Sabina Sioco de Escaler [ 1858 – 1950 ]


The family story is one of enduring, albeit understated, wealth.  To this day, her many descendants are still counted among the ranks of affluent Manila society.

Matea Rodriguez de Sioco [ o 24 February 1835 – + 22 January 1918, 83 y.o. ] favored the simplicity and frugality of Sabina’s family, the Escaler-Sioco, and thoroughly disapproved of the elegance and sophistication of Florencia’s family, the Gonzalez-Sioco.


When Matea Rodriguez y Tuason, viuda de Sioco, viuda de Arnedo Cruz died at the age of 83 on 22 January 1918, she willed that her large estate be divided, not into two equal parts between her daughters Sabina Sioco viuda de Escaler and Florencia Sioco viuda de Gonzalez, but into three equal parts between her daughter Sabina, her favorite grandson Jose “Peping” Escaler y Sioco, and her daughter Florencia.  Thus, to the end, her favor of the Escaler-Sioco over the Gonzalez-Sioco prevailed.

Sabina’s only surviving [ half ] first cousin on her maternal Rodriguez side, Beatriz Tiamson Rodriguez [ born 1910 ], remembers that “Imang Sabi” was “morena” [ dark skin tone ], quiet, “seca” [ “dry” meaning: not warm ], intelligent, and not a very friendly individual.  Saturnine.  In contrast, her younger sister Florencia Sioco de Gonzalez, “Imang Eciang,” [ o 1860 – + 1925 ] was pretty, fair, equally intelligent, articulate, cultured, and sophisticated, doubtless due to the influence of her highly educated Spanish mestizo husband, Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez.

The life of the Escaler-Sioco family in Old Sulipan [ from 1880 – 1900 ] was simple.  They lived in the large old house [ ca. 1830 ] of Sabina’s father, Josef Sioco.  But that was it as far as affluence was concerned.  Sabina woke up before 4:00 a.m. and insisted that everyone else did so too.  Her houses were famed for their absolute cleanliness and utter simplicity.  In true Oriental style, she required that all shoes and slippers be removed at the base of the stairway and that people walk barefoot through the upstairs rooms.  The daughters, Marina “Maring,” Josefa “Sepa” / “Siting,” and Carolina “Aning” / “Carola” were tasked to clean the house along with the servants.  They cleaned the principal stairway and wiped the furniture.  The servants pulled and pushed bound banana leaves twenty times through the lengths of the “narra” floor boards until they shone like glass.  During meals, they simply leaned through the length of their “vanguera” wooden dishrack in the kitchen and ate off sectioned banana leaves.  Although the dishes were simple, the ingredients were fresh and the servings were generous, for food was the one thing that Sabina did not keep a tight budget on.  They had a big dining room and a long, sectional “narra” “cabecera” table, but it was only used for company.  At night, they laid out their “dase” [ Tagalog “banig”; woven grass mats ] on the floors and hung their “culambu” on the walls of the “caida” entrance hall and “sala” living room and slept right there, with the household staff sleeping at a respectful distance.  They owned several “narra” four poster beds, one for each member of the family, installed in the three bedrooms, but those were hardly ever used.

Thus was a great fortune born.

Her fortunes accumulated to the extent that she owned big properties in every single town of Pampanga, aside from thousand hectare “haciendas” in Nueva Ecija.  Following the example of her forward-thinking mother Matea Rodriguez, and spurred on by the two financial wizards of the family, her son Jose “Peping” Escaler y Sioco and nephew Augusto “Bosto” Gonzalez y Sioco, she eagerly acquired properties in Manila:  building after building in the burgeoning commercial district of Quiapo, mansion after mansion in the aristocratic enclave of posh San Miguel district, and block after block in the newly fashionable residential districts of Ermita and Malate.

The senior Escaler-Sioco and Gonzalez-Sioco grandchildren maintained that long stretches of land flanking the length of MacArthur highway from Apalit all the way to San Fernando once belonged to their Sioco matriarchs.  Sabina Sioco de Escaler owned a four hundred hectare stretch to the left of the highway and Florencia Sioco de Gonzalez owned a four hundred hectare stretch to the right of it… and that those parcels were only among their many landholdings.

My cousin Renato Palanca Gonzalez remembers his father Rogie’s story that a big part of what bankrolled the fledgling PASUDECO the Pampanga Sugar Development Company in 1918 was a three inch pile of Sabina Escaler’s TCTs Transfer Certificates of Title…!!!

The young Macario Arnedo Gonzalez, Brother Andrew Benjamin Gonzalez F.S.C., remembered visits with his mother [ Rosario “Charing” Arnedo de Gonzalez ] to the old Sabina, who by that time [ postwar ] was already bedridden.  On her bedside table was an old jar of “Pond’s” cream which she used as her ashtray.  She smoked her cigarettes in the old style, reverse, with the lit portion inside her mouth.  She was proper and cordial but not particularly warm.  She never failed to remind “Charing”:  “Caracal a pera a licuan ng Bosto queca.” [ “Bosto left you so much money.” ] much to the latter’s discomfiture.  After the tense formality of the audience with the grand old lady in her bedroom, the young Macarito and his mother would transfer to the living room and be entertained and served a delicious “merienda” [ afternoon tea ] of ice cream, peaches [ then a luxury ], and English cookies by “Tia Carola” [ Carolina Escaler y Sioco ], the kind and generous spinster daughter of Sabina.

Her great granddaughter Carmelita Palanca Gonzalez-Gan remembers that the frugal Sabina’s everyday skirts usually had tears and holes which were patched with other fabrics.  Bohemian chic way ahead of its time.

