivalent of a car garage.

The empty side of this house was burned several years ago in a fire accident. The other side has since been converted to a grocery store. I wonder: if Jerry Acuzar successfully acquires the Alberto Mansion, how would he figure out the way this house looked like in its original state when he rebuilds it in his Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar?

An odd, unaesthetic mix of old and new: centuries-old stone blocks with modern concrete masonry units (or hollow blocks).

An intricate arch which survived the centuries. Will it continue surviving?

The main entrance is not through this door but at the stairway to the left.

Cápiz shells were often used as squared window panes in wooden ventana panels. This is a usual trademark of a genuine bahay na bató.

I forgot who this lady in the portrait was, but Arnaldo still remembers that she's none other than José Alberto's allegedly adulterous wife. It was said that she was the cause of Teodora Alonso's arrest and imprisonment.

The spacious caída.

The now messy balcón overlooking the town plaza.

The door yonder (behind the staircase) leads to the main part of the house which eventually burned a couple of years ago. What was saved has been converted to Gerry Alberto's small office.

A glimpse of the Biñán's public market.

¡Totoy na totoy!

Arnaldo sitting in front of José Alberto's portrait. Notice the Orden de Isabel la Católica hanging on Alberto's chest.

A view of the now cemented patio from the antesala.

Techo (ceiling).

Only a few remaining Antillean houses / bahay na bató today sport a red-tiled rooftop.

Sunlight entering a doomed house. Or is it really doomed? Heaven forbid such a travesty to happen...

The same stairway which John Bowring ascended.

Then as now, great crowds still gather together in the square which fronts this house. The only difference is that today, this throng is composed mostly of uncaring, nonchalant, and uncultured individuals. And many of them are local government officials.

As I’ve written early this month, Arnaldo and I had the opportunity to meet Gerardo “Gerry” Alberto last 11/04/2009, a direct descendant of José Alberto, an uncle of the national hero. He confirmed to us that indeed he was selling the house to a businessman. He even handed out to me a photocopied document of an email conversation between a relative of his (one of his nieces, if memory serves right) and Ambeth Ocampo regarding the impending sale of the house to Acuzar, back then an unknown person to me. Unfortunately, that paper is still missing in my library, and I’ve completely forgotten what exactly the conversation was all about.

Arnaldo and I were troubled to hear about Gerry’s plan. Too bad we did not have any right at all to convince him to change his mind. In a recent TV interview, he was correct when he said that his ancestral house is private property — it is his property. He’s paid his (real estate) taxes religiously. Thus, he can do anything he wants with it: desecrate it, enshrine it, turn it into a casino, a gay bar, a school, a private zoo, a museum, sell it, anything that pleases him. And all cultural groups and “concerned” politicians can kiss his Fil-hispanic tuckus.

But Arnaldo and I know something that many Biñenses do not know: if only Gerry had the money to maintain the house of his ancestors, he would have kept it. End of story. Furthermore, he told us that he once asked some monetary assistance from the then Municipality of Biñán, but nothing came out of it. But of course, local governments did not have any money to shell out just to help maintain the house.

So what’s all the fuss these past few weeks among local government officials of Biñán as well as other concerned groups? All of a sudden, we see them on national TV and in dailies, protesting what many of them imply to be Gerry’s historical crime against their city? But where were they when Gerry needed their help?

¿Palagui na lang báng ganitó ang mga Filipino? Abá, cumiquilos lang tayo capág hulí ná ang lahát. Qué divertido.

It should be noted that Gerry no longer lives in that house but somewhere else in Metro Manila (again, that decision of his is none of our business). Of what use should it be whenever he shells out money to maintain a house that technically no longer serves him? The guy’s just being practical. In today’s deprived economic milieu, where inflation never stops harassing even the monetary giants of the world, no person in his right mind would continue financing an already abandoned and deteriorating house. Gerry may have lots of money, but he’s not wealthy (to use financial adviser Francisco Colayco’s context). Put yourselves in his shoes, dear readers.

Do not be mistaken, though. I do not intend to be his apologist. During my many visits to his ancestral house, I met Gerry only once. We’re not friends. I am just trying to make a rational point out of all this brouhaha. The point is, none of this debacle would have happened if everybody acted much earlier.

When news broke out that the house’s dismantling had already started, and that protests against it commenced, I let out a silent, sickening chuckle filled with resentment and loathing towards the people of Biñán. Why why why is it that there is no end to this kind of stupidity…?

So, when I saw the pitiful state of the house again more than a month after killer typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng unleashed their fury all over the capital and its surrounding environs, deep down inside –MUCH TO MY MOST BITTERREGRET–, I thought it was best to take care of the house elsewhere where it will be safe…

Arnaldo and I revisited Biñán together last 11/04/2009, nearly two months after Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng wreaked havoc in Luzón.

Dirty, unkempt, deprived of care, but still standing proudly across the ages...

Entrance to the patio.

Arnaldo with Gerry Alberto, a great grandson of José Alberto, Rizal's uncle.

Parts of the house haven't dried up yet due to the recent killer typhoons.

The cápiz shells in the window panels were rapidly deteriorating.

Rainwater seeped into the house. The interiors are no longer safe for future typhoons.

A view of the town plaza (including the San Isidro Labrador Church at the left) from the Alberto house.

Everytime I see this portrait of José Alberto, it gets worse. It was slightly damaged by rainwater caused by Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.

Don Zoilo Alberto and his bride (Gerry's parents). Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera had the chance to meet him many years ago. He described Don Alberto as a true Filipino of the old school. Even this portrait was damaged by typhoon rains.

Downstairs.

Un arcoiris -- ¿habrá una esperanza para este caserón histórico?

Gerry Alberto, moi, et Arnaldo Arnáiz.

RIZAL’S SCHOOL

Here’s another reason why I deplore Biñenses: the sad fate of Rizal’s school

Historically, Biñán is best known as the place where Rizal had his primary education under maestro Justiniano Cruz y Aquino.

Take a look at the hut now where Rizal spent some of his school days in Biñán. When my family visited this place in 2004, it was already fragile but still standing. We even had the opportunity to go inside. Why did Biñenses allow this to happen?

I first visited this nipa hut school in 2004. It was situated inside the huge garden of, if I remember right, the Jacobo Gonzales ancestral house (which is along Calle Gonzales, the area which was called sector de mestizos during Spanish times). Thanks to my wife’s insistence, we were allowed entry but never really got to talk with the owner. We were with Krystal and Momay (they were just two back then). We were so fortunate to have entered the premises because a few years later, When Typhoon Milenyo attacked the Philippines, maestro Justiniano Cruz’s school was to become but a stack of woods. Too bad we did not have any camera during that unplanned visit.

