Connections of Old

For those of you with no interest in history, specifically late 1800s Filipinas, then I suggest that you do not proceed because you will be bored to death with this blog post…

I was just happy that I was able to connect two articles that describe the same grand Tondo residence of Flaviano Abreu and his wife Saturnina Salazar from 1880 – 1900.  One was written in 1908 [ although she did not mention them directly ] by the visiting Edith Moses, the wife of an American commissioner, and the other was written by the owners’ grandson Victor Abreu Buencamino in the mid-1970s.

Edith Moses first wrote about her visit to Apalit, Pampanga and two dinners at the Arnedo-Sioco residence [ although she did not mention directly ] which took place on August 9-10, 1900.  By that time in 1900, the famous Capitan Joaquin and Capitana Maria Arnedo had already passed away [ + 1897 ].  Mrs. Moses was hosted by the four daughters of Felipe Buencamino Sr. and his deceased first wife, Juana Arnedo:  Maria, Soledad, Victoria, and Asuncion.  The dinner was attended by Eugenio Arnedo, a much younger half-brother of Juana Arnedo de Buencamino.  The whole entertainment was expertly supervised behind closed doors by Crispina Sioco Tanjutco, the spinster stepsister of Juana Arnedo de Buencamino.  As expected, the Arnedo dinners impressed Mrs. Moses & Company.  The descriptions are fascinating because they show us 21st century Filipinos truthfully how life was lived in those grand houses of the 19th century like the “Casa Manila” and the “Museo De La Salle” house museums…

Edith Moses wrote later that when they had returned to Manila, they encountered their Apalit hosts [ the Buencamino-Arnedo sisters ] in a carriage along the Luneta because they had accompanied their stepbrothers [ the Buencamino-Abreu brothers, Philip and Victor ] to the seaport where they had just boarded a ship to study in the United States of America.  The sisters requested Mrs. Moses to call on them at their Tondo residence, which was really not theirs but actually the paternal home of their stepmother, Guadalupe “Neneng” Abreu de Buencamino, who had married their father Felipe Buencamino Sr. a year after their mother Juana Arnedo de Buencamino passed away on 25 July 1883.  Guadalupe Abreu de Buencamino passed away one month after giving birth to her son Victor [ born February 1888 ]  in March 1888.

Out of politeness but rather involuntarily, Edith Moses & Co. went to call on the Buencamino-Arnedo Sisters at the by-all-descriptions grand residence of Flaviano Abreu and Saturnina Salazar along Calle Sagunto [ later called Calle Santo Cristo ] in Tondo, Manila…

“Manila, August 18, 1900.”

“The day before yesterday our Apalit friends called on us, but I was out.  Elena acted as hostess  and with a mixture of Spanish and Italian  she managed to amuse and entertain them.  In Manila if one wishes to be very polite he returns a first call the day it is made, but on no account must he defer his visit later than the following day.  Therefore, although the weather was stormy, we started yesterday for Tondo, where in true patriarchal fashion live the root and branches of this family.  Tondo is a quarter as near like Chinatown as you can picture it.  It is the dirtiest and most crowded part of Manila, but in spite of that fact some of the richest Filipino families reside there.  By the time we reached our destination our horses and carriage were covered with mud, as we had driven through water up to the hubs part of the time.”


” … We had stopped before a huge building like a warehouse.  At the entrance was an immense door with a smaller one inclosed in one of its panels.  The correct number above it was the only thing that suggested that it was the right place.  After knocking several times three half-clad men appeared and answered “yes” to our question if Senor Carmona [ sic ] resided there.”

“The lower floor which we entered was an immense court paved with square stones, where there were at least ten carriages of different styles and sizes.  How many horses were in the stalls I could not tell, but I heard their stamping and snorting.  In the center was a fountain, but wet clothes pasted on boards suggested that it was used as a washtub.  Ten or twelve servants were engaged in various occupations, working over the horses, cleaning carriages, washing dishes, and all peering at us with interest.  Presently a small girl rang a great bell, pointed up the stairway, and we ascended the wide marble steps unattended, in true Manila style.  On reaching the top of the stairs we came to a large square hall where vistas of apartments opened on all sides.  The proportions of the room were fine and the beautiful rosewood floors shone like mirrors.  Servants were sauntering about but no one came forward.  We waited until our charming little hostess came running in to greet us and she led us to the drawing-room.  Filipino homes are furnished more simply than our own.  There are no carpets or rugs, and who would wish them in exchange for a highly polished rosewood or mahogany floor?  Even in the houses of the wealthy the furniture is principally of the Vienna bent-wood variety.  Chairs almost fill the rooms.  There is usually a hollow square in the center formed by a table at one side, with sofa opposite connected by rows of chairs.  Pictures are infrequent, but magnificent mirrors in elaborate gilt frames abound.  A piano of excruciating tone is never absent.  Cuspidors of pink, white, blue or green glass are symmetrically placed at the four corners of the hollow square.  Usually two or more natives in very dirty short bathing trunks are on hands and feet with rolls of burlap polishing the floors.  They rush from one end of the room to the other with astonishing rapidity.  The Filipinos call it “skating the floor.”

