Category Archives: Negros Occidental

Nanay in Silay

A photo of my Nanay walking around Silay town proper

In front of another Lacson Ancestral home. Corner Rizal St and J.Pitong Ledesma St. Right across this house is BPI Silay.

A trip that was 50 years in the making. She left Negros when she was in her teens. Her recollection of this town is seeing the old houses. She was amazed that most of them are still standing.

If the old houses were not preserved, will my Mother, who has not visited her home province for five long decades, recognize it?

Revisiting Silay

Now, here’s a happy ending.

Just before leaving Negros for Iloilo. I managed to squeeze in a short visit to Silay. A couple of months ago I regretted visiting the place late in the afternoon. I bowed that I would comeback again. There was so much to see in town. So even though my Silaynon relatives graciously toured me around, I know that I would enjoy the towns architecture and cultural scene more in daylight.

So this time I made sure that I would have ample of sunshine above my head.

Today, the Government and the families works hand in hand in keeping these houses as monuments. Some had been torn down but majority of the old houses of Sila was restored and opened for the public. Casa Gaston, for example, had been donated for the public to see. A noble act aimed to showcase Silay’s past culture and lifestyle.

Of all the houses here, the most impressive for me personally is Casa Gaston. The Frenchman’s father, Yves Leopold Germain Gaston, was a pioneer in the towns sugar farming – the source of Silay’s wealth. The house is popularly called Balay Negrense and was built by its French owner in 1897. It houses an excellent collection of antiques including a circular table where there’s a list of all Gaston descendants. This house alone can inspire a book’s worth of historical information.

The traveler dwarfed by the grand Balay Negrense.

I like what Juliet Gaston-Patosa, an architect and member of the Gaston clan said: “As tomorrow’s ancestors, we shall be judged by our descendants by what we in turn leave them. Or, forever deprive them of.”

We better start to look around. What would be our legacy if we would neglect these treasures that has been handed down to us from the generation of before.

Moving near the national road one can find the massive Bernardo Jalandoni house. It has been a museum for some time and like all the other old houses it gives its visitors a glimpse of the grandeur and bustle the historic town once had. What this house lacked in exterior style it made up in size and form. Interesting is that even when it was built in the early 1900’s, (when the American’s were already in power) the house was built in the classic Filipino-Spanish bahay na bato style. Inside, there’s an incredible collection of furniture including musical instruments and an old phonograph.

What makes Silay the “Paris of Negros” was its excellent tradition in the arts. From theater to its unique food – the old town once had a high appreciation of European culture that even the simplest appliance are often imported from that continent. They also once had a musically inclined community, testament to this are the pianos and other musical instrument that can be found in almost all homes.

The Montelibano house is a whitewashed bahay na bato situated in a corner lot. One of the biggest in terms of dimensions. Another house worth visiting is the Angel Araneta Ledesma house, painted green and is now used as the cultural office. Here I met some very accommodating locals.

Maria Ledesma Golez house is now a bank but was largely left as it was originally. It has one of the most interesting style features – perhaps one of the best example of architectural reuse in the country today. Hopefully, urbanized towns and their leaders can get inspired by what the RCBC owners did to this beautiful house.

Hofilena House. Now under the custody of Ramon, well known for his advocacy of conserving the old houses in town.

Another Silay house that is in great condition is the Manuel Severino Hofileña house. Ramon Hofileña, whom I heard to be very enthusiastic and informative, tours local and out of town tourist around by appointment. He’s a well known champion of heritage conservation in the area. There are paintings of national artist (Juan Luna, Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo and Fernando Amorsolo) among others inside the house. This alone is enough reason to drop by the house.

The Calle Rizal is lined with beautifully “reused” heritage houses and shops.

The Cesar Lacson Locsin house, now El Ideal Bakery is an institution in Silay. You can find on the shelves variety of cultural food and sweets unique to the town.

There are around 29 houses built during the Spanish and American era that can be viewed in the town – a substantial number compared to much older towns in the country.

What a lot of people does not know is that Silay residents fought for their ancestral houses – not only against the elements and the ravages of time but against greedy stupid politicians. In the 70’s when there was a proposed project to expand the main street, threatening many old houses, they stood up against their leaders and in the end won.

The Silaynon’s attitude towards their ancestral house has truly impressed and inspired me. There are only few extant towns (we could probably count them in one hand) that have this appreciation and respect towards ancestral homes.

This small city proves that commitment and awareness in preserving heritage structures is locally beneficial – that it can be a source of income and most importantly a well from which people, conscious of their past, draw inspiration and guidance.

read about Silay’s historical time line here .

A Picture of Mt. Kanlaon

 Mt. Kanlaon (Canlaon, Kan-laon) with a strange cloud  formation hanging on top of it. I took this photo at the port of Toledo just before the sun rose. It was a perfect day and we were headed back to Negros.

Tañon strait was so calm that one could mistake it as a lake at that time. The sea breeze was cold and fresh. The only sound I could hear was the crashing little waves and the motorized boats from the distance.

Kanlaon is one of the most active volcanoes in the country. It sits side by side with Mts. Silay and Mandalangan. It has a broad crater lake, I was told, I wonder what it looks like.

