Tag Archives: Biñan

Soon to Rise: Alberto House of Biñan?

I saw a link (Facebook) earlier of plans to acquire land in Biñan to reconstruct the historic Alberto mansion.

This most likely would be a total reconstruction since most parts of the house has been transplanted in Bataan. If you haven’t been to Las Casas I suggest you see the Alberto house there. They recreated it in its original dimensions.

But what’s the use of reconstructing the Alberto mansion?

They should have thought of this when the owner was looking for help. Even when he decided to sell the house’s materials, they should have jumped into the chance of acquiring it. There was virtually no interest in this bahay-na-bata not until social media and national TV highlighted what Biñan was about to lose.

According to an Facebook post the city council passed an ordinance to acquire “parcel of land consisting of 1,197 square meters, more or less…located in Plaza Rizal, Brgy. Poblacion, City of Biñan” This would place the reconstruction within the vicinity of its original location. I am not sure if they’re considering the actual area where it once stood. All of these for sure costs more now for sure. Hopefully the city council gets a good deal.

Back in ’08 with me is Pepe Alas. This staircase (or parts of it) is now in Las Casa. A scene from the blockbuster Heneral Luna movie features it. Arnisson Ortega,author of “Neolibiralizing Spaces in the Philippines”, alleges that the site was leased to Starbucks. If only they considered “reusing” the house then, the establishment or any shop would have benefited from having leased a space that’s considered among the most historically important and oldest house in the country!

The Alberto house is arguably the most “historically” important extant bahay-na-bato in Laguna before its demolition. The Rizal’s in Calamba is a complete reconstruction publicly funded during Pres. Quirino’s time. According to the US Secretary of Interior Standards is the “process of depicting, by means of new construction, the form, features, and detailing of a non-surviving site, landscape, building, structure, or object for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific period of time and in its historic location”.

For sentimental reasons I guess a reconstruction serves a purpose. But the way I see it, a waste of tax payers money. Instead of appropriating money to reconstruct the Alberto house why not spend it in rehabilitating existing bahay-na-bato in old Biñan? If owners don’t want it, then perhaps spending money in education and promoting the importance if these historical houses is just as good.

The Alberto house holds the record of being the most blogged about in this site. I simply fell in love with it the moment I first saw it. Along with fellow blogger Pepe Alas, I met the present owner twice—and the dead owners, once. True story, read it here!

I predict that bahay-na-batos would be extinct in half a century, with the exception of those being cared for and protected by local governments and loving descendants, most would be demolished and the land beneath it sold. An example of this is what’s happening now in Manila, in the old quarter of San Nicolas. Remember many of these houses stands in prime areas now. These are top of the line real estate we’re talking about here.

Filipinos don’t seem to have a sense of obligation to look after heritage. A visit to Bataan’s Las Casas’s resort proves this. I mean, who are these people giving up their ancestral houses? Selling them like scrap metal? There’s an old house there that was almost entirely procured from a junk shop!

A few years ago, I joined a group of Filipino expats in Chicago for a baptismal party. They rented a place just outside Chicago. We drove half an hour, maybe more, we had difficulties locating the house. Turns out that it was a beautifully restored century old log cabin located in a park. It brought to mind books I read about the old America. I can imagine the original owners living off the land.

My point is that they did all that for a humble log cabin house. In Binañ’s case, many didn’t even bat an eye for that poor centuries old house while it rotted and eventually taken down.

Is heritage conservation a priority only to affluent nations because they have money to spare?

I hope not because if this is the case, then ours, what’s left of it, would not be around much longer.

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

They were there, watching…

Still on the Alberto mansion…

The last time I saw casa alberto was with my friend a few days after the super typhoon ondoy. We heard that it was in pretty bad shape so we decided to pay a visit. When we got there the house was still soaking wet. The whole house smelled like old laundry. In one room, films of fungus started to grow from a pile of documents and furniture.

This marked the end of one of the most historic house in the country. Gerry, the owner, laments that “there’s no money to fix it”. He sold the house to Acuzar of Bataan later on, convinced that the millionaire’s resort project would give the house a new lease in life – in Bagac.

