Tag Archives: Bahay na Bato

Bahay-na-Bato: Always the Haunted Houses


“The town’s Antillean houses were massive but refined, elegant.The builders were not cutting corners. They were out to impress!” These days they’re all gated, almost hidden, with only caretakers (like that lady) for residents.

I recently watched a GMA Front Row about the ancestral houses in San Miguel, Bulacan. “Front Row: Ang Misteryosong Lumang Bahay ng San Miguel Bulacan” was uploaded in Youtube October last year. I’m not sure when it aired on TV.


I wasn’t surprised that the stories were, again, about trifling ghost stories.

Filipino TV producers and writers are obsessed with haunted houses. Good for ratings—terrible for the already underappreciated bahay-na-batos.

Manuel, grandson of Doña Crispina de Leon (sister to former first lady Trinidad Roxas) said the, “house reflects the rich history of this town…it shows that even during those times there were cultured, educated people and entrepreneurs…movers of the town’s small economy.”

He said not once did he ever seen a ghost. Manuel spoke of the house’s colorful past. He took the focus away from it being jammed with ghosts.

All the other caretakers spoke of their scary experiences.

The featured De Leon house was where Gregorio del Pilar slept before living Bulacan to head north.

Teodoro M. Kalaw said it was the wish of the builders that their houses continues to be inhabited and appreciated by generations to come.

Our tangible heritage are not just spaces where horror films gets staged. They were built to last for “US” to live in, to celebrate.

Not long ago, while walking around the Dominican’s retreat house in Nasugbu, I overheard teenagers chuckle. “Ay dito yun, eto yun!” one of them somewhat reenacted a scene. Curious, I asked what’s going on. “Sukob po, yun movie ni Chris Aquino, dito po s’ya kinasal.”

Now, the Chapel is not a heritage structure. But my point is that the young would most likely recall a horror flick scene over the history of a place.

We once went to Wisconsin to buy clothes and electronics. This US state have low sales tax and great bargains from “outlet” shops.

I was looking for an IC recorder. A Sony attendant recommended one, “this model is very popular for ghost and paranormal people, y’know”.

Interesting sales pitch.

We have a different culture compared to westerners. In the US, old hotels rumored to be haunted gets more reservations.

Their notorious haunted houses are not adversely affected by its reputation.

On the contrary, Filipinos steer clear of places believed to be haunted.

A few years ago, someone looking for a place to rent in Manila sought my advise regarding an old apartment. He wanted to know if it had a history of being haunted!

In San Ildefonso, the “bahay na pula” was demolished in 2016. Not a whimper was heard. I didn’t even heard of it until a friend told me.

For most people, even local historians, it’s not only haunted, its “dark” past makes them want for it to just go away. They don’t want anything to do with it.

The house was one of the many sites where “comfort women” were raped during WWII.

A blogger friend told me that Engr. Acuzar allegedly bought the house for his Bataan beach resort.

But is it not better that it remain there to educate the young?

If we follow the proponents of the demolition’s logic, we should build on top of Bagumbayan. Ensure no trace of its past remains. No monuments, nothing. Luneta was where Filipinos got shot and guillotined! Let’s build an SM mall and a dozen Jollibee on its very ground!


The last time I saw San Miguel was four years ago. My wife’s family is from nearby San Rafael. The town is a short jeepney ride away.

I remember witnessing two tricycle drivers fight MMA-style when I came to see the bahay-na-bato(s). I thought that’s a bad omen (there was also a bit of rain that day!).

True enough—it was.

I failed to inspect any of the famed houses up close. I viewed all of them from the street. No one allowed me in, not one caretaker!

The town’s Antillean houses were massive but refined, elegant. The builders were not cutting corners. They were out to impress!

San Miguel’s the biggest cluster of bahay-na-bato that I have seen in the province.

Owners are struggling financially maintaining their inherited properties. They’re not given financial and technical support but are told by government and public to hold on to it.

I know of one case in Laguna where the owner just decided to sell the house to free himself with what seem to him a lifelong encumbrance.

I always thank caretakers and owners I meet. What they’re doing is a difficult task. They’re not only preserving the memory of their forebears but the historical identity of us all.


To be clear, I remain a fan of GMA 7 docus. I believe we’re in the golden era of Filipino documentaries. In my mind, they’re the best at it. But I’ve seen enough haunted houses that features our bahay-na-batos.

Time to make something else. Leave our old houses alone please.


The Alberto of Biñan and the Vigan Wife

The collapsing centuries old bahay na bato in Biñan reminded me of the curious case of Lorenzo Alberto of Biñan who married into a prominent family up north but settled back in his home province – with another woman.

