It was an old Filipino town that had inexplicably managed to retain its old world elegance… at least, until lahar inundated and obliterated most everything.
Among all Pampanga towns, it had the most number of extant, and in most cases well-maintained ancestral houses, doubtless because it also had the most number of old “principalia” and “ilustrado” families [ from the Spanish era ] with “maintained,” and sometimes expanded fortunes, instead of the usual attenuated fortunes found in the other towns.
Along the old highway at the junction stood the 1880s Buyson-Angeles mansion [ pronounced Bwee-son ], the residence of the town’s most social family. A little further down on the opposite side were the 1926 Deomano residence [ originally Joven ] and beside it, the renovated 1860s Chu residence [ originally Joven ].
The exquisite Buyson sisters [ pronounced Bwee-son ] — Josefina “Pitang” Buyson-Eusebio, Ambassador Carmen “Mameng” Buyson, Luz “Lucing” Buyson-Gomez, Atty. Emiliana “Diding” Buyson-Gonzales, Asuncion Buyson-de la Cruz, and “Pilar” Buyson-Villarama — were the town’s foremost socialites, even if they never cared to socialize in that town. Of course, they partied in Manila, where it truly mattered. It was a known fact in the town that the rich, pretty, and chic Buyson sisters excelled in all matters social and did not bother with the mundane practicalities of existence. Unlike traditional Capampangan women, they did not cook. Nor did they bother with the everyday running of their house. Freed from quotidian responsibilities, they could pursue matters of style and society at their leisure…
The most famous Buyson daughter was the fashion icon “La Suprema,” Josefina “Pitang” Buyson-Eusebio, who ranked very high on the client list of the legendary high society couturier Ramon Oswalds Valera. She was unfailingly the star attraction — always dressed by Valera — during the annual “Mancomunidad Pampanguena” ball. He created some of his most spectacular creations for her. In reciprocation of his favors, she always settled her couture bills with blank — read: blank — cheques.
The Deomano-Joven family inherited the 1926 house from their aunt Marcelina “Nining” Joven y Huyendo.
The prosperous Chu family purchased an old mansion of the Jovens and renovated it for a contemporary lifestyle. It had originally belonged to the parents of Amparo Joven [ y de Keyser ] de Cortes but was later sold to Petra “Petring” Lazatin — a ward of Marcelina “Nining” Joven y Huyendo — who in turn sold it to the Chu family. Most unfortunately, Mr. Gong Chu, the paterfamilias, was assassinated during his bid for the mayoralty of Bacolor town.
From the Bacolor Public Market, in front of which was the bust monument of Capampangan Poet “Crissot” Juan Crisostomo Soto, one proceeded up to Barrio Cabambangan. On the left was the 1780s de Jesus mansion, originally belonging to the Alimurung, one of Bacolor’s and Pampanga’s oldest families. Beside it was the beautifully-preserved 1830s Panlilio Santos Joven mansion, which aside from the old parish church, was also a focus of the town’s religious festivities.
The Panlilio-Santos Joven mansion was an inheritance of three affluent siblings who had been orphaned early in life: Jose “Pepe,” Francisco “Quitong” / “Paquito,” and Encarnacion “Carning” Panlilio y Santos Joven. From the mid-1960s onwards, it became the domain of the dowager Luz “Lucing” Sarmiento de Panlilio, the wife of Jose. She was, even in old age, a regal woman whose renowned beauty was aptly described as “leonine.” Born into a simple family, she worthily gained the respect of Bacolor aristocracy with her irreproachable conduct, unfailing dignity, utmost respect and devotion to her husband, Jose “Pepe” Panlilio, the great love and care with which she lavished him during his final years, and her shrewd business sense, which enabled her to singlehandedly manage, and increase, the family’s holdings through war and illness.
The Panlilio-Santos Joven mansion was further distinguished by the possession of two [ needless to say authentic ] magnificent oil portraits of the family’s ancestors by the 19th century master Simon Flores y de la Rosa. One was of Jose Leon Santos and the other was of his [ second wife ] Ramona Joven y Suarez. Although art scholars lavished praises on the portrait of Jose, the portrait of Ramona was also notable for the detailed rendition of her exquisite “pina” “traje de mestiza.”
At the back of the Panlilio and the de Jesus mansions, on Antera Joven Street, were the contemporary “bahay na bato” style residence of Ambassador Carlos “Charlie” J. Valdes and a part of the old mansion of the Manuel family.