“All of these conditions were present in the drawing-room of the house we entered.  Instead of the usual bent-wood furniture, however, there were beautifully carved sofas and chairs, covered with ugly but heavy and costly velvet brocade.  The table was inlaid tortoise shell and brass of exquisite workmanship.  The piano was a grand Erard imported from Paris, but a total wreck musically.  There were several glass and gilt cabinets filled with bric-a-brac of the most varying kinds from beautiful and really artistic and valuable specimens of Sevres, porcelain, and bronze to miserable blue, white, and pink glass toys and china dogs of the cheapest and most vulgar sort.  The walls were hung with a heavy, dark paper detached in many places by reason of the dampness.  Two royal mirrors adorned the walls.  On the beautiful table was a cheap china bowl and two china vases filled with soiled artificial  flowers.  But what most attracted my astonished gaze were four painted tin cats standing around the table.”

“Our hostess sat beside me in a white dressing sack, at the other end sat Senor Garcia [ sic ], and beyond and opposite was a row of persons of all hues from almost black to very light brown; from the old man who I said wore his shirt outside his trousers, to Senor Lamberto [ sic ], one of the handsomest men I have met in Manila.  He was in Aguinaldo’s cabinet and very prominent politically.  He is pale and looks like a Spaniard, but is a mestizo.  We talked a few moments and then Elena was invited to play, which she did to the great delight of the company and to our agony.  I afterwards spoke of the difficulty in this climate of keeping a piano in tune on account of the rusting of the strings, but this did not appeal to them.  One of the ladies expressed surprise and said:  “Do you think so?  Why, our piano belonged to my grandmother and it is still very good.”  I had never heard a worse one.  But it is thought that as long as the instrument holds together it is good.  Afterwards one of the girls played and then Elena was urged to play again.  It was evidently the desire of our hosts to entertain us.  I was curious about the four painted tin cats.  The mystery was soon solved and I learned that they were not merely ornamental, for Dona Lucia [ sic ] was seized with a fit of coughing and to my astonishment she grasped one of the animals by the head and turning it around expectorated with great vigor into a cuspidor which was mysteriously constructed in or about its back.”


Victor Abreu Buencamino wrote of his grandparents’ palatial Tondo residence:  “I would say I was not a typical Manila boy in my time.  Most boys were allowed to play  on sidewalks or in vacant lots in the neighborhood, but I wasn’t.  Instead, a few boys in the neighborhood, mostly from well-to-do families,  came over in the afternoon after school and played with us around the fountain in the patio of our compound.”

“But the games we played were the same as those played by boys of my generation:  ‘viola corcho’ or ‘luksong tinik’ [ jumping ], ‘tangga,’ ‘siklot’ [ pebble game ] and ‘sungka’ [ played with ‘sigay’ or seashells ], yoyo, ‘escondite’ [ hide-and-seek ], and ‘patintero’ [ structured tag ].”

“We played until the bells of Tondo church rang the vespers when we ran to the chapel upstairs where my Lola Ninay led the prayers before the images of Santo Nino de Tondo and many other saints.  In those days, the more images you had in your altar, the higher you rated in the congregation.”

“We prayed in Spanish, all of us in the household, including the servants.  Apparently, the friars did not encourage the propagation of the prayers in the Pilipino translation.  We children said our prayers aloud.  We thought the louder we said our prayers, the more God and Lola Ninay liked it.  I never really understood what the prayers meant, but I had all four main prayers so memorized I could rattle them all off in a flash.  I still do so to this day, only I now understand what the words mean.”

“Lola Ninay was the grande dame of the clan, but she was too preoccupied with her businesses and her community and social activities to manage her household.  So it was my auntie Adelaida who mothered me, for my mother, Guadalupe, had died while I was a month-old infant.”