The hut was already on the brink of ruin when I first saw it. I was able to talk to the caretaker. He said that many people –tourists, students (mostly from UP), and conservationists– have visited the place. They took not only photos but videos of the place. Some even promised monetary assistance to help maintain it. But nothing came out of those promises.

Typhoon Milenyo gave it a deathly blow in 2006. Nobody ever cared about the school anymore. Not even historical conservationists. Not even the incredible local government.

A SEPULCHRAL DISCOVERY

Walking towards the national road on our way home from the Alberto Mansion (during our 11/04/2009 visit), we came across a queer discovery: a 19th-century structure that is either a chapel or a mausoleum…

We just chanced upon this old structure on our way home. I am still not sure if it's a chapel or a mausoleum. Around this structure is a small cemetery.

This chapel (or mausoleum) has been standing here since 1853!

And then, we saw these…

We inadvertently found the tombs of Gerry's parents!

A tomb in Spanish, housing the remains of a certain Macario Marco, possibly a family member of Gerry Alberto's mother.

Hours earlier, as I was browsing over boxes containing old stuff from the Alberto past, I came across a passport owned by a certain Pilar Alberto (Gerry’s mom?). And then hours later, we saw her tomb. Weird/creepy coincidence? Arnaldo kidded that perhaps the souls of the Alberto’s of yore were sending us a message to help them preserve their house.

For all we know…

NUESTRA SEÑORA DE LA PAZ Y BUENVIAJE

Here is another Biñense blunder: the total renovation of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage Parish Church located in Barrio de la Paz. It’s now altered beyond recognition. For what? Because it looked old?

An undated old photo of the Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje chapel, possibly taken either during the last years of the Spanish era or during the early years of the American invasion of the Philippines.

Right after the unnecessary facelift, taken several years ago (courtesy of BJ Borja).

Unknown to many, this is the old chapel where Rizal used to frequent. It was heavily renovated and modernized, much to a historian's chagrin. This should have never happened, because changing the whole feature of any historic or heritage site is tantamount to desecration. It should have just been maintained and well taken care of. Again, why did Biñenses allow this architectural desecration to happen?

The retablo.

An image of La Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción, the patron saint of the Philippines.

The image of the Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good/Safe Voyage). Although the chapel --now a parish church-- was heavily renovated, the parish priest we spoke with when this photo was taken (03/28/2008) said that this image is still the original.

A close-up of the image.

For posterity! =)

This chapel –now a church– was one of Rizal’s favorite places in Biñán. In his diary, he wrote that during his last days in Biñán, he usually walked from his place to this church (a chapel back then) to pray most of the time. Why bypass the town church (San Isidro Labrador) which was nearer to where he stayed in Biñán? Why walk several meters just to pray to that faraway chapel? We surmise that this holy place had a special affinity to Rizal’s heart because his mother, Teodora Alberto Alonso, was a devotee of Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje in Antipolo, Morong (now called Rizal province). It should be remembered that a young Rizal once traveled to that church in Antipolo with his dad in order to fulfill his mom’s promise when he was still in her womb. And during his homesick days in Biñán, he somehow felt at home in this chapel which is the namesake of that other historic church in Antipolo which was also close to Doña Teodora Alonso’s religious heart and soul.

Today, not even a historical marker can be found in this equally historic site. And worse, if Rizal were to be transported to our era on a time machine, he would have been horrified by the altered unaesthetic look of one of his favorite haunts as a child.

IGLESIA DE SAN ISIDRO LABRADOR

Iglesia de San Isidro Labrador, Población, Ciudad de Biñán, La Laguna.

All photos of this church were taken last 11/04/2009

The church's Eucharistic Adoration Chapel.

May God forgive me, but somehow this triangular symbol gives me an eerie feeling that it is somewhat... Masonic...

The handsome altarpiece.

Among the donors of this church, we've already personally met two: Adelaida Yatco (a friend of another friend, Mayor Calixto Catáquiz of nearby San Pedro Tunasán) and Gerry Alberto.

MY FINAL VISIT TO BIÑÁN

The following photos were taken during my son Jefe’s third birthday (we did not bring Juanito because he was still an infant):

Jefe's third birthday in Jollibee, Biñán.

My family enters the mansion -- for one last time...

Ascent through time...

Time space warp!!!

¡Mi mujer linda!

My family within the eerie shadows of the Alberto house's foreboding doom...

The first time I visited this place with my family was a Sunday. And I still had only two kids. We were not able to go inside because it is open only on weekdays. Jefe’s birthday was a Monday, thus we were able to come in; Gerry was not available that time, but his secretaries still recognized me.

I happily toured my family inside. Most of the furniture were kept inside one of the big rooms; it appeared that preparations were all underway for an imminent demolition (some of the tambays downstairs and even the secretaries did confirm that). I explained to Yeyette and Krystal that it could be the last time that we’d be able to relish this piece of history in Biñán. It saddened us all.

*******

What can we learn about all of this?

Arnaldo couldn’t have put it more perfectly on his blog when he reacted to what had happened to Rizal’s school:

Here in Biñán, I found the perfect example of how our government has failed to restore and promote our national treasures. We are not being unfair with the historical giants, but to our very own children. Only in pictures will we be able to share to them what Rizal’s old school looks like.

And I couldn’t agree less.

But in fairness to Biñenses, this kind of travesty does not happen in Biñán alone (it just so happens that right now, their hometown is the center of all this unwanted attention). Almost everywhere in the Philippines, the same dookie happens. Irritatingly, concerned individuals react only when the death blow is about to strike.

Who is to be blamed?

I say, EVERYBODY in Biñán is to be blamed.

We have already tackled Gerry’s plight. According to him, he was just compelled to sell his house, implying that he had no more money to maintain a house that he no longer uses. But earlier this month, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) issued a statement on its website:

NHCP on ALBERTO HOUSE

1. The NHCP exhausted all possible means to convince the owner (Gerardo Alberto) to retain and preserve his property (the Alberto House) in its original setting in Biñán, Laguna, and to prevent its eventual demolition.

2. Two or three years ago, the NHI coordinated with Mr. Alberto on several schemes it prepared for the structure’s rehabilitation and adaptive reuse. The structure was already in a bad state of conservation, and deterioration and material losses were getting worse. The rehabilitation and adaptive re-use of the house were not pushed through by the owner for reasons beyond the control of the government.

3. The NHI prepared guidelines and recommendatory measures for the preservation of the Alberto House. These were forwarded to Mr. Alberto.

