Starweek Magazine

Aguinaldo Shrine: History you can visit

- Angelo J. Aguinaldo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Being a fourth generation descendant of Gen. Emilio F. Aguinaldo, people expect me to know much about this house which was built in 1845 by my great great grandparents, Trinidad Valerio Famy and Carlos Jamir Aguinaldo, a former gobernadorcillo of the town of Kawit. The house was originally a nipa thatched and timber structure where two other former town mayors of Kawit were born – Crispulo Aguinaldo (June 10, 1864) and his younger brother Emilio Aguinaldo (March 22, 1869).

I gradually learned these pieces of information from my father, who is also named Carlos. I am so thankful that he brought me often to this big house when I was a child. My classmates in third grade asked so many questions about my affinity with the General. 

As a young visitor, I knew then that there was an important occasion going on. The colors blue, red and white flooded my attentive eyes and my ears echoed with music that seemed to come from several big torotot (toy horn). They called it musiko. Also, old men in seemingly faded blue uniforms would always rub my spiky hair and give me a strange smile as they talked to my father.

I have met a lot of old folks and I thought I had met the General, but then I realized it was our Lolo Miling (Emilio Jr.) who had often offered me orange soda. He was seated on a swivel chair that had the sculpted head of a carabao as a back rest and that was placed against a huge, dark, oval cabinet on the ground floor. My father Carlos, probably realizing I may have mistaken Lolo Miling for the General, explained that he is my grandfather Miguel’s younger brother.

These occasional visits would have an impact on my teenage years as I kept coming back to the house as a volunteer and to assist former curators Tita Cora Andrade and later, my aunt Linda Aguinaldo, and the staff on commemorative events. Little did I know that someday and somehow I would be at the helm of overseeing the preservation of this house which my great grandfather donated to the national government a year before his death in 1964.

There is so much to write about the house in terms of its historicity and its architectural style. Considering Aguinaldo’s intention of redesigning the house to perpetuate the spirit of the revolution, the house itself is a story book. The many symbols he incorporated in the house reflect the aspirations of our ancestors, who went into the so-called “bloody trail of freedom.”

From the ground floor museum, an impressive ipil wood staircase facing north invites guests to ascend to the second floor that consists of spacious sala, a master’s bedroom, family and formal dining rooms with windows overlooking the west garden, a meeting hallway and a kitchen that leads to an open azotea (patio) that was once a garden for potted herbal plants and where goods or supplies where dropped off.

The spacious sala, the grand hall, is quite a spectacle. It was in this hall that Julian Felipe played the draft of the Marcha Filipino Magdalo to the generals of the revolution on the eve of the declaration of Philippine independence, and which was later changed to Marcha Nacional Filipina, the National Anthem.  

At the end of this rectangular hall is the historic window where Philippine independence was proclaimed on June 12, 1898. A balcony with the design of a carabao carrying it had been added in the 1920’s, a year after the prohibition of the display of the Philippine flag was lifted by the US government. Now known as the Independence Balcony, it has been used by government officials during Independence Day celebrations. 

Beneath the balcony and the carabao is the spot where the General once wanted to be buried, according to one of my uncles.

Opposite the balcony, in the main hall, is an alcove with a bench set on a slightly elevated platform referred to as the Seat of Justice since it is believed that this was where valuable decisions were made during the revolution.

The floor made of Philippine hardwood is also a sight to behold. It consists of wood panels that are laid out like mosaic trapezoids reminiscent of the flag. The flag inspiration is actually evident in every nook and cranny of the house. Even the pillars along the formal dining room were designed in such fashion.

When a visitor looks up to the ceiling, he learns the story of our heroes’ aspiration for independence. The ceiling has three panels. On the first panel, carved furled flags and a dove are installed, conveying the Philippines’ quest for membership in the League of Nations. The letter carried by the dove bore the information that the Philippines was ready for self-governance.

The second panel is the eight-rayed sun (Lei Marcial) depicting the revolt of the first eight provinces that were placed under martial law by the Spanish government.

The third symbol near the independence balcony is “Inang Bayan” or Mother Philippines liberated from the chains of oppression, a wood masterpiece by Tampingco.

From the kitchen, a huge door opens up to the patio. This is where revolutionary leaders once mapped out their plans while a look-out atop an old sampaloc (tamarind) tree scanned the surroundings for signs of enemy movement from the Manila Bay. The patio is bordered by concrete sculptured panels as railings. The panel along the west side narrates the story of “the heroism of Gregorio del Pilar at Tirad Pass, the revolutionary headquarters in San Miguel, Bulacan, Admiral Dewey’s battleship Olympia and the capture of Aguinaldo.”

Prominent features of the said panel are the mythical sun with three stars, the head of a carabao, the inscription VR (Veteranos de la Revolucion) and KKK.

Gen. Aguinaldo readied the house as a monument for the revolutionary heroes and as such, the architectural details and interior of this house retell the story of the revolution. The house, a bahay-na-bato or malaking bahay turned somewhat Victorian, grew from the creative imagination and self-expression of three Aguinaldos who are not even designers or architects or jet-setting travelers but simply revolucionarios.

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