The mad antiquarian in us made us scavenge around the house. Looking for old documents, books and photos we could salvage. We found some interesting ones but decided not to take any.

I felt that someone was there with us, a presence. I don’t know if my friend had the same feeling.

When we were about to leave the room, my friend saw two old passports. The passport of the current owners father, Zoilo and aunt, Pilar. I told him to put those back in the box but before he did, I took a quick look.

We took a photo together with the owner and after a brief conversation about the house we left.

What a strange feeling it was to leave a house knowing you’ll never see again. Only callous people with no love for history allows such transgression against our national heritage without any remorse.

Somethings very, very wrong with us Filipinos.

As we walked away from the house, Pepe and I hardly spoke. He was on a hurry to go back to his family and I was dog tired. So we both walked in a hurried phase towards the national highway which was less than a kilometer away.

I don’t know what happened but I just suddenly stopped walking and started to look at a crowded narrow street on my left. I heard no voice but it felt like I was being led. My mind was telling me to cross – so I did. Pepe followed. I continued walking straight not knowing where I was headed. I was following something I can’t explain (which by the way, is so me).

After walking for about 2-3 minutes we then saw the old Catholic cemetery of Biñan. We both did not know that it was there. At this point I thought to myself why I was led here but there must be something there to see.

Curious, we decided to enter. At this time, sunlight was no longer visible – so, it was not the most comfortable situation. Cemeteries are not among my favorite places to be in especially during night time!

I told Pepe that I’ll check on the old camposanto which appears to date back from the Spanish era. It’s just a few yards away from that small iron gate we entered. My friend then started walking around reading inscriptions on some of the lapidas.

After I was done taking pictures (which were all bad because it’s almost night) Pepe frantically called me to join him.

Turns out that he just found the final resting place of those two people that once traveled with those passports we found inside Casa Alberto.

I couldn’t believe what we just found – was I led by these two people’s spirit to their graves?

One thing I’m sure is that along with the shivers that ran up to my spine, I felt their love for their home that very moment. It was like they wanted us to be there so they could thank us–personally.

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.

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

It’s a little too late. Casa Alberto has already been gutted from the inside. I’m not surprised that it collapsed. The house that caved in was just the exterior shell. The owner who sold the house, piece by piece, must be welcoming this development.

The heir of the house has expressed willingness to have the house rented out to government in the past. The guy claims that he also sought the assistance of the local government before he entertained the idea of selling it. He got none — of course. He must’ve grown tired waiting for help and just went ahead with his other option.

Inside Casa Alberto. Contemplating its future. Observing the people going about their business in the local mercado and the old municipio. Are they even aware of this house’s role in building this town?

Casa Alberto’s foundations has been uprooted, along with its floors, beams and other structural components. These were moved to a Bataan resort. It’s strange to think that there’s actually two Casa Alberto today, one in Biñan, the other in Bataan — are we even trying to save the real house here?

I feel it’s meaningless to save it now that it lies in shambles. Even if by some miraculous hand an order to save it comes – how in the world are we going to restore it back to its original? Buy back the pieces that was sold to Acuzar in Bataan?

If money was issue then, just imagine how much we’ll have to raise today to bring the house back.

Biñan’s local government failed to realize the potential of conserving this house. They have decades to figure it out and make their proposals. There’s the question of monetary compensation that was never reached or even substantially discussed between the private owner and the LGU.

Heritage conservation can be very expensive for local governments. Again, not all descendants would be willing to just give their ancestral houses for conservation and educational use, the question is how much are we willing to pay?

There’s also the lack of heritage management planning and promotion. With all the Antillean houses in Biñan and its history, how come no one ever came up with an effective program to promote this historic town’s heritage?

If Biñense’s are aware of Casa Alberto’s historical value, they would all rise and disallow plans to have it taken down. They’ll definitely hold someone accountable. And there’s nothing more frightening to politicians than losing elections – but with the exception of some local heritage groups, clamor to save this house has been relatively quiet.

One thing I know, and this needs no promoting: Biñan’s notoriety for being a political hotspot during local elections.

And, of course, Puto Viñang – baka naman pati ‘eto mawala na din d’yan? ‘wag naman.

