When I say hidden, I mean hidden–almost tucked away from plain sight. Most of San Miguel Bulacan’s heritage houses are gated from view, and in a way, from memory.
But if there’s one thing that should make heritage advocates happy is that the ancestral houses are still standing. The present owners effort is truly commendable considering the soaring cost of keeping these houses–most of which are a century old. I couldn’t care less if they restrict people from seeing their homes as long as they keep it. While there were casualties (some has fallen into disrepair) the ones that remain in good shape are the most historic and architecturally important.
This visit, my second time, was strange—and a bit frustrating.
The weather was fine and warm all morning but when I reached San Miguel at around 2PM it started to drizzle. To make matters worst, a brawl broke out between tricycle drivers. That was pretty intense–what a welcome that was!
It felt like progress has left this old town with only its baronial houses as proof that it was once a golden town. There was a time when popular actors and politicians would pay one of the prominent families in town a visit. Things changed here, it has become the typical far flung municipality where poverty is on ever increasing rate.
The houses the landed families built here are the most ornate and imposing in the province. Much bigger compared to those found in the capital Malolos.
Mayumo, which means ‘sweet’ in Capampangan, was part of the original name (San Miguel used to be part of Pampanga) that for some strange reason is no longer officially used. The name was said to had been derived from the giving character of the town’s pioneer. He must have been a sweetheart! Why abandon such an important historical detail?
The town of San Miguel has always been historic. Aguinaldo and his generals headquartered (the general used the Tecson house) their forces in town. And here, perhaps, the most important event in Philippine Spanish war, the pact of Biak-na-Bato took place (some claim that the document was signed in the Tecson house and not in the rough forested area of Biak-na-Bato).
The most beautiful heritage homes can be found in the intertwined barrios of San Vicente and San Jose.
Most of the old homes are somewhat related to the de Leon’s. Notable members of this family consist of the late movie pioneer Narcisa Doña Sisang de Leon, founder of LVN filmsn (Doña Sisang was known to insist to speak only in Spanish and Tagalog). Mar Roxas’ grandmother was Trinidad de León-Roxas, the 5th first lady of the republic.
Other notable personalities that trace their roots to San Miguel are: Maximo Viola, Felipe Buencamino, Trinidad Tecson, Nicanor Abelardo, Director Mike de Leon and Virgilo Almario.
The military camp in town, Camp Tecson, was named after the local revolutionary hero Pablo Tecson. He donated this land to the government to be used as a military installation. He was under the command of Gregorio del Pilar (who briefly stayed in San Miguel with an uncle during the war), whose mother was a Sempio. Present defense secretary Albert del Rosario’s mother is the younger sister of del Pilar’s mother.
In Barrio San Jose one can find the house that was built by Rizal’s confidant, Maximo Viola. This guy not only lent Rizal the money for his Noli, but also accompanied Rizal to see prostitutes during their time together in Europe. Well, at least that’s what he claims.
The Sevilla house, locally known as “malaking bahay”, was built with ball room dancing in mind. The third floor was where the Celia Club would meet to dance the night away. I’ve never seen such an imposing (and costly) home built in the countryside. This house brings to mind the three story building Casa Vizantina in Manila (now moved to Bagac!).
The word is that some of the houses (I don’t know which ones) in San Miguel was destroyed by treasure hunting. It is strange that a town like this has not yet been declared a “heritage town” by our historical agencies. You would think that they would do so for such recognition would help promote the town’s tourism and historical awareness.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, this trip was a bit disappointing. You see, I first came here in San Miguel in 2005 (this blog wasn’t born yet) and I remember being refused by most of the owners and caretakers to see and take photos of their homes. Well, I encountered the same today. They just can’t be bothered with visitors. I think what haven’t caught up (and this puzzles me to no end) with the present owners yet is the idea that their houses have the potential for tourism and education. There’s just so much history around that it’s a shame that these historical homes are not accessible. Perhaps, our historical agencies needs to make that first move, declare the old town a “heritage town”, maybe then (just maybe) the owners would open their doors and embrace the fact that their houses are essential historical examples of Filipino culture and identity.