4. Several meetings had already been conducted at the Alberto House among the owner/s, Biñán local officials, Ms. Gemma Cruz, the design consultant, and NHI officials and technical staff. The owner/s repeatedly explained his/their plans for the old house and what assistance can be provided by the government if their house is declared a Historical Landmark or a Heritage House. Otherwise, Mr. Alberto reiterated that he is already quite old, and the decision that would serve the family’s best interest should be made soonest.

5. Before the controversy, the local government of Biñán was not interested in the preservation of the Alberto House. It signified its protest to the owner when it came to know that the Alberto family had already committed the transfer (dismantling and reconstruction) of the house from Biñan to Bagac, Bataan.

6. For so many years, the Municipality of Biñán allowed the proliferation of makeshift structures around the house, thus obliterating the majestic view of the old structure. If they considered the house as an important Landmark and part of their heritage, why did they not attempt to clear the area for visitors to appreciate the structure?

7. In 2004, the NHI Board approved in principle the installation of a historical marker for the house. NHI wrote Mr. Alberto regarding the proposed marker, and stipulated his compliance for the removal of obstructive and unsightly signage at the ground floor façade. The marker was not installed since Mr. Alberto did not react very positively to the conditions set by NHI.

8. The Alberto House is a private property. The Alberto family does not want the government declaration because now, the Bagac deal best serves the family’s interests and needs.

9. The Alberto House is not a declared National Historical Landmark nor a Heritage House because of its bad state of conservation (less than 70% authenticity), the owner’s non-acceptance of any declaration and installation of a historical marker, and his refusal to donate the property to the government (local or national).

10. The house cannot be 435 years old as claimed, having been built in 1575. The construction method of the original house used cut nails made of steel. Steel was first used in Europe during the Industrial Revolution. Therefore, the Alberto House could have been constructed between the late 1700s to early 1800s. The year 1575 may have referred to the family escutcheon, as the original owner’s father was decorated with a Spanish order during that time.

11. As time drags on, the Alberto House continues to deteriorate and accumulate damages, thus lessening the historical value and conservation opportunities of the structure. If no intervention/maintenance efforts are made, the house will certainly be totally lost.

12. It is not necessarily true and apropos to automatically declare any or all structures 50 years old or more an Important Cultural Property, a National Historical Landmark, or a Heritage House without passing through the established criteria. It will be very much prejudicial to the significance/quality of the structures/artifacts of historical or cultural importance, and to the best practices in selecting nationally-significant historical and cultural heritage.

13. A personal heritage may not necessarily be another person’s heritage; a family’s heritage may not necessarily be another family’s heritage; a community’s heritage may not be another community’s heritage… But we can have a national heritage whereby all citizens can claim the right to preserve and protect it. Likewise, in a world heritage, all peoples in the world have the right to preserve and protect it regardless of race, religion or ideology.

14. Some residents of Biñán approached NHI, asking if there is still a way to prevent the planned transfer of the Alberto House to Bagac. Architect Reynaldo A. Inovero advised them that if there would be any offer to fully restore the Alberto House for the family, and a place for the family’s proposed commercial establishment, perhaps the interested party can approach the Alberto family and make this proposal. Otherwise, there is no better alternative to the Bagac transfer in terms of the owner’s advantage.

15. The term used by heritage advocates is the “demolition” (Demolition of 200-year-old home of Rizal mom stopped, PDI, June 2, 2010). The correct term is dismantling, in order for the house to be transferred to Bagac. NHI does not advocate the destruction of any structure. We consider all options for a structure’s preservation, including compromises.

16. The one disadvantage of the transfer of the house to Bagac is Biñán losing one of its most important historical structures.

7 June 2010

It is hard to dispute the logic set forth by the NHCP on its statement regarding the Alberto house debacle. However, item 7 may put more heat on Gerry Alberto. It said that a few years ago, he did not react positively to the conditions set by NHCP (then known as the National Historical Institute) with regards to the installation of a historical marker for the house. What was that negative reaction all about? Here was perhaps a chance to save his house. But he apparently blew it.

ACUZAR

Acuzar then enters the picture. He has been painted by popular blogger Ivan Henares as a heartless and greedy sonofagun, shopping for cute Antillean houses that he can transfer to his seaside resort in Bagac, Bataán. Acuzar’s got good intentions, says some. He is, after all, gunning for old heritage structures that are no longer being taken care of, as is the case of the Alberto ancestral house. Rather than let it fall apart on its own, shouldn’t we rather see it safe and sound and intact, albeit in another location? Yes, it will hurt all of us lovers of heritage, culture, and history to see such architectural gems dismantled from their original sites just to be transferred to a money-making resort. But as what the NHCP said, the Bagac transfer is the only viable option right now to save what is left of the house. My museum idea is another option, but nobody would buy it.

Oh, did I say Acuzar had good intentions? Yeah. And as some clever wags say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions…”

Indeed, if Acuzar wants to play philanthropist and/or culture hero, and if he is indeed deeply concerned on saving heritage structures, why not just donate the money to Gerry Alberto? Well, that would have been crazy. So think logically: no capitalist in his sane mind would ever want to do that. Acuzar, therefore is no financial saint. In “saving” the Alberto home, he also has to consider that act as an investment. Not just for “pogi” points, but for money points in the future.

According to fellow Círculo Hispano-Filipino member, Prof. Fernando Ziálcita, Ph. D., when Acuzar acquired the Enríquez Mansion in Quiapò, Manila, he also bought its lot. And what happened to that lot? A condominium now stands in place of the mansion! Professor Ziálcita has more to add about this:

Well, the first two ground stories form an arcade over the sidewalk. But there was no serious intent to copy closely the original look. The cornice juts out exaggeratedly in a very clumsy way. The arcade pillars of reinforced concrete now have grey, adobe garments whereas originally they were round, lime-covered, white Tuscan columns. And the arcade now serves as parking for the cars of the residents rather than as a walk-through for pedestrians.

No alternative traffic plan has been provided by him for a street that has five (5) jeepney terminals and that is always clogged at almost all hours.

Indeed, whoever approved of this condominium is today a rich man.

Aside from the fact that this condominium defies the already-worse vehicular traffic, it can also prove Acuzar’s greed. Why? He bought the age-old Enríquez Mansion not just to “save” it from Calle Hidalgo’s urban jungle but to build this money-making machine called a condominium.

So, where’s the love, Mr. Acuzar?

UNITED ARTISTS FOR CULTURAL CONSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT, City of Biñán, Inc.

And now we have Dr. Bimbo Sta. María and the UACCD to contend with.