Casa Alberto holds the record of having the most artictle in this site. I wrote about it here, here, here and here. How I wish that its still there but that’s not going to happen. In a  way it’s there but it’s not. That’s just the skin, the body has long been taken away. It’s just a matter of time before it completely collapse. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing these beautiful houses go.

Calamba by Bike. Rizal @ 150!

What I discovered recently is how its so much better traveling around old towns in a bicycle. It won’t always be possible as tehre are limitations in the number of places you can reach but nothing  beats the health benefits (which I desperately needs!) and the mobility it affords.

Since I was expecting some rain (I usually check weather satellite reports) I counted on clouds keeping  the weather mild. I figured with that it would not be that hard to pedal my way from Muntinglupa to Calamba.

I passed by Binan, Sta. Rosa and Cabuyao with relative ease. There were no significant increase in elevation. I bought some liquids and apples along Sta. Rosa. As noon time drew closer the heat became more and more intense.

The heat was almost summer-like. I caught a break when it rained but it didn’t last long. Paid a high price as the sun scorched my skin and flesh on my way back home.

In Calamba, the city government is installing overpasses for pedestrians. It appears similar to the one you find in Alabang. Several roads were closed and re-routed. I had to  push my bike and walk alongside people in narrow pathways for pedestrians. Traffic was terrible.

I find it funny when you ask people for direction. They’ll always tell you “malayo pa” (still far) but I would usually find out that its not. Filipinos are a friendly bunch. I’ve never been denied assistance in my years of traveling.

From Calamba crossing, Rizal’s house is just a few blocks away. There are several bahay na bato around. The city government must tap into the potential of promoting them as sites to visit in Calamba.

I lost count how many times I visited Rizal shrine. A lot of people are bothered with what NHI did a couple years back. Coloring the house light green (I’ve seen this in most part of Asia, paint is a good preserving agent). I see nothing wrong with it. I just hope that they’re using the right paints. Otherwise, it would do more harm than good.

Ever since the 150th birth anniversary celebration the visitors has increased in number. And there’s good business to be had in selling Rizal souvenirs and books. I like the “Rizal Haligi ng Bayan” logo so I bought some stuff bring back home (two fridge magnet and a grocery bag).

I hope they’ll go beyond the lessons they learned from the house museum. Rizal’s a fascinating man. His life story is full of contrast, contradictions, of passion, of beliefs and fate, sacrifice –  for me, he’s the most amazing genius that ever walked the Filipino earth.

Like all Filipino heroes, Rizal, his life and his works, has been subjected to political and academic manipulation. Groups in the past and even today continue to cash in on his reputation and honor. Over time Rizal’s true message has been diluted by hidden agendas and conspiracies.

We need to look back and ask one question, Did we really follow his lead?

NHI don’t get a  lot of funding but with the way they continue restoring and protecting heritage houses they deserve to be commended. I particularly remember the trial house in Maragondon where they extended their resources most fully. Of course, there’s a lot work to do, as there always is. I hope they’re up to the challenge because we are losing a lot of these historical houses at a very rapid rate.

Some photos I took:

My first stop. Sta Rosa. Bought some refreshments and ate two medium sized apples (10 pesos each). A beggar came to me and asked for some change. Gave her two pesos. She wasn't happy with that. Blame your government for diluting the value of your currency lady, not me 🙂

Crossing Calamba bridge. People still wash clothes and take bathes here. I can only imagine how cleaner it was decades ago.

They call it "Mercado de Calamba". People are now beginning to understand the historical value of the Spanish language. Its strange that some historians made it appear that Rizal was against the use of Spanish as a language when it was he who wanted it to be used as a tool for Filipinos to exercise their freedom of speech, arts and their other liberties. The Rizal spoke Spanish in their home. According to a great grandson, Jose is addressed as "Don" in their Calamba home.

Rizal spuvenirs anyone?

Rizal @ 150 ala Warhol. This image is from his last studio portrait. I believe he was 29.

Aside from souvenirs, people that maintain the place sells "Mabolo" a smelly fruit that can be found all over the islands. There are several Mabolo trees around the shrine. There are thousands of places in the country named after this humble tree.

The Bahay na Bato has an architectural style that cannot be seen anywhere else.

