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28 July 1571: The story behind the discovery of La Laguna’s foundation date.

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Good day, dear readers, particularly to my fellow Lagunenses. For this blogpost, I am sharing to you the story behind my discovery of our province’s foundation date, as well as the ongoing process of having the date passed as an ordinance (as of this writing, the case is still pending approval). This is a historic find, so I thought that all of you deserve to know about this, especially since there is still no news yet regarding this matter.

Before anything else, please allow me to refer to our province as La Laguna, not just Laguna alone. The article La was removed from Laguna sometime during the US occupation of the Philippines. Since there is no logical reason for its removal, I refuse to address my adoptive province as such. We should always refer to it by its original, complete, and correct name: LA LAGUNA.

The discovery of the date

OK now. Last January, I revealed in my other blog, ALAS FILIPINAS, that I will be writing my first book, a coffee table book actually, about the history and culture of the Province of La Laguna. I even said bye bye for a while in my social media accounts in order to concentrate on my writing. It’s going to be my first book. I don’t want to screw it up. And just a few weeks ago, during our national hero’s birthday, I also announced about something big that will change the history of our province. So here it is, right on this blogpost…

During the course of my research for the said book that I’m writing, I happened to stumble upon the foundation date of La Laguna. I discovered the date just last month, in the morning of 13 June, when I was about to sleep (right after my night shift). My hair was still wet because I just had a morning bath. So while drying it, I grabbed from my bookshelf one source material —a very old one: 1926— and started fumbling through its pages. Then in one of its delicate and yellowing pages, I unexpectedly found the date: 28 julio 1571.

How providential, indeed. Had I slept earlier, I would have never discovered the page/chart where 28 July 1571 appears. And I wasn’t even in full-research mode!

I do not claim to be the first researcher to have encountered this chart. Perhaps other historians before me have seen this already. However, they must have surely overlooked the fact that this chart reveals when La Laguna (and perhaps other Philippine juridical entities today) was established.

This date is important to all Lagunenses, especially to the provincial government. Why? Because up to now, they do not know when their province was founded. This was revealed to me by my editor, Mr. Ronald Yu (publisher/editor/photographer at In-Frame Media Works), a few months ago after a short talk that I had with Biñán City’s tourism officer designate, Ms. Jasmín Alonte, who in turn told me that their city doesn’t have a foundation date too. I found out that this foundation date is a big deal. Ron explained that during the administration of former Governess Teresita “Ningning” Lázaro (2001-2010), a “bounty” was to be awarded to anyone who might find the missing foundation date. There were even individuals who went to some archive in Spain just to search for it, but to no avail. Fast forward to a few weeks ago: I learned from Mr. Peter Uckung of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) that even famed Pagsanjeño historian Gregorio Zaide was also searching for La Laguna’s foundation date, but to no avail.

I never had any serious intention of hunting for that date. If historians already went to Spain looking for it, not to mention the legendary Gregorio Zaide failing to find it, then I thought that there’s no chance for me to be able to come across the date.

The formulation of the case

And so going back to the morning of 13 June when I stumbled upon the date right inside our apartment unit. I actually have a collection of antique Filipiniana which I have gathered over the years (acquired or purchased from antique shops and various individuals who no longer need them), and it is in one of those volumes where I discovered the date. I didn’t even gave it much importance at first glance, especially when the date says that La Laguna was given as an encomienda to Martín de Goití. It didn’t state that La Laguna was a province during the date that the region was accorded to Goití.

But after a few days, it hit me.

After further research, cross-referencing through other books and documents, and much deliberation, I finally came up to the conclusion that 28 July 1571 was indeed the date when La Laguna began. Not exactly as a province but as something else. The analogy is like this: Adamson University, my alma mater, began as the Adamson School of Industrial Chemistry in 1932. It became a university only in 1941. However, 1932 is still regarded as Adamson’s foundation year, not 1941, for the simple reason that Adamson was established on that year. It’s transformation into a university years later never negated the fact that Adamson was already in existence. That was the case of La Laguna. It began as an encomienda in 1571, not exactly as a province. It only became a province, (as observed by Ron), when Bay was made the capital of La Laguna in 1581. But there is no denying the fact that La Laguna already existed, that it was already established. Just like Calambâ City. It became a city only in 2001. But that doesn’t mean that Calambâ never existed before its cityhood.

