An inside story: University Belt and dorm life, 1870s


White-haired, bleary-eyed, wrinkled, and hearing-challenged seniors were once young. So were the men and women standing frozen on plaza pedestals. They all were once vigorous youths, had loves, disappointments, ambitions.

A street in Paco and another at U.P. Diliman and a house in Taal (Batangas) are reminders of the life and times of brothers Judge León Apacible (1861-1901) and Dr. Galicano C. Apacible (1864-1949), heroes both in the Philippine struggle for independence.

The Apacibles were a wealthy family from Balayan (Batangas). The boys’ maternal grandparents owned the 35,000-hectare Hacienda de Nasugbu. It had been mortgaged for ₱10,000 and, to avoid foreclosure, their grandmother Isabela Isaac sold it for ₱80,000 when she was widowed. The buyer in turn sold it for ₱200,000 to an ancestor of the Roxas and Zobel families who to this day still own the property. Nonetheless, they had enough land left to remain one of Batangas’ super rich.  

MANILA IN BLACK AND WHITE More so then than now, the wealthy of the provinces would send their children to school in Manila, like the Apacible brothers, León in high school and his brother Galicano at age eight

The deal wasn’t too bad BTW. A kasambahay was then paid ₱2/month and with that as benchmark, ₱80,000 was okay. It would be more than ₱300 million today.

Schools in Balayan were only at the primary level and the boys were sent to Manila for further study. León went to Ateneo Municipal for high school and then to law school at the Universidad de Santo Tomas. He and José Rizal, a kinsman and classmate, were consistently marked sobresaliente. He returned to Batangas to practice law and in due course became judge. He was active in the revolution against Spain and, like Rizal, who was exiled to Dapitan, León was banished to Lepanto (Bontoc). He was a member of the Malolos Congress and fought with Gen. Manuel Malvar in the Filipino-American War. His granddaughter Corazon A. Cañisa became mayor of Taal and donated her home that is now the Apacible Museum.

Like his brother León, the young boy Galicano, called Kanoy, was sent off to Manila at age eight. He attended the well-known private school of Benedicto Luna in Santa Cruz and lived with a relative so strict that the homesick boy escaped and fled home to Balayan. His mother brought him back to Manila and looked for another place. He went on to San Juan de Letran for high school, transferring to an Intramuros boarding house where his brother León and Rizal were staying.  

Kanoy was apparently happy there, with some 30 other boys at the Antonio Riveras (parents of Leonor Rivera, Rizal’s great love) on Calle Santo Tomas (now Postigo). A souvenir photo of the dorm mates shows the group. Some of them were members of the school orchestra and Kanoy was a flutist. Rizal couldn’t blow a note and is in the photo by an easel with a paint brush. His friends were impressed when years later, Rizal played “an opera” on the flute, having practiced by himself while abroad.

Kanoy writes that the description of a physics class in El Filibusterismo is accurate though with names disguised. Learning meant memorizing and laboratory work was virtual. He admits that his grades were average, having devoted more time to Manila’s lively social life.

Wealthy Manilans with marriageable daughters frequently threw parties and Kanoy, being a wealthy provincial and a facultad (someone enrolled in a professional course), was on everyone’s “A” list. On Thursdays or Sundays, young men flocked to the Luneta to discreetly ogle promenading colegialas guarded by watchful Sisters. The young men also attended Santo Domingo and Santa Cruz fiestas, not for novena prayers alone but also to gaze at pretty young things piously escorting La Naval and del Pilar, flickering candles in hand.

Provincial families sent their girls to Manila as internas, boarders at Real Colegio de Santa Isabel, Colegio de la Inmaculada Concepcion de la Concordia, Colegio de Santa Rosa, or Beaterio de Santa Catalina de Manila, all run by Sisters. La Concordia in Santa Ana was a favorite not only for quality education but also because house rules were not too strict. Gentlemen callers were welcome on Sundays and holidays. Prayer periods, too, were not as long as Santa Catalina’s and the girls reported they did not get kalyos on their knees.  

Rizal obviously had leadership qualities. He organized El Compañerismo, a secret student group that Kanoy joined. It had dual objectives: civic and patriotic education and mutual protection. The latter was probably more to the point. Student rumbles—not among fraternities but among regional groups (Batangueños vs Ilocanos vs Bicolanos, etc.)—are nothing new and boys had to watch out for rival gangs, run-of-the-mill muggers, and abusive policia (the Guardia Civil and the Veterana). 

Fraile professors looked down on indio students and Kanoy had to leave UST medical school after a fight with one of them. He continues his studies in Spain and his biography relates the inside story of the Propaganda Movement.  

Note: This article is based on Encarnacion Alzona, Galicano Apacible: Profile of a Filipino Patriot (Manila: National Historical Institute, 1971).

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to