Be it ever so humble (or grand) … (Part VII)

Published October 11, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Jaime Laya


… there’s no place like [an ancestral] home.

 Still on a Virtual History Trail

The Pact of Biak-na-Bato was a truce during the Philippine Revolution, signed on Dec. 15, 1897. It provided for an end of the hostilities and, among others, an amnesty, reparations, and the exile of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and other revolutionary leaders. Some three dozen revolucionarios promptly departed for a Hong Kong exile where they continued plotting for independence. (Why the Spanish colonial government thought they would do otherwise is beyond me.)

Events happened unbelievably fast in the following year, 1898. Cubans were then fighting for independence from Spain (remember Jose Rizal had planned to join the medical corps in Cuba) and America was on their side. Matters came to a head when the US battleship Maine blew up and sank in Havana Harbor on April 21, 1898. The US declared war and, in less than two weeks, Admiral George Dewey steamed into Manila Bay. In just a few hours on May 1, 1898 (“You may fire when ready, Gridley”), the Spanish fleet was underwater.

The Hong Kong exiles, needless to say, were beside themselves with the news and, on an American ship courtesy of Dewey, returned to the Philippines on May 16. He rekindled revolutionary fires, proclaimed independence in Kawit on June 12, 1898, and laid siege to Manila. The Spanish were fearful of revolucionario vengeance and in the Aug. 13 mock Battle of Manila, Governor General Fermin Jaudenes surrendered to the Americans. 

Having been prevented from entering Manila, Aguinaldo moved to Malolos (Bulacan), organized government and convened a Constitutional Convention. Malolos church was made the Presidential Palace, Barasoain Church the Legislative building, and town buildings and private mansions at town center into Ministry offices. 

Peace negotiations between the Spain and the US were concluded with the Treaty of Paris signed on Dec. 10, 1898 that transferred the Philippines to the US. The Malolos Republic was ignored and predictably, the Filipino-American War began.

The first shot was fired on Feb. 4, 1899 (near SM City Mall in Santa Mesa) and American troops moved toward Malolos, proceeding along the Manila railroad tracks with battles in town after town from Caloocan to Polo, Meycauayan, Marilao, and finally Malolos on March 31, 1899. The Presidential Palace (Malolos church) was burned but Barasoain Church survived, its convent now a history museum. The old homes on the plaza are now modern business establishments, but old homes still exist on side streets, many in the Kamistisuhan district by the cathedral. At least one of the Aguinaldo Ministry buildings remains, a sad, roofless ruin.

Aguinaldo was in San Isidro (Nueva Ecija) when Malolos fell and for several weeks, San Isidro was the Republic’s capital. I was in town once and passed many old homes, including the impressive Crispulo Sideco house where Aguinaldo stayed. It was late afternoon and regrettably had no time to knock on any door.

HERITAGE HOUSES AND THE PHILIPPINE REVOLUTION The Pamintuan-Tablante home in Angeles City (Google Images).

Aguinaldo had to be on the move and proceeded to Angeles (Pampanga) where he stayed in the recently built home of Don Florentino Pamintuan. It was the Presidential Palace on June 12, 1899 and Aguinaldo watched the parade marking the anniversary of the declaration of Philippine independence. The mansion was later sold by the Pamintuans and for some 50 years was occupied by a succession of business establishments, including a hotel. It was Angeles City Hall for several years.

I knew about the history of the house and in 1981 when I became governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines, I asked then National Library director Serafin Quiason, Jr. to do some sleuthing. He found that the property was owned by Pedro Tablante, a prominent Angeleno. Quiason negotiated an agreement whereby Mr. Tablante donated the house and sold the land on which it stood (the former large garden was already built over). 

The building bore marks of heavy usage and needed extensive restoration. I asked the help of Don Conrado Escudero and Ar. Wilhelmina de las Alas to restore the building, for use as the Central Bank’s Central Luzon Clearing Office. It was in such awful condition that it had to be dismantled almost to its foundations, rotten and missing parts fabricated, and the whole reassembled into its former glory. The ground floor was made into a functional office and the second floor fully restored with its elaborate carved arches and ventilation panels, burnished walls and wide hardwood plank floors, colored glass windows.

I visited the place a couple of times and was shown a secret tunnel under the stairs—it was short and led nowhere—and taken up to the tower where it seemed that when the time was right, a young girl (naturally dressed in white) could be seen hanging by the neck, swinging gently from the ceiling.

The place eventually proved to be too small for Central Bank operations and was turned over to the national government. It is now run as a museum by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the Angeles Historical Society.