Batangas town’s hero and Rizal’s friend
BALAYAN, Batangas — People may not have heard of Sixto Castelo Lopez, save for his family’s ancestral home that stands across from the house of actor-director Leo Martinez on Kalye Putol in Balayan town, Batangas province.
But to his family and older town residents, Lopez was a “local hero” whose patriotism spanned not one but two foreign invasions.
Historical accounts have described him as a “patriot and propagandist” during the Philippine Revolution against Spain and the Filipino-American War.
A marker, installed by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) in 1997, described Lopez as a “supporter and friend” of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.
Before the 1896 revolution, Lopez received several letters from Rizal, as well as a copy of his novel, “Noli Me Tangere,” which were seized during a raid and taken as evidence to overthrow the Spanish rule.
When Rizal was deported to Dapitan City, Lopez went to Hong Kong and later to England, and served as a Filipino propagandist decrying the injustices committed by the Spaniards.
Lopez later served as secretary of Felipe Agoncillo, the Philippine ambassador to the United States, in 1898. He returned to the Philippines in 1903 but refused to take an oath of allegiance to the United States, prompting the American colonial government to order his deportation.
“Kids these days probably do not know him. That’s why we are working on making people become aware [of local history],” said Raymond dela Vega, Balayan tourism officer.
When he was a child, Dela Vega remembered a museum operating at the Lopez ancestral home.
Also known as Casa Grande, the Lopez mansion is one of 12 houses in the town that have been preserved over generations. The two-story mansion, sprawling on a 1,000-square-meter property at Barangay 6, was built in the 1850s.
The family museum still remains on the lower level of the house, where portraits, family heirloom and correspondence between family members during the Spanish and American colonizations are kept.
On the top floor are pieces of antique furniture. The ceiling and walls are adorned with flower murals.
A spiral staircase leads to a tower, where Lopez’s father and family patriarch, Natalio Lopez, used to stand and look out into the sea.
The Lopezes of Balayan, aside from owning vast tracts of land, were also into shipping.
“We attempted many times [to open the house to the public]. But the house is already old and we have to secure its foundation, the floor, and we have to gather the funds for that,” said Maria Corazon Lopez, a third-generation heir.
Maria Corazon, 54, is a great-granddaughter of Mariano, Lopez’s brother and the eldest in a brood of 11.
She said Mariano was with Lopez and Rizal at the University of Santo Tomas. The three once stayed at the dormitory owned by the family of Leonor Rivera, a love interest of the national hero.
In 2013, the NHCP installed another marker acknowledging the patriotism of another Lopez sibling, Clemencia.
Clemencia is said to be the first Filipina to set foot at the White House. Between 1902 and 1903, she and Lopez went to the United States as part of the Anti-Imperialist League and were met briefly by then US President Theodore Roosevelt.
Clemencia testified at the US Senate committee hearing the reported atrocities committed during the occupation of the Philippines. She also founded the Philippine Feminist Association on June 30, 1905.
“Balayan has so many heroes [and] we are very proud [that among them were] our ancestors,” Maria Corazon said.
She said they were working for the government’s recognition of Mariano’s contributions to the Philippine Revolution.
Aside from him, two more Lopez siblings, Cipriano and Lorenzo, also fought Spanish and American colonizers.
It was only in 1946, when the Philippines became a republic, that Lopez returned home for good. He spent the rest of his years helping the town as a philanthropist, Maria Corazon said.
“They are a pride of the family,” she said. “The family’s wealth may have run out over time but that’s nothing compared to their legacy,” she added.