SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET ARE BEing disturbed in Biñan, Laguna, a year before the nation celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of the national hero Jose Rizal.
At the center of the brewing controversy is an ancient bahay na bato (Spanish colonial stone house) known as the Alberto House.
Obscured by the controversy over the house?s sale and heritage value is the family relationship between Rizal and the Albertos of Biñan. All Rizal biographers agree that there is a blood relationship but disagree on the exact nature of the relationship.
Jose Alberto, depending on which book one is reading, is described as either the cousin, brother, half-brother or stepbrother of Rizal?s mother, Teodora Alonso. What has been left out of our textbooks is the fact that Teodora Alonso was illegitimate.
Heritage advocates are opposing the house?s acquisition by architect developer Jerry Acuzar who plans to dismantle the structure and rebuild it in the heritage village called the Ciudad Real de Acuzar that he has built in a 50-hectare seaside property in Bagac, Bataan.
Acuzar, who has transplanted several other historically significant houses to his heritage village, has caused controversy before over the implications in terms of heritage preservation of taking a structure out of the cultural or historical fabric of its original location.
The Alberto House is the last of the grand houses of Biñan, one that has historical significance because Rizal lived there from 1870 to 1871 when he was a student in the all-boys private school run by Justiniano Aquino Cruz.
In a letter to his friend Ferdinand Blumentritt, Rizal said that Lorenzo Alberto Alonso, was a deputy for the Philippines in the [Spanish] Cortes, and that his uncle, Jose Alberto, was educated in Europe and spoke German, English, Spanish and French. Alberto was also a Knight of the Order of Isabel la Catolica.
However, according to the late Leon Ma. Guerrero, the author of the landmark Rizal biography, ?The First Filipino,? in 1961, his research in Spain did not yield any deputy in the Cortes with the name Lorenzo Alberto or Jose Alberto Alonso.
John Bowring, the British Governor of Hong Kong, in his ?A Visit to the Philippine Islands? in 1859, wrote of having visited Biñan where he met a Jose Alberto who spoke English and was educated in Calcutta!
If the primary sources are confusing, genealogical research reveals that Rizal?s grandfather, the 24-year-old Lorenzo Alberto Alonso married a 12-year-old Ilocana named Paula Florentino in 1814. Then there is a gap of some years, and then we learn that the same Lorenzo Alberto Alonso is in Biñan living with (or married to?) Brigida Quintos. This Alberto-Quintos union resulted in five children, one of whom was Teodora Alonso Quintos Realonda.
Lorenzo and Brigida later moved to Calamba where their daughter, Teodora, married Francisco Mercado. The Mercados had 11 children, the seventh being Jose Rizal.
Was the famous Jose Alberto of Biñan then a half-brother of Teodora Alonso? And based on the above, Rizal was related to the poet Leona Florentino and the writer and labor leader Isabelo de los Reyes of Ilocos.
A short history of the Alberto House includes material from Jacoba Faustina-Cruz, a cousin of Teodora Alonso, whose eldest nephew Daniel Cruz married Maria Rizal, the hero?s older sister.
Hero?s mother grew up here
The following is from the narration of Jacoba Cruz:
?Don Lorenzo Alberto y Alonzo lived in a big stone house fronting the plaza of Biñan, Laguna. He had a son Jose Alberto, who often traveled to Spain as a member of the Spanish Cortes; and a daughter Teodora Alberto y Alonso. She was a half-sister of Jose, and Biñenses would euphemistically refer to it as anak sa lihis (illegitimate child). The Spanish term is the derogatory hija bastarda (bastard daughter). Rizal?s mother dropped the Alberto name and became simply Teodora Alonso.
Teodora grew up in the house. While Jose was away on a trip, his wife, Teodora Formoso, had a liaison with another man. Don Lorenzo locked her up in a room while Teodora Alonso gave her sustenance. Teodora Formoso was somehow able to smuggle out a letter to the authorities. Don Lorenzo was imprisoned, and Teodora Alonso was forced to walk from Biñan to Calamba, the start of the persecution of her family.
Don Lorenzo had earlier married Teodora Alonso off to Francisco Mercado, a rich merchant of Chinese origin and a descendant of Domingo Lam Co. The newlyweds were sent off to Calamba to start a new life. The house in Calamba, now a national shrine, is a smaller replica of the house in Biñan, but it was the first stone house in the town.?
When Jose Rizal was sent to Biñan for his first studies under Maestro Justiniano Cruz, he lived in the house of his grandfather, not with relatives, as the history books tell us.
Rizal?s mother was imprisoned twice, once in the 1870s when Rizal was a student at the Ateneo when she was accused of trying to poison Jose Alberto?s wife.
The second time was in the 1880s when she was briefly imprisoned for using the wrong surname.
It does not matter now whether Teodora Alonso was illegitimate or not. This will not change history nor alter the fact that she gave birth to our national hero, but the battle for the preservation of the Alberto House underscores the sad truth that 150 years since he was born, there is much we have to research and learn about Rizal.
(The author, chair of the National Historical Commission as well as a columnist of the Inquirer is one of the foremost scholars on Rizal.)