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..