Ron paid me a visit in my San Pedro home last 17 June to see the antique book where I found the date. After clarifying questions from him and clearing up other arguments, we both found out that the case for La Laguna’s foundation date proved to be strong. Actually, I was already composing a scholarly paper when he visited me since I do not want the date to be misconstrued as just another date in the pages of Philippine history. It wasn’t finished yet when I showed to Ron the draft of the paper.

Reporting the discovery to the governor

Ron confirmed the discovery to Governor Emilio Ramón “E.R.” Ejército, especially since the book that I’m writing is the latter’s project. The governor was very excited upon hearing this. We then presented my discovery to him last 18 June at the Cultural Center of Laguna (during the memorial celebration of Dr. José Rizal‘s 151st birthday). Before speaking with the governor, Ron introduced  me to various Lagunense figures, among them Mr. Uckung, senior researcher at the NHCP, and Hon. Neil Andrew Nocon, provincial board member of La Laguna’s 2nd district. Little did I know that I would be “working” with these people in the coming days.

Afterwards, Dr. Nilo Valdecantos, one of Governor E.R.’s consultants, facilitated our quick meeting with the latter (it’s Governor E.R.’s policy that you fall in queue to speak to him regardless of social standing and whether you’re a government official or just an ordinary civilian). The governor was already weary due to the day’s activities, for right after the 151st José Rizal memorial rites, his weekly “People’s Day” followed. But upon showing to him the old book where La Laguna and the date appears, his energy came back, and admitted to having had goosebumps all over! He was so amazed over the coincidence of the recently concluded La Laguna Festival, which he conceptualized, to what I have discovered. Little did I know that he had no idea that La Laguna was actually the original, complete, and correct name of the province he governs. But then, almost all Lagunenses in particular and Filipinos in general do not know that fact. And so I took that opportunity to tell him that it is perhaps high time to bring back the name. He did not respond to it, probably still elated with the find. He then said that he will endorse it to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan ng Laguna (SPL) to have it filed as a resolution. A few days later, I received a phone call from BM Nocon’s secretary, Ms. Daisy Pelegrina, requesting for documents pertaining to the date. I learned that the filing of the resolution was already on its way. The ordinance was to be authored by BM Nocon since he was the chairman of education, tourism, history, arts and culture, and public works. I told Ms. Pelegrina that I was actually composing a brief dissertation regarding the matter, and that I will just email them the paper once done.

Realizing that the 28th of July is near, Ron advised Governor E.R. that the foundation date would be one of his greatest legacies to his constituents. Therefore, it is best that the province’s very first foundation date be celebrated immediately, especially since it’s going to be election season next year. Midterm legislative and local elections will be held on 13 May 2013. Nobody knows who’s going to win or not. Governor E.R.’s extreme popularity among Lagunenses is not always a guarantee that it will win him another term. That is why it is best that he commemorate La Laguna’s very first foundation day celebration —technically its 441st— the soonest possible time while he is still governor. The governor agreed (later on, he decided to moved his first State of the Province address to 28 July to coincide with the province’s very first foundation day celebration; the SOPA was originally scheduled for August).

Señor Gómez enters the scene

Shortly after finishing my paper, Ron advised me to email the paper to renowned scholar and historian Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera to have it reviewed and validated. Ron was thinking forward: he heard from BM Nocon that the NHCP will have to review and write a recommendation on my discovery before the ordinance could be passed. No disrespect to the NHCP, but both Ron and I somehow felt that the NHCP might write a negative recommendation on my find, as the case might fall on opinionated grounds (a few days later, our hunch proved to be correct). So he thought of having it validated by another neutral party: Señor Gómez. For my editor’s part, he is respectfully questioning whether the NHCP has any authority at all to have a final say whether or not a date should be declared as the province’s foundation date.

