Tag Archives: bataan

Transplanted Bahay-na-Batos in Las Casas of Acuzar

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.

Casa Bizantina on the background

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.

The green painted Casa San Miguel

Casa Bizantina again, this time with Korean tourists who seem to be all over the place.

The houses from Jaen and Mexico, not the country, the Capampangan town.

They call this area Paseo de Escolta. Recreation of a portion of the old Spanish Escolta in Manila.

Rails are being laid down for the tramvia.

Casa Mexico. The house that they found in a junk shop. Faithfully rebuilt based on the original.

The Casa Novicio (Luna) tour. The film, Heneral Luna, must have inspired them to come here. Some scenes from that film was actually shot here.

Good to see these kids getting interested in our history. Their facebook after this for sure would be flooded with their selfies with the houses as backdrop!

Another house from Jaen. I think those folks from Nueva Ecija doesn’t give a rat’s ass about their heritage

A Spanish Filipino house from Candaba

The Casa that Don Maxino built in Unisan

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The Alberto House of Bagac, Formerly of Biñan

There she is, the Alberto Mansion, now in her new home, 150 kms north of Manila, Bagac!

When I heard that the Alberto House was rebuilt in a coastal resort in Bagac a few years ago I knew I had to go and see it. They say it’s a “replica” but I immediately recognized some parts of the house. How much of the house came from the original Biñan house must be in the low percentile; Gerry Acuzar stop acquiring parts from the Spanish era mansion after protests from the local government and some NGO’s in Biñan.

Gerry Alberto, the last owner, decided to donate (some claims he sold it) the house to Acuzar after typhoon “Ondoy” smashed parts of the roof and wall; water sip in damaging the house’s interior. I know this because I visited the house after the storm has passed and spoke with the owner. He knew it was time to give it up before the entire house collapses.

The politicians of Biñan who hugged the lime light when the news about the transfer was all over the place are silent now. While what remains of the house in Biñan are rotting under the elements.

I am against transplanting heritage houses but we should use it when everything fails. In Biñan’s case, the local and national government failed to salvage the house until the owner decided to dismantle it before it caves in. It was not in good shape even before that terrible typhoon. It was crumbling for years and no one came with a plan to rescue it!

A councilor commented on this site that his efforts to get the local government to act was “overtaken” by elections. They were too busy with politics as usual.

The Alberto House is gone and it ain’t coming back. Biñan’s energy is better spent looking after their other heritage sites in the city.

From the looks of it, Acuzar no longer needs the invaluable scraps from Biñan. Perhaps, now, the city of Biñan can reconstruct the Alberto mansion somewhere in town.

Early this year I visited an aunt’s property in Biñan, near the Carmona boundary, I was surprised to see the city’s vast open lands. You don’t get to see this when you’re in the crowded downtown.

If Las Casas de Acuzar recreated an Alberto House in Bataan, why not within the prosperous city where there’s still plenty of open space?

I believe there are government officials there that genuinely cares about the city’s heritage but their voices were sadly never heard. The only way they can correct this wrong is to recreate the Alberto mansion and use it to educate Biñenses.

The Alberto House in Bagac was oddly familiar. This bahay-na-bato stands as the one that I visited the most (and blogged about too). It was a twilight-zonish moment to know that it stood for hundreds of years in Biñan but is now in Bagac. But seeing it felt like reconnecting with a friend you have not seen for awhile.

It was the first house that I entered in the Las Casas. It’s located near the bridge going to the Sanctuario de San Jose. The portion that was rented out to moviehaus operators in Biñan is there, now an Italian restaurant. This is the only part of the original house that I have not seen before. At least here in Bagac the Alberto House is complete, it’s clean; I walked in every room and was satisfied to see how this “replica” turned out.

So many local tourist was impressed by the house. I overheard teenagers talking about how wealthy Rizal’s grandparents must have been. “Even wealthy people now don’t build houses like this,” one of them said.

Well, the Filipinos from that epoch built houses to showcase their religiosity, culture and identity.

Rich Filipinos now just build to impress—their houses, in exotic Mediterranean style and Bali inspired themes. They’re proud to show the history of another nation except their own as if they’re ashamed of it.

As I walked around the Alberto house I imagined how Consul John Bowring described it in his book “A Visit to the Philippine Islands”. It was that important back in the day, when an official comes to Biñan they make a courtesy call to the mansion.

I have seen countless bahay-na-batos in the country and for me the Alberto house stands out as the grandest, the most impressive—not to mention its colorful history.

Biñan lost a great deal in this one.

A few weeks ago, a lightning struck the head of the Rizal monument in Biñan’s plaza. This is right in front where the house once stood.

Call me superstitious but I take that as an ominous sign.

Some materials, like this dirigkalin post, made it all the way here. Some of the paintings too. In this house, Rizal’s sister-in-law was said to have been held. The incident caused Teodora her liberty. She was accused of poisoning her sister-in-law.

The windows that’s close to me personally. The times that I visited this house in Binan I would look out out from these windows and see the church and the municipio. These windows used to open up to the Presidencia, the town hall in Binan. My avatar since I started this blog are these capiz windows, I think they managed to salvage the frames but the capiz shells appears to be new.