Lorenzo was an educated mestizo that reached the pinnacle of political power of his time – representing his country in the Spanish cortes. Along with Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, easily, the greatest and most important Biñenses that ever lived.

(After Lorenzo’s group, there will be no other Filipino that will follow. Even after vigorous calls for reforms and native representation. The Cadiz constitution that allowed colonies to be represented in the Spanish cortes was short lived.)

It is said that Lorenzo Alberto of Biñan married a Vigueña, Paula Florentino, who was then12 years his junior. The controversy has nothing to do with the girl’s age (this was quite common back in the day) but with how related these people are with each other.

The Florentino ancestral house in Vigan. It houses the Vigan tourism center and a restaurant. Right in front is the Spanish Iloco poetess Leona Florentino monument. She’s the mother of Isabelo de los Reyes and relative of Paula.

According to Rizal, his mom, along with Jose Alberto came from the marriage of Joaquinina Brigida de Quinto and Lorenzo Alberto. The siblings, according to local historians, later claimed legitimacy by stating that the Vigueña, the legal wife, Paula Florentina, was their lawful mother.

Question is that if they all came from the Alberto-Quinto marriage, whatever happened to this Florentino girl? are there any Alberto’s in Vigan?

Some more strange family tales…

The former personal secretary of Gerardo Alberto, an Ilocana told me that the version told to her was that all sibling were from the same mother except Teodora. She adds that this is the reason why Teodora had always been treated like an outsider. Of all the Alberto siblings she was the only one that was born and baptized in Manila.

Another interesting account comes from the Philippine Star columnist Barbara Gonzalez, herself a Rizal descendant. According to her, Jose (Teodora’s brother) had fathered a child with his niece, Saturnina Rizal and that Soledad Rizal was the fruit of this incestuous affair. This was the reason why Jose’s wife, Teodora Formoso, developed animosity towards Teodora — and also the reason why Saturnina was known to be the prettiest of all Rizal sisters.

Talk about a story that TV dramas would run all night!

Biñan is where Rizal’s roots are – both parents are Biñense. And Biñan having quite a big group of rich chino cristiano families that married into each others families gave the national hero probably more relatives here than any historian could imagine.

The relocation to Calamba was spearheaded by Lorenzo Alberto. Who according to historians peacefully retired in his farm with Brijida.

Contrary to historical accounts, Rizal never stayed in the Alberto house. The Rizal’s had nothing but bitter memory of it. Teodora was convicted for attempted murder and was sent to prison because of an incident that happened in this house (Spain doesn’t have anything to do with her conviction as is often claimed in popular history text).

The plaintiff was no less than her sister-in-law.

The story is that Jose Alberto found out that Teodora Formoso (his wife) was having an affair. Back from a trip, he had her immediately locked in one of the rooms. Jose then requested Teodora (the sister) to feed her while on locked down.

Jose and Teodora was later punished by civil authority. The latter was charged with attempting to poison the wife wife. Not clear is how long Jose was imprisoned and what was the case against him.

If only that collapsing house could squeal the secrets it witnessed before it falls down on its own.

Why Old Houses are Important

I have been asked many times why old ancestral houses that dates back centuries are important. Many ask why is there a need to preserve – are they not vestiges of a time when we were enslaved?

First of all, a closer examination of these houses: its style, its aesthetic  characteristics, its structural composition and its history reveals much of the mindset of its builders. Its wrong to call it Spanish, Kastila or Bahay Kastila – its far from being one. The people that built and lived in these houses were Filipinos. The idea of building was a wonderful mix of oriental and hispano structural traditions – the “bahay na bato” exist nowhere but here – it can’t get any Filipino.

These ancestral houses are products of our ancestors response to the natural Filipino world, the one that is often visited by so many natural calamity: typhoons, drought, diseases, earthquakes, fire and, every now and then, pirate and foreign navy incursions and local revolts.

What’s even more important, aside from the architectural history that many no longer think important, is the reason why it was built. Teodoro M. Kalaw expressed it best in his “La Vanguardia” article dated 11 December 1926: “The great houses… are the material expression of our communal type of society… Our grand sires erected those mansions to house generation after generation of descendants. They served to give life and fulfillment to the supreme ideal of stability, unity, perpetuity, of the Filipino family.”

“The old provincial houses” say Kalaw “do not have the virtue of eternity, they have had to cede to the pressure of time”. The patriot, if he’s still living, would probably be surprised to see so many of these houses survived countless calamitous events. Testament that our ancestors did attempt to make them last forever! but unfortunately, even with its enormous stone walls, they’re no match to  a demolition crew equipped with bulldozers.

