AERA Memorial Museum (Villa Escudero Plantation & Resort, San Pablo, Laguna)

Part of day tour package of Villa Escudero Plantation & Resort included admission to the resort’s AERA Memorial Museum which houses the priceless collections of Arsenio and Rosario (nee Adap) Escudero.  Begun on June 29, 1923, it is run by the AERA (acronym of the founders’ names) Memorial Foundation.  It is housed in an exact replica of the beautiful San Francisco Church of Intramuros.  The original church was destroyed by heavy American artillery bombardment on February 3, 1945 during the liberation of Manila and the site is now occupied by Mapua Institute of Technology. 

The pink-colored  building took 10 years to build on a massive 7-ft. thick concrete foundation and has a high 200-sq. ft. ceiling with trompe l’ oeil paintings by Benny Cabezada.  Attached to the ceiling are ten chandeliers copied from an Arte Espanol original.  Its display arrangement was said to have taken 3 years to complete.  Ninety percent of the display is family-owned while the rest were donated or acquired by the foundation.

AERA Memorial Museum

The museum’s collection of religious art is its main attraction.   A wooden bas-relief of the Nuestra Senora de Augustia, donated by my late uncle and National Artist, Arch. Leandro V. Locsin, is located by the massive  ornate door made in 1768.  By the way, cameras and videocams are not allowed.   A kamagongSto. Entierro (glass bier of the Dead Christ, circa 1856) carriage fashioned by noted sculptor, Isabelo Tampingco, was formerly from the Sta. Cruz Church of Manila.  It is adorned with 24 batikuling (a local aromatic softwood) cherubs and was donated by Dona Maria Luisa Quiogue (of the funeral parlor chain).

Other displays include an ivory-headed statue of Virgen Dolorosa from a church in Marinduque, a Pieta by Ireneo Cristobal, rows of ivory-headed santos, a granite Chinese fu dog guarding the staircase, an ornate wrought iron pulpit (raised platform used by a preacher) on the right side of the nave, silver sanctuary lamps, statues of Christ with the Cross on his Second Fall, a statue of Christ embracing a molave Cross, silver main altar acquired from Quiapo parish in the 1960s and a massive retablo (altar backdrop) from Agno (Pangasinan).
Its non-religious collection includes a couple of 1,400-year old and 1.5-ft. high Chinese Tsu-Chao jars, 12th and 13th century celadon pottery, tear vials of early Roman aristocrats, gilded carrozas (Spanish carriages), life-size dioramas of ethnic tribes in authentic costumes, ethnic artifacts and clothing, antique furniture, paintings, a numismatic display of obsolete coins and money, U.S. astronaut suits, a Philippine and African beetle collection and an extensive freshwater, terrestrial and marine shell collection (including the rare “Golden Cowrie”). 
Next to it are a dioramas of stuffed rare and some already extinct Philippine fauna. The only foreign stuffed animal is a big leopard shot during the 1923 Manila Carnival for attacking and killing a dancer.  It was later bought by the Escuderos and mounted.   A properly identified 22,000-piece butterfly collection is at the ground floor gallery.  A walk through our country’s political history is revealed in the display of inaugural suits and gowns of all the past twelve Philippine presidents and their First Ladies, from Emilio Aguinaldo to Corazon Aquino.  There are also costumes of former beauty queens.  Outside are World War II weapons and relics including tanks and cannons.
For me, the most unusual (and grotesque) item in the collection is an amazingly preserved, fist-size shrunken head from the Upper Amazon River Indians of Ecuador.  A trophy of war and bravery, it was acquired from a Swedish collector.  Another unusual item is a pen-and-ink portrait of Christ which was donated by an American couple in 1970 and surrounded by cherubs.  I took a closer look with a magnifying glass and it revealed an actual text of the New Testament, from the first word to the last.  

Villa Escudero Plantation & Resort: San Pablo City, Laguna.  Manila booking office: 1059 Estrada St., Malate, Manila.  Tel: (632) 521-0830, 523-0392 and 523-2944. Website:

Villa Escudero Plantation & Resort (San Pablo City, Quezon)

It was time for our annual R.R. Payumo & Partners office outing and management decided on a  day tour of Villa Escudero Plantation & Resort, an exotic 450-hectare Class “AA” resort opened in 1981.  A favorite destination among local and foreign tourists, it is situated within a vast 800-hectare (2,000-acre), self-contained working coconut plantation that encompasses San Pablo City (where most of its land belongs) in Laguna and the towns of Dolores and Tiaong in Quezon.  A total of 18 office staff joined (Annie Guevara, Vangie Vargas, Nelson Valdez, Toots Gomez, Eric Tinio, Mario de Padua, Ading Aquino, Mario Nabor, among others).

Arrival at the resort

Our trip, via a chartered bus, took all of 2.5 hrs. via the South Expressway and the highway to Lucena City.  About 10 kms. (6.2 miles) south of San Pablo City, we entered the Laguna-Quezon (Tiaong) border arch and, a few hundred past the arch, on the left, is the entrance to the resort. Upon arrival, we were welcomed at the reception hall with a warm greeting and cool native sago or fruit drinks.

Our carabao cart ride

After our welcome, we were uniquely toured around the park-like setting of the resort via a large, festively-decorated and carabao-pulled cart (aptly named Macho).  Along the way, local female folk singers serenaded us with Filipino songs to the accompaniment of a male guitarist.  All are appropriately dressed in native costumes: the women in baro’t saya or kimona and the men in camisa de chino and colorful trousers. Truly a laid-back and unique countryside experience in a serene pastoral atmosphere.

Labasin Hydroelectric Dam

Later, we had a delicious native-style buffet lunch beside the man-made  Labasin Waterfalls, actually the spillway of the Labasin hydroelectric dam. We all sat at rows of shaded wood and bamboo dining tables with 8 inches of running spring waters swirling around the calves of our bare feet, a truly singular and memorable experience as we dined al fresco with the falls as a backdrop.  The Labasin dam also created a long, narrow and deep artificial lake or reservoir from the waters of the Lagnas River.  Filled with dalag (mudfish) and tilapia, fishing is offered here but we opted to avail  of the relaxing bamboo raft ride at this lake which was included in the day tour.

Frolicking at Labasin Falls

Villa Escudero Plantation & Resort: San Pablo City, Laguna.  Manila booking office: 1059 Estrada St., Malate, Manila.  Tel: (632) 521-0830, 523-0392 and 523-2944.  Website: