Before visiting Bataan, my stand on relocating heritage houses is that of a purist advocate. Keep them where they were constructed. If the town and the inheritors choose not to care for them then let them die nobly in situ.
Physically moving them is violating the very meaning of heritage conservation.
But after seeing Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar I’ve had a change of heart—not a radical departure from my original opinion but a change none the less. I still believe that we should avoid the “relocation” of bahay-na-batos but this option should not be out of the table.
Projects like the Las Casas of Acuzar do serve some good. In a time where even historically popular heritage houses are not spared from ruin, such projects has become necessary evils.
The fear that Acuzar’s out to get every single bahay-na-bato in the country is baseless. He handpicks them based on historical, architectural and cultural merits. Bad news for those who wants to dispose their ancestral houses in exchange for some cash. Although I heard that the resort plans to add around 20 more houses.
To be honest, I don’t like the idea of collectors plucking heritage houses away from where they were originally built but people like Acuzar would not invest on acquiring heritage houses if it weren’t for the negligence of our historic town’s people and government.
But if there’s anything we can learn from this strange project (who would have thought that you can transport an entire baha-na-bato?) it is that it can be done. Acuzar even laid out the plan how to make them tourist attractions!
If our heritage agencies would think outside the box for a moment, maybe they should do an Acuzar, salvage threatened Spanish-Filipino colonial houses then put them in an area where they can be viewed by Filipinos.
The reality is that our laws are not going to protect our tangible heritage. If you believe that it can, well, you must be in la-la land. Look, never in my life that I imagined the Alberto house of Biñan would end the way it did. Go to Biñan and see for yourself, if you’re feeling more adventurous, go to San Nicolas Manila, even in our provinces that are fast developing. We’re losing so many, so fast!
The misconception in Biñan is that because Acuzar came to the owner to buy the house he then decided to get rid of it. The truth was that the house was decaying for decades—no funds, no assistance from both local and national government. Only when it was literally gradually caving in that the present owner sought the help of Acuzar.
When a group of construction workers started dismantling the house it caught the mainstream and social media’s attention. As I expected, just like in FPJ movies when cops shows up after the gunfight is over, everyone became fanatical heritage advocates especially the local politicos.
In Bagac I heard some interesting stories behind the houses and how they end up in all places, a coastal resort.
The Casa Mexico, a sophisticated bahay-na-bato with delicate barandillas, a graceful front staircase (imagine ascending to the piso principal, the main sala today, what sight that must have been), stylistic balustrades, creative carvings all over—and this you better believe, the entire house was retrieved from a junk shop. Sold like worthless scrapings.
The neglect some of our people have towards our tangible heritage is just so infuriating. But this mirrors how we value ourselves as a people, and this utter disrespect for the past is an expression of how we lost our identity as Filipinos.
What’s even more absurd is that the very people, family members that shares direct lineage to the people who built these houses are the ones who gives these houses up so easy.
Like the house from Lubao, built by the sugar planter Don Valentin Arrastia in the early 1900’s. It’s a delightful example of Capampangan wealthy living in the countryside. The elaborate ceilings, its elegant chandeliers and its solid wooden floors—it is so elegant. A few years ago it was faithfully reconstructed using the same materials from the house here in Bagac—this one’s very eclectic—and historic, to say the least.
Why did President Macapagal Arroyo, a Lubao native, did not help restore this house escapes me. Her father was helped by the Arrastia’s in his early education. It was a house his father must have adored.
An article I found in one of the printed guides in Las Casas has this moving story as recalled by a granddaughter of the Don Valentin. In it she narrates her family’s memorable experiences around the house. The kind of stories you hear from people who had a great childhood. Then much to her surprise, during a recent visit to Lubao she found an empty lot.
I’m surprised that she was surprise the house is gone. I think for a precious physical connection you share with your ancestors you should check the house they built for the family from time to time?
But what do I know, these are their stories. At least they can still visit their abuelos home in Bagac and perhaps swim in the nearby beach. Leave town and not worry about the house.
If my memory serves me right, Don Valentin’s house in Lubao was still there when I saw the town for the first time in 1998.
When I visited Unisan a few years ago, my friend Pepe Alas, toured me around his hometown. He showed me where the Maxino house once stood. Pepe recalls how it used to look like inside and out, how he and his childhood pals would rent computer games in its ground floor.
The Maxino’s were murdered during a house break in. Of course the house is rumored to be haunted. I’m sure it was but I doubt it if the ghosts of Don Antonio’s family relocated to Bagac after the transfer.
After that holiday in Unisan, I tried to look up pictures of the house on line and in some of my books, found some references but no pictures. So I gave up and just left everything to my imagination.
Well, this visit to Las Casas was the opportunity I have been waiting for. Here I finally saw the house that left Unisan.
It is the first bahay-na-bato in Unisan-and most likely the first in the province of Tayabas (now Quezon, tomorrow who knows?) to have been uprooted and transplanted.
The house now is Café Marivent in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.
Of course a visit to Las Casas is not complete without dropping by the Casa Bizantina, originally from San Nicolas Manila.
How this massive historical house that stood for more than a century in Calle Madrid ended up in Bagac is somewhat shady. It was uprooted and transferred without the local government contesting it?
We’re talking about Manila here; they’re the worst in protecting heritage structures—I think I just answered my question.
I have visited Casa Bizantina numerous time. One time, I went inside. I’ll never forget the pitiable tenants leasing small bed spaces and jam-packed rooms in the massive bahay-na-bato. A lady I spoke with told me that there are more than 20 families living in the casa!
Those people knew little of the house’s history but I remember hearing from one of them that the “City Hall” has sent people to tell them that the house would soon be taken down. If this is true then, no, I’m sure this is true, It’s not surprising that historic district is losing century old houses.
We have mad people running the asylum.
Casa Bizantina used to house the Instituto de Manila, now the University of Manila, before it transferred to Sampaloc. One day I hope someone from that school would write a complete history of this splendid mansion.
Due the popularity of the movie Heneral Luna, the Casa Luna was a hit among the visitors.
There was a tour of the house when I passed by so I decided to join. It was informative and entertaining. I was observing those in attendance and it was satisfying to see that these people has travaled quite a distance just to learn and see these glorious treasures of our past.
The house was built by the wealthy Novicio’s in the mid-1800’s in Namacpacan, La Union. Local politicians would later rename the town Luna after the prominent patriotic family. Ironically, they forgot to conserve the house of the family they named their town after.
My suggestion is for them to get their old name back, drop Luna, they don’t deserve it.
Transferring building materials was actually a practice before. The idea is not new and has actually been recorded in the past. In some cases, entire house were relocated piece by piece. True to the spirit of “bayanihan” where townsfolk lifted bahay-kubos to new locations, Filipinos also did the same with bahay-na-bato.
An example of this is Casa Meycauyan, which was originally from San Fernando Pampanga before it was brought to Bulacan. It must hold the record of being the only bahay-na-bato that has been transplanted twice in two different centuries!
This activity, although not widespread back in the day, goes to show how good the materials were. As they call it then and now, materiales Fuertes—built to last forever.