A little further up was the old Liongson residence, “Villa Eulalia,” where an expatriate granddaughter maintained an exquisite garden and orchard. Edelvina “Chiqui” Liongson Gonzalez had inherited the property from her wealthy grandmother, Eulalia “Laling” Liongson, who in her later years was known to have lived permanently in a suite at the expensive Makati Medical Center, so as to access her doctors and treatments expeditiously. How chic…
The affluent, cosmopolitan, and eccentric Liongsons had demolished their 19th century “bahay na bato” in the 1920s and replaced it with a chic, American colonial style residence designed by an American architect and carefully constructed by Japanese carpenters without a single nail. In the 1930s, they transferred that house to Ermita, fronting Rizal park, where it was burned down during the Manila Holocaust of late February 1945.
Across the road was the large and splendid 1850s mansion and the sprawling gardens of the legendary de Leon-Joven family, which from 1921 onwards, was the single richest family in all of Pampanga initially because of PASUDECO, The Pampanga Sugar Development Company, of which they were the majority owners.
The industrious and enterprising Jose “Pitong” de Leon y Hizon married the heiress Regina “Inang” Joven y Gutierrez with whom he had ten children but only one son survived to adulthood, Jose “Pepito” de Leon y Joven. After Regina’s death at an early age, he married her sister Maria Natividad “Titang” Joven y Gutierrez. Between his hard work and entrepreneurship and the combined inheritance of the two Joven heiresses, he was able to accumulate enough capital to lead a group of rich Capampangan investors in establishing the PASUDECO Pampanga Sugar Development Company in 1918.
Jose’s and Regina’s only son, Jose “Pepito” de Leon y Joven, married the Manila heiress Natividad “Naty” Lichauco y Fernandez, daughter of the cattle ranching tycoon Faustino Lichauco and his Spanish mestiza wife, Luisa Fernandez. The Lichaucos lived in a splendid mansion in posh San Miguel district, Manila [ near the Malacanang palace ].
The de Leon-Lichauco siblings — Maria Luisa de Leon-Escaler, Juan “Johnny” de Leon, Jorge de Leon, Regina de Leon-Jalandoni, Salvador “Badodeng” de Leon, Oscar de Leon, Benjamin “Benny” de Leon, Trinidad “Trining” de Leon-Panicucci, Lydia de Leon-Sison, Jose “Joe” de Leon III, and Bernadette “Berna” de Leon-Perez — were Bacolor’s version of the royal family. In conversations, their names were spoken with silkier tones than the rest of the town’s gentry.
Among the de Leon-Lichauco siblings, the only ones who actually spent their early years in Bacolor were the two eldest, Maria Luisa and Johnny. According to Maria Luisa de Leon-Escaler, she loathed going to the old house in Bacolor ever since she was a young lady, on 12 July 1939 to be exact, when she saw the corpse of her grandfather Jose “Pitong” de Leon, bloodied and all, being carried up the “escalera principal” grand staircase by a grieving household staff after he was assassinated at the PASUDECO offices in nearby San Fernando along with Augusto Gonzalez and Captain Julian Olivas. After her grandfather’s funeral, with more death threats coming from the assassins’ families, her parents Pepito and Naty decided to make the final and irrevocable transfer of residence to Manila.
On the infrequent occasions that the de Leon-Lichauco family congregated at the ancestral mansion in Bacolor, usually during Holy Week for that was when their grand “calandra” of the “Santo Entierro” was brought out, an unmistakably aristocratic prewar air was created as the elegant conversations alternated in English and the old mother tongue of Spanish.
I remember the anachronistic sight of some two dozen white-uniformed maids and some two dozen gray and black-uniformed valets and chauffeurs — the staff of the various de Leon-Lichauco siblings — leaning along the balustrades of the commodious 19th century “azotea” staircase, chatting and flirting the afternoon away. It was definitely a scene from prewar… Actually, it was a common sight in affluent contemporary houses, specially in Forbes Park and Dasmarinas village, but to see it in a well-maintained 19th century provincial “bahay na bato,” still owned by a rich family, was disorienting. After the Marcos agrarian reform of 1972, many of the old families suffered from the abrupt loss of their agricultural lands — the original source of wealth that had created their 19th century “bahay na bato” — and they could no longer afford the retinue of retainers and the profuse maintenance budgets required by their large establishments.
And towards the late 1900s, the new gambling lords and the new political lords came along, and amassed even more unbelievable individual fortunes — estimated in the tens of billions of pesos — than all of Pampanga’s grandest families put together…
Beside the de Leon mansion, and fronting the church, was the 1920s Panlilio residence. The Panlilios, actually natives of Mexico town, maintained that it was the site of their first residence in Bacolor, which burned in the 1920s then rebuilt.
Fronting the church, the Panlilio residence, and the de Leon mansion was the very elegant Art Nouveau-style mansion of the Valdes-Liongson family.