Afterwards, we visited the governor’s house (Don Porong Mansion) in Pagsanján on 23 June to personally present to him the scholarly paper which I wrote regarding the La Laguna’s foundation date (PLEASE CLICK HERE to read my dissertation). The next day (coinciding with the Philippines’ 441st anniversary), I received a positive reply from Señor Gómez which he also forwarded to members of the online group Círculo Hispano-Filipino.

¡Enhorabuena Pepe Alas! Has escrito una tesina de primera fuerza porque está muy bien documentada y, sobre todo, porque todo lo que deduces está fuertemente investido con la lógica y el sentido común que todo escritor e historiador de su propio país debe tener. Y es una tesina escrita independientemente porque se levanta por si sóla. Y está escrita magistralmente por un puro filipino como lo eres tu de espíritu y talante. Sugiero que lo pongas todo en español más tarde y lo publiques en tu blog Alas Filipinas. En horabuena de nuevo y un fuerte abrazo. Nos enorgulleces a todos los que te conocemos de cerca.

Afterwards, I also emailed the paper to Ms. Pelegrina for BM Nocon’s reference since it will also serve as an aid of legislation. On the morning of 25 June, I visited Señor Gómez to retrieve from him his signed recommendation letter. I then hurried off to the capitolio in Santa Cruz and met up with Ron to submit an edited version of my paper, Señor Gómez’s recommendation letter, as well as reproductions of the page where the date appears. Mr. Valdecantos again facilitated our quick meeting with the governor, and for that he had a run in with the governor’s arrogant Chief-of-Staff. And while waiting for an audience with the governor, this rude power-tripper actually thought he was funny so he acted like a clown and proceeded to make fun of what I wrote and even questioned Señor Gómez’s reliability (if he had said that in Malacañang, the President himself would have laughed at his total ignorance of Señor Gómez’s persona). But I was glad that I was able to keep my cool (a very difficult task on my part). Anyway, after that unfortunate incident, Ron was finally able to speak with the governor; I was no longer in the mood to speak to Governor E.R. after all the insults that I’ve heard from his “highly respectable” Chief-of-Staff. The governor then informed us that he is endorsing the date not as a resolution but as an ordinance! Earlier that morning (during the weekly flag ceremony), we learned that the governor already announced to all employees about the foundation date, and that they will all receive an annual bonus every 28th of July (amounting at least to ₱3,000 per employee). This, of course, is good tidings for the provincial employees. However, the ordinance will still have to be passed first and foremost in order for the said bonus to take effect. Before leaving the capitol, BM Nocon informed me and Ron that we will all go to the NHCP in Ermita, Manila the next day, together with the governor himself, to report my discovery and request from their office any technical assistance as well as a recommendation and/or guidelines on the legality of declaring 28 July 1571 as La Laguna’s foundation date.

NHCP visit

The next day, an afternoon, we all went to the NHCP. Our party was composed of Governor E.R., his wife (Pagsanján Mayor Maita Ejército), my editor Ron, BM Nocon, Mr. Valdecantos, and other capitolio political consultants. There were actually three agendas: the construction of the country’s first sports museum (to be constructed on the capitolio grounds), the setting up of a historical marker to La Laguna’s old capitol building, and the historic date which I discovered. We were received by NHCP Executive Director Ludovico Bádoy and his staff.

