ARCHITECTURAL HEADTURNERSI think we’re going in circles – I told friends Niño and Claude as we follow directions dictated by a navigational app on our way to a resort in San Rafael, Bulacan. Part of my experience from getting lost in that trip was having my head turn almost 360 degrees as we passed right in front of fortress-like ancestral houses with Baroque and Rococo recess on its facade.

It was getting dark so I was just trying to imagine under the fading light of day these unique features from these ancient structures that appeared to me as remaining sentinels of the olden days as the car sped away on that quiet provincial road. This is my first time to be in Bustos.  Months after I was back in this town. This time as the Traveler on Foot.

TRASLACION DE STO. ÑINO DE BUSTOS. We spent much of our day walking around the town of Baliuag when the vehicles crossing the iron-braced bridge were put to a complete stop to give way to a procession. We watched this procession from the Baliuag side of the bridge where an image of  San Agustin awaits on a decorated carroza along with its welcome entourage. Marching on the Bustos side were the town folks clad in red shirt carrying the image of the Sto. Niño de Bustos. When the two images came face-to-face, a gleeful pandemonium erupted from the crowd then the entire retinue meandered its way to Baliuag Church to continue the Traslacion.

The Traslacion de Sto. Niño de Bustos traced its history from a tragedy when a raft crossing the turbulent Angat River capsized on a rainy Sunday in 1860.  The town’s patron, the Sto. Niño whose Castilian image serves as a remembrance of the infants who drowned with their parents on their way to Baliuag Church to receive the sacrament of baptism and the traslacion procession commemorate the period when Bustos was part of the town of Baliuag.

BUSTOS LETRAS Y FIGURAS. Leaving the procession we continued with our walking tour. We entered the town of Bustos through the iron-braced Alejo Santos Bridge. Named after the World War II veteran who later in life, General Alejo Santos became a controversial figure when he ran as a token candidate against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos during a mock election in 1981. At the foot of the bridge is Bustos Church that went through several renovations with only the stone walls at the sides and back remaining from the original structure.

At the Bustos Heritage Park is a stylized lettering that spells the town’s name in the Letras y Figuras tradition. This style in art, popularized by 19th century painter Jose Honorato Lozano demonstrates the blending of detailed figures and landscapes to form letters. On the Letras y Figuras in Bustos we traced traditional shapes that can be found on the locally-baked biscuits called the minasa and the intricate carvings that are found in the ancestral houses around town.

MODERN ART BY CONRADO MERCADO. As we went around Bustos Heritage Park, what caught our attention next were the haunting expressionist quality of modern art in the free-standing sculptures that were in contrast with the classical and nostalgic style of the Letras y Figuras lettering. These aggressive and mostly cubist forms of welded steel and cement make up the elongated faces that resembles primitive African masks were by Bustos’ homegrown artist Conrado Mercado.

Mercado was born in one of the landmark heritage houses in Bustos but his art breaks away from the Baroque and Rococo styles that were prevalent in the architectural community he was raised. I can only guess that since he studied fine arts in UST at height of the Modernist Movement that perhaps gave influenced in his applying of brutalist, cubist and Primitivist styles into his highly expressionist works.

MERCADO ANCESTRAL HOUSE. We walked further into the rows of ancestral houses in Bustos. Along the road, we found those bahay-na-bato that I first saw while on a speeding car. The good thing about walking is you get to spend more time in taking a closer look at these Spanish era houses. While most are in different stages of decay there are those that are well-preserved like the stately Perez Ancestral House that was converted into a cafe and the next to it is the famous Mercado House where the Modernist artist Conrado Mercado was born.

The Mercado Ancestral House was built in mid-19th century. It’s a landmark heritage house for its unique features of having Baroque carvings on stone that shows garlands of flowers, balusters, and crucifix to assure protection from evil.

Published in: on September 24, 2017 at 4:57 am  Leave a Comment  


WHAT TO SEE IN BALIUAG. Talk about Baliuag and the first thing that comes to mind are the prices of antique furniture at current auctions that has went from crazy to unbelievably insane like a narra and kamagong chest that is elegantly decorated with wood and carabao bone-inlay, a style that traces its lineage to this town in Bulacan were sold from eight to twelve million pesos.