I like the name, "Lecheria", the name suggest that this barrio is where dairy products were produced in Calamba. The hills is also the site of Calamba's ancient cemetery said to be reserved for non-Christians.

Rizal's Monte de Maquiling at a distance.

23 July 2011

Not all is lost in Biñan…

I hopped on my bike and went around Biñan looking for old houses. They’re still there, some of them. Sadly, most are just shells of what they once were. I remember the first time I saw the ancestral houses of Biñan a decade ago. Even then, there were already obvious signs of deterioration and neglect. That they’re still standing today is testament to their durability and resiliency. They were all built to last. Provided with proper care, they’ll definitely outlast  us all. Like they did to their original builders and past owners.

Most of the old houses in Biñan, with the exemption of some, are either abandoned, forgotten or demolished. The local government is clueless with heritage conservation. They could do so much better but they seem to not care. Well, they’re not alone. Most LGU’s really don’t have long term plans in conserving and protecting these kind of houses. If it were not for the desire of the descendants to keep their pamana (heritage) – the town would have lost them all sooner.

If things don’t change, Biñan would lose these architectural wonders soon. The biggest casualty so far is the Alberto mansion. Not only was it the childhood home of Rizal’s mother but in it lived a family who was so influential that one of them became the first and only representative in the Spanish cortes. They’re also among the first Filipinos to speak English. In that house lie so many secrets we haven’t uncovered yet. And now its gone.

I’ve visited Alberto mansion several times in the past. I interviewed the owner twice. After the damaged caused by typhoon Ondoy, It was apparent that the place needed more than just a fresh coat of paint. It needs major restoration work. But no one’s willing to take the tab. Such projects are just not a priority in a town riddled with politics.

The house has to go.

The guy who inherited the house was honest admitting that he was not really doing financially well. I can feel his sincerity and his genuine love for the house. His stories about his Grandpa and his Papa provided me with a glimpse into the Alberto’s of the early 20th century. He understands his family’s history and what his house means to Biñan. But  he just doesn’t have the resources to fund repairing the house much more restore it.

So, one of the most historic house in Filipino historiography would have to go to the highest bidder. And don’t expect Biñan to do any bidding though.

Last news I heard was that Acuzar has bought the house (not the lot) and is in the process of relocating everything to his Bataan resort. I’m not sure if the local government has acquired a court order to stop it. Its private so I don’t think they can.

The last word was that the house has already been dismantled from the inside. The exterior is still intact. Playing too late the hero, the local government has constructed a nice pathway with red brick pillars around the mansion (funded by RCBC). Why they haven’t done that earlier? Your guess is as good as mine.

No one wants to be perceived to be doing nothing. So people go around trying to make the impression that they’re doing something good for everybody. But truth be told – they don’t give a rat’s ass.

Riding bike have its advantages. One of them is that you get to spend more time. Its easier to move around and its faster than just walking. I noticed that Biñan’s barrios have interesting names: Loma (hills), Platero (silversmith), Ganado (male cattle), Tubigan (water source), Zapote (marmalade tree), Soro-Soro (milk hedge, popular medicinal plant), Malamig (cold) and Bungahan (area for fruit bearing trees). Names can tell a lot about a place. The same can be said about human names.

An old friend once told me that the true measure of how rich and cultured an old town used to be can be gleaned upon its old houses. Because their homes are expressions of their faith, culture and their arts.

Some old Biñense families has defied the odds. Preserving their ancestral home’s old charm and appealing grandeur against the natural elements and the pressure of selling because of rising property values.

Maintaining ancestral houses is not an easy task as it requires patience, hard work and money (a lot of it). Since local governments rarely support such effort, I have nothing but admiration for these families.

My message to these proud Filipino families: Thank you.

I’m sure your ancestors would want you to keep these houses. By doing so you honor yourself, your ancestors and your historic town. Let the future generations of Biñense see the glory of their old town.

Mabuhay po!

Old Camarin (Bodega) around Binan are noted for being lofty and wide. Its interesting why we Filipinos refer to such storage houses as "bodegas" because I was told that the old Filipino meaning for it is a liquor storage.