As expected, my discovery was met with opposition. During the meeting, Ron and I had an argument with Mr. Uckung and a colleague of his, Mr. Ogie Encomienda (of all surnames). They argued that the date I discovered cannot be accepted since it does not pertain to La Laguna’s creation as a province. But that wasn’t the case we wanted to present. Our argument is that La Laguna was founded on 28 July 1571, period. Whether or not it was a province, La Laguna began on that date (please see related link above to read my arguments on my paper). Finally, straight from their mouths, they agreed that my paper is correct. However, they just couldn’t accept the fact that La Laguna must recognize its founding as an encomienda. In Mr. Uckung’s opinion, it does not seem to be apt to celebrate La Laguna’s founding as an encomienda because, according to him, the encomienda connoted “slavery”. Good heavens, I thought. These people subscribe to the leyenda negra (as expected). And worse, Mr. Encomienda even suggested to us to just write an ordinance declaring 28 July as the province’s foundation date, but 1571 cannot be recognized as the province’s foundation year because, according to him, it is highly questionable that La Laguna was founded earlier than Manila. To Mr. Encomienda, Manila was founded on 1574! Goodness gracious. Anyway, I refused to argue about that anymore; it’s a different issue and will only prolong the argument. Anyway, the meeting was at a stalemate. Governor E.R. was still excited over the date, and mandated Mr. Uckung to speed up his research to corroborate with my findings. However, right after the argument that we with Mr Uckung and Mr. Encomienda, I already knew right there and then that they will disapprove my discovery.

The SPL hearings

Ron attended the first hearing 27 June which was also attended by Vice Governor Caesar Pérez, various board members, representatives from the budget office, and other political consultants. I wasn’t able to attend because of my night shift. It was during that meeting that Ron hypothesized that La Laguna could have become a province when Bay was declared as the provincial capital on 1581. The problem: the date is still missing up to now. Furthermore, that doesn’t negate the fact that La Laguna already existed, but as a different political/juridical entity.

Two days later, during a meeting of the Laguna Tourism Council (facilitated by Monsignor José D. Barrión) last 29 June held at the Santo Sepulcro Shrine in San Pedro, Mr. Delto “Mike” Abárquez, chief of the Laguna Tourism, Culture, Arts, and Trade Office (LTCATO) announced to the members about the discovery of the province’s foundation date.

Mr. Mike Abárquez, seated at right, during the Laguna Tourism Council 2nd quarter meeting at the Santo Sepulcro Shrine last 29 June 2012 (photo courtesy of Le Voyageur International-Travel.

On 2 July, the date when the ordinance was officially stamped as received by the Office of the SPL, I made my first appearance to the deliberations of the SPL. It was actually the public hearing regarding the ordinance. A lady official from the LTCATO had Mr. Uckung on the line and gave the phone to BM Nocon. The lady official seemed to be a big supporter of NHCP. Ron and I had no idea why. After the phone discussion, the public hearing began. Laguna’s Supervising Tourism Operations Officer, Ms. Regina Austria, was also in attendance. I explained my case to the panel and also gave a brief lecture about what an encomienda is, and how this encomienda metamorphosed into a province (limited only to the case of La Laguna; probably not all provinces began as an ancomienda). BM Nocon also revealed that he had already distributed my scholarly paper to all municipal and city governments throughout La Laguna, as well as various educational institutions in the province which of course includes the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

The plot thickens

The next day, I was with San Pedro Mayor Calixto Catáquiz and his friends in Rockwell, Macati discussing with him his biography which is still in developmental limbo. Ron sent me a rather alarming txt message: an anonymous person was heckling him on his cellphone, ridiculing him for his ardent participation on the 28 July 1571 issue. We already have a suspect. But why was she doing it?! I mean, what for?

The next day after that, on 4 July, there was another brief hearing at the capitolio. I wasn’t able to attend due to lack of sleep (imagine doing all this while working at night!), but Ron was able to attend. LTCATO chief, Mr. Abárquez, was also there. He assisted Ron in defending the merits of the date.