Here I get to experience the spacious court yard as it was during the prime years of the house. Just look at how princely it is. Beautiful. It’s a Spanish-Filipino colonial mansion like no other I tell you. Listen, they don’t make them like they used to!

Related Posts:

puto biñan and an alberto house-less biñan

The Fight for the Alberto House of Binan

Update on the Alberto House of Binan

The Alberto of Biñan and the Vigan Wife

Calls to Save Casa Alberto of Biñan…Too Late the Hero

The Alberto’s and Binan

Discovering Rizal’s Chapel of Our Lady of Peace


Revisiting Corregidor

Been busy the past few weeks. Things I do now eats up a lot of my time. I no longer get to travel much. So I usually (even with friends) pass up travel opportunities. Budget is tight and there are far more important things to be concerned with is my alibi these days. But there are exemptions, of course, invitations I can’t say no to. Like this request from a brother who wanted to see Corregidor. He wanted to see it before going back stateside. This year being his last tour of duty with US military he wanted to visit what he calls the “Rock”. He’s been to Hawaii’s Pearl Harbour, so I guess this completes his pilgrimage of sorts.

He’s as crazy as I am when it comes to history but his expertise is in the American part of our history. He believes America brought us closer to the ideals political democracy. We don’t agree on a lot of issues, obviously, but this passion for the past has brought us closer. We tolerate each others’ opinions and we enjoy debating over a cup of coffee (we can literally go straight for 4-5 hours discussing historical items, this is our version of “catching up” with lost time!).

We woke up around 5 am and started preparing for the trip. We commuted to Manila and was in the Sun cruises compound before 7 am. Since we don’t have reservations, we were what people there called “chance passengers”. We have to wait for people to cancel or not show up. It was a “full tour” a staffer told me. So I was a bit worried that we might not get on a boat to Corregidor. The first time I went to Corregidor they accommodated more tourist because the boat they used was bigger. This time it was much smaller. I was told that during weekdays Sun cruises only utilize these boats. Since there’s only one tour during weekdays, tourist crowds the first and only tour.

The boat had a mix of foreign tourist on board. Aside from Americans, there were a lot of Japanese. At first I thought that these people would stir clear from Corregidor, they got beaten here pretty bad, but then I realize that their the kind of people that would go and pay their respects to their war dead regardless where the place is. I remember that small cemetery in Muntinlupa where there are Japanese regularly making the pilgrim to that isolated small garden. I can’t help but admire these people. They have good memory when it comes to their national history. We won and forgot about our heroes, they lose but never forgot about the sacrifice of their young men. We can learn something from them.

I thought I’m going to have to talk a lot about what happened in Corregidor. Not the case. Turns out that what I know is not even half of what my brother knows about the battle of Corregidor and Bataan (pronounced Bat’an by Americans). So the tour guide became the tourist in Corregidor. Aside from showing him the Spanish Navy’s battleship mast that was made into a flag pole for the stars and stripes near the old Spanish lighthouse, I hardly contributed any new information to my brother!

The suffering the defenders of Corregidor went through was unimaginable. Being part of the tour makes you respect more what those brave soldiers did. Corregidor and Bataan were the last to be surrendered to the Japanese. The island was where Quezon was inaugurated for his second term (him and Erap were the only presidents that had been sworn to office outside Manila). The Malinta Tunnel became bomb shelter, hospital and residence. The network of tunnels inside Malinta is extensive. So much history in such a small piece island. Just imagine 4000 Japanese men died during the American take over.  Most of them refusing to surrender were burned alive.

It was only in the 1980’s that the location of the Japanese graves was revealed to the Japanese government. For some reason, the location of the mass grave was withheld from the Japanese until that decade. Why the Philippine and American government concealed that location is a mystery. The Japanese was allowed to construct a garden for their dead near where their soldiers were collectively  buried. The Japanese visitors can be seen here offering prayers and incense to a stone goddess about 8 to 10 feet tall.

As me and my brother continued exchanging historical anecdotes we often found ourselves pausing to reflect on some interesting places that catches our attention. Like this gunnery where Japanese letters are etched on the wall. We took photos of it as he wanted his Japanese wife to see it. I was reminded that the island is still surrounded by explosive ammo. I think it was last year when the current President requested help in disposing these dangerous cache of ammo. He made that request to Obama while he was in the White House.

The island is now densely forested. It is as if nature is taking the island back. According to the tour guides, the islands were reforested because almost all of its trees were struck down by bombs. I’m sure Corregidor must be one of the most bombed place in world history. How soldierssurvive the tumultuous years, when the island was relentlessly shelled, is something I can’t get my mind to imagine. It must have been one hellish and awful existence!