In its time from 1905 to around 1920, there was probably no residence in Bacolor more elegant, indeed palatial, than the Valdes-Liongson mansion. Constructed in 1905 by Roman Valdes y Angeles and his wife Florentina Liongson, it lorded over the town plaza along with the Bacolor church. It was remarkable for its elegant verticality: the entresuelo rose twenty four feet, twin stairs led to a landing which culminated in a magnificent “pasa senorita” staircase [ the most beautiful in Bacolor, and the easiest to climb up as well ], and the ceiling of the “piano nobile” main floor rose twenty feet. The double doors of the mansion also rose suitably; the tall sliding doors that led from the “sala” to the “balcon” in front were decorated with multicolored glass panes. The sophisticated “en suite” interior decoration — including the architectural details, furniture, and the handpainted walls — was entirely in the Filipino Art Nouveau style, probably the work of Alejandro Caudal (the Dr. Luis Santos residence, Pariancillo, Malolos, Bulacan; the Lerma, later Gallego-Ongsiako, “Villa Caridad” residence, New Manila; etc.) or Emilio Alvero (the Soriano-de Montemar residence, San Miguel district, Manila; the Barcelona-de Santos residence, San Juan; etc.). An industrious Japanese gardener, then the height of fashion, tended the lovely grounds. The mansion was eventually inherited by Roman’s and Florentina’s eldest daughter Rosario “Charing” Valdes y Liongson, who married Dr. Emilio “Miling” Gonzalez y Sioco of Sulipan, Apalit.
Well before the onslaught of lahar in 1991, the Valdes-Liongson mansion was sold to the industrialist Geronimo Berenguer de los Reyes for reconstruction at his Gateway Business Park in General Trias, Cavite.
After the curb was the 1920s Victorian chalet-style Granda residence.
A little further down across the road was the 1920s residence of the musical Palma family. In the 1980s, it was the last house in Bacolor that still had its old “piano de cola” grand piano.
Further down was the 1750s Malig mansion, certainly the oldest and the most atmospheric of the Old Bacolor residences.
The quaint, archaic architecture of the Malig mansion was not the splendid, classical 1850s “bahay na bato” of the great landowning families of Bacolor, Guagua, San Fernando, and Mexico towns. It was the affluent house of an earlier era, perhaps of the mid 18th century [ 1750s ]…
One entered an arched adobe portal to a small courtyard paved with “piedra china” granite slabs and hung with bougainvilleae before proceeding to a handsome, pedimented front door which was actually located at the “mirador” tower and not in the house proper [ the “mirador” tower was most probably a remnant of the days when the “Moros” would raid Pampanga towns — notably Lubao, Guagua, and Bacolor — and capture their inhabitants for slaves and for ransom, occurrences which lasted until the early 1800s ]. The dim entrance hall was laid with brilliantly colored Spanish “azulejos” tiles. To the left was parked the old piercework giltwood “andas” / “carroza” processional carriage of the Malig family’s “Mater Dolorosa,” a very old image venerated by Bacolorenos during the traditional Good Friday procession. One proceeded to the right, up a staircase with a small flight of steps to the house proper, to the “caida” living area. There was, rather incongruously, a 19th century matrimonial bed with a beautiful, Chinese-inflected headboard of birds [ cranes / pheasants ], hung with a sheer mosquito net, in the center of the room. Hanging from the walls were the famous 1860s colored lithographs of Reina Isabel II and her consort, Principe Francisco de Borbon in equally old giltwood frames. If one observed the distressed walls closely, there were still the vestiges of geometric handpainted decoration, perhaps from the 1850s. Beside the staircase, to the right, was a smaller staircase that led up to the “mirador” tower.
So old was the Malig mansion, so atmospheric, with so incredible a “stimmung,” that it was used convincingly as the house of the “alferez” and his abusive wife Dona Consolacion in the 1961 movie version of “Noli Me Tangere” by the national hero Jose Rizal directed by master filmmaker Gerry de Leon.
After the municipal hall, one turned right towards barrio Santa Ines, where the 1830s Rodriguez-Tuason-Bautista mansion stood.