Three vs one

Finally, last Friday, 6 July, I had another showdown with the NHCP right inside the Governor’s Office. The governor, however, was absent during the proceedings. Unfortunately, Ron wasn’t with me during that time (he had a fever). There were three of them (Mr. Uckung, Mr. Encomienda, and another one whose I wasn’t able to get) against my lonesome self. Mr. Encomienda this time, had a different tune: instead of arguing that it cannot be accepted that La Laguna came first before Manila (which is erroneous because Manila was founded as the capital of the Philippines by the Spaniards on 24 June 1571), he instead referred to his notes and said that he had found another data stating that La Laguna was founded as an encomienda in 1572, not in 1571. He now forwarded the problem on how to “synchronize” both 1571 and 1572. But the answer to that is rather simple: choose the earliest date, for crying out loud. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to say that, since I have not yet verified his finding. He mentioned to me both Manuel Buzeta and Félix de Huerta as his sources. Well, I have Buzeta’s Diccionario Geográfico-Estadístico-Histórico de las Islas Filipinas (co-authored with Felipe Bravo) at home. I reviewed it last night and found no mention of 1572 pertaining to La Laguna at all. I’m still to review Félix de Huerta’s Estado Geográfico, Topográfico, Estadístico, Histórico-Religioso de la Santa y Apostólica Provincia de San Gregorio Magno. But regardless of whether or not the year 1572 also points to the founding of La Laguna as an encomienda, common sense will still dictate that the earliest year declared must be considered, especially if there is basis. In this case, it’s 1571.  Although I understand that Buzeta and Huerta’s respective books were published way before Fr. Pablo Pastells’ book (my source) was even conceptualized, one should not focus on the book’s year of publication alone. Fr. Pastells did not simply write 28 July 1571, as was the case with what Buzeta and Huerta did. Fr. Pastells’ chart itself was a primary source that was taken from the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain. The chart itself that was used by Fr. Pastells was an official document whose authenticity can never be questioned.

Also present during the meeting was UPLB professor Dwight David Diestro, co-author of the book Nineteenth-Century Conditions and the Revolution in the Province of LagunaHe had read my paper and actually supported my discovery. But he also stated his opinion that if it were him, he would rather recognize the date when La Laguna became independent from Spain. I argued, however, that independence is different from being established as a political entity. Then the mention of the encomienda again as a form of slavery was raised, until the discussion came to a point that I was already defending Spain’s “creation” of the Philippines. A very debatable matter, Mr. Uckung retorted, to which I had to agree so as not to swerve from the main issue.

The questionable case of Pangasinán’s foundation date

But I believe that I won that round. Why?

At the end of the meeting, I respectfully questioned NHCP’s “authority to meddle” in the ordinance proceedings because of the Pangasinán case which was researched by Ron a few days prior (You may read the whole account of the case here). It turned out that La Laguna has a similar case to that of Pangasinán. In Pangasinán’s case, it was also founded as an encomienda: on 5 April 1572. Later on, it was organized into a province in 1580, but the exact date is missing up to now. After thorough deliberations on the researches made by members of the committee, it was finally decided to just mix up the dates: 5 April 1580 was then declared as the foundation date of Pangasinán. Not only is it highly questionable. It was also laughable and illogical. How come the NHCP let this historical travesty go away just like that? It reminded me of Mr. Encomienda’s suggestion to us when we were at the NHCP, that July 28 can be be passed as an ordinance, but not 1571. So is he suggesting that we do another Pangasinán?

I really told them, but in a respectful tone, that Pangasinán’s case was mangled, and that I will never allow the same error to happen to my beloved province in case they’re planning to do the same. They all kept quiet.

Sadly, nothing was concluded. BM Nocon still awaits that recommendation from the NHCP. He then said that the next meeting will be on Friday the 13th.

And so my fight continues.

Before I end this narrative —and I hope that the people over at the NHCP reads this—, I would like to remind all of you that whether or not this ordinance is passed, it will not make me famous like Myrtle Sarrosa. It will not even make me rich. Perhaps I might receive some sort of recognition, but I am not expecting it. Besides, I’m sure that most of the credit will go to Governor E.R. and BM Nocon. But that’s OK. I am doing this not for myself, anyway. Not even for the governor. No matter how corny this may sound to all of you, I am doing this for the province of La Laguna. Aunque no lo creáis. Because this will give me and all Lagunenses the satisfaction of priding ourselves with a complete history of our province.

At walá pong mawáwala sa aquin cung hindí maipápasa ang ordenanzang itó. Who’s going to lose? Me? My credibility? No. Never. The biggest loser here will still be the people of La Laguna who will forever miss this chance of celebrating the province’s birthday.