Renato Gonzalez remembers with amusement that Sabina would have dinner served to her family at 5:00 p.m., at the Calle Herran house, just so the lights would not have to be switched on and electricity consumed!  However, the food was always delicious, varied, and plentiful because that was how Sabina raised her family.  “She fed us very well.  Everything we wanted to eat.  There was always so much!  She was miserly with everything except for food!”

She passed away quietly at the age of 92 in 1950.  Her vast wealth was mostly divided into two parts by her grandsons Ernesto “Ernie” Ocampo Escaler and Rogerio “Rogie” Escaler Gonzalez between the families of her two deceased children, Jose “Peping” Escaler y Sioco and Marina “Maring” Escaler de Gonzalez [ between the Escaler-Ocampo and the Gonzalez-Escaler grandchildren ].  It was recalled by a Gonzalez-Escaler great grandson that “Rogie” had prevailed upon “Ernie” to share their inheritance with their unfortunate Fernandez-Escaler cousins, the children of Josefa “Sepa” / “Siting” Escaler de Fernandez, whose intended portion of their grandmother’s estate had already been consumed by her large settlement of their father’s accounts in the 1920s.

It is regrettable that a plaque honoring Sabina Escaler for her donation of several hundred hectares to Camp Olivas in San Fernando, Pampanga has been removed from the gates.  It was her gesture in memory of her favorite nephew Augusto Diosdado “Bosto” Gonzalez y Sioco, who was assassinated at the PASUDECO on 12 July 1939 along with Jose Leoncio “Pitong” de Leon and Captain Julian Olivas.

Sabina Sioco de Escaler of Pampanga remains ensconced in memory along the ranks of old world Filipinas who accumulated large fortunes by dint of hard work and frugality in their lifetimes like Ciriaca Santos de Pardo de Tavera [ ancestress of the Pardo de Taveras ], Maria “Bibing” Lopez y Villanueva and her younger sister Rosario “Sayong” Lopez de Santos [ Lopez de Iloilo matriarchs ], Enrica “Dicang” Alunan de Lizares [ ancestress of the Lizares-Alunan clan ], Tecla Chichioco de Cojuangco [ mother of Jose, Antonio, Juan, and Eduardo Cojuangco ] and her formidable sister-in-law Ysidra “Sidra” Cojuangco y Estrella [ the founder of the immense Cojuangco fortune ] of Tarlac, Genoveva “Bebing” Singson-Chiong Veloso de Villalon of Cebu [ ancestress of the Augusto Villalons ], et. al..



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Charlotte Henrietta de Rothschild, November 1996

I had once read about the Duke of Windsor telling the Countess of Romanones that the “English accent” was just a fashion that started at Eton and Harrow at the turn of the [ 20th ] century.  The Duke himself — who was actually a former King of England — spoke with an accent that was… almost American.

What I could not forget about Charlotte de Rothschild, apart from her beautiful singing voice, was that she absolutely did not speak the “hot-potato-in-the-mouth” type of English.  But then, as the Duke of Windsor said, an unaffected English was indeed a mark of the true aristocrats.  If I had not known who she was, I would have thought that she was an oil baroness from Texas.

“Oh yes, Ferrieres [ Fair-yer ] [ the chateau of Baron James de Rothschild near Paris ].  Ah, Marie-Helene.  I once saw her with these big emeralds which she said had belonged to a Romanov Grand Duchess…”

So I finally learned how to correctly pronounce Ferrieres… Fair-yer.  And from a real Rothschild at that!!!

I asked about the famous [ Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres ] portrait of Baroness Betty de Rothschild, which I knew hung at the far end of the ground floor enfilade of Baron Guy de Rothschild’s Hotel Lambert in Paris… “La Belle Betty” was the great grandmother of Baron Guy.

“Oh, the Ingres [ Ahng-guh-ruh ]…  Yes, it’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

So I finally learned how to correctly pronounce Ingres… Ahng-guh-ruh.  And from a real Rothschild at that!!!  I used to pronounce it as Ang-grr.

Years after, I would encounter supposedly cosmopolitan Filipino friends with their own hideously invented ways of pronouncing that artist’s name:  In-gress, Eeng-ger, Ing-gray, In-gress-say…!!!  Oh dear!  I stood pat on my pronunciation:  Ahng-gur-ruh.  After all, could they even begin to argue with a Rothschild???!!!

“My goodness!!!  I traveled thousands of miles and meet a ‘Rothschildphile’!!!”  she exclaimed, surprised by my rather wide knowledge of Rothschildiana.

Ah, I had been fascinated by the Rothschilds for the longest time.  Be they French or English.  For their great wealth and great style.  I knew I shared that fascination with legions of people the world over…

In honor of Charlotte de Rothschild, a large and historically-important, late 19th century dinner service of Paris porcelain, with the cipher “M S” [ Maria Sioco, my Arnedo great great grandmother ] and “Sullipan” [ Sulipan { misspelled }, their estate ], was used.  It was the regal gift of the Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovich Romanov of Russia after he had stayed a delightful weekend at my Arnedo great great grandparents’ Pampanga estate in 1891.  The Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovich was the Supreme Commander of the Russian Imperial Navy;  he was the uncle of the Czar Nicholas II, the brother of the Czar Alexander III, and the son of the Czar Alexander II.  Accompanying the important dinner service were the fin-de-siecle etched Baccarat crystal glasses, the late Victorian sterling silver, and the fin-de-siecle Christofle trays.

“Sergio, you are smoking in front of our national treasure!”  British Ambassador Adrian Thorpe reminded Chilean Ambassador Sergio Silva, who was smoking at the table, three places away from Charlotte de Rothschild.

“I’m sorry.”  Ambassador Silva apologized as hurriedly put out his cigarette.