Heir to a glittering past, the town of Baliuag is best explored at a leisurely pace to appreciate its history and heritage. So what is there to see in this town? There is a remarkable 18th century church and unusual monuments to Rizal and Bonifacio. There is a town museum that is housed in a historic bahay-na-bato. In a narrow alley, there are artisans that still practice the old-fashioned craft of applying animal bone inlay in making the Baliuag-style furniture and there is also an Alibaba’s cave of antique objects owned by a respected antique collector and dealer.

TOWN CENTER. One of the main landmarks that we first saw across the Baliwag Clock Tower at the town’s poblacion is the Rizal Monument. Designed by artist Ramon Carreon in 1928, this monument shows Rizal in overcoat just like how we see it in the Luneta. Interestingly, Carreon added allegorical figures including Inang Bayan standing taller than national hero as if whispering behind him and a couple of sphinxes flanking the monument.

There is also a monument to Bonifacio, which we rarely see the hero of the masses portrayed brandishing a bolo while riding a horse.

SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH. Behind the Rizal Monument is the San Agustin Church, which dates back to the Spanish period. The stone and brick church facade glows in that full midday sun with the image of the town’s patron saint overlooking the plaza from its Classical pediment. At the base of the slender bell tower is a bas-relief of Moses holding the tablet of the Ten Commandments. A visual feast were the church’s main doors flanked by double Doric columns all dressed-up with garlands of flowers.

Legend has it that when Baliuag was invaded by the Moors, the townsfolk would lock themselves inside the church. Beneath the church were secret tunnels used as escape routes leading to a nearby river. On what used to be a river now stands a fast food restaurant.

MEET MONSIGNOR VALERA. Preparations were taking place that day for the Traslacion of the Santo Niño from Bustos later in that afternoon. Inside Baliuag Church we met parish priest Monsignor Andres Valera. Despite of his busy schedule preparing for a wedding celebration and for that day’s festivities, he found time to lead us for a tour of the rectory and the church museum, providing narratives to every religious and secular piece.

In the museum were every conceivable image of the Blessed Mother in wood and in ivory. There are librettos of church music and missals printed in Latin and a compilation of the  town’s census dating as far as 1777. Enclosed in a glass frame is a vestment used for the image of San Agustin that is spread out to show the metallic thread of inuod embroidery.  There are also silver monstrances and chalice gilt in gold. Monsignor Velara pointed out that in the olden days church receptacles were never made in gold. Silver was preferred for its attribute to change color in the presence of poison. Monsignor Valera then led us to his office were he showed us his collection Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter action figures and memorabilia.

THE RECTORY. The church rectory that shares the same age as the church still has remnants of the original structure. Apart from the refurbished flooring and ceiling, preserved on the walls of the rectory were the relief of repeating patterns of flowers, tropical plants and the cincture.

Some of the church’s original furniture were transferred to the rectory for safekeeping and exhibit like the massive vestry cabinet that was originally in the sacristy and the communion rail that now functions as a wall decor. The centuries old statue depicting the Baptism of Jesus was originally in the church’s baptistry. And there is the sacrarium. Dated 1883 and embossed with Augustinian symbols, this marble basin was used in the olden days for washing of chalices and other receptacles used in administering the sacraments. It has two faucets. The priest used one to wash his hands before the mass and the other after the mass.

LUMANG MUNICIPIO. A few walks from the town center is Baliuag Museum and Library that is housed in the old town hall.  This 19th century bahay-na-bato was originally the residence of Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez, one of the writers of the Malolos Constitution and the first school president of what would later be known as University of the Philippines. The ancestral house was bought from Dr. Gonzalez by the local government  in 1915 to serve as its municipio.

Aside from being a well-preserved heritage house, the old municipio is also a historical landmark where the first Philippine election was held.

MAY DAY EVE. While inside the Baliuag Museum, we chanced upon a group of students from Bulacan State University having their dress rehearsals and script reading. When I heard one of them in a booming voice said Guardia sereno-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o! I knew immediately they were rehearsing for Nick Joaquin’s May Day Eve so we requested the one playing the role of Doña Agueda to be the sitter for a photo.

