The Aguinaldo House in Kawit is the most visited and well-restored national landmark in the Cavite. Designed by a patriot and self-made architect, the sprawling structure along the old royal highway was bequeathed by General Emilio Aguinaldo in 1963 as his architectural and historical legacy to the Filipino people.
On our latest trip to Kawit, retired museum guide Vener Veles led us in exploring the main house, the family wing, and the six-storey tower, revealing the secret passageways, hidden contraptions, symbolic ornamentations in the furniture and artworks as well as on the motif-filled walls and ceiling of the historic Aguinaldo home.
Before the stately Aguinaldo house that we see today, a nipa-and-thatch structure that is said to have been built by the General’s parents in 1845 originally stood on the site. It was later replaced by an adobe and hardwood house in 1849.
Extensions and embellishments borrowed from American Colonial architecture were orchestrated by General Aguinaldo himself during the next 50 years after the revolution. This architectural style is immediately shown on the gabled-roof family wing, the spires on the tower, and the redesigned Independence Balcony where Aguinaldo declared Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898.
From the gate, Vener welcomed us to the shrine. Three pergolas are group in one part of the expansive garden. We later learned that the pergolas were meant to hold the uneven branches of a 200-year old sampaloc tree. But since the great tree was struck down by lighting in the 1970’s, the three pergolas has been thoughtfully sought as symbolic representation of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
The extensive ground of the Aguinaldo Shrine covers a lot area of about 5,000 square meters, with lush trees and tropical plants. It has been said that the Aguinaldo garden was at one time tended by a Japanese gardener who turn out to be an Imperial Army officer during World War II. Also in the premises are statue of a boy blowing a tambuli, vintage canons, Aguinaldo’s Packard Limo encased in glass, and the tomb where the General was laid to rest on February 16, 1963.
We went through the zaguan to enter the main house. Traditionally, the zaguan was used as storage for the season‘s harvests and as parking space for the carrozas used in processions. In the Aguinaldo house, the zaguan housed the first bowling alley in town and a covered swimming pool. It also holds a permanent interactive exhibit.
The exhibit consists of an interactive time chart showing the important episodes of the revolution, revolutionary mementoes including the famous Palanan stone, dioramas showing the Battle of Binakayan and Oath-taking in Tanza, hologram display, and multimedia presentation relating to the declaration of independence.
We exited the zaguan and climbed up an exterior staircase to reach the main living quarters. At the top of the stairs is the landing that serves as vestibule to the family wing on the left side and sala on the right. Vener revealed to us the secret hallway behind the wall which leads to the General’s bedroom before ushering us to the dim but spacious sala.
Down to the floor and up to the ceiling, the sala is adorned with emblematic symbols of the revolution. The multi-toned triangular sections on the floors suggest the patterns present on the national flag. The walls are decorated with photographs of Aguinaldo as well as American Presidents and paintings relating to the General’s life during the revolution.
An amazing feature attached to the wall are the clamshell-shaped woodcarvings that can be transformed into a ledge to hold potted plants or possibly drinking glasses.
The elaborate ceiling is said to have been carved by Kapampangan sculptors from Betis who volunteered their services to compensate the supposed betrayal of the Macabebe scouts who led the Americans in capturing Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela. Vener annotated every woodwork on the ceiling such as a bird flying towards a relief carving of flags attached to a bare flagpole. He explained that this tableau conveys Aguinaldo’s aspiration of Filipino membership to the League of Nations as an independent state.
Another wood relief depicts a sun with eight rays and an inscription at the center that says Agosto 30, 1896, Ley Marcial Contra las provincias de. Vener noted that this refers to the proclamation made by Governor General Ramon Blanco placing Manila, Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, and Batangas under martial. The large relief carving near the so-called Independence Balcony illustrates Inang Bayan holding a pole with its banner extending outside the frame was probably taken from the image of a 1903 coin. The rising sun against the mountain resemble the images on the banner of General Pio del Pilar.