Kalaw reminds us of the builders of these beautiful mansions: “The tradition of home is changing. And the ancient patriarch, if he still exists, now had to lament his solitude, among his antique furniture, alone faithful and still loving”. When these “ancient patriarch”, our great grandfathers, died, their descendants abandoned, not only the houses he built for them, but the way of life that defined his nation. With them died the original Filipino legacy.

The article then posted this question: “What is the reason for all this change? Progress, modernism, industrialism, the new social and economic doctrines, the very force of circumstances” Well, we have become overly eager to change the old ways, we want to be like them Americans, to be “uso” and “moderno”. We forgot what made us Filipinos. The popular Filipino trait, for example, of being hospitable and good host is because back in the days, Filipino houses were built to accommodate visitors like they’re part of family. It doesn’t matter who you are back in the day. Our open houses made us, often, overly generous to our friends and neighbors.

These houses, what’s left in our present time, will continue to remind us of our ancestors way of life and their culture. The tradition of communities looking after each other – the “Balikatan”, “pakikisama”, “kapitbahay”, the “ninong and ninang”, “family comes first”, the idea of the barrio where everyone is important. On the other hand, the writer correctly called the “modern cottages or chalet”, the detached bungalow style, the condos and apartment housing we see today – as the “precise external manifestation of a contrary social type: the individualistic type”.

Contrary to common beliefs that most of these houses were destroyed during WWII, actually, we began losing them earlier. The reason was that the Filipinos during the years of the American occupation were being culturally uprooted. Behavior began to shift in the direction of “Americanismo”. The filipino hispano, which was for the most part of our known history that became our cultural and social identity began to lose ground. Filipinos began to disassociate themselves with their ancestors customs, language, religion, ideas, opinion, traditions – we began to abandon the way of life they fought hard to keep. These is the reason why no matter how hard we study the written works of our founding fathers, we’ll never come close to understanding their emotions, their thoughts, and their intentions. It is said that a poem can never be translated but rewritten – and so is written Filipino history, now being rewritten.

Let me take the final words, a warning of what’s up ahead for all of us, from the same article written more then 80 years ago: “Industrial cities of cosmopolitan character…no longer hope for the sweet past… with the material disintegration of the family, due to the struggle of life, those sweet principles of our oriental communism are, alas, disappearing: the respect for the old, the unity and love of married couples, the concord among brothers, the protection of parents, the constancy of friendships…”

Disappearing? or did it already disappeared?

Paintings of Old Filipinas

I discovered recently that there are contemporary artists painting scenes from the filipino hispano era. I’m not sure what they call this particular theme (Old Manila?). I sure like what I saw.

Usually depicted are the rustic beauty of grand old churches and towns where a neighborhood of  bahay na bato are prominently portrayed.  I have to admit that I want to own some of what I saw if it were not for the price tag!

The shop owners in Treasure Trove Festival Mall carries some of the widely known Filipino painters today. One of them is this guy Anton Mahilom. They give away postcards like this to visitors. They take time talking with customers and visitors alike.

I particularly like the works of Ed Sarmiento and Anton Mahilum. Their work’s colors, mood and texture appeals to me. I’m not technical with this art form so I really don’t know much about the techniques and medium involved. I’m ignorant when it comes to these things. But I think that even with sophisticated art forms like this you should go for those that resonates well with you. There’s no sense if you buy something you won’t enjoy.

Any painting aficionado will tell you that they make good investments. That is if you know it well. Without a doubt some of those paintings I saw the other day will one day be worth more than what they sell for today.

Am I going to be an art collector?

Probably not – but maybe, just maybe it could happen one day. My heart melts whenever I see photographs and paintings of old towns and districts, the gentle life of farmers and fisher folks from the days of old Filipinas. These artworks represents a time when life was more simple, more gracious, less hurried. Perhaps the most artful, most romantic period in our history.

From Bahay kubo to…

From Bahay Kubo to Bahay na Bato to …

by Robert Gardner

“Houses have their own ways of dying, falling as variously as the generations of men, some with a tragic roar, some quietly, … while from others … the spirit slips before the body perishes.”

(“Howards End”, E. M. Forster, 1910)

Wherever I traveled in the Philippines, I always enjoyed the old wooden houses that lined the streets especially in out-of-the-way provincial towns. A few years ago I began to notice that many of these houses were either abandoned or disappearing altogether–victims of changing family fortunes, good and bad–and the ravages of nature and time.

In their places, new houses are being built of concrete, cinder block and stucco. The dwindling use of wood in construction can be blamed on the loss of the great forests that once covered the islands with a seemingly endless supply of lumber. Along with the change in building materials, the shift in architecture has moved toward western influences–both European and American. I’ve seen subdivisions that could have been named “California-kitsch”.