Rooms in this grand bahay-na-bato were sub-divided into function rooms. The original zaguan houses the local tourism office. The sala mayor and some of the bedrooms have permanent exhibits of antique furniture and objects. These same rooms were occasionally used for art and moving exhibitions. When the municipal government took over the house, the comedor was converted into a courtroom with a raised platform reserved for the tribunal.

SIGLO ANTIQUES. Past lunch time, this old world town continues to casts its spell over me and my travel companion. By then we found ourselves inside Siglo Antiques. There Engineer Mike Nicolas greeted who we first met in his antique stores branch at Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City.

The humble and respected antique dealer led us to his warehouse, unlocking room after room of antique furniture and curiosities. It took a while for our eyes to adjust from the glare of afternoon sun to the dim and windowless interior filled with antiques and vintage objects nothing later than the 1950s. There is a Gothic-style altar that must have housed a family’s favorite santo in the oratorio. There were platerang buntis and abanico and aparador of different heights with their coronas. There were escritorios, lamesas, and sillas with Art Deco and Art Nouveau details.  And then lo and behold my heart beat faster upon seeing the iconic Baliuag-style comoda elegantly inlaid with wood and carabao bone.

IMBUTE ARTIST. Baliuag-style furniture were common pieces found in Filipino homes and the craft of applying carabao bone inlay were in demand particularly before World War II.  In Barangay Sto. Cristo we met Anacleto ‘Ka Romy’ Bernardo, the youngest and only surviving member from an older generation of artisans specializing in wood and carabao bone-inlay. This craft is locally called imbute.

The imbute artist buys the ribs of the animal from the slaughter house and makes them smooth using wood bleach. He then cuts the bone in different shapes using improvised tools. We watched Ka Romy carve small dents using an old chisel that he inherited from his father on the furniture. He then apply alternating strips of carabao bone and wood to form geometric patterns around floral design.

EPILOGUE: TRASLACION. By late afternoon, we drifted back into the road when the vehicles were halted to give way to Traslacion of the Santo Niño de Bustos.  In fascination, we watched the townsfolk of Baliuag and the visiting folks from neighboring town of Bustos pull together the colorful festivities from the iron-braced bridge that connects the two towns.

From the Baliuag side of the bridge was the image of San Agustin awaiting on a carroza along with a welcoming committee. Marching on the other side of the bridge were the town folks of Bustos that came in throngs and in red shirt carrying their Santo Niño. When the two images came face-to-face, the carroza carrying San Agustin was turned and led the procession that meanders back to Baliuag Church with the Sto. Nino de Bustos.

– In celebration of the Heritage Month | 2017

Published in: on May 7, 2017 at 11:52 pm  Comments (3)  

Jose Bautista House of Malolos

CARYATID HOUSE. A quick glance at the 1877 Don Jose Bautista House gives the first impression that it is not the usual bahay-na-bato. While the ground floor with its arched double door is typical of houses built during the colonial period, the second floor decoration isn’t. The main feature there is the famed female caryatids on the house’s street façade which was a rare feature found in colonial houses.

This ancestral house-turned museum is located in the Kamistisuhan District of Malolos, where a number of ancestral houses serve as reminders not just of the affluent lifestyle of the landed Filipino-Chinese families but also the struggles of Filipino patriots in achieving independence from foreign rule during the colonial period.

JOSE RIZAL WAS HERE. Built in 1855, the Jose Bautista House was reconstructed in the Neoclassical style in 1877. It played host to important Manila-based visitors including Dr. Jose Rizal.

A painting in the caida just above the grand staircase depicts the historical meeting in June of 1892 when Jose Rizal visited Malolos to present to Don Jose and two prominent Bulakenyos about his plan of organizing the La Liga Filipina. Rizal was arrested and was banished to Dapitan days after the meeting took place.

SECRETARIA DE FOMENTO. During the Malolos Republic, the house served as the office of the Secretaria de Fomento or Ministry of Interior Affairs. After Don Jose’s passing, the house has been used in different occasions as municipal hall, primary school, and Japanese barracks.

In the 1970s, well-known set designer, writer/historian, antique collector, and descendant of the Don Jose, Basilidez “Dez” Bautista restored his ancestor’s grand mansion.