But she could hardly eat anything from the several courses we had for dinner.  I had made the great diplomatic faux pas of not having prepared a kosher meal for this famous member of “the world’s most vehemently Jewish dynasty” [ Frederic Morton, “The Rothschilds:  Portrait of a Dynasty” ].  I had dutifully inquired with the British embassy and was advised that she had “no specific dietary preferences.”  But I should have known… a Rothschild!!!  While she did not mention anything and simply, elegantly brushed the matter aside, I was concerned.   Oh dear.

After the meat course, she abruptly said:  “I want to sing now.”

In all honesty, I did not expect her to deign to sing.  It would have been very improper of me.  But if she wanted to, then that would be a great privilege!!!

“Oh no, no.  I mean, thank you!  That would be such an honor!  But let’s have dessert first and finish the meal…”

“No, no, you don’t understand.  I want to sing now!  I want to have my dessert… in peace!!!  I have a sweet tooth, you know.”  she smiled.

“Very well, you shall.”  I suddenly remembered that a sweet tooth was a dynastic characteristic of the Rothschilds…

And so she sang most beautifully, accompanied by the uberelegant grande dame Ingrid Sala Santamaria on our old piano…

The elegant guests I had assembled for the evening were completely enthralled by the golden voice of Charlotte de Rothschild … There were the Cojuangco-Murphy heiresses, Isabel Cojuangco-Suntay and Aurora “Rory” Cojuangco-Lagdameo, with her husband “Tito” Lagdameo.  Maria Ana “Jamby” Madrigal, way before she became senator of the Republic and Mme. la Comtesse Dudoignon de Valade.  Makati real estate magnate Antonio “Tony” Rufino and his equally wealthy wife Armita “Mita” Bantug Rufino.  The grand social lion and plantation owner Conrado “Ado” Escudero.  Pampango patrician and antique collector Jose Maria Ricardo “Joey” Panlilio, before his magnum opus of the “Museo De La Salle.”  My sister Rosario, before she became Mrs. Lizares-Padilla.

Of course, also there were the thoroughly cosmopolitan and absolutely wonderful British Ambassador, Adrian Thorpe, and his tres chic and tres soignee Japanese wife, Miyoko.  The Italian Ambassador, Alessandro Serafini, his wife Ingold, and alluring daughter Claudia.  Also the Chilean Ambassador, Sergio Silva, with his wife Alejandra.  Longtime British residents of the Philippines Moya Jackson and her husband.  British businessman Andrew Bell and his beautiful wife Stephanie.   The Thorpes had brought their affluent Japanese lady friend, Kikumi Nakamura, the owner of a hotel chain, who came with her enchanting niece, Sachiko Ebara.

“Tony, you’ve had dessert already!”  I was surprised that Tony Rufino had had dessert already.

“Kanta na kayo ng kanta, eh di kumain na ako!”  [ “You people kept on singing, so I ate already!” ]  Tony quipped.



Last One Standing

The Cacnio-Mercado residence is the last elegant 19th century “bahay na bato” left in all of Apalit, Pampanga…



Comedy relief: Brother Andrew “invented” breakdancing when he was six years old

Let him tell the story himself:

“It was at Raquel’s and Jorge’s wedding… in 1946 [ January 1947 ].  I was the ringbearer.  The wedding was at the Malate church and the reception was at the de Leon house.  The old one.  Not Jorge’s and Raquel’s.  The one beside it.  I think it’s a pensione now.”

“Well, you know how it is…  We had all eaten and the old people were just yacking away endlessly!!!  All those old people!!!  I was bored!  I can’t remember the reason now, but I wanted to go home.  Right away.  So I told Mama, who was still talking with Dona Naty.  I pulled at Mama’s dress.”

“She told me to keep quiet.  She was fuming!  I really wanted to go home.  I was bored and sleepy already!  So I pulled a tantrum.  *laughs*  I made a spectacle of myself!”

“What did you do?”  we asked.

“Well, I did what kids do…  I cried, yelled, tried to tear my clothes off… I lay on the floor, rolled around, made an acrobat of myself… did an Indian dance… hopped around like a rabbit, *laughs* I did everything just to embarrass Mama!”

“Wow!  You breakdanced?”  we asked.

“Yes!  Kinda!”  he agreed.  *laughs* “Well, Mama was furious!  Right there and then she gave me the slugging of my life!!!  She really whipped me in front of everybody!!!  Hahahah!!!  *laughs heartily*

“After all that spanking, Tia Sepa Escaler came up on her wheelchair and told me:  “Macarito, yyyooouuu are a spoooiiiled chiiild!”  *imitates Lola Sepa*  God, that woman looked ‘half-dead’ all the time!”

“Tia Conching came up to me with a scowl and waved her finger.  She was always such a disciplinarian!”

“But they all remembered that.  Years later, when I graduated high school, Tia Sepa approached me again.  By that time, she really looked like ‘Death warmed over’ and she had to ask me:  “Macarito, are yyyooouuu stiiill a spoooiiiled chiiild???”  *imitates Lola Sepa* “God!  I wanted to whack her!”  *winks naughtily*


So the young Brother Andrew actually preceded all of us in making fools of ourselves!!!

It was the 1947 wedding of Tita Raquel Valdes Gonzalez to Tito Jorge Lichauco de Leon.  It was the wedding of a prominent Pampanga lady to a very rich and very prominent Pampanga and Manila gentleman.  Six year-old Macario “Macarito” Arnedo Gonzalez, a much younger first cousin of the bride, was chosen to be the ringbearer.  The wedding ceremony was at the Malate church and the reception was at the nearby de Leon-Lichauco residence.

