Tag Archives: san miguel bulacan

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!

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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.

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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.


Hidden Treasures of San Miguel, Bulacan

When I say hidden, I mean hidden–almost tucked away from plain sight. Most of San Miguel Bulacan’s heritage houses are gated from view, and in a way, from memory.

But if there’s one thing that should make heritage advocates happy is that the ancestral houses are still standing. The present owners effort is truly commendable considering the soaring cost of keeping these houses–most of which are a century old. I couldn’t care less if they restrict people from seeing their homes as long as they keep it. While there were casualties (some  has fallen into disrepair) the ones that remain in good shape are the most historic and architecturally important.

This visit, my second time, was strange—and a bit frustrating.

The weather was fine and warm all morning but when I reached San Miguel at around 2PM it started to drizzle. To make matters worst, a brawl broke out between tricycle drivers. That was pretty intense–what a welcome that was!

It felt like progress has left this old town with only its baronial houses as proof that it was once a golden town. There was a time when popular actors and politicians would pay one of the prominent families in town a visit. Things changed here, it has become the typical far flung municipality where poverty is on ever increasing rate.

The houses the landed families built here are the most ornate and imposing in the province. Much bigger compared to those found in the capital Malolos. 

Mayumo, which means ‘sweet’ in Capampangan, was part of the original name (San Miguel used to be part of Pampanga)  that for some strange reason is no longer officially used.  The name was said to had been derived from the giving character of the town’s pioneer. He must have been a sweetheart! Why abandon such an important historical detail?

The town of San Miguel has always been historic. Aguinaldo and his generals headquartered (the general used the Tecson house) their forces in town. And here, perhaps, the most important event in Philippine Spanish war, the pact of Biak-na-Bato took place (some claim that the document was signed in the Tecson house and not in the rough forested area of Biak-na-Bato).

The most beautiful heritage homes can be found in the intertwined barrios of San Vicente and San Jose.

Most of the old homes are somewhat related to the de Leon’s. Notable members of this family consist of the late movie pioneer Narcisa Doña Sisang de Leon, founder of LVN filmsn (Doña Sisang was known to insist to speak only in Spanish and Tagalog). Mar Roxas’ grandmother was Trinidad de León-Roxas, the 5th first lady of the republic. 

Other notable personalities that trace their roots to San Miguel are: Maximo Viola, Felipe Buencamino, Trinidad Tecson, Nicanor Abelardo, Director Mike de Leon and Virgilo Almario.

The military camp in town, Camp Tecson, was named after the local revolutionary hero Pablo Tecson. He donated this land to the government to be used as a military installation. He was under the command of Gregorio del Pilar (who briefly stayed in San Miguel with an uncle during the war), whose mother was a Sempio. Present defense secretary Albert del Rosario’s mother is the younger sister of del Pilar’s mother.

In Barrio San Jose one can find the house that was built by Rizal’s confidant, Maximo Viola. This guy not only lent Rizal the money for his Noli, but also accompanied Rizal to see prostitutes during their time together in Europe. Well, at least that’s what he claims.

The Sevilla house, locally known as “malaking bahay”, was built with ball room dancing in mind. The third floor was where the Celia Club would meet to dance the night away. I’ve never seen such an imposing (and costly) home built in the countryside. This house brings to mind the three story building Casa Vizantina in Manila (now moved to Bagac!).

The word is that some of the houses (I don’t know which ones) in San Miguel was destroyed by treasure hunting. It is strange that a town like this has not yet been declared a “heritage town” by our historical agencies. You would think that they would do so for such recognition would help promote the town’s tourism and historical awareness.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, this trip was a bit disappointing. You see, I first came here in San Miguel in 2005 (this blog wasn’t born yet) and I remember being refused by most of the owners and caretakers to see and take photos of their homes. Well, I encountered the same today. They just can’t be bothered with visitors. I think what haven’t caught up (and this puzzles me to no end) with the present owners yet is the idea that their houses have the potential for tourism and education. There’s just so much history around that it’s a shame that these historical homes are not accessible. Perhaps, our historical agencies needs to make that first move, declare the old town a “heritage town”, maybe then (just maybe) the owners would open their doors and embrace the fact that their houses are essential historical examples of Filipino culture and identity.

The ancestral house of LVN’s Dona Sisang. Obscured by banana it appears to have been recently painted.

The current owners was not really excited to see people wanting to see their ancestral house.

The only house along Calle positioned next to the road. A practice that is common in big old towns in Spanish Philippines. Interesting is that here in San Miguel most houses are built away from the road and gated.

New gates for an old house….

One of the smaller casa in Calle Rizal

Another obscured casa. The detailed window designs are superb examples of early 1900’s style

Visited by the Quezon’s. They call it the  de León – Sempio house.

 

The only house I managed to enter. The people I spoke with were gracious enough to show me around.

What’s good is that the houses are still being used. They’re not obsolete, still in use!

Some has fallen into disrepair like this one.

Some of the biggest bahay-na-bato ever built are here in San Miguel

Another hidden gem. Let’s invite these owners to open their ancestral homes to visitors.

The Tecson ancestral house. The only one with a historical marker in town (even the church does not have one).

San Miguel’s centuries old church. Even this sanctuary was closed for this weary traveler to see.


Nick Joaquin & The Luna Child

Nick Joaquin is famous for his great storytelling. His biographies are all considered classics. What I enjoy about his works are the historical tidbits he puts on it. He seamlessly incorporates Filipino historiography with his illustration of old families and towns in his books and essays.

How his “parokyanos” felt about his style?

Probably good because these commissioned works are not cheap.

I collect his authored biographies because I learn from them many Filipino stories you normally would not hear from our dry historical literature and texts.

An example of this wonderful style of writing is the inclusion of Dra. Lourdes Pascual y Sempio in Mayor Lim’s bio (May Langit Din Ang Mahirap) of the accounts that her mother told them when she was young. The good Doctora is a relative of Mayor Lim.

The lady doctor shares a story, allegedly that of the grandparents of a famous and influential Tarlaqueño family. The mother’s story confirms General Antonio Luna’s relationship with a woman who originally hails from Malolos.

“In Aguinaldo’s army was a Chinese Mestizo whom he used as carpenter. This carpenter had a son and a daughter. The daughter would later be reported as a maiden but my mother swore that the with her own eyes she saw this supposed maiden pregnant. And my mother would add that likewise with her own eyes she saw pushcart after pushcart loaded with valuables being delivered to the pregnant maiden. The carretones carried the contributions of each town to the Revolution. and the contributions consisted of money, gold and jewels. They were delivered to the pregnant maiden on orders of a high defense official who later perished”.

The descendants of this woman neither denied nor confirmed the story that has been going around for generations.

Is there truth to this claim?

The man who is said to be Antonio Luna’s great grandchild is named Antonio. Now the head of the biggest telephone company in the nation. He resembles the patriot Luna more than his Chino ancestors.

I’ve seen this guy with a band playing the guitar. He seem to have the natural ability like Antonio Luna,  who became popular for his guitar playing around Manila in his younger years.

Is he the great grandson of Lvna?

We can forever speculate on this part of our history. Who knows, one day they’ll come out in the open and tell the real story.

But with that will come many more questions. Something that many feel is the reason why they keep mum on the issue.

One thing I noticed about this book that was printed in 1998 is that of all the bio’s I’ve read in my life, this is the only one that failed to mention the birth of date of the person’s life.

Only Quijano de Manila can get away with something like that.


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