A True Love’s Testament

A True Love’s Testament

Text and photos by HENRYLITO TACIO

LOVE COMES FROM THE most unexpected places. That happened to Mariano Ledesma Lacson, a sugar baron from Negros. The mostsought after bachelor was visiting Hong Kong together with a wealthy friend when he met Maria Braga, a Portuguese lady from Macau and daughter of a ship captain.

He was smitten by her beauty. So, he courted her earnestly until she finally said yes. To make the long story short, they got married and he brought her to his ancestral house in Talisay, Negros Occidental where they raised their family together.

Children came after one another: Victoria, Rafael (who later became the governor of Negros Occidental), Mercedes, Natividad, Sofia, Felipe (who grew up and became a mayor of Talisay), Consolacion, Angelina, Ramon, and Eduardo.

Maria was pregnant with her 11th child when she slipped in the bathroom. She was bleeding; her condition was so precarious that traveling outside of the house was out of question. Mariano summoned some of his men to get a resident doctor from a nearby town. He told them to use a horse-drawn carriage, then the fastest mode of transportation.

This happened in 1920s and it would take two days to traverse the various sugar farms to Silay. So, by the time the doctor arrived, on the fourth day, Maria and her child were already dead.

Mariano was totally devastated by Maria’s sudden death. In order for him to remember her, he decided to build a house in her memory.

He consulted his father-in-law about the idea. When he knew about it, he fully supported the plans of his son-in-law. Being a ship captain, he carted many items from Europe and China — ranging from machuca or handmade custom cement tiles, chandeliers, and china wares. He even brought with him some construction workers from China just to help build the mansion.

A local builder by the name of Engineer Puentevella was entrusted to make the design and building specifications. Mariano asked his son Felipe to supervise the construction and make sure that A-grade mixture of concrete was precisely poured.

The marble-like effect of high-grade concrete can be felt by touching the posts and walls of what remains now of the mansion. The entire mansion has a floor area of 900 square meters: 450 square meters upstairs and 450 square meters on the lower ground. Ten rooms occupied the mansion: 8 rooms for children, a Master’s bedroom and a family room.

An antic horse carriage

The structure of the two-story mansion was of Italianate architecture as evidenced by its neo-Romanesque columns all around. It has a close semblance of the façade of the Carnegie Hall in New York City.

It took about three years to finish the Don Mariano Lacson Mansion. According to Javellana, it was built because of the husband’s devotion to his wife. He likens it to Taj Mahal, a white marble mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife. Proof of the unwavering love for his departed wife was the initials engraved on every post of the mansion. The 2 M’s, facing each other, stands for Mariano and Maria.

At that time, the mansion was the largest residential structure ever built in the area. It was constructed at the center of the 440-hectare farm. The Lacson family lived in the mansion happily.

But World War II broke out. Not wanting to get caught in the middle of their 440-hectare farm, the Lacson family abandoned the mansion. The American soldiers came to the place. Sensing that it might be used as headquarters of the Japanese troops, it was decided that it would be burned just other big houses in the area.

While it took three years to build the mansion, it took only three days to consume all of its roofs, ceilings, two-inch wooden floors, doors and windows which were all made of hardwood of tindalo, narra, and kamagong.

But the three-day inferno did not flatten the whole mansion. Thanks to its oversize steel bars and the meticulous way of pouring A-grade mixture of concrete, the skeletal frame remains.

The four-tiered fountain in front of the remains of the mansion makes it a perfect replica of the ancient homes with spacious garden.

The pillars are designed with initials of its owners Mariano and Maria

Filipinos would have never seen The Ruins – which was abandoned for 67 years! – had it not been for Raymund Javellana, one of Mariano’s great grandsons. Raymund is the son of Ramon, who was the son of Mercedes, the daughter of Mariano.

“I am so glad that it was not destroyed completely. With the blessings of The Lord, we were able to restore the mansion itself. I challenge people who keep on destroying the old structures to please stop and make some good use of it,” Javellana said when he accepted the award for The Ruins as Best Destination (Heritage Sites category) at the first Choose Philippines Awards.

In January 2008, Javellana opened The Ruins to the public. Thanks to social media, the exposure to local and national televisions, and write-ups that came in various publications, people flocked to the place. In the beginning, there were only 25,000 visitors a year; but last year, it went up 80,000 visitors. With the recent recognition, Javellana expects the visitors to further increase. TP