“Our house on Sagunto Stree [ later named Sto. Cristo ] where I was born on 15 February 1888 was one of the biggest in that rather ritzy section of Tondo.  It was a rectangular affair about 20 to 25 meters, with an ‘entresuelo’ [ mezzanine ], a second floor and an ‘azotea’ or roof garden.  I remember that roof garden well because one early morning we climbed the narrow ladder to the top to watch what I thought then were exciting fireworks out in the bay.  Our house was so tall we had a good view of the bay and of the Cavite landfall beyond.”

“I was told later that the fireworks were the real thing.  Admiral George Dewey  lobbed a few shells as his fleet breezed into the bay and the Spanish squadron soon disappeared in flames.”

“There were a good number of parlors and bedrooms in the mezzanine and the second floor and I recall that friends of Lola Ninay would park in these apartments for weeks on end as her house guests.  It was not the custom of people then to stay in hotels.  Hotels were only for foreigners.  Good families felt slighted if their friends from the provinces did not honor them by staying in their homes.”

“There was a time some families evacuated to Sagunto from Baliwag and other Bulacan towns and from Pampanga and Bataan to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between Filipinos and Spaniards and later between Filipinos and Americans.  It was a lot of fun for me because I had more evacuee children to play with.”

“In the back portion of the ground floor beyond the patio was the stable.  There were about ten horses in all.  I particularly liked the one that pulled our Rockaway which took us to the Ateneo in the morning and picked us up after calisthenics in the afternoon.  In those days, going to school in a private four-wheeled rig was a status symbol.”

“Lola had a rig for all occasions.  In addition to the service ‘carromata’ [ two-wheeled vehicle for two to three passengers ], she had an ‘aquiles’ [ vehicle for four passengers on two rows of seats facing each other with door at the back ], a ‘caruaje’ [ milord ], and a ‘vis-a-vis,’ a four-wheeled affair pulled by two horses with two rows of seats facing one another in the cab.  Then there was the ‘Victoria,’ the deluxe version of the two-horse carriage with two drivers, usually in uniform, lashing their whips from atop.  We rode in the ‘Victoria’ only on gala occasions.”

“We were happy with these carriages and the great big horses, until, one day, I sensed something was wrong.  One by one, the horses were being slaughtered for food.  There was no food in the Divisoria nearby because the Americans had blockaded the city and no food could come in, not even the rice which they grew in Lola Ninay’s own farm in Calumpit.”

“Up to that time, we had plenty to eat.  There were full meals, even for breakfast:  ‘kare-kare’ [ oxtail stew in peanut sauce ], ‘puchero’ [ beef stewed with vegetables ], chicken and eggs and all the ‘ensaymadas’ [ sweet breads ] you could eat, washed down with thick chocolate.”

“We were not allowed to eat fruits in the morning.  Our elders said it was a sure way to get a tummy ache for fruits were heavy in the stomach.”

“They also told us to close our windows when we slept at night.  There were lethal kinds of ill wind that blew when people sinned and didn’t pray hard enough.”

“I remember that people prayed hard and often.  During fiestas in Tondo, there were processions where people carrying lighted candles prayed aloud or sang hymns as they marched past our house.  During those fiestas, the whole front side of our house was lighted with giant lanterns.  We kids watched the procession from our windows.  We were too small to march with the ‘colegialas,’ who wore smart uniforms and sang aloud as they marched in single file on both sides of the brightly lit image of the Sto. Nino.”


“I quite agree with some observations that the reason the women’s lib movement never quite became a fad in this country is because the Filipina does not need to be liberated.  She’s in fact the ruler.  And that’s not a new phenomenon, either.”

“Take my grandmother, Dona Saturnina Salazar, for instance.  She was the dominant character in our young lives and in the lives of many other people in her day.  She was popularly known as ‘Dona Ninay Supot.’  It was the fashion then to label a clan, often derisively, with some distinguishing peculiarities.”

“Grandmother really inherited the ‘supot’ nomenclature from her father, Don Silvestre Salazar.  It seems that my great-grandfather, better known as ‘Nor Beteng,’ was almost always carrying a ‘supot’ — a money bag, actually.”

“For his main stock in trade was money lending, and he had to lug his ‘supot’ along to carry those heavy Mexican silver coins which he lent to market vendors in the morning and collected the following day.  He went home with ten additional silver pesos safely tucked in his ‘supot’ for every hundred he lent the previous dawn.  And that was how Dona Ninay carried the brand, ‘supot,’ too.”