Canlaon the city is located at the foot of the volcano. It is considered the vegetable basket of the province. The high altitude and the rich earth produces the finest quality vegetables in Negros. My mother’s relatives in San Carlos made a living from buying vegetables here and selling them in their hometown back in the 40’s and 50’s.

It is also the home of a barrio named after Ninoy Aquino.

Cebu: My Nanay’s Short but Memorable Visit

Almost three hours of traveling – from Dumaguete to San Carlos. We rested at the San Carlos public market where my mother sold vegetables from Canlaon as a child. We then went to Toledo crossing the beautiful strait of Tanon.  The journey was fast but very rough. The waves were high and the commuter boat, small and crowded. In Toledo we rode a bus that took us to Cebu City.

It was extra special for my mother because it was her first time in Cebu, an island visible from where she grew up. “On a clear day I could see the smoke from its coal factories”, she said.

Toledo is the most developed among the western towns of Cebu. It has benefited from the cooper and coal mining. However, noticeable is the toll nature has taken from decades of mining.

The road from west to south traverse the mountain slopes. This provides scenic countryside beauty and horrific views of defaced mountains and lost forest.

The bus then exits in Naga and continues northwards to Cebu City. I love seeing the lively towns of San Fernando, Talisay and Minglanilla – even from inside the bus.

We went around the city; I took my mother to the usual places tourist visits in Cebu. The most important, at least for her, is seeing Sto. Nino de Cebu. It was the highlight of her Cebu trip, according to her.

After a tiring afternoon of walking, we went back to Toledo. The bus was being driven by a mad man – it swerved and was over speeding in angled and narrow high way. Somewhere in the middle of the trip, they had problems with the engine. They got it fixed but at this time it was already dark which made the ride really uncomfortable. I remember when I was still residing in Cebu, one of my colleagues warned me that the transportation in this part of the province is notorious for recklessness and accidents. And having traveled in the west side before, I could tell that not much has changed.

Back in Toledo we spent a night to get some deserved rest. The ferry ride back to San Carlos departs at 6 in the morning.

Oct 2010

Silay Trip

Balay Negrense along Calle Cinco de Noviembre

We left the port of Dumangas at around 3 and reached Bacolod before 5 in the afternoon. The trip provided a spectacular view of Western Visayas’ three major islands. The last strokes of light gave a wonderful view of the islands from the deck. For someone who’s not used to seeing these postcard imagery, it was a great treat indeed, and a rare one that won’t be forgotten for a long time.

At the port of Bacolod, we were met by relatives who brought us straight to the historic city Silay where the momentous cry of cinco de Noviembre was heard. This has been their  home for almost half a century.

It is true that most of the affluent families of Negros are from the landed class of Iloilo. These families were drawn by the prospect of good business in the fertile land of Negros. An exodus of the high class Ilonggo families. Fortune did not disappointed them as the sugar industry made them wealthier and more influential.

San Diego Catedral

It was a pity that as soon as we reached Silay, darkness started to descend upon us. I tried my best to take as much picture as I can while listening to my relatives, trying to answer their questions (which were all in Ilonggo) as best as I can – and since my Ilonggo is very bad, I had to listen closely so as not to disappoint them. I was surprised that they did not spoke to me in Tagalog even after I’ve told them that I was born and raised in Manila. They possibly assumed that my mother taught her children. She never did but she used it around us and it is this exposure that made it familiar to us children.

If you’re an antiquarian, you’ll definitely fall in love with Silay. Referred to as “Paris of Negros” this museum town has a great collection of perfectly conserved heritage houses. There are 30 houses here that are recognized as heritage houses by our historical bureau. I can probably spend a week or two here and it would still be not enough. It was a magnificent sight to see so many houses that for me before only existed in photos. My relatives then took me to San Diego Pro Cathedral, next to the church is the city hall.

I then ask who’s paying for the restoration and maintenance of these houses, my Abuelo’s simple answer was “still the families”. The secret, then, to the survival of these beautiful monuments are their awareness and remembrance of their beautiful past – well, their moneyed pockets also plays an important role. Most of these Silaynon families are still well-off (perhaps an understatement) and there’s no lure of disposing their ancestors properties to the highest bidder, something that has become common back in Manila.

I remember Doreen Gamboa Fernandez’ essays about the food culture and the theater history of Silay. Her essays were the only reference I had about Silay and I read them a few years back. Now I know why she spoke highly of her hometown and its people. The town’s history and treasures is something that must be experienced to be appreciated. And its not that hard to reach, the Bacolod airport is actually in Silay. Who ever coined the name, “Paris of Negros”, was telling the truth. No words can describe those houses that up until now attest to the grandness of the old Silaynon life.

My proud Silaynon relatives taken after a fulfilling meal at Mang Inasal. Moments after this was taken came the rotating brownout. Mayroon din pala dito.

We had to leave in the morning and I felt terrible that my time was so short. Not enough praise can be given to my relatives who, even with the short time I had add to this is my short notice, gave me a quick tour of Silay. At around 8 in the evening, we decided to eat at a Mang Inasal branch, which had a very relaxing surrounding and a crew that were so friendly. The Lacson bakery (El Ideal I was told) and the Montelibano house proved the perfect backdrop.

Early morning, the following day we were already in Bacolod port waiting for the barge (packed with several San Miguel trucks) going to Dumangas. I promised that I’ll be back some day, I hope soon.

04 July 2010

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