The whole country, and perhaps the whole of Biñán, first heard of this group only when the dismantling began of the Alberto house. But where were they before this tragedy happened? Why protest at this late hour? They’ll be quick to defend that their group just started early this year (March, if I’m not mistaken). But still, the dismantling started early this month. And if they again defend themselves that they were not privy to the Alberto-Acuzar deal beforehand, then –again– what’s with the late protestations?

Better late than never? Not quite enough. I’ve been a student activist in college, having attended several protest rallies myself. And none of them achieved anything at all except, perhaps, solidarity among the student youth going against the powers-that-be. But really, that is all what it is. All protest rallies are virtually useless and inutile except if it transforms into a rebellion such as what had happened in EDSA more than nine years ago.

Days after the dismantling of the Alberto house began (which was immediately and unceremoniously halted by the city hall), the UACCD organized “WELGA: Isang Gabi ng Dula, Awitan, Sayawan, Atbp.” on the evening of the 9th of June. It was held at the town plaza, right in front of the troubled mansion. It showcased various cultural activities courtesy of the UACCD and other artistic individuals. But do most of these kids actually know what they’re doing? The disenchanted are correct: protesting in the streets is perhaps a “fashionable” thing to do. People will think of these kids as heroes, and that is exactly what these kids wanted the people to think of them.

Using the Alberto Mansion troubles, was the WELGA, therefore, organized to formally catapult the UACCD into prominence, given that this group was founded just a few months ago?

Doctor Sta. María’s advocacy may be true and pure. How about the people around him? How about the members of the UACCD? Their WELGA is a powerless show, whether or not the number of those who attended were big, whether or not it was in a festive mood (it shouldn’t have been festive; it should have been angry). It’s not about how many attended that night; it’s about the advocacy. How sure is Dr. Sta. María about the sincerity of all his young members who strutted their stuff on stage during their p(r)etty WELGA? Their dances and poems and stuff were no match against greed and apathy.

Gerry and Jerry must have been laughing their @$$e$ off in amusement during that night (“those crazy kids oughta be drinking their milk and sayin’ their prayers already,” they must’ve been thinking). That is one reason why I didn’t join that protest rally. It’s virtually useless. Money had already exchanged hands. That is why the dismantling already began.

I reiterate (counting from experience and years of observation): most, if not all (and that is a big IF), protest rallies are but a comedic sham. It is another product of democracy which is, in turn, a product of imperialist US.

I’d rather join a revolution.

*******

The UACCD might answer me back: “so did your writing/ranting about this issue fared better than ours?”

I admit: it did not save the Alberto House. It is because no powerful dude who read what I wrote listened nor even bothered to take it seriously. I do not wish to say that my suggestion to convert the Alberto Mansion into a money-making museum to save it from being uprooted from Biñán is the only smart solution. But at any given moment, it is a viable solution, nonetheless.

I wrote too late, too. Yeah. But, frankly speaking, I should not even be troubling myself with all this. I’m not a Biñense for crying out loud. But that is where, modesty aside, my sincerity and concern (and disappointment) comes in. What about you, people of Biñán? Many years ago, my friend, the great scholar and Filipinologist, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, took pictures of your then town’s old houses in its sector de mestizos, fearing that one day, they’d be gone. He published those photos in his now defunct Spanish newspaper, Nueva Era. Fast forward to today, and his fears came into fruition. Look at what happened to Rizal’s school. To the church in Barrio de la Paz. The Yaptinchay Mansion. And many others that are now deteriorating. Arnaldo has written a couple of blogposts about the Alberto Mansion in the past, particularly its impending demise. And he was right, too.

Again, if nobody listened to the three of us because we’re not as popular as Ambeth Ocampo or Ivan Henares, or perhaps people think that we have no substantial things to say, then that is no longer our problem. And again, we’re not from Biñán. Cayá mahiyá namán ang dapat mahiyâ.

Besides, if nobody listened to the NHCP’s suggestions, who’d listen to a mere blogger? The likes of me are but products of an irritating and stupid society.

*******

Mahiyá namán ang dapat mahiyâ. Hmmm… At this juncture, it is virtually useless to point an accusing finger to anybody. The damage has been done. But items 5 and 6 of the NHCP’s statement regarding the Alberto Mansion just couldn’t stop me from ranting out my angry disappointment:

5. Before the controversy, the local government of Biñán was not interested in the preservation of the Alberto House. It signified its protest to the owner when it came to know that the Alberto family had already committed the transfer (dismantling and reconstruction) of the house from Biñan to Bagac, Bataan.

6. For so many years, the Municipality of Biñán allowed the proliferation of makeshift structures around the house, thus obliterating the majestic view of the old structure. If they considered the house as an important Landmark and part of their heritage, why did they not attempt to clear the area for visitors to appreciate the structure?

If we are to publicly behead all the culprits of this sickening psychodrama, we should look no further. Or, in the case of the Alberto Mansion, it should look no further. The culprits are just across the street.

Yep. Biñán’s caboodle of shiny shoed politicians should be figuratively burned at the stake (burning them literally is not a bad idea, too). The dirty trail leads to their inept offices. Anyway, one does not have to rely on the NHCP’s statement — just take a look at the house’s façade and surroundings in some of the photos above, and you’ll see these politicians’ dirty work.

Oh, I’m suddenly reminded of WWE wrestler Kane’s usual pronouncement to his foes: “Burn in hell!”

*******

So that is it. I will never ever return to Biñán, for it will only break my heart to see the población without its crown jewel, the Alberto Mansion (its absence in the población even gave me nightmares, seriously). Its polluted river, its helter-skelter streets, the rogue people on its grimy and littered streets, the worsening condition of its many Antillean houses, the disagreeable façade of the Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje, and the sickening fate of Justiniano Cruz’s nipa hut school are the reasons why I do not want to go back. Not even puto biñán will make me go back there. I can buy some here in San Pedro.

But Biñán is still in the heart. Will always remain.

I am referring to old Biñán, still pure, still virginal, without any vestige of the American Dream. What we have now is a horrible shell of its former self.

Old Biñán will forever be etched in my heart. And that is the town that I will revisit…

¡Paalam, Casa Alberto! Hindí ca namin malílimutan. Nawá'y mahabág ang casaysayan sa mga waláng pusong lumapastañgan sa'yó...

