Hacienda Sta. Rosalia: The star setting of Peque Gallaga films in Negros
The lush party scene in Peque Gallaga’s masterpiece film, Oro, Plata, Mata (1985)
Hacienda Sta. Rosalia: The star setting of Peque Gallaga films in Negros
ART DE VIVRE - Ricky Toledo, Chito Vijandre (The Philippine Star) - May 17, 2020 - 12:00am

Right before the lockdown, a trip to Bacolod brought us to the Hacienda Sta. Rosalia in Negros Occidental, where images of the films of acclaimed director Peque Gallaga kept flashing in our minds. 

We also remembered our late friend, Don Escudero, the production designer who, together with Peque, would create some of the most beautiful images to be seen in Philippine cinema, tracing the changing fortunes of the landed gentry.  

Just when we were wondering when Peque would do a film again, news of his sudden passing sadly came last May 7. 

Driving through the lush sugar plantations of Manapla on the way to the ancestral mansion of the hacienda, one could appreciate why the director was inspired to showcase Sta. Rosalia among other locations of his beloved home province.  The verdant greenery would be the idyllic background for the Lorenzo and Ojeda families’ leisurely days with a battalion of servants that Peque said, “Make sure that you can do nothing effortlessly,” as seen in the early part of the multi-awarded 1985 film Oro, Plata, Mata. 

It would also be the soothing panacea for Regina Cadena, the disgraced opera diva (played by Cherie Gil) who loses her voice and retreats to their family’s sugar estate for a self-exile that descended into madness in Sonata (2013). 

The hilarious mahjong scene of Oro, Plata, Mata shot on the balcony of the Gaston Mansion in Hacienda Sta. Rosalia, with (from left) Mitch Valdes as Jo Russell, Fides Cuyugan Asensio as Inday Lorenzo, Lorli Villanueva as Viring Ravillo, Liza Lorena as Nena Ojeda (back turned), being attended to by a maid, who was peeling butong pakwan for them

But nothing spells “epic” like the stately ancestral mansion that is the centerpiece of the hacienda.  In a colonial plantation style, it was built in 1935 by Jose Gaston, an American-educated politician and sugar baron who had other haciendas in Victorias aside from other businesses, like the Silay electric power plant and the Visayan Rapid and Negros Transportation Company.  Jose was the grandson of Yves Leopold Gaston, the family patriarch who originally came from Lisieux, France, before moving to the Philippines in 1837. 

The Frenchman first settled in Calatagan, Batangas, to help Domingo Roxas set up his sugar business. It was there that he met Prudencia Fernandez, who later became his wife. The Roxas business did not prosper, however, so he moved south — first to Iloilo then to Negros, for better prospects. 

Pills and liquor: In Sonata, Cherie Gil’s Regina Cardena, the opera star who retreats to her ancestral sugar estate in self-exile after losing her voice to an illness, is seen overindulging at the balcony of the Gaston Mansion in Sta. Rosalia

It was in Silay in 1840 where he found the soil perfect for planting sugarcane. By bringing in an iron mill, unheard of at that time, he made possible the commercial production of export-quality sugar, virtually jumpstarting the industry that would dominate the region’s economy and shape its lavish lifestyle.

Welcoming us at the mansion were Monsignor Guillermo Gaston, son of Don Jose Gaston, and his two nieces, Anna Ascalon Soenen and Mayee Fabregas.  Anna showed us how their clan has grown, as seen in the family tree on a table by the entrance. It’s actually in the shape of a wheel, with concentric circles of descendants from the original French patriarch at the center. “We have had a grand reunion every three years since 1978,” says Anna. “The last one had about 500 attendees.”

The dining room with a table for 18 was the venue for many dinners with guests from Negros high society.

The ground floor acts as a foyer with a sitting area of custom-made French Creole furniture with chair seats and backrests done in solihiya suitable for the tropical climate. Whereas Don Jose worked closely with an architect to design how he wanted the house to look, his wife Consuelo designed most of the furnishings. 

The sala of the Gaston mansion on the second level, with a sitting area and piano leading to the balcony

A staircase leads to the main sala upstairs, with bedrooms on both sides and the dining room and kitchen on the backside. How can one forget the sumptuous party scene that Peque mounted here for Oro? The crème de la crème were all dressed in their fineries surrounded by opulent furnishings and fine accouterments.

A distinguishing feature of the house is the existence of seven spacious balconies that bring the outside in.  The front balcony on the second floor is the biggest, overlooking most of the property.  From there, you can see the front garden with its Victorian fountain embellished by the statuary of two children riding a turtle and a fish and on the side is the giant concrete shoe where Cherie Gil’s Trining Ojeda and Joel Torre’s Miguel Lorenzo would have a playful flirtation scene in Oro.

The stately Gaston Mansion of Hacienda Sta. Rosalia in Manapla, Negros Occidental

This balcony was the scene of the hilarious mahjong game in Oro where the maids would peel butong pakwan one by one for the delectation of the matrons, who could not be distracted from the game nor the juicy gossip.  It was also where Cherie would sit with Jonjon (Chino Jalandoni), the child that would reawaken her senses to look forward to a new day as they gazed at the stars and enjoyed the silence in Sonata.  On the rooftop balcony, on the other hand, Joel’s Miguel would be initiated into manhood by Fe De Los Reyes’ Pacita.

The dining room featuring a large table that can seat 18 has seen many dinners attended by Negrense high society. Display cabinets of fine silver, china, crystal and heirloom pieces add to the opulence that feeds the grand illusions of Sonata’s homecoming opera star and satisfies the expectations of Oro’s hacienda aristocrats. 

A platera china cabinet and clock in the dining room

It was a fitting finale to our visit, with the family preparing a delectable buffet of croque monsieur and other hors d’oeuvres, a tribute to their French patriarch who started it all. It was also a touch of the glorious old days, as seen in the films of one of the greatest directors of Philippine cinema.

***

Hacienda Sta. Rosalia is one of the showcase heritage attractions featured in “Negros Season of Culture,” a festival from Nov. 4 to Dec. 19, highlighted by the Viva Excon Biennial, art exhibits, and food, theater and film festivals, among other events. It is located in Manapla, 46 min. by car from Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. To visit, make a reservation through their FB page: Gaston Mansion, Hacienda Sta. Rosalia, Manapla. Follow Negros Season of Culture on FB and IG. Follow the authors on Instagram @rickytchitov; Twitter @RickyToledo23; Facebook: Ricky Toledo Chito Vijandre.

PEQUE GALLAGA
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