Despite the whispers behind the perfumed Spanish fans and the exquisite French veils that survived the war, the survivors from among the Pampanga and Manila aristocracy gathered for a wedding of their own kind.  It was an occasion for the families to gather and renew their friendships.

“Mama” was Rosario Arnedo viuda de Gonzalez, our Lola Charing.  She was the [ half ] niece, second wife, and widow of Augusto Gonzalez y Sioco, who was assassinated at the PASUDECO in 1939 along with the de Leon patriarch, Jose Leoncio de Leon y Hizon [ Sr. ], who was Tito Jorge’s grandfather, and Captain Julian Olivas. That tragedy bound the families of Jose “Pitong” de Leon Sr. and Augusto “Bosto” Gonzalez closely.  Their widows, Maria Natividad “Titang” Joven viuda de de Leon and Rosario “Charing” Arnedo viuda de Gonzalez maintained a close friendship, bound by their shared widowhood, throughout their lives. Rosario was requested by the family to be a principal sponsor at the de Leon-Gonzalez nuptials.  She was delighted to have been asked and took a major part in the arrangements for the wedding.

“Dona Naty” was Natividad Lichauco de Leon, Tito Jorge’s mother.  Expensively educated in the United States, the Lichauco heiress Naty [ and her husband Peping ] could be said to have occupied the highest position in Pampanga society because of the immense, PASUDECO-generated wealth of the de Leon-Joven family of Bacolor.  She was as cultured, refined, and sophisticated as she was rich and educated.  In her aristocratic presence, many Pampanga grande dames paled in comparison.

“Tia Sepa Escaler” was Josefa Escaler y Sioco, viuda de Fernandez { + 1962 }, a first cousin of Brother Andrew’s father Augusto Gonzalez y Sioco [ Josefa’s mother, Sabina Sioco de Escaler { + 1950 }, was the elder sister of Augusto’s mother, Florencia Sioco de Gonzalez { + 1925 } ] and a younger sister of his first wife, Marina Escaler y Sioco { + 1928 }.  She was asthmatic and had a frail constitution — like all her siblings — because her parents were first cousins.  She married Rafael Fernandez y Santos.  She suffered greatly in life because of her husband’s misdeeds. [ Manuel Escaler y Rodriguez { + 1913 } and Sabina Sioco y Rodriguez { + 1950 } were maternal first cousins:  their respective mothers, Prisca Ines Rodriguez y Tuason [ viuda de Escaler + 1890 ] and Matea Rodriguez y Tuason [ viuda de Sioco, viuda de Arnedo Cruz + 1918 ] were sisters, the two eldest daughters of Olegario Rodriguez [ + 1874 ] and his first wife Escolastica Tuason y Pamintuan [ + 1850 ] of Bacolor, Pampanga. ]

“Tia Conching” was Concepcion Rafols y Miravalles, the wife of Dr. Bienvenido Gonzalez y Sioco, the sixth president of the University of the Philippines and the very one responsible for its visionary transfer from Manila to Diliman.  “Tia Conching” was a teacher by profession and an avowed disciplinarian.  She was the mother of prominent lawyer Gonzalo Walfrido Gonzalez and of noted educator Eva Beatriz Gonzalez.  She often reprimanded the young Macarito on matters of conduct, etiquette, and life principles, which he dutifully remembered and appreciated with affection the rest of his life.

Still, he breakdanced in front of everybody when he was six years old.   😛

The celebrated Quiason portrait

by:  Augusto Marcelino Reyes Gonzalez III

“Senor Don Cirilo Quiason y Cunanan y su esposa Senora Dona Ceferina Henson y David con sus dos mejores hijos Aureo y Jose, pintado por Senor Don Simon Flores y de la Rosa, ano de 1875, San Fernando, Pampanga.”


The obviously old portrait of considerable size [ now in the “Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas” collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila ] shows a reasonably goodlooking gentleman standing by his seated, quietly pretty wife holding their baby boy, with an older son [ often mistaken by observers for a girl ] standing by her holding a prayer book.  They seem to be in their elegant “sala” living room:  a seemingly American Victorian gasolier hangs behind them and a silk bouquet of flowers under a glass cloche [ “virina” ] on a pedestal table stands between husband and wife.  The “capiz” windows behind them are open and there is a view of greenery.


The 33 year-old gentleman was Cirilo Quiason y Cunanan of San Fernando town, Pampanga.  He was a Chinese mestizo and was a prosperous rice and sugar planter. His parents were Modesto Quiason of San Fernando and Maria Cunanan of Mexico, Pampanga.   He lived in a large house on the site where the 1920s Lazatin-Singian mansion now stands.  In 1896, he joined the Pampanga branch of the revolutionary Katipunan movement and served under General Nepomuceno, his Henson wife’s relative.


The 28 year-old wife was Ceferina Henson y David of Angeles and Guagua, Pampanga.  On her paternal side, she was a great-granddaughter of the founders of Angeles, Angel Pantaleon de Miranda [ o 1765 – + 1835 ]  and Rosalia de Jesus [ o 1765 – + 1840 ].  Her parents were Jose Henson y Miranda of Angeles and Gertrudes David of Guagua, Pampanga.  Jose Henson y Miranda was the son of Mariano Henson y Paras of San Fernando, Pampanga and Juana Ildefonsa de Miranda y de Jesus, the only daughter of Angel Pantaleon de Miranda and Rosalia de Jesus, the founders of Angeles.

Mariano Henson y Paras [ o 1798 – + 1848 ]  was the son of Severino Henson and Placida Paras [ o 1777 – + 1840 ].  Severino Henson was a son of “Eng Son,” the Chinese patriarch of the clan.

Ceferina was known to be a beautiful woman with pale, translucent skin; she washed her face with Chinese jasmine tea everyday.