Update on the Alberto Mansion of Biñán

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Is Gerry Alberto’s house going to be declared a heritage/historical site? Stay tuned…

Biñán City officials are hoping to prevent the loss of one of the city’s famous landmarks – the 200-year-old ancestral home of Jose Rizal’s mother – to a resort owner in Bataan by converting the historic property into a local heritage site. “Ang first step namin under the new law is to declare a property na parang local heritage site na mayroon siyang connection sa isang bayan,” said Biñán vice mayor Walfredo Dimaguila. The plan will not only salvage the structure, but also the history cradled inside its four walls. Once declared a heritage site, the property can no longer be transferred or put to other uses, Dimaguila said in the GMA News report. GMA News.TV

The Alberto Mansion debacle

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Architecture is another form of language. -Guillermo Gómez Rivera-

The 400-year-old (some say 200) mansion of the Alberto Alonso clan (photo courtesy of JC Bernardo).

Last Monday, young hispanista JC Bernardo, a Biñense born and bred, alerted me about the start of the anticipated demolition of the fabled Casa de Alberto, the home where José Rizal’s mother, Doña Teodora Morales (Alberto) Alonso Realonda y Quintos, grew up. Upon getting JC’s message, I immediately felt sick in the stomach.

The first time I saw this house was in 5 September 2004, when I transferred my family to nearby San Pedro (Tunasán). It was a Sunday. My wife, hearing our San Pedrense neighbors about the bargain prices which Biñán’s famous public market offers to its buyers, had wanted to pay the town a visit. So after mass at the mysterious Santo Sepulcro, off we went to the town of puto biñán.

I had a different agenda, of course.

I had always wanted to visit places I’ve never been to before, especially those which have historical worth. It was a virtual thrill for an Antillean-house connoisseur like me. As the jeepney we were riding was passing through the town’s arterial road, I saw from afar the glaring and imposing red-tiled rooftop of the said mansion. Although I still didn’t know it back then, something within me told myself that it was the ancestral house of Rizal’s maternal relatives. And I was right off the bat when, after inquiring from some market vendors about the owners of the fantasy mansion, they confirmed my hunch. “It’s owned by the Albertos,” they said. “But they are already selling the house.”

Little did I know that this “sale” meant its impending doom six years later.

We weren’t able to get inside the house because the owner wasn’t there. But my family (Yeyette and I still had two kids back then) was able to get inside the poorly concretized patio* where the zaguán** was. My wife was thrilled to have touched the centuries-old adobe walls of the house. Too bad we didn’t have a camera back then.

The unbelievable thrill of having been to that “unrecognized” historic house (unrecognized, because the authorities concerned didn’t even bother to put up a historical marker) prompted me to write an email message to my contertulios in Círculo Hispano-Filipino:

Mon, September 6, 2004 11:57:35 PM

¡Un buen día a todos!

Ayer, después de la misa de mañana en la iglesia milagrosa de Santo Sepulcro (San Pedro, Laguna), traje mi familia (mi esposa Yeyette y nuestros niños Krystal y Momay) a Biñán que está al lado de San Pedro. Mi esposa quiso visitar el mercado de Biñán que es famoso del precio bajo de sus materias y comidas (carne, verduras, etc.). Biñán es también famoso de su “Puto Biñán,” aparte del hecho que José Rizal estudió allí durante su juventud.

Al llegar de Biñán, estuve decepcionado cuando averigüé que el lugar ha perdido su toque rural. La plaza delante de la iglesia de San Isidro Labrador (¿era la misma iglesia dónde Rizal solía ir durante su breve permanencia allí en el dicho lugar?) y el ayuntamiento fue atestada por vendedores y tiendecitas. El lugar era tan lleno de tráfico humano y vehicular, sin contar la contaminación del aire producida por triciclos ruidosos y numerosos.

El lugar me recuerda de Divisoria en Manila (pero oí que el Alcalde Joselito Atienza ha hecho maravillas para aquel lugar).

El único contraste absoluto sobre todo los horrores urbanos fue esta vieja casa grande con un techo de azulejos rojos delante del ayuntamiento.

Es tan enorme, tan antillano. Inmediatamente asumí que podría estar donde Rizal había vivido cuando él se quedó en Biñán. Pero no confiando en mi presentimiento, pedí a mi esposa a preguntar el dueño de la casa; ella lo hizo después de comprar nuestros comestibles y el “Puto Biñán.”

Lamentablemente, la casa no era más en buenas condiciones. La parte inferior de la casa ha sido convertida en varias tiendas, rodeado por vendedores. La parte superior me parece abandonada.

Mi esposa, que es la persona más amistosa entre dos de nosotros, se enteró de la gente cerca de la casa grande que fue poseída por el clan Alberto.

El nombre Alberto de repente “me suena de nombre” dentro de mi cabeza—¡recuerdo que el abuelo maternal de Rizal es un Alberto! Dije este hecho a Yeyette, que inmediatamente fue excitada (últimamente, ella se ha hecho interesada en la historia filipina, también). Ella dijo que quizás podríamos entrar. Estuve sorprendido. Pareció imposible; la casa grande me pareció abandonada, y no hay nadie a que podríamos dirigirnos para entrar, o confirmar si este fuera en efecto la casa grande de un pariente de Rizal.

Pero la confianza en la ingeniosidad de mi esposa (su lema es “what Jenny wants, Jenny gets—lo que Jenny quiere, Jenny se pone”), ¡éramos capaces de descubrir más!

Ella era capaz de localizar donde podríamos entrar, y hasta éramos capaces de dirigirnos al conserje de la casa. El anciano, que puede hablar un poco español, confirmó que sí, esta era la misma casa donde Rizal se había quedado cuando él estudió en Biñán bajo el Maestro Justiniano Cruz. Lamentablemente, él tenía órdenes del dueño de no permitir a turistas durante fines de semana, pero él nos invitó a volver en cualquier momento durante días de semana (esta información particular me dejó perplejo). Pero él nos permitió a visitar los alrededores el patio. Mi esposa, que llevaba Mómay, entrevistó el conserje. Tomé Krystal conmigo para vagar en el patio. El lugar entero es desvencijado. Alcé la mirada a las paredes inlavadas de la casa grande, y la luz deslumbrante triste de las ventanas me contempló. El zaguán está lleno de chatarra. Casi trajo lágrimas a mis ojos; una casa tan hermosa y muy filipina no debería haber sido ignorado como así. Solamente toqué sus paredes para tener una “sensación” de historia. Sin embargo, me alegré que mi hija todavía tenga una experiencia de primera mano de ver una herencia cultural, una herencia que se está desvaneciendo rápidamente…

Cuándo volvimos a la entrada de la casa grande, ¡me dijeron que la casa grande ha estado de pie allí durante más de cien años ya! Éramos capaces de echar una ojeada en una de sus ventanas principales, y vimos una escalera enorme que conduce hacia el caída. Encima es un espejo antiguo y probablemente algún mobiliarios antiguos.