This one is near the rotonda. These structures were constructed with solid adobe supported by deep and thick foundations. "camaronchones" or "camarines" in Spanish is Camalig in Tagalog.

Built to withstand the most powerful of earthquakes. Interesting is that Camarin means protection and shelterer in Native American Chamoro. These structures are built to house crops.

A WWII monument at the middle of the rotunda.

A beautiful "Bahay na Bato" with typical wide windows, over sized rooms and lofty ceilings. "Bawal Umihi Dito!" written in white paint to warn would be violators.

Houses around here have very striking similarities. Typically, most of these mansions have several "zaguan" where horse was once kept

Recently painted "bahay na bato". This one looks good.

Another look... this just looks lovely! A gem from Old Binan!

Another "reused" ancestral house. Congratulations! At a distance can be seen Iglesia de Sn Ysidro

I thought this one's had been abandoned. I was surprised that a caretaker lives inside to look after the house. He was not happy that I was taking pictures of the house. Sorry!

A Rough Road in Biñan and the Landayan Trisikad

I usually take the less traveled roads to get around traffic. I reached Biñan at around 6 am. The heat and traffic was tolerable along the national road but the jeeps really pose serious danger. They swerve and block without regard to cyclist. One must be very defensive in riding.

On my way back I decided to take the route near the lake. From Bo. La Paz in Biñan, I took the moderately rough road, about 6 to 8 feet wide to Bo. Landayan.

It was a surprising discovery. I’ve never seen this side of Biñan. There’s still some nature left but I doubt if it will last long. I saw several housing projects being built in the area.

The road was mildly rough. This made the ride more enjoyable. Eventually it will be paved as subdivisions and townhouses multiply along the lake shore area. Fish Vendors along the roads sells the freshest catch: bangus, tilapia, dalag and hito. The only farming present in the area is the cultivation of Kangkong (swamp cabbage or water cabbage or water spinach). I saw several men carrying sacks of banded kangkong.


The route terminates with a gate that is closed. A person opens it when someone would pass. I’m not sure why there’s a need to close the road. My guess is that the subdivision’s home owners decided to do this for security reasons.

Less than 500 meters from this spot is Bo. Landayan of San Pedro. This small barrio is home to the famous devotional icon, the Sto. Sepulcro (Holy Sepulchre) or Lolo Uweng to locals.

Another fascinating icon in Landayan are the tall, slim classic styled pedicabs. Its style has not change for almost 50 years. I asked the pedal pushing drivers if they know why and most of them said that in the area where floods are common, the old pedicab’s design is perfect. Some say that the design was retained because it was sleeker and faster.

The traveler standing beside a Landayan pedicab

According to a pedicab driver I interviewed, there are around 700 pedicabs in Landayan. I asked if the motored tricycles are a threat to their livelihood, an old man responded “no, because most people still prefer the pedicabs”. The guy also said he was old enough to remember the “25 centimo” riding fee back in the days. And this could be one of the reason why people still ride the pedicabs. They’ve been roaming the crowded narrow calle’s of Landayan for as long as they can remember.

The Alberto’s and Binan

With Gerardo Alberto. Photo courtesy of Pepe Alas

I was reading my friends newest post about Casa Alberto of Binan and I found myself laughing like crazy. I should stop teasing him about his traveling. He has written better articles and gets more readership – and I could not be happier because it serves our advocacy. I know that there’s not a lot of us at this point, hopefully, more and more people would write about the beautiful past of our ancestors, the culture that is closest to us today – the maligned and misunderstood Filipino Hispanico culture and history.

I just want to talk about the Alberto’s of Biñan (thanks to Pepe’s article!) and why I’m fascinated by them. Unlike all the other Rizal kin, they’re not really fond of their association with the hero. In fact when Ambeth Ocampo pressed Don Zoilo to clear some questions he was shown the door. Perhaps the animosity comes from the case that had Rizal’s mother incarcerated. The case was based on the accusation of the wife of Don Jose that Rizal’s mom tried to poison them. It was a strange relationship these people had – considering their close link. The imprisonment also gives us an idea how influential the Albertos were. I wonder how the half brother felt.