The couple were ardent music lovers and were competent performers.  Cirilo “Ilong” could play the violin and the cello well.  Ceferina “Bari” could play the piano with proficiency.

Their passions for music became ingrained on their children, and the happy result was that all of their sons and daughters could play at least one musical instrument very well.


The older son holding the prayer book was Aureo Quiason y Henson.  His diminutive was “Aure.”  He was actually the second son of the couple.  The eldest son, Pedro, had died as an infant.  Aureo Quiason y Henson married Florentina Gueco y _____, of the wealthy Chinese mestizo Gwekoh family of Magalang.


The baby boy was Jose Maria Quiason y Henson.  He was, oddly enough, called “Yayang” by everybody. He was actually the third son of the couple.  He was originally depicted by Simon Flores partially naked, with his rather endowed genitals in full view.  The story in our Quiason family has it that, after so many years, “Yayang” finally became exasperated with the jocose comments of friends and relatives about his “endowed” genitals that he decisively poked his cigar directly onto his painted genitals and eradicated them forever!!!  In old age, he recounted to his oldest grandsons that, as a young man, he had read Jose Rizal’s subversive novel “Noli Me Tangere” in the seclusion and safety of their outhouse bathroom, which was connected to their house by a wooden bridge.


Cirilo “Ilong” and Ceferina “Bari” had six more children after the portrait had been painted in 1875.  They had nine children all in all:  Pedro, Aureo “Aure,” Jose “Yayang,” Ceferino “Parino,” Catalina “Tali,” Rosario “Charing,” Maria “Biang,” Cesario “Sariong,” and Emiliano “Miliong.”  Ceferino Quiason y Henson, “Parino,” played the organ beautifully during Sunday masses at the Angeles church.  [ The Quiason-Cruz aunts were the daughters of the fifth son, Cesario Quiason y Henson, “Sariong,” who married Gabina Cruz y Paras. ]

Pedro died as a child; Aureo married Florentina Gueco y _____; Jose Maria married Marcela Aguilar y Valdes; Ceferino married Maria Lacson y _____; Catalina married Pablo / Pablito “Litong” del Rosario y _____; Rosario married Gemiliano Cruz y _____; Maria married Francisco Ferraz y Ducuco; Cesario married Gabina Cruz y Paras; and Emiliano married Gabina Cruz’s sister Joaquina Cruz y Paras.


One would expect that a handsome and affluent gentleman, his beautiful and equally affluent wife, and their delightful children would have lived happily ever after.  But unfortunately, they did not.  According to the Ferraz-Quiason aunts [ daughters of Maria Quiason y Henson { the youngest daughter of the Quiason couple } and Francisco Ferraz y Ducuco ], in the 1890s the Spanish “cura parroco” [ parish priest ] of San Fernando town took an improper, although not unusual, romantic interest in Cirilo’s most beautiful daughter, Rosario “Charing.”  The prominent gentleman expectedly became upset and tried to prevent the friar’s advances on his hapless daughter.  The friar became frustrated and in retaliation implicated Cirilo in seditious activities.  The accusations could have been true because Cirilo was a known liberal and a reformist.  Cirilo was forthwith thrown into prison and tortured.  He passed away soon after.  Fortunately, his properties were not confiscated by the Spaniards as he was never tried in court nor sentenced.

Ceferina was left a rich widow by her industrious and prosperous husband.  She was an extremely kind and very charitable woman who helped many people in real need.  However, unscrupulous relatives and friends descended on her like vultures, took advantage of her known kindness, and borrowed properties, jewelry, and cash which they never returned.  She gradually slid into penury.  Their big house in San Fernando was sold and she and her impoverished family retreated to Angeles, to a smaller house two properties away from the Henson ancestral house.  In Manila, she maintained an “accessoria” apartment along O’Donnell Street in Santa Cruz.  Her children had to start from scratch:  her sons worked their way to become successful entrepreneurs while her daughters made good marriages to prosperous businessmen.


Jose Maria Quiason y Henson [ “Yayang” o 12 January 1874 – + 12 September 1951 ] became a rice and sugar planter like his father.  He also became a successful businessman with a famous music store in Quiapo which sold expensive German musical instruments.  He married his Henson second cousin Marcela Aguilar y Valdes, also of Angeles.

Marcela “Celang” was a hardworking entrepreneur who dealt in textiles and garments.  She established a flourishing store in the Divisoria entrepot.  Her parents were Policarpio Aguilar y Henson [ o 1858? ] and Paula Valdes y Arceo [ a daughter of Ignacio Valdes, the eldest son of Pedro Angeles and Anacleta Valdes [ y ] Juico, progenitors of the Pampanga Valdes clan ].  Policarpio Aguilar y Henson was the son of Dionisio Aguilar y Hipolito [ + 1887 ] and Juana Petrona Henson y Miranda [ o 1834 – + 1860 ]. Juana Petrona Henson y Miranda was the daughter of Mariano Henson y Paras of San Fernando, Pampanga and Juana Ildefonsa de Miranda y de Jesus, the only daughter of Angel Pantaleon de Miranda and Rosalia de Jesus, the founders of Angeles.  Thus, Jose Maria “Yayang” Quiason and Marcela “Celang” Aguilar were Henson second cousins.

Marcela Aguilar y Valdes was a paternal first cousin of General Servillano Aquino y Aguilar, the father of Benigno Aquino Sr. “Cong Igno,” who was the father of National Hero Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr..