Sí, efectivamente: ¡volveremos allí! Y el conserje nos dijo que él se alegraría de recorrernos dentro de la casa grande y nos indicará el dormitorio donde Rizal se había quedado.

Pero comencé a preguntarme: ¿por qué no está allí ningún fechador histórico (historical marker) atado a aquella casa grande si esto es realmente la casa dónde Rizal se había quedado? Enfrente de esa casa es una plaza donde un monumento en honor de Rizal está erigido. Seguramente, nuestros historiadores no habrían olvidado esta enorme casa que es tan llena de la historia.

En realidad no estoy familiar a Biñan y yo no estoy seguro y consciente si la escuela donde Rizal había estudiado ha sido conservada, ni sé donde está localizada.

Además, era el mediodía pasado, y era el tiempo para volvemos a casa. Estuve a punto de ir a la casa del Señor Gómez. ¿Sin embargo, a mi sorpresa, mi esposa insistió que localicemos la escuela (donde Rizal estudió)… estábamos ya en Biñán, y esto sería un buen viaje educativo para Krystal entonces, ¿cómo no?

José Mario Alas

Fast forward to today. After that first visit, I went back to that house several times. Arnaldo and I first visited the house together two years ago:

Inside the once glorious house where Rizal's mom grew up (03/28/2008).

We returned there late last year and eventually met the current owner, Gerardo “Gerry” Alberto, a distant relative of Rizal:

From left to right: Gerry Alberto, Arnaldo, and precious me. Gerry (also a native Spanish-speaker) is the son of the late Don Zoilo Alberto, the grandson of José Alberto, the brother of Rizal's mom (11/09/2009).

I even toured my family there early this year, during my son Jefe’s third birthday:

Jefe's third birthday (01/13/2010).

With the continuing existence of the Alberto Mansion at the heart of Biñán town, its cultural –as well as its people’s local– identity remains intact and secure. The Alberto Mansion is a classic example of an Antillean house, a bahay na bató. The bahay na bató is what gives Spanish Philippines its own individuality, thus differentiating her from her Latino sisters such as México, Puerto Rico, Cuba, etc. The bahay na bató, which is diminishing at a very alarming rate annually, gives us a sense of belongingness to our country no matter which part of the archipelago we go. Even if, for example, a Bicolano is stranded in Cebuano frontier, for as long as he sees a bahay na bató in another “tribal” turf, he is still at home. A Tagalog will still call Mindanáo as his domain inasmuch as these Antillean houses reign supreme in that island forever blessed by La Virgen del Pilar. I even dare say that Ilocanos can lay claim to “ancestral domain” to Sámar or Cebú or Batangas because their Vigan houses have countless relatives in those faraway areas. As the great nationalist and filipinista Guillermo Gómez Rivera put it, “architecture is another form of language”.

Aside from the Spanish language, the bahay na bató is what fuses the Filipino Identity. Furthermore, the bahay na bató physically gives form to a town’s Filipinoness. No amount of intricately designed Manny Villar or Henry Sy mansions can ever Filipinize their private subdivisions and villages as long as there are no Antillean houses within their suburbs.

In other countries, establishments of historical value –no matter how old they are– are almost regarded as sacred temples. But in this side of the world, we desecrate historical sites, whether they are houses or, worse, churches. The Alberto Mansion is no ordinary home — it is the house where the mother of our national hero lived!

In my helpless rage, I am tempted to declare that this country, particularly Biñán, is filled with mindless and heartless government officials. But as I write this, I discovered this on the net just a few moments ago…

Laguna town prevents demolition of Rizal mom’s home

The city government of Biñán in Laguna on Wednesday stopped the demolition of the 200-year-old ancestral home of the family of Teodora Alonso, mother of national hero Jose Rizal, and announced plans to acquire the property so as not to lose the city’s cultural heritage to a resort in Bataán.

The two-story house, with a floor-area of about 600 square meters, was built in the 1800s in the heart of the city opposite what is now the Biñán city hall.

The house, locally known as the Alberto Mansion, was owned by the family of José Alberto Alonso, the father of Teodora.

According to the local group United Artists for Cultural Conservation and Development, the current property owner Gerardo Alberto, had closed a deal to sell off the house to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a heritage resort, in Bagac, Bataán.

It said about 20 percent of the house’s interior was already “demolished” as of this week.

“All the antique furniture were already taken out. The ceiling was also already taken off,” said Rosauro Sta. María, the group’s president and executive director, whose honorary chairman is also Biñán Mayor Marlyn Alonte-Naguíat.

Sta. María said the demolition was being carried out despite the non-issuance of a demolition permit by the city government to the property owner.

“We fully understand the plight of the Albertos—how costly it is to maintain such an old house and maybe that was why they were forced to sell it,” said Sta. María.

But Sta. María appealed to the Albertos not to take the valuable piece of heritage out of Biñán as losing it means losing the identity of the city.

“Understanding the present, means knowing the glorious past,” he said, adding that little is known about Biñán being a part of the history.

He said both Rizal’s parents, Franciso Mercado and Teodora, were natives of Biñán. The hero himself spent years in Biñán while he was in grade school.

“I asked our city engineering office to order a halt to the demolition. We have not issued them a permit for the demolition,” said Vice Mayor Arman Dimaguila in a phone interview.

He said the city council in a hearing on Thursday will discuss the mechanics of acquiring the house, which the city government could renovate to house a proposed Binan cultural affairs office.

The house was priced between P500,000 and P1 million.

“Our call is for the Albertos to heed the proposal of the city government of Biñan. If that won’t do, we are appealing to Jerry Acuzar, owner of the heritage resort, to instead donate the house to Biñán City and we will forever be indebted to him,” Sta María said.

Bryan Jason Borja, artistic director of the United Artists for Cultural Conservation and Development, said they were organizing a cultural protest and were inviting artists and cultural workers to join their campaign against the demolition of the heritage home.

During one of my final visits to that place, Arnaldo and I were questioning Gerry Alberto’s decision to sell his forefather’s house, arguably one of the most historical sites in the country. But he told us that he’s financially helpless to support a house that someday might topple down on its own due to wear and tear. I asked him straightforward if he still wanted to save his house. He didn’t say “yes”. Rather, he said that he receives no compensation from the government.

“The government has no money!” he complained to us.

In the middle of our conversation, he suddenly handed me a printed document. It was an email conversation between a female relative of his and a noted historian. They were discussing the imminent sale of the house to Jerry Acuzar, back then a strange name to me. They were planning to have the whole Alberto Mansion dismantled and then reconstructed in his Bagac, Bataán resort. The place is called Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. It is a seaside resort where many prominent Antillean houses (including the Maxino house of Unisan, Quezon, my dad’s hometown) found all over the country are relocated.