So many things have happened since I discovered the date. It was a whirlwind experience. The coffee table book that I’m writing for the governor was even put to a halt to focus on the ordinance. But I will have to continue writing the book starting today. And whatever happens, 28 July 1571 will always remain as La Laguna’s foundation date. It began as an encomienda, whether we like it or not, which later on metamorphosed into a province probably in 1581.  And this logical FACT will appear in the coffee table book which will be launched before the year ends. So there.

He dicho.

****************************

Draft ORDINANCE NO. 44 , s. 2012

AN ORDINANCE DECLARING JULY 28, 1571 AS THE FOUNDING DATE OF THE

PROVINCE OF LAGUNA AND RECOMMENDING TO THE HON. GOVERNOR

JEORGE “E.R.” EJÉRCITO ESTREGAN TO PROVIDE FUNDS THEREOF

RELATIVE TO ITS GRAND ANNUAL CELEBRATION

Author: Hon. Neil Andrew N. Nocon

Whereas, Laguna has been in existence for many centuries already but has failed to commemorate and celebrate its inception due to the lack of a founding date;

Whereas, since the Philippines has been declared independent on 4 July 1946, the Tagalog-speaking province of La Laguna, now simply referred to as Laguna, in the CALABARZON region is still incognizant of when exactly it came into being;

Whereas, it has become an important tradition for almost all individuals, organizations, and territorial units (places) to commemorate how they first came to be;

Whereas, no official declaration or any royal decree has been made affirming the creation or existence of Laguna as a province consisting of several reducciones or towns;

Whereas, research findings revealed that Laguna was founded as a juridical entity on 28 July 1571;

Whereas, this date appears in volume 2 of Fr. Pablo Pastells, S.J.’s Historia General de Filipinas which was published in Barcelona, Spain in 1926;

Now, therefore, upon motion, be it resolved, as it is hereby resolved by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Laguna in a session assembled that:

Section 01. Title- This Ordinance shall be known as “AN ORDINANCE DECLARING JULY 28, 1571 AS THE FOUNDING DATE OF THE PROVINCE OF LAGUNA AND RECOMMENDING TO THE HON. GOVERNOR, JEORGE “E.R.” EJÉRCITO ESTREGAN TO PROVIDE FUNDS THEREOF RELATIVE TO ITS GRAND ANNUAL CELEBRATION”

Section 02. Definition of Terms — for purpose of this ordinance, the following terms are defined as follows:

a. commemorate – to call to remembrance, to mark by some ceremony or observation.

b. incognizant – lacking knowledge or awareness, unaware of the new political situation.

c. juridical – of or relating to the law and its administration.

d. reducción – a colonially designed resettlement policy that the Spaniards (the friars in particular) used in Central and South America.

e. rekindle – to inflame again, to rouse anew.

f. reminisce – a narration of past incidents with one’s personal experience, that which  is recollected or recalled to mind.

g. reverently – showing deep sense of respect.

h. unheeded – unnoticed or disregarded.

Section 03. Objectives of this Ordinance.

1. To help establish the founding date of Laguna because this province has been in existence for many centuries already but has failed to commemorate and celebrate its inception due to the lack of a foundation date.

2. To officially declare 28 July 1571 as the founding date of Laguna and relative to its celebration, request the Provincial Governor for the provision of funds thereof.

Section 04. Information, Education, and Communication Campaign. Upon approval of this Ordinance, the province shall conduct massive information, education, and communication campaigns using quad media (print, radio, television, and internet) in the conduct of rekindling this foundation date.

Section 05. Deputation of Officials. All municipal and city officials are automatically deputized by the Provincial Governor for the strict and effective implementation of this ordinance.

Section 06. Mandate. The government through the Laguna Tourism, Culture, Arts, and Trade Office is hereby mandated to provide a program wherein activities shall be implemented for one day celebration which shall commence every 28th day of July of every year/s ahead.

Section 07. Implementation. This Ordinance shall be implemented right after the date of its approval.