Jose Maria Quiason and Marcela Aguilar had five children:  Paz [ “Pacing” ], who married Emilio Reyes y Pangan of Arayat; Pamela [ “Paming” ] who married Benjamin Cruz y Espiritu of San Simon; Serafin [ “Serafin” ], who married Teofista Danganan y Henson also of Angeles; Rogerio [ “Eriong” ], who married Diana Flandes y _____ of Samar, and Lydia [ “Liding” ], who married the affluent Chinese entrepreneur Jose Yap y Lao of Angeles and Bacolor.  In later life, “Yayang” had a stroke which left him a paralytic.  But he remained active by crafting interesting wooden toys for his grandchildren.


For all the vaunted accolades accorded to this important 19th century family portrait by Filipiniana scholars, art collectors, and connoisseurs, I have only the most mundane memories…   😛

As a child in the 1970s, I used to see it in the living room of my Quiason-Cruz grandaunts — Rosa Hermosa Erza [ “Ersing” ], Natividad [ “Naty” ], Flocerfina [ “Flocer” ], Angeles Rosario / Presentacion [ “Prising” ], and Florencia [ “Floring” ] — during family gatherings at their nice house on Simoun Street in Santa Mesa heights, at the back of the Santo Domingo church.  It hung, somewhat casually, over the upright piano in their living room.  It was big enough to be seen at a distance, you could see it from the foyer and from the dining room.

Its singular claim to fame for us uberignorant children [ who were actually direct descendants of the sitters ] was that there was a gaping hole where the baby’s “birdy” should have been…!!!   😛

The painting must have been so old because it was so darkened and its lower right side had torn off from the frame and curled outwards.

My smug 8 year old self, already possessed of some “taste,” was [ stupidly enough ] certainly not impressed with it.  It simply did not look as radiant, as impressive, and as well-kept as the 1940s – 50s Fernando Amorsolo portraits in my Lola Charing Arnedo-Gonzalez’s splendid house.  Because it was not an “Amorsolo,” I didn’t think it was worth my while and certainly did not even think of it as valuable…!!!   😛   😛   😛

Mommy [ Pilar Quiason Reyes-Gonzalez ] would look at it occasionally, with searching eyes, while her Quiason-Paras aunts, the far younger first cousins of her mother Paz, reminisced about family…  They called the gentleman “Apung Ilong,” the lady “Impung Bari,” the elder son “Apung Aure,” and the baby simply as “Yayang.”  I ignorantly thought that their diminutives were so provincial [ like mine 😛 ]!  “Yayang” became Mommy’s maternal grandfather.  The first time I heard the nickname “Yayang,” I wondered stupidly how that baby could have been a “yaya”… how could he possibly have taken care of anybody???  I thought that was weird!!!   😛

Mommy recalled that the portrait used to hang in an apartment on O’Donnell Street in Santa Cruz, Manila before the war [ She used to say “Calle Odonel” and pronounced it “O-do-nel’ ” { accent on the last syllable }, so I naturally thought that it was some Spanish street name until I came across the Anglo-sounding “O’Donnell Street” in some Manila heritage article several years later.  It turned out that “O’Donnell” was actually the surname of a prominent Spanish-Irish official during the Spanish era, so my mother was right:  it was indeed “Calle Odonel” pronounced “O-do-nel” with the accent on the last syllable, Spanish-style.  😛 ]  “Impung Bari” had passed away there at the age of 89 in 1936.  Yayang had also stayed there for a while.


A will to paradise

Even as a child, I knew I wanted to live in a certain way, in a certain style, no matter what, no matter how…

Every now and then, Lola Charing had to attend an evening affair.  Late in the afternoon in her elegant Art Deco-style, Gonzalo Puyat-furnished bedroom, preparations began.  The room was cool and the bright lights of the cobalt blue prewar Venetian chandelier cast a glamorous glow over the bedroom and the beveled mirrors on its armoire and ladies’ dresser.  Lola Charing used a select variety of perfumes [ although she had every elegant scent available ] and the room smelled strongly of them:  “Joy” de Jean Patou [ in those big, geometric Cristal Baccarat bottles ], “Nuit de Noel” by Caron [ in those oh-so-chic black glass bottles ], “Madame Rochas” by Rochas, and “Mitsouko” by Guerlain.  Lola Charing sat at her “tocador” dresser, contemplating the jewelry for the evening, most of which were purchased from Lola Gely Lopez; She was wearing a silk chemise with lace edgings [ Lola Charing NEVER wore a “duster”; directly under the chemise was her big, brown Carmelite scapular pinned with small medals as she was a member of the T.O.C.D. “Tercera Orden de las Carmelitas Descalzas” / Third Order of Discalced Carmelites ].  The hairdresser Seniang was preparing her “Kanekalon” wig; it stood on a face-shaped styrofoam stand [ which I had painted with eyebrows and lipstick with real maquillage one naughty, “yaya”-unsupervised afternoon when I was six years old 😛 ].  A long dress of printed silk had been laid out on her big bed by one of the maids.  Her nurse Clarita had prepared her French shoes and appropriate evening bag with its natural pearl or gold rosary, prayerbook, French lace handkerchiefs [ Chantilly, Alencon, Valenciennes ], mirror, pressed powder, medicines, and cash.  Her old masseuse Pinang was helping Lola to put on her stockings.    Ate Talia, always the dominant “mayordoma,” was barking out various orders to the household staff.  And Bito, the “mayordomo,” had gone down to the garage to make last-minute checks on the black Mercedes Benz and the uniformed chauffeur to make sure everything was in order for Dona Charing’s departure.

There were early evenings when Mommy and Daddy were preparing to “go out.”  The room was cold and the pretty chandelier lit.  The heady scent was a mix of ladies’ eau de toilette, hair spray, make-up, and men’s eau de cologne.  Mummy sat at her “tocador” dresser, applying make-up, often haphazardly, which resulted in a pretty but curious look [ She was naturally pretty, even without make-up ].  Daddy sat on the right side of the bed, putting on his newly-polished shoes.  It was during those times, despite those difficult Marcos years,  that they looked their best.

