Church of the Immaculate Conception and Fort Culion (Culion, Palawan)

The Church of the Immaculate Conception

The Church of the Immaculate Conception

From the town proper, we all boarded tricycles to take us, up a high promontory, to the town’s magnificent Church of the Immaculate Conception, originally built in 1746 by the Recollects.  It is located within the quadrilateral Fort Culion which was built in 1683 by Fr. Juan de Severo and renovated in 1740.

The church promontory

The church promontory

The fort was partially demolished in the 1930s by American Jesuit Fr. Hugh McNutty to build a larger church, with some of the fort’s original coral rock  used for the nave.  The church was completed in 1933.  Both the fort and church share the same main entrance.

Royal seal of King Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain

Royal seal of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain

The church’s 2-level Baroque facade has semicircular arched main entrance flanked by pilasters and topped by the royal seal of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The entrance, in turn, is flanked by niches with statues of angels.

The church's interior

The church’s interior

The second level has a centrally located niche with the statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception flanked by semicircular arch windows.  Above is a segmental (half-moon) pediment with a centrally located oculus. On the church’s right is a bell tower.

Part of the remaining fort walls

Part of the remaining fort walls

The painted ceiling inside the church is obviously new, but before it was repainted, the original ceiling was painted in 1978 by leper patient Ben Amores, based on the design of Jesuit Fr. Javier Olazabal.  To do the paintings, the handicapped Amores, who had no hands, had brushes tied to his arms and was lifted up. In 2003, Jesuit Fr. Gabriel Gonzalez initiated the restoration and renovation of the church.

One of the fort's two remaining cannons

One of the fort’s two remaining cannons

Today, only a round bastion (turned into a lighthouse), with two carriage-less Spanish-era cannons (one I noticed had 1762A stamped on it, probably indicating the year it was cast), located behind the church sanctuary, and part of the wall are all that remains of Fort Culion.  Here, the view of the ocean and Culion town is spectacular.

Our media group at the fort's remaining round bastion

Our media group at the fort’s remaining round bastion

View of the town and sea from the bastion

View of the town and sea from the bastion

Culion Tourism Office:  mobile number: (0921) 394-7106 (Pastor Hermie Villanueva). E-mail:

How to Get There: Culion is a 1.5 to 2-hour motorized outrigger boat ride from Coron town.

How to Get to Coron: Skyjet Airlines has 4 times weekly (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, 10:30 AM) flights from Manila (NAIA Terminal 4) to Coron (Francisco Reyes Airport).  Travel time is 30 mins.   

Asia Grand View Hotel: Governor’s Ave., Jolo, Brgy. 5, Coron, Palawan.  Tel:(+632) 788-3385. Mobile number: (0999) 881-7848. E-mail: Manila sales office: Unit 504, Richmonde Plaza, 21 San Miguel Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig City.  Tel: (+632) 695-3078 and 531-8380.  Mobile number: (0917) 550-7373 to 75 Fax: (+632) 695-3078.  E-mail: Website: 

Skyjet Airlines: Manila Domestic Airport, Parking A, Terminal 4, NAIA Complex, Brgy. 191, Pasay City, Metro Manila. Tel: (02) 863-1333. E-mail: Website:

The Mansion (Baguio City, Benguet)

At the end of the Pool of Pines was The Mansion (formerly called the Mansion House), the Philippine president’s palatial official summer residence and, easily, one of the most visited and photographed landmarks of Baguio City.  Consisting of an elegantly designed, Spanish Colonial Revival-style main building and a guest house, it was designed by French-educated, New York based American architect William E. Parsons and started in 1907 to be the official summer residence of U.S. Governor-Generals.

The Mansion

The Mansion

The site selected was Outlook Point at the edge of the Pacdal Plateau.  Its name is derived from the New England summer ancestral home U.S. Governor-General William Cameron Forbes in the family-owned Naushon Island near the Massachusetts coast, under whose administration the original Mansion House was built. On March 21, 1908, at the onset of summer, the household of Governor-General James Francis Smith moved into the Mansion House. From March 19 to April 28, 1910, the meeting of the Second Philippine Legislature was held at the Mansion House.

