Old Pangasinan comes alive at Casa Real
LINGAYEN, PANGASINAN — Like most residents here, 75-year-old Paco Santos’ life seems to be intertwined with Casa Real (Royal House), the province’s first seat of power.
He was born, and lived all his life, just about 100 meters from the historic house, which brought back memories of his childhood when it reopened as a museum on Sept. 8.
“My friends and I used to hide behind its colossal posts when we played hide and seek,” Santos tells the Inquirer in an interview. “When we were older, we played basketball in its backyard, where there was a basketball court.”
Santos recalls that day in 2006 when he and two others took students to Casa Real, then already abandoned. Two years later, Typhoon “Cosme” (international name: Halong) would blow off the building’s heavy roof.
“I wanted them to learn about the value of the building in their midst and the need to preserve it,” he shares.
Santos was so attached to the building that he decided to make it the subject of his master’s thesis, or about the need to have it reconstructed and renovated.
And when the Casa Real was transformed into a provincial museum, now named “Banaan” (meeting place), Santos’ art pieces were displayed, some of them for sale.
“Unknowingly, even the name Banaan seemed to be of significance to us because it was the place where my friends used to meet and play basketball,” he says, amused.
Lingayen Mayor Leopoldo Bataoil, a former Pangasinan lawmaker who initiated the reconstruction of the heavily damaged Casa Real, says he “wholeheartedly” supports the establishment of the museum, “which was the original plan when we were working for the building’s restoration to its former glory.”
“It is very appropriate as a place for people to meet to appreciate the history, heritage and culture of Pangasinan,” Bataoil says.
Casa Real has been a mute witness to the province’s rich history, heritage and culture.
Featuring Spanish architectural design, the building played different roles in its almost 200-year existence in the heart of Lingayen, the provincial capital of Pangasinan.
It was used as the provincial capitol, as an elementary school, as “Juzgado” (Court of First Instance), as the sanctuary of Spaniards fighting Katipuneros, and as the “Gobiyerno” (seat of power of the provincial civil government) office of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.
The structure survived bombings and earthquakes, but not the howling winds and rains of Cosme in 2008. Later, at least 40 families squatted in the building and its yard while unscrupulous people carted away important components, like the balusters, wood trusses and doors.
‘Story of us’
But Casa Real is not just about to be relegated to history’s dustbin. Instead, it again stands proud and has metamorphosed into a museum that continues to tell the province’s history.
“This is not just a building. This is the story of us,” Pangasinan Gov. Ramon Guico III tells the crowd during the inauguration of the first provincial museum that features historical, anthropological, cultural, industries, contemporary arts and religious artifacts, among others.
The story is told through 11 galleries that taps technology to bring to life the past and the present.
The galleries feature ancient to modern periods, starting from when the legendary warrior Princess Urduja was said to rule over the province in 1300, to when Chinese pirates established a domain somewhere in Lingayen in 1500, to when the Spanish reigned in the province, and up to contemporary times.
“This is a proud moment for us,” Guico remarks as he stresses the importance of the museum, adding that “if we do not look back and institutionalize our past, we may be lost as people of Pangasinan.”
Vice Gov. Mark Lambino says the museum is a realization of a plan that he and Guico discussed when they were campaigning last year.
“We talked about what is in Pangasinan that we can be proud of. Now, we are showcasing some, if not all, of the cultural heritage of the province,” Lambino says.
For Emmanuel Franco Calairo, chair of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, there’s much more to see and enjoy at the museum, noting that it preserves the memory of the past.
Tour of Banaan
Calairo underscores the role of present generations in establishing museums “because histories will be lost because of several hazards like industrialization that invades agricultural and historic sites and technology.”
A tour of Banaan starts through a massive wooden door that leads to the lobby, which features Pangasinan’s two major landscapes: salt farms in the west and a green rice field framed at the back with bolo bamboos in the central part.
The ground floor has three galleries, one of which has walls adorned by Pangasinan maps showing the congressional districts, a video on how coastal residents turn seawater into salt, and central Pangasinan folk creating furniture and useful articles for the house and the farm, from bamboo.
On the ground floor, the “Kaluyágan Art Exhibit” showcases local artists’ paintings and other works that are for sale.
The staircase leading to the second floor is just one of the few original parts of Casa Real that survived looting. It is, after all, made of weighty “piedra China” or granite stones used as ballasts for Chinese ships and galleons.
All the original balusters, however, were gone, and the replacements are replicas.
“These are the stairs that American Judge William Taft used when he visited the Casa Real,” the tour guide notes.
Taft and his commissioners visited Lingayen on Feb. 16, 1901, and were given a grand reception at Casa Real. Historians said the Taft Commission organized Pangasinan as a civil province.
More themed galleries occupy the second floor. One gallery is titled “Water by the Hands of Ama Gaolay” and features natural heritage, ecotourism and flora and fauna.
“The Descendants of Apolaqui ‘’ gallery displays artifacts from prehistory, archaeology, myths, and legends.
Replicas of the locomotive (train) and Pantranco (the first provincial bus that traveled from Dagupan City to Manila) are displayed. Also featured are the ox-pulled carts called cattle caravans that used to bring native products to Metro Manila and other provinces.
Pangasinenses who carved a name in politics and the arts are given their place of honor at the museum.
These include Geronima Pecson, the country’s first female senator; Maria Magsanoc, a novelist/writer and leader of the Women Suffragists of the Ilocos region; and former President Fidel V. Ramos.
Also given a place of honor are National Artists F. Sionil Jose (literary), Victorio Edades (visual arts), Salvador Bernal (theater design), and Fernando Poe Jr. (film).
Restoration work that started in 2015 through the efforts of Bataoil, the provincial government, and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, had tried to be as faithful to Casa Real’s original design as possible.
By 2019, Casa Real was ready to be reintroduced to the public but its inauguration had to be delayed as the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
READ: Reviving Casa Real