“Her father went to Divisoria before the break of dawn to provide capital for stall lessees who bought their vegetables or fish or meat from wholesale suppliers in time to spread their wares for the early morning shoppers.  As a rule, these vendors would make enough profits during the day to feed their families and pay my great-grandfather his Shylock surcharge.  But it was also a rule that what was left of the vendor’s earnings would be wiped out during the night in either ‘monte’ or ‘jueteng’ [ number game of chance ] or an endless round of ‘tuba’ [ fermented coconut sap drink ] so the vendor had to approach my great-grandfather the following morning and borrow all over again at 10 per centum — per day!”

“Thus did the Buencamino forebears thrive.  In those days, usury was as dignified an industry as today’s big-time financing by reputable investment houses, today’s rates being no less usurious.”

“AND SO, DONA NINAY fell heir to a fortune that the ‘supot’ business built.  But compared with her old man, Dona Ninay was big league.  In time, she was ruling a conglomerate all her own:  tobacco, rice, real estate — and Las Vegas-style gambling.”

“Befitting one so high in society, Lola Ninay circulated in the flashiest of circles.  In those days, those in the money had one favorite pastime:  gambling.  And being smarter than the rest, Lola Ninay encouraged her wealthy friends to indulge in gambling while she provided the facilities.  It’s debatable to this day which gave her more returns, her trading business or her ‘monte’ and ‘jueteng’ operations, but whichever did so, the fact was that she was recognized as one of the better-heeled matrons in all Tondo.”

“I’ll never forget one time she paid off a ‘jueteng’ winner all of 75 thousand ‘pesillos,’  Mex.  Imagine that.  At the present inflated and still inflating value of the peso, that take could qualify her to open a bank with today’s required one-hundred-million-peso minimum capital.  And she did open a bank — as I’ll tell you later.”

“MY VIVID RECOLLECTION of Lola Ninay was her excursions to Barrio Sulipan in Apalit town, Pampanga.  She took me along on a number of her forays.  Lola Ninay’s household where we lived was not below what you might call now the Forbes Park variety.  But the nipa-thatched chateau of Capitan Joaquin Arnedo at Barrio Sulipan looked like something simply out of this world even to one used to staying in a huge town house.”

“You just didn’t walk in at the Arnedo villa and place your feet at his rows of ‘monte’ tables.  No sir.  You came strictly by invitation and one such invite from Capitan Joaquin was a sure mark that you had made the top rung of the day’s aristocracy.  Guests often included the ‘segundo cabo’ [ military representative ], the vice-governor general, and the archbishop of Manila.  Foreign dignitaries were often entertained there.”

“And of course, grandma Dona Ninay stood out among the scintillating guests.”

“Quite apart from being a social giant in her own right, Dona Ninay had another entree into the Monte Carlo of the Arnedos in Sulipan:  she and the Arnedos had a common son-in-law.”

“My father’s first wife, Juanita, was a daughter of the Arnedos, and after her death, Father wooed and married Dona Ninay’s daughter Guadalupe [ Neneng ], who was to become my mother.  Father seemed to have maintained a close relationship with the Arnedos even after the death of his Arnedo wife for whenever he had a very special visitor, he almost always entertained this guest at Sulipan.”




  1. Yrigoyen said,

    July 9, 2009 at 2:02 am

    I love this article. It’s quite rare that a son-in-law would not just have good relations with his one set of parents-in-law but two sets of parents-in-law, if at all any.

    On top of that, most in-law relationships are quite tricky to maintain. The more loaded they are the more distrustful are they of their children’s spouses.

    That alone is something to be quite of an achievement.

  2. Diego Mqz y C. said,

    July 8, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    My maternal grandmother Nena C de M grew up in Manila & their house was on the banks of the Pasig river, and their backyard sloped into the water. Hard to believe that river was ever crystal clear and the buena familias used to play by it and boat in it. Antebellum Manila was the golden age, wouldn’t you agree?