The tour and most of the literature about the island concentrates on the role it played during the pacific wars. Hardly ever mentioned is what was life like before the American came. Believe it or not there were several thriving barrios around the island during the Spanish times. The fishing barrio of San Jose is located north (location of bottomside today) of the island. It sits right beside the surf and had a church, a convent, a school (Escuela de Nuestra Señora del Carmen), a market and a small plaza (there was even an ice plant in the island that employed locals). When the Americans came they added two elementary schools and a secondary school. And of course, their living quarters. The schools here are the first ever American public schools in the islands. I’m glad to see that the old Filipino Spanish church was reconstructed (entirely faithful to the original building) reminding tourist’s that the islands past  goes beyond the pacific war.

Along with Manila, Corregidor was the only other Philippine territory under Spain that was attacked by all of its enemies in the pacific. First was this guy Li ma hong. The ambitious Chinese had his eyes on Manila and with his ships and 3000 men launched successive attacks against the capital from Corregidor. He was defeated by the Juan Salcedo and his men. The galant young captain was summoned from Ilocos to defend Manila. And he did just that. Limahong and his forces was chased up to Pangasinan by the Spanish and their local allies. Without the ships that brought them here, some say, Limahong’s men settled in Pangasinan and intermarried with the locals.

Then came the war with the Dutch. The most extensive Philippine war that never made the books. Olivier de Noort was defeated by Spanish galleons converted to battle ships. Manila’s victory was short of a miracle. Those who fought sincerely believed in their hearts that our Lady was with them. After this historic naval battle, Manila decided to create a squad permanently posted in Corregidor to guard it at all times. The reason why I believe this war against the Dutch must be taught in school is that in all of the battles that took place there were large contingents of natives fighting alongside the Spanish. On all of these skirmishes (the last being the Battle of Playa Honda where the Dutch blocked the entrance of all vessels to Manila) the Dutch were defeated. Could you just imagine how many native Filipinos fought in these series of battle with the Dutch? If the Dutch won, we’ll all be familiar with pale lager and not pale pilsen, San Miguel beer would’ve never been the national beverage instead, we’ll be drinking Heineken! We would’ve been “going Dutch” in no time.

Looking back, without the Dutch attacks, Manila would’ve never had a “La Naval” tradition. We must remember that the first devotees were those who took part in the battles to keep Manila Spanish. Most of them native Filipinos that honestly believed in their hearts that by defending Manila they doing just service for their country, their motherland and the Catholic church. The Brits came later and held the capital hostage for three years. The Americans before the turn of the century, and the Japanese. All of these invaders made use of Corregidor for some reason or another.

Well, I guess I should write a separate articles about all of these.

Below are some of the photos I took that day:

That’s smog. One day we’ll all just choke in the metro. When I was still in my teens I imagined myself residing in one of those towers so I can see the sunset going down Manila bay.

I think that’s MOA but with all that smog I could be wrong.

They say the Japs were the ones that dug those caves. They made these area near the port their temporary submarine base.

The islands port. In this area, MacArthur left the country for Australia. Remember the “I shall return”, he said that to Wainwright here along with the promise of promoting him when gets his ass back.

I think these are Korean letters. Possibly by those who fought alongside the real Japs – but then again these could be just graffiti from Korean tourist!

Mi hermano inspecting a WWII relic. These heavy artillery are unbelievable. Makes you think if the Americans prepared for war long before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. These are massive armaments man!

I found this flag near the Japanese shrine where most of the Imperial army men were buried. They say this was the Japanese flag in the island. I’m sure most of those who wrote here died in the island. There was less than a dozen Japanese soldiers that survive the so called liberation of the island.

This baby right here sunk countless ships before heavy Japanese bombardment took it out. These was installed here in the early 1900’s. I’m sure these were not brought here to scare pirates and foreign fishing boats. The Yankees knows somethings up ahead otherwise they would have not prepared this well. If the Spaniard armed Corregidor like what these people did, it would’ve taken them a long time to capture Manila.

My brother staring at the tail of the island of Corregidor. Somewhere near the “tail” is the air strip of the island.

December 2011


Corregidor Seen From Up Above

The Rock, shaped like a squiggly tadpole. Bataan peninsula on the right corner. There’s a ship below – they say that Corregidor got its name from the Spanish word “to correct”. Navigators has been using the island to correct their position when approaching the port of Manila.

Sometimes delays can be good. It gives you more time. I don’t know if the flight was instructed to circle around to land on the opposite runway. Because it appeared that the plane was about to approach the runway that passes through the Taguig area but at the last minute the plane suddenly shifted path to land on the opposite runway near barrio of San Dionisio in Paranaque.

Because of this sudden change, I had the chance to see the island of Corregidor and the Bataan Peninsula from the vantage point of the clouds. It was a breathtaking sight – the sky was serene. The sea was like glass, mirroring the sky above. Corregidor really look like a tadpole from up above.

Opposite Corregidor is the historic town of Ternate. The Maragondon River and the small island called Balut (an island that appears to block the river’s passage way to the Bay) is distinguishable from up above. Then there’s SM Sucat – man, these malls are everywhere nowadays. Even in the sky you can see them.

My fascination with maps has helped me recognized islands and landmarks up above the air. I never get tire of taking pictures from the window of a plane. I really don’t care if it looks silly to others. I believe that you’ll only see things once, you can revisit them again but you’ll never see it the same – nothing gets repeated in this life.

October 2010


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