Ivan Henares of the Heritage Conservation Society has been a staunch critic of Acuzar’s resort. In his popular travel blog, Ivan About Town, he wrote:

The main issue here is not simply the transfer but the fact that Acuzar is actively shopping for old houses, trying to woo the owners into selling their properties to him! How ironic that he mentions Scandanavia where “culture is preserved in structures.” If he was indeed to follow the example he cited, structures should remain where they are, preserved together with the environment they were built in!

This is a strong accusation. Arnaldo is actually a supporter of Acuzar’s project and had wanted to defend the controversial architect-cum-resort magnate from Ivan’s attacks. Arnaldo has good enough reason to do so. Indeed, why let old houses topple down and rot by themselves if their owners have already lost the heart (and the financial means) to maintain them? But in view of the abovementioned news article, it appears that the demolition of the Alberto Mansion was done rather deceitfully. Biñán native JC Bernardo confirmed this treachery just a few minutes ago (see screenshot below).

JC recounted that the demolition was done in the dark. The demolition started from within the house so as to avoid immediate public scrutiny! And before the local government was able to do some defensive action, the damage was already done: about 20% of the house was already desecrated!

These developments put Mr. Acuzar’s motives in question. Is his Bagac resort a haven for troubled ancestral houses? Or is Mr. Henares’ accusations true, that Acuzar is actually “shopping” for such houses, i.e., bribing beleaguered owners such as Gerry Alberto, into selling their homes that their ancestors had built and tried to preserve for future generations?

Too bad that document which Gerry gave me is still missing. It will prove to be a crucial piece to this criminal puzzle of destroying our nation’s historic jewels.

In the meantime, while there is still a standoff, I am calling all Biñenses and those Filipinos who still value our country’s patrimony to fight for Biñán’s identity!

*patios — are enclosed al fresco courtyards.
**zaguán — is where carromatas (horse-drawn carriages, the “private cars” during olden days) and floats of family icons (santos) are kept. It is made of stone. It is the equivalent of today’s garages.

The Future “Shrine City” of Southern Tagalog (San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna)

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Welcome to San Pedro, the gateway to La Laguna province!

I’ve been a San Pedrense for close to six years already.

We moved to San Pedro, La Laguna last 2004 at the height of the infamous 2004 Philippine General Elections (where FPJ won in the voting but lost in the counting). My wife was then pregnant with our second child (Momay). I was then working in SPI Technologies in my hometown, Parañaque City. Thus, I had to travel for almost two hours from San Pedro to Parañaque’s Barrio Santo Niño where SPI was located. A female cousin of mine, who is married to a native San Pedrense (from the Igonia clan), helped us find a place to stay. I chose San Pedro because the apartment units there were considerably cheap. Although it’s just beside Metro Manila (via Muntinlupà City), the rates of apartment units there are provincially cheap.

As a history buff, I was very excited to see San Pedro town for the very first time. I was expecting something rural, like that of my dad’s hometown of Unisan, Quezon. I was disappointed to see a rather urbanized place fuming with smoke from countless tricycles, roads teeming with junk food wrappers and assorted litter, and a huge Sogo Hotel at the entrance to the town from Metro Manila. Back then, I haven’t been traveling much. So my expectations were doused cold. Also, I noticed a scarcity of classic Filipino houses which we call bahay castilà or bahay na bató. Only a few remain. I even doubt if those surviving houses date back to the Spanish times. But there are still a couple of postwar houses which somehow resemble the bahay na bató which I adore so much.

We first lived in a small, one-room apartment unit in Sitio Pitóng Gatang in Barrio San Vicente. In late 2007 (I was already working for APAC Customer Services for three years), we moved to a larger apartment building in the same barrio (now called a barangáy).

We’ve befriended a lot of San Pedrense folk. Especially my very amiable wife who knows almost everybody in our barrio: tricycle drivers, various street and market vendors, canto boys and street toughies, elderly folk, etc. She really has that masa attitude in her which I’m so proud at.

Me, I befriended the upper echelon of San Pedro, hehe! I had the privilege of cowriting (with Arnaldo Arnáiz) current Mayor Calixto Catáquiz’s biography (still unpublished, though). I also befriended San Pedro’s official historian, Sonny Ordoña. He cowrote the history of the town with Amalia Cullarín Rosales entitled San Pedro, Laguna: Noón at Ngayón.

This year or next year, we’ll soon be leaving San Pedro. We’ll soon be moving to Calambâ, La Laguna, where we have purchased our own home. But six years is six years. So many things have happened to us here in San Pedro. This is the place where we have totally become independent and slowly built our “little empire”, i.e., our family; before, we had to seek financial support from immediate family members. All my children began their childhood here. My daughter Krystal is a pioneer student of nearby Santa Hideliza Montessori (formerly known as Asturias Angel Montessori School) where she is a consistent first honor student (it’s all in the blood, hehe!). Momay has just started his schooling in the same school. We’ve built friendships. It is here where I discovered and became a devotee of the miraculous Santo Sepulcro. One midnight, as I was headed for work, I even got to beat up a huge street toughie who tried to harass me (seriously)!

For better or for worse, San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna has become part of us.

Enjoy the pictures which I took of the town (my daughter Krystal and I had an afternoon stroll last 29 December 2009)… =)

St. Peter The Apostle

Banál na Cruz ng San Pedro Tunasán

A view of the urbanized población from the church tower.

The only municipal hall that I know where the mayor's office is located right above a multi-purpose town plaza stage. Unique.

Messy wires mar this view of the town's enormous church.

The road going up to San Pedro Bridge (my daughter Krystal's at the onset).

Naty's Tourist Lodge / Restaurant. However, what is interesting for tourists to see in San Pedro? This is what the next administration should work on. Tourism is also important economically.

Tanghalang F.A. Vierneza, a waste of public funds if you ask my opinion.

Going up the bridge, further south of San Pedro.

San Pedro Bridge

The semi-polluted river of San Pedro. The river still teems of fish and other river creatures. There is still hope to save this body of water. A sincere environmental effort from the local government is direly needed.

Mount Maquíling from afar.

Suki Wet & Dry Market

Iglesia de San Pedro Apóstol

The altarpiece.

The Nativity scene (all these photos, by the way, were taken last 12/29/2009).

Liceo de San Pedro (San Pedro High School)

Very few Antilean (bahay na bató) houses remain in San Pedro, which is quite sad. The one in this photo has been converted into a commercial establishment.

