MANILA, Philippines – While the whole country was watching the historic last day of the Corona Impeachment trial, I distanced myself from the entire ruckus and spent the peaceful afternoon in the company of old houses, wondering about the history they’re part of.
Having visited Vigan and the houses of some Filipino heroes (like Rizal and Mabini) scattered across Luzon, I initially thought Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan is just another place with heritage houses, only probably bigger and its ground, more expansive. Basically, a village of old houses. Nothing really special.
But, as they say, you won’t get to feel the true wonder of things if you’re not there to experience it.
The moment we got there (after a 2.5-hour ride), I immediately took pictures of the place, even if it was drizzling, even if we had almost two days to explore the place. Not even the impeachment trial could keep me in the room I shared with RAPPLER’s Life & Style editor, Kai Magsanoc.
Walking along the court plaza, with waters bubbling serenely in the town fountain — and with so little people around — I imagined I was a kid in the time of Rizal, escaping from siesta and jogging on the cobblestones under the dreamy afternoon sun.
The houses, for the most part, were the biggest of heritage houses I’ve seen so far. Intricately designed and detailed, with complex architecture one would appreciate even in today’s times. I couldn’t imagine how on earth Jerry Acuzar and his men tore those houses down, transported their parts to Bagac and rebuilt them again (in the exact copy), almost as if they simply used an enormous magical crane to get the house from the original site and place it here.
Although I initially had qualms about heritage houses being uprooted from their original sites, somehow, this didn’t stop me from feasting my eyes on these structures from different parts of our country, enjoying the views of the azotea from above and through capiz windows, running my hands along the wooden walls and ancient woodwork.
I felt humbled walking down the cavernous interiors of the rooms, by the grand staircases, into expansive suites. Taking pictures of objects from the past filled me with a form of reverence. My imagination ran wild on what life had been then, when life was much simpler. What was it like? If only the walls could talk!
Listening to stories
My favorite part of the trip (aside from the gabi ice cream which tasted like heaven) are the daily tours around the area, where a lady dressed in a traditional Filipiniana Bayanihan dress would take you to each house and tell you its story.
The stories differ for each house. There’s a house with a tragic past where a family was massacred while trying to escape during the war, a house that is once the center of culture and arts, a house that became the headquarters of the US Army during the war. Different silent witnesses to the passage of history. Listening to the stories and becoming part of history, if only for such a short time, filled me with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, even if I haven’t lived that long.
It felt as if I was there all along.
I was seeing a different side of history, survivors of all the wars and tumult, seeing yet not actually seeing people living in that period, catching a more intimate glance of their lives.
Reminiscing the old times
The evening of our first day in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar (or Las Casas in short), we were served a romantic dinner al fresco by the bridge, where the fresh crisp air from the Luzon sea washed away our exhaustion from the day, just as much as the tall glass of mango shake did for me. Two wonderful singers (they called themselves Lolo and Lola), serenaded us with kundiman and folk songs that made the dining experience more delightful. Our companions, lightened by drinks and warm air, sung along, too, happily recalling memories of their childhood.
Filipino kundiman is the best kind of music I’ve listened to, so full of lovely words and sentiments. I really applaud Filipino composers and wish for the best for today’s Original Pilipino Music (OPM) artists.
The next day, I got to take more pictures and explore the seashore of the West Philippine Sea. While there, I saw the faint outline of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant over the distance.
Troubled with the thoughts of the Scarborough Shoal standoff and the power crisis over in the south, I retreated to the shadows of the Casa Lubao, my personal favourite, because it reminded me of my cousin’s house in Pangasinan where we always spent countless summers together. Its large windows made the rooms bright and airy.
Other notable houses were Casa Quiapo (formerly the UP Liberal Arts building) and Paseo de Escolta, the resort’s hotel, which can remind you of buildings in Florence and Venice.
A personal note
I’ve recently become the Filipino who appreciates her own culture and country rather than other countries. I’ve been doing the latter for the past 12 years, and my dream of living abroad away from Philippine society and politics has been replaced by the urge to reform it.
That’s why this trip felt so personal to me. It’s like getting in touch with my history, with my identity as a Filipino.
One of the reasons why I love traveling Philippines so much is because little by little, place by place, the Filipino in me sees a glimmer of hope for the future of this country.
These places all became part of me and, by far, Las Casas had occupied a place in my heart. Whatever more Mr. Azucar dreams of doing in the resort, I dream of a country worth saving and rebuilding.
I look forward to visiting Las Casas when more houses have been added. I already feel excited. – Rappler.com
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