The legacy of our leaders in an ancestral house


IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME The Teus house and a great grand daughter of its builder Ms. Begona Cabral Vara de Rey

The first lady, Mme. Marie Louise “Liza” Araneta Marcos, has created museums intended to make Filipinos know and be proud of their historic past. They are housed in three of Manila’s few remaining Spanish Regime homes.

• Bahay Ugnayan is on J.P. Laurel Street, a late 19th century home that was donated by the Madrigal family to government probably before World War II.

• The Goldenberg house on Gral. Solano Street near San Miguel Church was built by a now-forgotten Eugster family and over its colorful life was family residence, school, military headquarters, night club; and home and office of Michael Goldenberg, franchisee of the shampoo “Helene Curtis Shampoo Plus Egg.”

• The Teus house next door to the Goldenberg was built in the 1870s by a Basque migrant whose descendants owned it until the 1980s.

Bahay Ugnayan has been an office all these years. It is now a museum that relates the life story of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. Mme. Imelda Romualdez Marcos bought the Goldenberg and Teus homes and restored and made them into Palace guest houses where visiting heads of state have stayed. After EDSA I, both guest houses were inaccessible and mostly unused.

The Presidential Museum exhibition

Now, the Goldenberg House contains what is left of the fabulous oriental ceramics and international art collection of Mme. Imelda Marcos. Opened to the public just last month, the Teus house has become the Presidential Museum that takes history enthusiasts on a captivating journey into the lives and times of the 17 Philippine presidents, from Emilio F. Aguinaldo, who was proclaimed President in 1898, to PBBM, whose term started in 2022.

The area around Malacañang was the Forbes Park of the 19th century, with the gigantic homes of the super rich. The Teus house is one of the few survivors, with its Neo-Gothic blue and white façade standing proud beyond a wide piedra-china-paved courtyard.

The Presidential Museum exhibition

The ground floor was originally bodegas and servants’ quarters that FL Imelda Marcos renovated into a dozen guest rooms. FL Liza Marcos has reconfigured the rooms and made them into the Presidential Museum.

The history of the house and the Teus family serves as introduction, the fascinating story of Valentín Teus Yrissari, a penniless 15-year-old Basque who arrived in 1847 in search of a better life. By the 1870s he was in sugar, shipping, rope making, had founded the company that is now Tanduay Distilleries, Inc., married the niece of the governor-general, and was member of the Manila City Council. Don Valentín passed away in 1909 leaving three children, Concepción, Dolores, and Valentín Jr. The two girls married Spaniards and settled down in Spain while Valentín Jr. remained in Manila till after World War II. Concepción inherited the house and with none of her seven children or 48 grandchildren interested, she offered the house to Mrs. Imelda Marcos in the late 1970s.

One of Concepción’s grandchildren, Sra. Begoña Cabral Vara de Rey, was in Manila the other week with her husband José Zaballa Gomez, the Spanish Trade Commissioner in Shanghai and the three of us visited the old manse.

Visits are timed and we are taken around in groups by John Joseph Victorino who expertly summarizes the key events in the administration of Philippines presidents over the 125 years from 1898 to 2023.  The narrative glosses over the years from 1901 when Aguinaldo was captured in Palanan to 1935 when the Philippine Commonwealth was born with Quezon as president.

One or two rooms is devoted to each president where Victorino sheds light on the chief executive’s political career and his/her impact on the nation.  There are wall text, photographs, and memorabilia from government collections and loans or gifts from presidential families.

The main hall is lined with busts of presidents and rooms contain collections of artifacts, personal belongings, and memorabilia. Wall test and photographs sustain the main narrative, punctuated here and there with medals and decorations, commemorative coins, and miscellanea like eyeglasses, a golf club, chess pieces, automobile license plates, a buntal hat and a cap, flyers from long-ago elections, souvenirs of EDSA I, and sculptures like one of President Ramos’ head puffing on a cigar. The Osmeña Room has a Philippine flag with the red section above the blue, signifying that the Republic was then at war. Barong Tagalog and/or suits of most of the presidents are on mannequins, providing an unintended history of Philippine men’s fashion. Portraits of first ladies conclude the exhibit.

The second floor is where the Teus family lived and the Zaballas obviously wanted to go up and see where Sra. Cabral’s great-grandparents lived and where her grandmother grew up.

It was in awful condition when the Teuses sold the house. The roof leaked and there was a bat colony in the attic. It was totally empty, the family having shipped to Spain major pieces of furniture. Mrs. Marcos restored the place, adding 12 bedrooms on the ground floor and restoring the original five on the second floor but giving them bathrooms and closets camouflaged behind aparadors.

The second floor is under renovation and closed to visitors.  Happily, permission was given and director Yvette Biñan and curator Louie Esquivel took us up. Scaffolding was everywhere, plastic sheets covered floors. With windows closed and electricity off, the place was hot and dark. We threaded our way through to the rear veranda crowded with empty cabinets from the dismantled Kalayaan Hall exhibition. The reward was the view of the swiftly flowing Pasig and the Hospicio de San Jose across on its island. The scale and grandeur of the old home remains and Sra. Cabral was ecstatic on being where her ancestors lived.

Staff was busy on an inventory of the building’s contents, counting, listing, and wrapping in bubble wrap coffee cups while we were there. I asked about the large Ching and Ming vases, the Georgian English silver, and the dozens of Grandma Moses paintings that I remember seeing long ago. They hadn’t found them yet.

Whether one is a history buff or simply curious about the legacy of our leaders, the new Presidential Museum provides a unique opportunity to imagine the life of the privileged class before the revolution against Spain and how Filipinos have managed life on their own.

Over the 125 years since, we have been under American tutelage, suffered the atrocities of war and Communist rebellion, experienced civil discontent and Martial Law, survived oil crises and international recessions, worked under the Philippine version of democracy, maintained sovereignty amid conflicting superpower interests.

FL Liza Marcos’s creation, the Presidential Museum, makes us think about the lessons we have and should have learned in past times good and bad.

Note: The Philippine presidents are: Emilio Aguinaldo. Manuel Quezon, Jose Laurel, Sergio Osmena, Manuel Rosas, Elpidio Quirino, Ramon Magsaysay. Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal, Ferdinand Marcos, Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Benigno Aquino III, Rodrigo Duterte, and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
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