Section 08. Separability Clause. If any part of this ordinance is declared juridically as unconstitutional or unlawful, such declaration shall not affect the other parts or sections hereof that are not declared unlawful or unconditional.

Section 09. Repealing Clause. All previous ordinance inconsistent with this ordinance shall be deemed repealed or modified accordingly.

Section 10. Effectivity. This Ordinance shall take effect upon its approval from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

APPROVED: ??????

Don Hilario Ziálcita has finally come home…

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Early this morning, I was chatting with Tita Maggie Ziálcita de Tomás, a former print model and an old friend (we used to be neighbors back in the 80s). I was asking her help if she knows where I can recruit household helpers (a usual problem for me and my wife).

Suddenly, her mobile phone rang. It was from her cousin Manny, a brother of renowned cultural anthropologist, Fernando “Butch” Ziálcita.

Tita Maggie’s voice startled during the brief phone conversation. After the call, she broke down. The news sucked the air out of my brain: Manny and Butch’s father, the great Don Hilario Ziálcita y Legarda of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española (RAE), was dead. He was to turn 98 this year.

Prior to his death, Don Hilario may have been the oldest known Spanish-speaking Filipino, and was the oldest member of the RAE.

Flashback to 30 April 2004: a lazy afternoon at SPI Technologies. I was surfing the net when I suddenly encountered a news article reporting the unexpected death of Nick Joaquín the day before. Nick was one of the greatest Filipinos who had ever lived. And I almost met him a couple of times but didn’t. I quietly left my work station… and wept at some corner overlooking —of all places— Monte de Maquiling.

I idolized Nick so much to the point that I made an altar of him in my mind. Señor Guillermo Gómez, a close friend of his, proposed at least two or three times for me to finally meet him. But nothing came out of it due to schedule problems. What a wasted opportunity. What could have ever happened if I met the creator of Joaquinesquerie himself? Sayang. One of my life’s biggest regrets.

Now it’s followed by another loss.

Tita Maggie has invited me many times to visit her uncle. Don Hilario became one of my favorite poets after having read his collection of poetry, La Nao de Manila y Demás Poesías / The Manila Galleon and Other Poems, which his son Butch gave to me and other members of the Círculo Hispano-Filipino two years ago. It is a bilingual book published in 2004 containing some of Don Hilario’s poetry in Spanish coupled with English translations that were edited by Lourdes Brillantes. I then gave the book to my daughter so that she could perfect her Spanish.

Another sayang moment here because I was planning to interview Don Hilario, mainly to know more about the Intramuros of old, his poetry, and perhaps a chance to feature him in a new magazine that I am connected with right now. But it didn’t happen because me and Tita Maggie had a petty falling out a few months ago.

Nevertheless, 97 years on Earth is already a big achievement. Only a few people today are blessed to live that long. Don Hilario is one of those few. And his credentials are amazing. Don Hilario was a poet, a medical doctor in the field of radiology, a distinguished académico for the RAE, and a nationalist and true Christian — indeed, the quintessential Filipino, a gentleman of the old school, and a descendant of Don Agapito Ziálcita, one of the signatories of the Philippine Declaration of Independence.

To honor him, I am publishing a poem of his, translated from the Spanish original. This poem is apparently dedicated to his wife Mercedes, one of the daughters of Filipino patriot Julio Nákpil

THE RINGING OF BELLS

From the church… bells reverberate,
They reverberate, they reverberate
To toast
The dawn of a new day,
Its charms, its joys…
The bells reverberate, reverberate
Without ceasing…

Ringing out the memories
Of my life…
Echoing, echoing
To relive
The most precious moments,
Remembering the happy ones
As sleep comes…

The dying echoes
Fade away…
Moving away, moving away
Without wanting to.
I go on dreaming,
Reliving your memory,
Not wanting,
Not wanting it
To perish…

For you are unforgettable…

10 October 1997
Sioux City, Iowa

You, Don Hilario, are unforgettable. At last you are now with your beloved Merceditas…

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.

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