  3. talagang tsismoso said,

    June 28, 2009 at 5:11 am

    Dona Ninay set up the very first Filipino Bank together with Dona Pantaleona Rosales vda de Reyes & a Mr Newberry, the bank’s name was Abreu,Newberry & Reyes & Co,the two Dona’s furnished the cash and Mr Newberry provided the technical expertise of how to run the bank, Dona Ninay had to mortgage most of her real estate to raise P!00,000 as her share in the bank. Mr Newberry as it turned out knew little in running a bank when he allowed the lending out of about 60% of all current accounts deposits & 80% of all savings accounts deposits when then Secretary of Finance Ide discovered the anomaly he ordered the bank to be liquidated in 45 days when the banks was liquidated the two Dona’s had to sell choice real estates to make good to all their depositors Dona Pantaleona lost several blocks fronting the Philippine General Hospital along Taft Ave while Dona Ninay surrenderd the titles to quite a few binondo lots to Captain Luis Yangco one of the richest men during that time

    The story then that the banks was doing so well the depositors where hauling silver coins in wheel barrows and that the foreign banks got envious and they all inspired the action against the bank.

  4. June 20, 2009 at 2:01 pm


    Thank you.

    Yes, Victor Abreu Buencamino was the father of Philip Arguelles Buencamino, who was the first husband of Zenaida “Nini” Aragon Quezon. Although Philip survived the harrowing Second World War as a soldier, he did not survive the PostWar Ambush on his mother-in-law, the First Lady Aurora Aragon-Quezon.

    In “The Memoirs of Victor Buencamino,” Victor wrote proudly about his son Philip who was captured by the Japanese Army in Mariveles, Bataan, walked the Death March through Pampanga, and survived the Capas, Tarlac Internment Camp.

  5. River said,

    June 20, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Toto, you did it again! BTW, is Victor Buencamino the father of Philip Buencamino, who was Pres. Manuel L. Quezon’s son-in-law? Just kind of wondering.

  6. larrylevi said,

    June 18, 2009 at 12:50 am

    SWEET SWEET Isabella,

    Many people read this blog for sure yet are presently paralyzed with FEAR or PARANOIA.

    Bueno, the absence of of lively rejoiners even opinions.

    I think we are in grave DENIAL or suspension of our disbelief that HONEST elections and the perpetualtion of Greedy Madame Ayoko burns in the back of our minds.

    So make a point to STAND UP and register. Makibaka, makialam …even in an angry shameful put down……… you are expressing rage and disatisfaction with the EXTREME BALD FACED chicanery of GMA goverment daily.

    On the front page of the Inquirer where I have written for 17 years. ) Tongressman and FIRST SON of a female dog, MIKEY Ayoko says although he wants a thirs term as TONGRESSMAN, she is URGED by all including the church to run for GOVERNOR and unseat Father PANLILIO because ” he is an unperforming asset ”

    Now that really gets my PANTIES knotted this morning. THE GALL, the termerity, the hubris, the asking for it.

    TRUST me, my PSYCHIC says an assassination is the only HOPE for this nation.

    I am inclined to agree, because in terms of succession if GOD steps in as he does like the CAVALRY, SC Justice Puno could be our tansitory president till after the CIRCUS presedential race.

    But this could all be pipe dreams in my head. Opium please.

    That means going to mass now, opium of the masses. LOLZZZZ

  7. madspartan said,

    June 16, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    This reads like Gaskell or Austen. Awaiting the rest of it. 🙂

  8. isabella said,

    June 14, 2009 at 6:53 am

    You are right, Larry, this is the penultimate blog. But how come many are so quiet for so many days? I always visit this site, but for many, many, days no comments had been sighted. I feel so sad. sad. sad. Thanks you are all alive once again!

  9. Anton said,

    June 13, 2009 at 3:11 am

    I am very interested…I always like to look at the old photographs of anything that is pre war Manila….more so stories…..I used to listen to this 100 year old person who tells me that Jose Abad Santos in downtown Manila used to be talahib! and that he used to ride the Tranvia when he was young. Unfortunately, he died a couple of years ago…

  10. larry leviste said,

    June 13, 2009 at 2:42 am

    HOW, HOW may anyone ever get bored of this BLOG ?

    This is the CYBER SALON of this brand new century, it is the RISE of the round table of the ALGONQUIN hotel and I am Dorothy Parker.

    This BLOG bristles, stimulates and INFORMS in such good form.

    THE MODES AND MORES of Manila’s cognecenti, innocenti and VERY sensi. The fools and the WISE, the rich rippling HISTORY comes ALIVE in the Internet Super Highways from moment to heart beating moment.


    Remembrance of things RE-HASHED, re-visited, repast and REAPED with stinging albeit truth-serumed COMMENTS.

    A day not perusing this SITE is a day with out SIGHT or insight.

    And the beautific BLOGGERS, all outta sight, all right !!!

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