And there were frequent entertainments — parties — at Lola Charing’s house.  And of all the parties big and small [ but often big 😛 ], Little Toto enjoyed the preparations for the small “sitdown dinners” very much, for they were the most elegant.  The big signal was when Bito the “mayordomo” opened the silver, china, and crystal cabinets to bring out the dinnerware chosen by Lola Charing or Brother Andrew for the affair.  Several days before the dinner, the household staff would be busy polishing all the intended silverware with pink silver polish and big cotton balls while they watched afternoon and evening TV.  Three days before the affair saw the big house being washed and polished from top to bottom; the garden was arranged and clipped more neatly than usual.  In the morning of the dinner, Bito would buy other flowers from Quiapo [ then the flower hub ] and add them to his arrangements of the big roses from Lola Charing’s rose garden.  In the kitchen, Ate Garing the cook, Bito’s sister, was busy with her assistants preparing her glorious, traditional “slow food” specialties.  Ate Talia, the “mayordoma” and the resident patissier [ being a daughter of the famous chef and patissier Juan Padilla of Sulipan; he created the Menu of the Malolos Congress of 1898 ], had already crafted the exquisite desserts the day before.  After lunch, the round Tampingco-style table in the dining room or the long table in the library — depending on the number of guests — was finally laid out by Bito and assisting staff with Irish linen damask tablecloths and monogrammed napkins, English sterling silver, French china and crystal, flowers, silver and crystal epergnes, porcelain compotes, candy dishes, and name cards as indicated by a chart decided by Lola Charing or Brother Andrew.  Little Toto was intrigued by the “finger bowls”:  silver bowls on lace doilies over silver saucers [ Christofle ] with hot water and rose petals, “sampaguitas,” and small orchid blooms floating about where the guests dipped only their fingertips after the “Pastel de Pichon”  [ Pigeon Pie ] or some similar dish.  It was always the way the Arnedos and the Gonzalezes of Sulipan, Apalit, Pampanga had entertained through the years, and it all left a deep impression on my young mind and heart.

To paraphrase an old adage:  “You can take me out of Lola Charing’s house, but you can’t take Lola Charing’s house out of me.”

But things inevitably change… however slowly, however unnoticeably.  I still have everything — the silver, china, crystal, linen, cuisine, staff, and even the wherewithal — required to entertain splendidly, but I no longer have the reasons to do so.  Lola Charing had the happy, united family, the loving and sincere friends, the faith and optimism despite the heavy trials, the Christian piety, the charities, the noble purpose in her life.  I have just the opposite:  a fractious family ruled by ambition and self-preservation [ the humanity of it all!!! ], longtime “friends” and “acquaintances” who betray me, increasing pessimism with every passing “desastre,” a looming agnosticism [ hopefully not atheism ],  “sin verguenza” shameless employees who use, lie, cheat, and steal, and finally, an overall lostness in life.

My father was like that.  I never, ever thought I would be like him in that way.

Familia Quiason de Santo Rosario, San Fernando, Pampanga

Cirilo Quiason y Cunanan ( o 1842 ) had two brothers and a sister, and they lived in Barrio Santo Rosario, San Fernando town, Pampanga.

The Quiasons were a Chinese ” mestizo ” family from San Fernando. The Cunanans were an old, landed family from Mexico, Pampanga. [ The large house ( bahay-na-bato/ mansion ) of Cirilo stood on what is now the grand 1920s residence of the wealthy Lazatin y Singian family, in front of Essel Supermarket. The Cunanan ancestral house ( bahay-na-bato/ mansion ) was to the left of the Mexico Church. It was built in what the scholars call the ” Geometric Style, ” although it featured the characteristics of late 18th / early 19th century houses. It was low, squat, and elongated, with a thatch roof: a grand ” bahay kubo ” ( a grand hut ). It was demolished in the early 1970s and the site is now occupied by the Methodist Church. ]

Cirilo Quiason y Cunanan ( o 1842 ) married Ceferina Henson y David ( o 1847 ). The Hensons were an old, Chinese ” mestizo ” family ( Eng Son ) from Barrio Culiat, San Fernando ( the present Angeles City ) but originally from Masicu town (Mexico), and the Davids were an old, landed family from Guagua, Pampanga. Cirilo and Ceferina had 9 children: Pedro, Aureo ( Aure ), Jose ( Yayang ), Ceferino (Parino), Rosario (Charing), Catalina (Tali), Maria, Cesario (Sariong), and Emilio (Miliong).Pedro died as a child; Aureo married Florentina Gueco y _____; Jose married Marcela Aguilar y Valdes; Ceferino married Maria Lacson y _____; Rosario married Gemiliano Cruz y _____; Catalina married Carmelito del Rosario y _____; Maria married Francisco Ferraz y _____; Cesario married Gabina Cruz y Paras; and Emilio married Gabina’s sister Joaquina Cruz y Paras.

In 1875, the prosperity of Cirilo Quiason was manifested in his commission of a nearly life-sized family portrait from Simon Flores y de la Rosa, the renowned portraitist of the time. The handsome Cirilo was 33 years old and his beautiful wife Ceferina was 28 years old. Simon Flores charged an exorbitant 50 pesos in gold coins per head, and the portrait cost 200 pesos, a fortune in 1875, because it showed Cirilo standing, Ceferina sitting holding her son Jose, with her elder son Aureo standing beside her. The family only had sittings for Simon to draw their faces. The artist brought their clothes home to render them in minute detail, and weeks later they were shown the finished portrait.