Mansion House (24)

With the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935, the Mansion House, along with Malacañan Palace, was turned over to the Philippine president. The High Commissioner to the Philippines Paul V. McNutt, the successor to the Governor-General as the highest American official in the Philippines and representative of the United States Government, then built The American Residence, completed in 1940 at Camp John Hay.

Almira and Jandy along C.P. Romulo Drive

Almira and Jandy along C.P. Romulo Drive

During the Second World War, the Mansion House was badly damaged due to constant bombing and strafing but, in 1947, it was rebuilt at a cost of PhP80,000 and improved, with additional guest rooms and conference rooms constructed. Since then, it has served as the holiday home and working office for each President of the Philippines during his or her visits to Baguio City.

The tall and ornate iron gates of The Mansion

The tall and ornate iron gates of The Mansion

The Mansion House was also used as the venue of important events. In 1947, it served as the seat of the second session of of the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE). The next year, it was the site of the second session of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and, in 1950, the first meeting of the Southeast Asian Union (SEAU), more commonly known as the Baguio Conference of 1950, was conceived and convened by President Elpidio Quirino.

Albert, Melissa, Almira and Jandy posing in front of the gate

Albert, Melissa, Almira and Jandy posing in front of the gate

Parts of the Mansion House are open to tourists. As always, there were lots of tourists taking turns posing in front of its tall and ornate, main gate, still one of the most photographed sections of the property. Made of ornate ironwork, the front gate was earlier falsely reported as a replica of one of the main gates at Buckingham Palace in London. A contingent of Philippine Marines maintains the security of this large compound and we saw some of them manning the guardhouse at the vicinity of the entry gate.

The plaque, in English, installed by the National Historical Institute

The plaque, in English, installed by the National Historical Institute

Mounted on the gate posts are 2 historical markers unveiled by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the National Historical Institute (now the National Historical Commission of the Philippineson December 30, 2008 (the centenary of the Mansion House), one in English and the other containing the text translated in Filipino, both detailing the structure’s history.  On January 16, 2009, the board of the National Historical Institute, through Resolution No. 1, s. 2009, declared the Mansion House as a National Historical Landmark.

The NHI plaque, this time in Tagalog

The NHI plaque, this time in Tagalog

Some official government vehicles entered the compound by passing through a great circular driveway. Within the compound and adjacent to the Mansion is a two-story building which serves as the official residence of the Philippine President. Nearby is a small amphitheater. As the President was not in residence, Jandy, Almira, Albert, Melissa and I, as well as other tourists, were allowed to enter a little past the gates, posing in front of its beautiful gardens and well-manicured lawn, also a favorite site for sightseeing and picture taking.

The author and Jandy

The author and Jandy

Tourists can also visit the Mansion House’s museum, a branch museum of  the Malacañang Museum (now the Presidential Museum and Libraryestablished on May 18, 2010 by virtue of Executive Order No. 880.  The museum  houses presidential memorabilia and works of art collected over its years by former presidents.

The beautiful gardens and well-manicured lawn of The Mansion

The beautiful gardens and well-manicured lawn of The Mansion

The Mansion: C.P. Romulo Drive (formerly a part of Leonard Wood Rd.), 2600 Baguio City, Benguet.

The Ruins (Talisay City, Negros Occidental)

The highlight of our Silay Heritage Tour was our visit to The Ruins in nearby Talisay City.  Here, a wacky, English and Tagalog-speaking tour guide narrated to visitors the fascinating tale of The Ruins, injecting humor along the way.

The Ruins - the Taj Mahal of Negros

The Ruins – the Taj Mahal of Negros

The Ruins is what remains of the grand, 2-storey mansion that Negrense sugar baron, Don Mariano “Anoy” Ledesma Lacson (1865-1948) built in the middle of his 440-hectare sugar cane plantation in the early 1920s, following the death of his first wife, Maria Braga, a Portuguese from Macau who died in an accident while pregnant with their 11th child. Don Mariano is the youngest of the 8 children of Lucio Lacson and Clara Ledesma from Molo, Iloilo.