When we interviewed Gerardo, I felt his pride in his family’s accomplishments. This pride is what made him go somewhere else for help, He’s not about to beg Biñan’s clueless and disinterested politicians to fix his Daddy’s house again and again – that would be debasing the memory of his ancestors who helped build the old town.

He also shared some insights on how his family acquired the massive lot where his ancestors built the now soon to be transferred casa. According to him, the Spaniards gave them the land – and the money! I remember the strategy the Spaniards employed when they first arrived in the islands, since they lack numbers – they used the Principalia. They retained the status of the local lords, making it possible that these prehispanic families would prosper under their watch. Ensuring their loyalty under the Spanish crown and that of the people. We were taught in school that the tribal families where dissolved when the Spaniards came but in all indication those who accepted the Spanish crown were handsomely rewarded – these folks never went away.

I’m probably being pessimistic about Casa Alberto, with Gerry bent on transferring the house – there is probably little to be gained from continued protest. The fact is that Biñense politicos forgot to look after their historical treasures. In the future they have to bring their children to Bagac to see something that belongs to their town. The recent protest was a bold move but I would’ve appreciated if they’ve at least pointed out the role of the Alberto’s in Biñan’s history – who can blame an Alberto today for feeling bad, their family’s contributions are overlooked, overshadowed by Rizal. Their family was the most civic minded in the town’s well-known history, they helped build the infrastructure of Biñan in the 1800’s. An old man told me that the Alberto’s were out of town politics by the beginning of 1900’s, they concentrated in running what’s left of their business after the wars. By mid 1950’s most of the Alberto children would migrate to the US. Now, when you ask people what’s that grand house in front of the municipio you’ll get “bahay ng nanay ni Rizal” or “bahay ni Rizal” – and we wonder why the Alberto house is leaving town? ☻

It is only now that I realized I’ve written several articles (here, here, here and here) about Casa Alberto. Next one would be a report of its condition in Bagac – or still, Binan, who knows ☻

The Fight for the Alberto House of Binan

Gerardo Alberto with bloggers, Arnaldo and Pepe

Let me weigh in on some of the facts and lies about the shocking event that awoke Biñan one morning. The demolition of the Alberto Mansion: the ancestral house of Rizal’s mother and the many illustrious Biñense town leaders that came from this brilliant family.

The past is so different from our time, changing fortunes and tribulations alter the course of our modern lives. The present situation of the lone heir of the Alberto mansion, Gerry Alberto, has made it difficult to maintain the fast deteriorating state of the massive house. This prompted him to seek the assistance of the local government, who unsurprisingly had no plan, no answer. The usual excuse was “there are no funds”. There seem to be this concept that priority projects are those that will make them look good, and this old feeble residence, if restored with local tax money, won’t give them that publicity mileage. But I’m sure they’re interested now, because ever since the demolition crew started, news spread like wild fire (thanks to an Inquirer journalist), groups are rallying to stop the demolition. Of course, no local government would want to be seen disinterested in their town heritage – so let’s welcome the champions of heritage ladies and gents!

I’m all for conservation but I draw the line at what is realistic and what is not. After Ondoy, we visited the house and was stunned by the effect the super typhoon had, the ceilings was ready to fall; the beautiful portraits of the Albertos were all damaged beyond repair. The whole place smells awful possibly because of mold as some materials are still soaked in water. The roof, made of tisa, was really a safety concern, since water has infiltrated the structure that hold it, it is possible that it would collapse.

Of course, these are visual observation of someone that had no training in structural safety but in this situation you expect the local government to inspect the safety of a house that shares its history but this is not something that normally happen in our country. This heritage houses are never a priority, owners are left to help themselves. I asked Gerry Alberto why he hasn’t asked for the local government to shoulder the expense of the repair, apparently, he did and was given the usual answer, “no funds”. I became upset about what followed next. He then told us that he plans to move the house to Bataan!

He showed us an email where Ambeth Ocampo and Arch. Laya are copied (he later printed this and handed it to us) The discussion was about the Acuzar project. He then said, “wala na din pondo pampaayos”, citing the difficulty of repairing, much more restoring the house after the hit it took from the storm. This was upsetting for me, I felt terribly helpless, but there are certain realities we have to deal with. The lack of vision of the local government and Gerry’s failure to secure funding (how hard did he try to get it? We’ll never know) sealed the faith of the house to a certain doom.