Their eldest son Pedro had already passed away by the time they commissioned their portrait.

Cirilo’s two brothers also had family portraits painted by Simon Flores y de la Rosa. One brother included his mother-in-law in the portrait. The other one seemed unfinished.[ This explains the existence of three Quiason family portraits: two ( the one of Cirilo and the unfinished one ) in the Central Bank Collection and one ( the one with the mother-in-law ) in the Arch. Leandro V. Locsin Collection. ] All three hung in Quiason houses in San Fernando up to the early 1900s.

In the last years of the Spanish Regime, around 1895, Apung Ilong ( Don Cirilo ) had a confrontation with the ” cura parroco ” ( parish priest ), who had taken a liking to his younger daughter, Charing. Expectedly, he was accused of sedition, tortured, and died in the process.

The beautiful Ceferina, only 48 years old, was left an affluent widow by her industrious and prosperous husband. She inherited many parcels of agricultural land, planted to sugar and rice, in San Fernando and Guagua. She also had commercial properties in both towns.

She was a very kind woman, and this was to be her downfall. She continuously lent money and property to needy relatives whose ventures failed or were unscrupulous enough to ignore their obligations to her. Slowly, the widow and her family slid into penury. She returned to Barrio Culiat and moved into a modest house across her Henson grandparents.

Impung Bari ( Ceferina Henson, viuda de Quiason ) remained a beautiful woman, with glowing, fair skin that was washed in Chinese jasmine tea everyday. In 1936, she died at the age of 89 in the house of her son, Quiason y Henson, on O’ Donnell Street, Santa Cruz, Manila.



Jose Quiason y Henson ( Yayang ) married Marcela Aguilar y Valdes ( Celang ), also of Angeles, in 1900. They had five children: Paz, Serafin, Pamela, Lydia, and Rogerio. Unfortunately, Celang died young in 191_.

Marcela Aguilar y Valdes was a first cousin — on the Aguilar side — of Gen. Servillano Aquino, father of Benigno Aquino Sr., and grandfather of National Hero Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.

Paz married Emilio Reyes y Pangan of Arayat, Pampanga; Serafin married Teofista Danganan y Henson of Angeles, Pampanga; Pamela married Benjamin Cruz y Espiritu of San Simon, Pampanga; Lydia married Jose Yap y Lao of Bacolor, Pampanga; and Rogerio married Diana Flandes y ______ of Samar.

Paz Quiason y Aguilar married Emilio Reyes y Pangan of Arayat in 1923. They had nine children: Jose (o 1924), Emilio (o 1926), Felicisima Lourdes (1928), Eufracio (o 1930), Generosa (o 1931), Eliodoro (o 1932), Pilar (o 1933), Maria Martha (o 1936), and Esperanza (o 1938).

Jose died as an infant; Emilio married Ophelia Santiago y _____; Felicisima Lourdes remained single; Eufracio married Alice Maceren y Aranas; Generosa married Francisco Dimacale y _____, then Marlen Shaw; Eliodoro died as an infant; Pilar married Augusto Beda Gonzalez y Arnedo; Maria Martha married John Davies Horrigan; and Esperanza married Valentin Castelo y Ballesteros.

Serafin Quiason y Aguilar married Teofista Danganan y Henson, also of Angeles, in 19__. They had two sons: Camilo and Serafin Jr.

Camilo married Fely Imamura y del Rosario. Serafin Jr. married Sonia _____. Camilo went on to become a prominent corporate lawyer and later, a Justice of the Supreme Court. Serafin became the longtime Director of the National Historical Institute and a respected historian.

Pamela Quiason y Aguilar married Benjamin Cruz y Espiritu of San Simon, Pampanga in 19__. They had four sons: Eddie, Jaime, Benjamin Jr., and Jesus.

Eddie remained single; Jaime married _____ ______ y ______; Benjamin Jr. married Mercy Velasco y ______; Jesus remained single.

Lydia Quiason y Aguilar married Jose Yap y Lao of Bacolor, Pampanga in 19__. They had __ children: Edgardo, Nene, Manuel, Jose Jr., Angelita, and Chot.

Edgardo married Flor Callanta y _____; Nene; Manuel married Erlinda Timbol y _____; Jose Jr. married Erlinda de Mesa y _____; Angelita married Juan Ledesma y ______; and Chot married ______ ______ y ______.

Rogerio Quiason y Aguilar and Diana Flandes y _____ had no children.

Why did Daddy scratch his head while on the phone?

We had finished dinner and I was on the floor playing with my new toys, “Star Wars” action figures…

“Beda, Pilar is on the phone.”  Tita Sis told my father.  He smiled, rose from his seat, and took the call on the phone in Tita Sis’ bedroom.  I followed him and resumed playing.

“O, ‘ling, Comusta?” [ “Oh, Darling, How are you?” ]  Daddy greeted Mommy.

“Masalese iya y Toto.  We’re having a good time.”  [ “Toto is well.  We’re having a good time.” ]  he reported.

Daddy listened to what Mommy was saying… I looked up to him.  I was curious about what was happening back in Manila…

An increasing grimace…

He scratched his head furiously…

“He what???!!!”  Daddy barked.  I stood up, surprised that Daddy was surprised.

Well, it really was a Surprise!!!  But not really such a bad one!!!  Bwahahahahah!!!   😛   😛   😛


This is my kind of house!

The Vanderbilt mansion at Hyde Park, New York.

Even at the age of ten, I looked disparagingly at the considerable Franklin Delano Roosevelt Estate at Hyde Park.  I found the house, although substantial, boringly understated and “bourgeois.”  I infinitely preferred the gilded European splendor of the Vanderbilts’!!!   😛   😛   😛


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