Many streets in the oldest parts of San Pedro look like this. Good thing these pink bougainvilla flowers beautify the place a bit.

One of my favorite flowering plants: the eye-catching bougainvilla!

Typhoon Ondoy floods were already subsiding when this photo was taken. But this dirt road leading to the lakeshore was still soft and very muddy. Thus, Krystal and I didn't push through with our lakeshore trek.

A fishpond a few meters away from the lake. It was also damaged by Typhoon Ondoy.

San Roque Elementary School in Barrio San Roque.

Ducks raised near the lake. San Pedro used to have huge balót and iticán industry which rivaled that of Pateros.

Water lilies fill the banks of Laguna de Bay in this part of Barrio Landayan.

Flowering water lilies!

Black birds flying excitedly over the lake! Are they crows?

Seashells embedded inland, meters away from the lake.

The modern church tower of the mysterious Santo Sepulcro Church in Barrio Landayan.

Iglesia de Santo Sepulcro

An ancient acacia tree in front of the Santo Sepulcro Church.

My daughter, Jewel Krystal Rose, when she was four years old (on my 25th birthday). I didn't allow her to be baptized at a much earlier date because I was an atheist before. This miraculous church further reaffirmed and strengthened my belief in God. =)

Light.

Dark.

The Holy Sepulchre which houses the iconic icon of Jesus Christ, known all over San Pedro Tunasán as the miraculous Lolo Uweng.

A busy part of the town.

Vegetables, fruits, and spices being sold out on the streets, a usual Latin-American activity.

¡Caramba! He's everywhere!

Bibingca and puto bumbóng vendors; all pictures were taken during the 2009 Christmas Season.

Puto bumbóng

Bibingca

Sampaguita buds in the town plaza. San Pedro Tunasán is also known as the country's Sampaguita capital.

Missed the whole name, haha! The bus was moving fast... and I was moving slow!

Krystal buying a Sampaguita collar.

La flor de la sampaguita, una flor filipina.

The massive façade of the San Pedro Apóstol Parish Church.

The statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the church which can be seen from miles around.

Not sure if this house is prewar or postwar. But it's definitely vintage.

Calle San Vicente goes through a tunnel beneath the San Pedro Bridge.

Another Filipino-style house.

This one's a charm!

This railroad goes all the way to Ciudad de Legazpi, Albay in Bícol province.

Coconuts!

Santa Hideliza Montessori School, where Krystal and Momay study.

Capilla de San Vicente de Ferrer

A neighbor leading us to one of San Pedro's last few remaining Sampaguita plantations. The town used to have huge plantations everywhere. Many of the townsfolk relied on the sampaguita trade for a living. But that was long ago.

¡Ang manóc ni San Pedro!

Today, the once flourishing sampaguita farms have been relegated to a mere backyard industry.

Bamboo (not the band).

Our San Pedro Tunasán walk ended at dusk.

A FEW THINGS YOU MAY WANT TO KNOW ABOUT SAN PEDRO TUNASÁN, LA LAGUNA’S PAST AND FUTURE

The former name of San Pedro was San Pedro Tunasán. San Pedro is from one of Jesus Christ’s apostles. Tunasán comes from the word tunás which is a medicinal herb that used to grow along the western banks of Laguna de Bay where the said town is now situated. Significantly, this herb was actually brought here by the friars from México.

San Pedro was inhabited by Tagalog tribesmen before the Spanish arrival. Spanish friars (Franciscans) assembled many Tagalog tribes in what is now known as La Laguna province through a process called reducción a pueblo, creating what we now know as a town or pueblo/municipio. San Pedro Tunasán is a product of this complex process.

San Pedro Tunasán during the Spanish period produced considerable quantities of rice, mangoes, coconuts, native oranges, lemons, buyô (betel leaves), and even sugar cane. And according to the Diccionario Geográfico-Estadístico-Histórico de las Islas Filipinas (Fr. Manuel Buzeta, O.S.A., and Fr. Felipe Bravo, O.S.A), there used to be a big house made of brick and tiled-roof which was a silk factory. Unfortunately, it’s not stated in the book where this old bahay na bató was situated, thus I have no idea if it still stands.

San Pedro was also owned by the Jesuits and was used as an estate (or hacienda) to fund their projects and other activities, particularly the Colegio de San José in Intramuros (where José Rizal’s father, Francisco Mercado, studied). It was the Jesuits who built a chapel (ermita) dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle (now known as the Parish of San Pedro Apóstol).

San Pedro Tunasán used to be a part of Tabuco (an old Tagalog term which means “the end part of a river”), a large town which was also then comprised of what are now the towns of Bíñán, Santa Rosa, Cabuyao. It officially became a town when it was detached from Tabuco on 18 January 1725 upon the request of San Pedrense principalía led by Alonzo Magtibay, Francisco Santiago, and Ignacio de Guevarra. Their request was granted by the last Spanish Habsburg king himself, King Charles II. Santiago subsequently became the first town mayor. Therefore, the real foundation day of San Pedro Tunasán should be celebrated every 18th of January and not on any other dates.

Many years later, a large northern chunk of the town was sold to Muntinlupà. That chunk of land is now Muntinlupà City’s Barrio Tunasán (where many lechón stalls abound). That is why the town today is simply called San Pedro. But I refuse to call it as such. I always prefer the original, giving due respect to history: ¡San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna!

The city’s incumbent mayor, Calixto Catáquiz, who’s running for reelection this May, plans to make San Pedro a “Shrine City”, as written in his still unpublished biography, A Date With Destiny (One More Challenge!) The Life Story of San Pedro:

“Mayor Catáquiz is a visionary,” says Sonny Ordoña, the town’s resident historian and the municipal hall’s consultant for cultural affairs. “Once he asked me for a unique nickname for the town. Since we have a couple of shrines here, particularly the miraculous Santo Sepulcro Shrine in Landayan, I suggested to him, ‘well, why not dub it as a Shrine City?’ His eyes beamed with the idea. The next thing you know, he’s telling everyone that he’s planning to create a 30-storey high bronze statue of Jesus Christ! He wants it installed up in the mountains of San Pedro!”

The feet of this gigantic statue ala Cristo Redentor of Rio de Janeiro would stand on four chapels. These chapels will serve as monumental pedestals. An incredible concept that is already being planned!

“This chapel would be in full view from Alabang and possibly from Parañaque,” says the mayor. “Aircraft will easily discern it from atop.” Certainly, this future landmark will place San Pedro on a national scale!

Shrine city or not, San Pedro Tunasán is all worth it. All it needs is full and sincere cooperation between the local government and its inhabitants.

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