The disinterested local governments were just waiting for it to fall. They don’t promote its history nor do they have plans to make it relevant to the town and its people, if you’re new to Biñan, you wouldn’t even know what that enormous house, now covered with political tarpaulin is. They’re too busy fighting over politics instead of coming up with plan that would save the house. Now that the owner decided to save it by moving the entire house to Bataan, they want to be heroes and save it.

Why then wait for the owner to knock it down when he sought for your assistance years ago?

On the other hand, in fairness to Acuzar and his company, they never went shopping for the Alberto house (but I’ve heard that they did in many occasions, like in the case of the Maxino). If there was ever a negotiation, it took place after the two were acquainted with the help of third party people. Probably in Gerry’s mind, the deal was the only way for him to save his ancestors house and to make money out of it. During our conversation, he told us how much the house meant to him, I believe that this was something he never wanted. Confronted with the situation and the choices available, he made the difficult decision now seen as a traitorous act.

We were surprised that he even listened to what we have to say. I’m not sure if he is even aware of what blogs are but still he welcomed us and showed us around. It was not the first time we visited but I appreciated his gesture. We tried to convince him to try reach out again for help but being from a proud pioneering Biñense family going back generations, begging for financial relief for his ancestor’s house was probably hard for him to do. Going around we uncovered a pile of stuff in one room, we saw countless old books in Spanish previously owned by his father, we asked him if we could have it, in exchange we promise to keep them well, he kindly declined the proposal. A friend, who met the older Alberto, Dn. Zoilo, described him as being a gentleman from “the old days”. They dined inside the house sometime in the 70’s id I recall the story correct. Both speaking in pure Spanish, my friend listened to the older Alberto discuss the history of his family and their connection to local politics during the 1800’s. Don Zoilo died in the early 2000’s. If he was still around, I wonder if things would be different.

Now that the local government is showing interest in shelling out money, we definitely have to take advantage of this sudden curiosity. Whether they truly care for the house or not, let them spend the money and have the house restored! Take it back from Acuzar and start restoring the house. Biñan’s plan of moving the house somewhere in Biñan and making it a museum must also be blocked. It should stay where it is. The best thing that should happen here is for the local government to buy the land and the house all together. Keep it for Biñan!

View photos here

Heritage Promotion and Casas Moved to Bataan

I’ve seen similar projects promoting historical sites outside the country. Raising the awareness of the people that these places exist plays a major part in the whole conservation effort. Educating the mass on the value of historical sites would not only increase tourism, by doing so we are also encouraging our fellow Filipinos to take a personal stake in protecting these historical gems. People would naturally care for something that they know belongs to them and their children’s children. Who wouldn’t want to preserve their family’s legacy? Our cities and towns architecture and history deserves protection by responsible and controlled development. When we improve our districts, there should be consideration and respect towards our heritage. Because once we demolish houses, buildings and bridges, we can never reproduce them; we can never get them back. Depriving the future generations in savoring what our unique history has to offer.

I was surprised to read that there are several popular heritage conservationists that are voicing their opposition against the Acuzar project. Personally, I prefer to see old houses restored in their original place, this is the most ideal situation as it retains the history and character of the town. Who wouldn’t want it? But the realities of our times has deemed otherwise, we are fast losing these treasures to an unconcerned government and to families who inherited these Antillean houses, many no longer have the means to sustain their ancestors mansions-changing family fortunes has had a profound effect on them and its understandable why it’s tempting to sell, the land under these noble houses. You see, these houses would be discarded because buyers are not after the aging decrepit abode but the expensive earth beneath. So what can we do about it? We certainly can’t match their buying power; we are left with very little option.