HERITAGE FURNITURE. The area that used to contain two bedrooms has been transformed into a lavishly decorated sala major where Dez fittingly displayed his collection of antiques and ornate furniture.

The locally sourced period furniture like the Carlos Trese set, mariposa sofa and matching butacas were not part of the original house but the formal arrangement of these colonial furnishings in main living room evoke the era when the dons ruled the town with aristocratic fervor.

GODDES OF HARVEST. Red walls and floral patterns highlight the elaborately-framed paintings on the walls and ceiling. One painting on the ceiling shows the goddess of harvest.

HIDALGO’S LA BANCA. Artworks on the walls include works on paper and canvas by Fernando Amorsolo, Lorenzo Guerrero, and Felix Ressureccion-Hidalgo.

A replica of Hidalgo’s La Banca presides in the main living room. This controversial Hidalgo painting, possibly depicting a creek in Makati near the artist’s vacation house is now owned by antique collector Teyet Pascual.

ANTIQUES AND HEIRLOOMS. To the left of the caida is the formal comedor with its long hardwood table and a pair of plateras. A wide walled-in verandah on one side of the comedor provides cross-ventilation.

Beyond the formal dining area is the informal comedor used for daily meals and beyond that is the cocina then the azotea.



 ORATORIO. At one side of the caida, to the back of the staircase is a small but opulently-decorated oratorio filled with century old santos that are placed on carrozas during religious procession.

This large collection of different religious statues is something expected from someone like Dez who has shared his knowledge and expertise in coffee table books he has co-authored like Cuaresma and Filipino Style.

DEZ BAUTISTA. Filled with great stories of the past and beautifully preserved, the Don Jose Bautista House of Malolos continues to link generations of Filipinos to their historical and cultural legacies. Future plans for the ancestral house include a revamped garden for wedding receptions and other social events.

For now, Dez continues to share his passion for culture and history through his Bulacan Heritage Tours. Aside from touring ancestral houses in Malolos and selected Bulacan towns, participants are treated to heirloom Bulacan recipes and period meals. For more information call Dez Bautista at 0915.989.73.33.

Bahay na Pula of San Ildefonso Bulacan

On our way to San Miguel de Mayumo, we spotted an elegant house along the national highway. It looked eerie and uninhabited but the entire structure still bears grandness evoking the hacienda lifestyle of the 19th century landlord.

Infamously known as the Bahay na Pula, the Ilusorio Mansion, is one of those houses taken by the Japanese Army. It was used as a garrison where Japanese soldiers reputedly massacred guerilla soldiers and rape the women of Bulacan.

The carnage that took place in the house during the Japanese occupation has inspired tales about restless souls seeking justice and revenge. One of the chilling stories is said to occur on nights when the wind soughs under the starless sky. The locals say they would hear screams and cries for help from the abandoned house. 

What stories do you know about the haunted Bahay na Pula of San Ildefonso Bulacan?

San Miguel de Mayumo Bulacan

We are fascinated with colonial houses. Aside for their remarkable architecture, and historical value, they tell interesting stories about an era when the dons ruled the towns with patrician formality. So off we went to Bulacan to visit the grand ancestral houses in the town of San Miguel de Mayumo.

The town of Miguel de Mayumo was established in 1763. Its original named was taken from its first town mayor Miguel Pineda and the kapampangan word for sweets –mayumo. Inspired by the accidental discovery of the stone image of St. Michael the Archangel in Madlum Cave, the townspeople added San to the town’s original name. Thus the town became known as San Miguel de Mayumo.

About a century ago, San Miguel de Mayumo is a wealthy town where the landed barons have established residence or built vacation houses for running their haciendas in Central Luzon. These grand houses hosted lavished parties for the town’s elite and some even sheltered important officers of a retreating revolutionary government.

But World War II, land reform policy, communist insurgency movement, and the closing of the railroad system made the old rich families leave their San Miguel lifestyle and established their lives somewhere else. San Miguel today is a quiet town with plenty of ancestral houses that tell stories of patriotism and tasteful living.

