House-hunting in Balamban

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Arare late Spanish-period nipa house complete with period furniture. An equally rare large double-roofed house set amidst lush greenery. A rare 1890s Charles Parker kerosene wall lamp and a porcelain tipped clothes hook. An extremely rare marble-top roundtable with a massive calabasa post and clawed feet. An extremely rare set of passports issued by the Chinese Consul General in Manila. The coral stone walls of Balamban Church seeing daylight for the first time since perhaps the 1930s. These are but few of the many wonders that I personally saw with my own eyes while visiting Balamban town yesterday.

I went there as part of the preparations for the Cebu Provincial Heritage Congress in October, doing the rounds of some towns and cities of Cebu to prepare the local tourism and heritage councils to update cultural maps and heritage inventories in time for the upcoming gathering of heritage advocates.

Yesterday brought me to Balamban where Mayor Ace Binghay met my team graciously and municipal councilor Dave Caramihan, the man in charge of tourism and heritage in the council, agreed to call for a barangay-level cultural mapping next week. This came as the local government itself has been busy conducting a land use survey in all the barangays which involves identifying both movable and intangible heritage resources.

Just last week Mayor Socrates Fernandez had also warmly welcomed participants from the 22 barangays of Talisay City in their latest round of barangay-level cultural mapping under the guidance of the very active city planning and development officer, engineer Christine Homez.

After the brief courtesy call at the Balamban Municipal Hall, we were given a wonderful tour of old Balamban through its extant ancestral houses by Ceres Meoldina Lozano, the town’s tourism officer. First on the agenda was the Villarosa House, the late Spanish period nipa roofed abode mentioned earlier. Make no mistake, this is no small, ordinary nipa hut. It had a sala, two bedrooms with a small connecting side-door, and a kitchen. It is the house shown often to tourists and visitors coming to Balamban because it is just a block or two from the municipal hall. With wide-plank tugas and bayong floors as well as narra plank walls replete with pre-war photographs, the house is proof that Balamban can boast of a heritage structure amid its drive to modernity.

It was on this house that I espied the extremely rare marble-top roundtable, the  wall lamp and the porcelain-tipped clothes hook or hanger. Oh, I must mention the breadpan paddle, carved with Spanish dedications—a remnant, I was told by hosue owner Roel Villarosa, of their Chinese forebears who once owned a bakery somewhere in town.

A few kilometers north of the town center, Ceres brought us to three more houses, two of them owned by local scions of the Pilapil clan of Liloan. One was a large gable-roofed two story wooden house, complete with calado air vents at the eaves and colorful Sampaguita glass panes all throughout the second floor windows. Alas, the house was now devoid of contents as these were brought to Liloan but the house near it, still complete, was a wonder to behold.

My description here will never do justice to this beautifully magnificent Pilapil house. Let me just start by saying I have never seen anything like it, standing amid a grassy lawn with no fence to mar the view from the National Highway, save for four buli trees. I was immediately reminded of the Malay chieftain’s house uprooted I think in Keddah, Malaysia and brought to a park in Kuala Lumpur to save it from total destruction.

But this wooden L-shaped house has clearly survived the elements all on its own at the very large plot of land on which it has stood for perhaps nearly a century already. Its dark patina all throughout—I think due in part to the kind of wood used or the solignum wood preservative that may have been applied on it—reminds one of the long houses of Pacific Islanders.

The third house was where I saw, framed and hanging on one wall, four Imperial Chinese passports issued by the Chinese consul general in Manila and stamped “For Province” in red together with all the extremely large chop marks of the consul. These were issued to Uy Ching (later, Dionisio Uy) and what appears to be his siblings sometime in 1899 and 1900.

Dionisio married a local lass surnamed Concepcion whose children then took on the name. Their photos were all on one wall as Violeta Uy Concepcion-Hinto graciously showed us around what was clearly a late Spanish-period trading house, now sunk low as the national highway has gone ever higher. She had to resort to blocking off sections of the ground floor to prevent rainwater from seeping in during downpours. But the house is intact, its architectural integrity proudly preserved.

We went back to Balamban proper after this brief tour and Ceres still had a few more houses to show us but we were pressed for time, so we had only a cursory glance at the ancestral house of Mayor Binghay.

I had to proceed to Toledo City to look at the grand Toledo City Museum being prepared under the guidance of Vice Mayor Daydee Zambo. The scheduled opening is the charter day of Toledo City in January 2013. The building, now painted white, has the looks of a little Malacañan Palace and I am as excited as all Toledanos are to see the museum finally open.

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