Inheritance of a grand past
Text and photos by HENRYLITO D. TACIO
WHEN I was still in high school, one of my dreams was to visit Iloilo. After all, my father was born there. Besides, Spain’s Queen Maria Cristina once dubbed it as “Luy muy leal y noble ciudad” (the most loyal and noble city).
It was only in recent years that I had the opportunity of visiting Iloilo; not only once but twice. The first time was in the 1990s yet – that was when I won a media contest on climate change. Part of the prize was an “eco-trip” to Palawan. My sister Elena and I had to fly all the way from Davao to Cebu and then to Iloilo before going to Puerto Princesa. Yes, my first trip to Iloilo was only until at the airport.
The second time was a couple of months ago when I was invited to join a group of journalists from Davao who were convened by the Department of Tourism to visit the beautiful attractions of Western Visayas. When I learned that part of the itinerary was a visit to Iloilo, I immediately accepted the invitation.
True enough, I had grand time visiting the region. We didn’t only try those mouthwatering foods those places we visited were noted for, but also tourist attractions that included museums, churches, historical sites, past relics, and old houses.
But among those that we visited, those that really fascinated were historic buildings and ancient houses located in—yes, you’re right! —Iloilo. For trivia fanatics, this nose-shaped island was originally called “Ilong-Ilong,” which means “nose like.”
One blogger wrote: “Iloilo is associated with legacies of Spanish colonial era. Most noticeable lies in its architecture where images of the city in the 18th century show manorial old houses, in their ornate facades combined with Classical western influences and folk art motifs. Relics and mementos of the past abound. Mute yet eloquent, reminding everyone of Iloilo’s colorful past bequeathed to the present.”
WELCOME TO CASA MARIQUIT
Casa Mariquit is one the quaint houses that caught my attention. What made this Spanishcolonial ancestral home equally impressive aside from being open to the public is that it has solar panels on the roof. There is also a huge banyan tree (locally called “balete,” which is considered to be home of the spirits) at the front of the house whose roots are creeping up the walls of the house. Now, that’s sound eerie!
Like most ancient houses, it has its own story. According to our guide, it used to be the home of Fernando H. Lopez, Sr. To older folks, the man served as Vice President of the Philippines for three terms: once under Elpidio Quirino (1949–1953) for the Liberal Party and twice under Ferdinand Marcos (1965–1969 and 1969–1972) for the Nacionalista Party.
How the house-museum got its name is a story in itself. Lopez reportedly named it after his lovely wife, Maria Javellana, whose nickname is “Mariquit” (probably from the Tagalog word, “Marikit,” which means “beautiful”). Casa, by the way, is the Spanish word for “house.”
It considered as the oldest heritage house in Iloilo. Historical records said that it was built some 200 years ago by Mariquit’s great grandfather, Ramon Javellana, who was a banker.
In fact, the ground floor once served as a bank. If you go the masters’ bedroom, you get a glimpse of the vault of the bank that was concealed by wooden floor planks. The cement vault was built sometimes in 1900.
In an article which appeared in Manila Bulletin, the two-storey structure was described as a typical 17th-18th century wood-and-stone house. “The ground floor… is made of cut stone or firebricks while the second floor, where the antesala (receiving are), living room, the comedor (dining room), the kitchen and the bedroom are located is made of molave,” Therese J. Camet wrote.
The house is full of memorabilia: Old cameras, wall clocks, recorder player, gramophone, paintings, chess board and grandfather clock, to name a few. I never tried to touch any of them because I was afraid that I will be transported into another, just like those in Hollywood movies.
If your interest is people from the past, there were photos of the Lopez meeting historical figures like Japanese Emperor Hirohito, Chinese political and military leader Chiang Kai-shek, Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain, and American president Lyndon Johnson. Just by looking those photos, you seem to be traveling backward in time.
Not to be missed: The photo of Saint Pope John Paul II when he visited the house.
There are many interesting stories about the house-museum. Some stories are hair-raising while others are out of this world.
One visitor wrote: “I was having goose bumps all over my body every time we transferred from one room to another. I sensed that we were not alone inside the dimly-lit house.”
Another one shared: “This ancestral home is not portraying itself as a history museum, but rather as a wealthy family period house… Expect your mind to be challenged to think what is was like as a family home with children and servants, or during a reception for Iloilo’s elite with the women in the reception room and the men on the large balcony smoking cigars.”
I didn’t try to get some photos of the rooms because there are some hearsay that once you take photos, some sort of spirits will appear in the picture.
Robert Pena Puckett, the current owner of the museum, is the great grandson of Mariquit. He commenced the restoration of the house in 1993. “Casa Mariquit could very well serve as a metaphor for the bigger sitting that is Iloilo today – a rich inheritance of a grand past that continues to hold meaning today,” commented the Iloilo Tour Guides’ Cooperative.
Puckett, by the way, is the president of Solar Electric Company, Inc. It’s no wonder why there are solar panels on the roof. Those are what he called as “small concession to modernization.”
Casa Mariquit is open seven days a week, but be sure to call in advance for an appointment. There is no entrance fee.
It is located in the old district of Jaro in Santa Isabel Street