Our original ancestral home, and still the home of Filipinos in rural areas, is the bahay kubo, or “nipa hut” (prob. from Spanish cubo, cube). The prehispanic architecture was perfectly adapted to the climate and could be easily repaired or rebuilt after the frequent typhoon, flood or earthquake using simple tools and native materials.

“Their houses are constructed of wood, and are built on planks and bamboo, raised high from the ground on large logs, and one must enter them by means of ladders. They have rooms like ours; and under the house they keep their swine, goats and fowl.”(Antonio Pigafetta, 1521)

After colonization, the Spanish brought their architecture but quickly learned that stone buildings didn’t last very long in an earthquake-prone country. As towns and plantations grew, more substantial homes were being built by the rising upper-class. These principalia and ilustrados combined the structural features of the bahay kubo with stylistic elements from Europe and Asia. The result was the bahay na bato, literally “house of stone”, that served as the model for townhouses from the 19th century until World War II and for many is considered the quintessential Filipino house.

“The third and final stage in the development of the Spanish-Filipino domestic architecture retained the wooden supporting structure but restricted the use of brick and stone to the lower level; the upper level consisted of an enclosure in vertical wooden siding which left ample openings for sliding windows. Capiz shells were often used as window panes. What emerges is a Spanish-Filipino house.”(Architecture in the Philippines, Winand Klassen, 1986)

The old houses are as unique as the families that lived under their roofs and there are a wide range of styles between the bahay kubo and the mansions of the hacenderos. There are also some regional differences but they all have some features in common. Typically raised or two-story, the main living area is on the upper level. To take advantage of cooling breezes, large windows surround the upper floor. The window sashes commonly have capiz shell panes and can be opened wide or closed for privacy or in stormy weather. Vents above the windows, protected by the roof eaves, let air in even when it’s rainy. Small shuttered windows below the large windows, called ventanillas, are screened with balusters or grillwork and can be left opened when the large windows are closed such as at night. As the name implies, the lower walls of the classic bahay na bato were traditionally finished in stone or masonry. More modest homes have wood walls for both levels and in more recent times, cinder blocks have been used to enclose the lower level. This space, the zaguan, was used to store the family carriage and processional cart in the old days and nowadays often function as office, shop or the family’s sari-sari store.

I find it interesting that the word bahay, “house”, is similar to the word buhay, “life”. And that the word bahay-bata, “house-child”, is the word for uterus; where life begins. It wasn’t long ago that a baby was delivered with the help of a midwife in the home of her parents. She would grow up there and her love interest would make a “house-calling” (umaakyat ng bahay) to seek permission of her parents to court her. Even in death, the wake is often held in the home of the deceased with black and yellow curtains hung in the windows.

“The dinner was being given in a house on Anloague Street which may still be recognised unless it has tumbled down in some earthquake. Certainly it will not have been pulled down by its owner; in the Philippines, that is usually left to God and Nature. In fact, one often thinks that they are under contract to the Government for just that purpose .”(“Noli me Tangere”, Jose Rizal, 1887)

Like an endangered species, these wood and stone houses are vanishing toward certain extinction. What once embodied the character of the urban landscape and the heart of Filipino life will be blown away by the winds of progress. Already many towns are looking like cluttered strip malls and subdivisions provide homes without character. The capiz, that naturally filtered light, has given way to glass and the large open windows have been replaced with air-conditioning. Homes that shared a street or square are now isolated in gated compounds. Such is progress and it’s no wonder that a modern-day Rip Van Winkle wouldn’t recognize his surroundings upon awakening twenty years from now.After noticing the demise of these old homes, I thought it would be an interesting photo subject and quickly used up a roll of film on one trip. Afterwards, I did some research and found the book “Philippine Ancestral Houses”, Zialcita and Tinio, 1980, which covers the subject in wonderful detail. This is a book to peruse with its many photos and drawings if you’re interested in the subject. Another good book is “Filipino Style” with a chapter about traditional houses also written by Zialcita.

You can find good examples of these homes in the quieter provincial towns. A few towns have made an effort to preserve their architectural heritage. One such place is Vigan in Ilocos Sur. The National Museum in Manila has a display of photos and architectural drawings of Vigan’s ancestral homes (as of July 2000). The town of Taal, Batangas, is also notable for its preserved buildings. Good examples of the hacendero lifestyle can be found at the Balay Negrense in Silay, Negros and Villa Escudero in San Pablo, Laguna. There are still some fine old homes in Quiapo and Binondo; parts of Manila that weren’t destroyed in World War II.

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