The Rodriguez-Tuason-Bautista mansion, “Bale Sim” [ “house with an iron roof” ], was the domain of the beloved family matriarch, “Imang Beatriz” / “Imang Batic” / “Imang Bets” / “Imang Betty” Beatriz Rodriguez y Tiamson [ born 1910-died 2012 ], the daughter of Felix Rodriguez y Bautista and his second wife Inocencia Tiamson. She was the sole surviving granddaughter of Olegario Rodriguez [ o 1806 – + 1874 ], the progenitor of the clan, and his second wife Jacoba Bautista [ + 1874 ]. Her first cousins — all deceased — were Sabina Sioco [ y Rodriguez ] de Escaler [ “Impung Sabi” o 1858 – + 1950 ], matriarch of the Escaler clan of Sulipan; Florencia Sioco [ y Rodriguez ] de Gonzalez [ “Impung Eciang” o 1860 – + 1925 ], matriarch of the Gonzalez clan of Sulipan; Roman Santos y Rodriguez [ “Incung Duman” ], patriarch of the Santos-Andres clan of Malabon and the founder of Prudential Bank; Godofredo Rodriguez y Yabut [ “Incung Godong” ], the founder of the San Fernando branch of the family, and Gorgonia Rodriguez y Yabut [ “Impung Oniang” ], the Rodriguez matriarch and the chatelaine of “Bale Sim” during the first half of the 20th century.
The Rodriguez mansion was much distinguished by the possession of three [ untouched, unrestored, and frightfully authentic ] magnificent paintings by the 19th century master Simon Flores y de la Rosa. One was of the family patriarch, Olegario Rodriguez [ o 1806 – + 1874 ], dated “20 de Mayo 1862″ when he was “56 anos” years old, seated on a Biedermeier-style armchair with his arm resting on a grooved marble top table, which still stood, 128 years later, in the center of their “sala.” The second one was a dark “recuerdo de patay” [ memento mori ] of his son Francisco Rodriguez y Bautista. The third one was a spectacular “recuerdo de patay” [ memento mori ] of his granddaughter Encarnacion de los Reyes y Rodriguez, a child of his daughter Maxima Rodriguez y Bautista with one of the many sons of the Ilocano patriot Isabelo de los Reyes. The pitiful girl caught fire while playing “cooking-cooking” unsupervised by the elders and ran through the house screaming as she sustained severe burns. She was depicted dressed resplendently in a “pina” “traje de mestiza” with a brilliant yellow and vermilion skirt and bejeweled, lying on a tester bed, which still stood, one hundred years later, in one bedroom. Simon Flores painted a reddish tinge on her forehead to symbolize her tragic death.
One returned to the highway, and just before the School of Arts and Trades turned right to another part of Barrio Santa Ines, where the 1850s Gutierrez David residence stood.
There were two also two mansions belonging to prominent Bacoloreno families that disappeared even before prewar. Beatriz Rodriguez remembered the burnt ruins of the Ventura mansion on the site of the present Bacolor municipal hall. The very old town elders remembered that near the Ventura mansion was the Ramirez mansion, which disappeared in the early 1900s. The Ventura were of Chinese descent; the Ramirez were Spanish mestizos. Both the Ventura and the Ramirez were very rich and they maintained elegant houses in Paris, France at the turn of the 20th century, and were mentioned in the memoirs of Felix Roxas y Fernandez, a scion of the prominent Roxas clan of Manila, who was mayor of the city from 1905 – 1917.
Another old family from Bacolor was the Michels de Champourcin / Champenceaux of French descent. The old Pampanguenos, characteristically enough, could not pronounce “Shah-pooh-zah” / “Shah-pah-soh” and they pronounced the surname “Tsam-poor-sin.” They were friends of the Arnedo family of Sulipan, Apalit in the late 1800s / early 1900s. Their only memory left in prelahar Bacolor were three marble gravestones of the family in the Epistle transept of the church.
According to the Bacolor elders prewar, The “Tsam-poor-sin” family was said to have married into the Pedro Syquia clan of Manila. In fact, it was recently confirmed [ Mia Cruz Syquia-Faustmann, 12 April 2009 ] that Asuncion Michels de Champourcin y Ventura married Pedro Sy-Quia y Encarnacion of Manila [ previously of Vigan, Ilocos Sur and originally from Fujian, China; the Sy-Quia had migrated from China along with their cousins the Sy-Cip who settled in Cagayan; Pedro Sy-Quia y Encarnacion was a younger brother of Gregorio Sy-Quia y Encarnacion who married the Vigan heiress Estefania Angco y Resurreccion — they became the progenitors of the wealthy Syquia clan of Vigan, Ilocos Sur ] and they built a grand house in Tondo which later became the Tutuban railroad station and its facade survives to this day as that of the Tutuban mall. Pedro Sy-Quia y Encarnacion and Asuncion Michels de Champourcin y Ventura had three sons: Pedro Jr. [ married Caridad Arguelles Cruz ]; Gonzalo [ married Ramona Vargas ]; and Leopoldo [ married Maria Pabalan Chanco ].