Pairs of columns separating the sala to the main dining room were created from wood of different shades to evoke the colors of the Philippine flag. There are also paintings of Aguinaldo’s wives and daughters on the glass lunettes above the windows in the dining room. The massive buffet cabinet with equally large mirror compliments the enormous dining table which is inlaid with the General’s name and the date March 22, 1942.
The grand table was a gift to Aguinaldo on his 73rd birthday by furniture maker Don Gonzalo Puyat, who also commissioned most of the furniture in the Aguinaldo home. But the main attraction of the dining room is the ceiling-relief of the Philippine Islands. Vener pointed out Cavite in red paint emphasizing its important role in the revolution.
Leaving the dining room, we passed a wide hallway known as the Veteran Hall where Aguinaldo met with this old comrades and reminisced their adventures during the revolution. The hall is close to the family kitchen where the residents have their meals outside important occasion. Vener pointed at the single slab table that rest on a concrete based. He requested us to help him lift the heavy slab to show the narrow entrance that leads to a bomb shelter. He also revealed that beyond the chamber below is a escape route which led to the church or cemetery.
Another interesting feature in the kitchen is the eight-burner stove with the name Gen. E. Aguinaldo inscribed on its cast iron door. There is also a thick-metal door and white-tiled icebox, a prototype of the modern refrigerator. The icebox is located below a staircase that leads to the maid’s room above the kitchen.
Back to the sala, we walked through the General’s Bedroom. The bedroom is packed with oversized furniture like the built-in aparador and the paindora with its full length mirror. Beyond the light curtain is a four poster bed which Aguinaldo shared with his second wife Maria Agoncillo -niece of Filipino diplmat Felipe Agoncillo of Batangas.
The Aguinaldo matrimonial bed was originally located in family wing and it was occasionally offered to important guests. One was Edilberto Evangelista who almost got hit by a Spanish cannonball while sleeping on the bed. Death by cannonball may have failed to take away Evangelista’s life while on Aguinaldo’s bed but it was surely successful in February of 1897 in the Battle of Zapote Bridge.
We left the General’s bedroom and proceeded to the corridor of the family wing. On one side of the corridor are wide windows with pleasant views of the garden below while the other side are the three bedrooms. Along the corridor are two ball and claw feet mesa altar that highly sought after by serious antique collectors. The other end of the corridor opens to a patio.
Each of the bedroom in the family wing were named after Aguinaldo’s daughters. Rooms are furnished mostly with Art-Deco and Art-Nouveau furniture. The first room nearest to the exterior stairs has been dedicated to Cristina Aguinaldo Suntay. The middle bedroom is dedicated to Maria Aguinaldo Poblete. The largest of the three rooms is dedicated to Carmen Aguinaldo Melencio. This room contains heirloom pieces like a century-old mesa altar and a four poster Ah-Tay bed.
The patio at the end family wing was humorously named by the General as Galeria de los Pecadores for it is in this hall of sinners where subversive plots were said to have been planned. The intimate venue is also preferred by its residents for sharing of secrets and even courtship.
We learned from Vener that historian and National Historical Institute chair Ambeth Ocampo loves to have his merienda under the beautiful fretwork arches on the patio whenever he drops by the Aguinaldo Shrine.
We became very excited when Vener offered us to climb up the mirador or the lookout located at the topmost floor of tower. The tower is reached by a narrow stairwell with an entrance along the corridor and another in the bathroom of the Cristina Aguinaldo Suntay room. We reached the mezzanine library using the bathroom entrance. The library is directly above the staircase and is overlooking the grand sala where musicians were stationed during parties. Vener also unlocked a door to reveal a secret escape route located above the bedroom ceiling in the hollow space below the gabled roof of the family wing.
We climb another set of stairs to reach the third floor bedroom and study of the late Ambassador Jose P. Melencio, husband of Carmen Aguinaldo. On the fourth level is the General’s Room that opens to a tiled terrace.
The stairs became narrower and a lot steeper as we climbed up to the fifth level. To reached the mirador, we entered a hatch at the top of a ladder. The attic has four windows where lookouts are provided with just enough space to sit on the attic floor.
From one of the lookout windows we could see the church where Emilio Aguinaldo was baptized -the Church of Sta. Maria Magdalena.