From the poblacion, we began our walking tour along Rizal Street where most of the prominent families built their stately homes. The house of Don Miguel Slojo, municipal president from 1908 to 1912 was built in1903 and is in good condition.

The house was one of those taken by the Japanese Army. Locals claim that the house is haunted by the ghosts of those who were murdered in the house during the Japanese Occupation.

A few walks from the Slojo House we saw one of the three houses associated with the landed de Leon clan of Bulacan which we were told houses a glass urn containing sand allegedly taken from the spot where Rizal fell when he was shot in Bagumbayan on December 30, 1896.

The house was built in the 1890’s by Pelagio de Leon and Eladia Santiago where they raised five of their children: Ceferino, Felix, Jose, Crispina and Valeriana. Ceferino was the father of beauty queen Trinidad who later married President Manuel Roxas. Felix was the grandfather of former Bulacan congressman Jose Cabochan. Jose was married to Doña Narcisa Buencamino of LVN Pictures. Crispina was married to Damaso Sempio, a nephew of hero Gregorio del Pilar, and Valeriana was married to Catalino Sevilla who built a gorgeous three-storey mansion which we also visited during the trip.

Don Jose “Capitan Pepe” de Leon was gobernadorcillo of the San Miguel in 1892, married Doña Narcisa “Sisang” Buencamino, after being widowed from his first wife. Doña Sisang was a Filipino film industry pioneer and one of the founders of the de Leon, Villonco and Navoa Pictures. LVN Pictures is one of the three leading movie companies during the 1950’s and has produced many of the country’ respected movie talents.

With Capitan Pepe’s political reputation and Doña Sisang’s social prominence, film celebrities and political figures frequently visit their house including President Manuel Quezon who was godfather to their only son, Manuel.

Across the street is another house associated to the de Leons. Damaso Sempio was married to Crispina de Leon. The house may not be as grand as the two de Leon houses but its guest book outshines the other houses in terms of historical value.

Revolutionary hero General Gregorio del Pilar, Sempio’s uncle was said to have spent the night in the house on his way to Isabela to cover the retreat of Aguinaldo. Also in the Sempio’s guest book was General Artemio Ricarte, the general who refused to recognized American sovereignty over the Philippines.

A short distance from Sempio House is the Simon Tecson Mansion. Simon Tecson served in the Filipino armed forces both during the Spanish and American Wars.

The retreating General Emilio Aguinaldo used the Tecson Mansion as headquarters on the days prior to the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato. Descendants of Simon Tecson claim that the actual signing of the said peace treaty took place in the house and not in cave of Biak-na-Bato. The tintero or inkwell used in the signing and the canopied bed used by Aguinaldo are just some of the revolutionary memorabilia preserved in the house.

Among the historic houses in San Miguel, the Tecson Mansion is the only one that has a historical marker. But just as same as the other houses we visited in the trip, walk-in tourists are not allowed to go inside so we relied on stories told to us by the locals.

We left Rizal Street and traveled to Barangay San Jose to visit the 1906 house once owned by Dr. Maximo Viola. Viola was friend of Dr. Jose Rizal. He lent the national hero the money for the publication of Noli me Tangere.

The house has been sold to Ronaldo and Amelia Reyes who worked to preserve the house’s original narra floors and walls, mulawin window ledges, and even the original glass windows which were very expensive during the time of the house’s construction.

The lot across the Viola house that was owned by the David served as a meeting place of Katipuneros. The David House was demolished when it gave way after years of abandonment and disrepair.

Another house that might end up the same fate as with the David House is the Catalino Sevilla Mansion. The three-storey structure still puts of a façade of stateliness. But we were told that the house is in dire need of attentive restoration since its foundation is ready to give in anytime.

Built in 1921 by municipal president Catalino Sevilla, the construction of what the locals referred to as the malaking bahay or the only three-storey structure in the town at that time has inspired a local tale about the male ego.

It has been told that Catalino was a mere famer of the landed de Leon family who became rich enough to marry the landlord’s youngest daughter Valeriana. To outshine his father-in-law, the farmer built the tallest structure in town so that his father-in-law would have to look up to his son-in-law.

The third floor housed a spacious ballroom where the Celia Club, composed of the local elite would throw their luxurious soirees as entertainment.