This is the reason why I accept, with mix emotions of anger and joy, the Bataan project of the San Jose Builders. Some call it a vanity project, collecting historic houses like stamps, worst they say is that it’s being moved to a place where it doesn’t belong but at least someone’s doing something more than rant and complain. Unfortunately, like what that Rolling Stone song said, you don’t always get what you want – we are faced with dilemmas that are not in the best means of heritage conservation as a whole. We either bring them somewhere or let them perish. Such is the case of that old Alberto house in Biñan. I had a chance to interview Gerry, descendant of Alberto (Rizal’s uncle). He enumerated a number of problems facing the huge mansion, now slowly deteriorating (even the old portraits has been damaged by the leaking roof). He has decided to sell the property but he intends to transfer the house in Bataan. The place has so much history attached to it that he can’t imagine just letting a demolition crew bring it down. He has long been in contact with Acuzar and Ambeth Ocampo (even showed me the email) and their idea appeals to him. From the looks of it, Biñan’s grandest house, so well known that even dignitaries paid courtesy visits when they’re in town, would soon be part of Las Casas Filipinas in Bataan.

Its heart breaking to hear such stories, sometimes it feels like there is no more space for these magnificent relics of our glorious past.

Visiting Biñan’s “Santa Filomena”

At Sta. Filomena Chapel, Binan: Pepito, Arnaldo, Lola Rosa, Nanay Deneng and Levi

Last week, I finally had a chance to visit the site where Sta. Filomena (Binan) was laid to rest. Thanks to Binan’s very own, Levi “bigboy” Soledad, who drove us (with his pretty red car) to the cemetery chapel of Binan’s ‘miraculous’ saint. Thanks man.

Big thanks to Nanay Deneng and Lola Generosa “Rosa” Reolada for being patient with our many questions. Marami pong salamat!

Pepe and I plans to go back and interview the “Hipag”, now 85, who’s the only remaining relative that knew Santa Filomena when she was alive. Nanay Deneng and Lola Generosa told us that she knows everything about the saintly life of Sta. Filomena.

Update on the Alberto House of Binan

I just got the shock of my life today.

Mr. Gerardo “Gerry” Alberto, descendant of Jose Alberto and current owner of the Alberto house (Alberto mansion) said he is bringing it down. Citing maintenance cost and  its continued deterioration.

If its any consolation, he’s currently negotiating a deal with Acuzar of San Jose Builders to rebuild the house in Bataan. He was introduced to Acuzar by Laya (and an NHI officer). Laya is considered by many as the country’s  “culture champ” for his efforts in heritage conservation, from paintings to “bahay na bato”. When he was head of Intramuros Administration, he rehabilitated the plazas, build the replica houses and restored much of Intramuros fortification. He’s now a private citizen and is still active in heritage conservation, I find this truly admirable and inspiring.

But if you’ll ask heritage conservationist, it would be a unanimous vote that restoration should be made in the place where the house was built because their historical significance belongs to the area.

Mr. Alberto was a gracious host, he even toured us around and shared very interesting stories about his family. The question whether to keep the house or demolish it boils down to economics, and he was very honest about his present financial situation and its challenges, being the only person now that runs the place. He made clear that deterioration has made it unsafe and useless, in his word “wala na din akong choice”. He told us that he would want to keep it, but “there’s is no money” and the government according to him, “wala naman maasahan”. the local government I felt should step up to the plate and put a viable program to restore the house that it largely ignored even after the town prospered after WWII (These cabrones even covered the house with their massive campaign tarpaulins!) Binan’s government has wholly deserted its heritage houses and sites, from Rizal’s first school to the old casa’s like the Yapchinchay, now the Albertos, what a damn shame to live in a  town run by such ignorant officials!

I’m not expecting heritage programs like the one in Taal for Binan, being realistic – these official’s can’t even manage traffic and crime, how much more conserving its heritage but for them not to push forward a restoration scheme for the Alberto house that sits right in front of their municipio blows my mind.

This is a sad development, imagine the house was built in 1611, and very few Binan folks knows about its history – its pending destruction breaks my heart. but I guess you have to accept that some things are beyond our control. Bidding our host adios (and our last ‘adios’ to Binan’s grandest house) we witnessed a very beautiful rainbow. “Esperanza!” exclaimed by my pal, but is there hope?

We now leave its fate to faith.

Below is English Gov. Bowring’s description of the house and the town during the historic visit in Binan (Chap. IV “La Laguna & Tayabas, pages 41-43):

I’ll be posting the picture I took after I’m done editing them.

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