Our tour guide explaining the history of The Ruins

Our tour guide explaining the history of The Ruins

He later remarried, this time to Concepcion Diaz from Talisay, adding 3 more children to his existing brood of 10 (which included Rafael Lacson, the former governor of Negros Occidental). It became the residence of Don Mariano and his unmarried children. After drawing lots, Don Manuel’s sugar plantation was divided among the 10 children by his first wife Maria and  the mansion went to Mercedes Lacson who married Manuel Javellana from Jaro District in Iloilo.

The interior of The Ruins

The interior of The Ruins

Later, the land was again divided into equal parts among the couple’s 12 children and the 3.6 hectares that included the mansion was given to Ramon Javellana. Raymund Javellana, one of Ramon’s children, thought of restoring the mansion and converting it to a tourist spot but the mansion remained abandoned for 67 years until they started to develop it on May 2007.  On January 2008, it was officially opened to the public as a tourist attraction.

The main entrance

The main entrance

The 903 sq. m., 10-room (8 rooms for their children, a master’s bedroom and a family room) mansion, of Italianate architecture, has twin Neo-Romanesque columns with the first letters of the names of Don Manuel and Dona Maria engraved onto the mansion’s posts.  They actually looked like Es that face each other.

The mansion grounds

Cheska, Marve, Kyle and Grace at the mansion grounds

Facing the main door, the boys’ and girls’ bedrooms, at the ground and second floors respectively, were all located on the left side. The master’s bedroom and the family room were both located upstairs and facing west, on the left and right, respectively. A small arched window, between the kitchen and the dining area, facilitated the movement of food, minimizing the servants going in and out of the kitchen.

The "M" moldings

The “M” moldings

The picturesque mansion, one of the top 12 fascinating ruins in the world and the Taj Mahal of Negros, has many interesting tales to tell.  Its top edges also feature a shell-inspired decor which, in New England, indicates that the homeowner is a ship captain. At the glassed-in sunroom with bay windows, Don Mariano would be often seen sitting as he viewed ships that come and go along the coastal waters of Talisay. Maria Braga’s father was also a ship captain.  Again, in keeping with the marine theme, the mansion’s second story also features a belvedere, between the master’s and family room  and also facing the west, where the family would gather to watch the sunset.

The restaurant dining area

The restaurant dining area

Felipe, one of Don Manuel’s sons, supervised the continuous concrete mixing and pouring, done 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  This ensured that the concrete was very compact and that no air got in, resulting in the high-quality strength of the structure.  The concrete mixture also incorporated egg whites which, to this day, visitors can still see the gloss or shine on the mansion’s walls because of it.

The remains of the stairs

The remains of the stairs

In 1942, during the Japanese occupation in the early part of World War II, the mansion was reduced to its skeletal frame when USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East) guerillas set the mansion ablaze, with the consent of Don Manuel, so it would not be used as headquarters by the Japanese forces.

Detail of column capital

Detail of column capital

The mansion’s roof, ceiling and the 2-inch thick, meter wide and approximately 20.5 m. long, jointless wooden floors, extending from the main entrance up to the end of the dining area, were all burned during the non-stop, 3-day fire but the foundations remained standing, thanks to its oversized steel bar reinforcement and the meticulous way of pouring the A-grade mixture.  The original Spanish machuca floor tiles, the hardest and most expensive during that time, also survived.

Detail of arch

Detail of arch

The original, 4-tiered fountain outside the mansion was, in its heyday, surrounded by a beautiful lily garden maintained by a Japanese gardener who, following the burning of the mansion, mysteriously disappeared.   Today, its landscaped garden draws various inspirations – from formal English to Japanese-inspired gardens.

The original 4-tier fountain

The original 4-tier fountain

Viewed just outside the mansion, with a tree on top, is the chimney (simborio) of the muscovado sugar mill (where the juice of the sugarcane is extracted) of the family’s sugar farm. From the mill, the extracted sugarcane juice is then transferred to large vats, heated and then cooled to produce the sugar crystals.

Exterior detail

Exterior detail

Inside The Ruins is a semi-fine dining restaurant (offering Mediterranean cuisine), a mini-bar and a souvenir shop while around it are modern additions – an 18-hole mini golf course, a snack bar and newly built toilets that still use the mansion’s original septic tank.

Belvedere detail

Belvedere detail

Aside from tours and dining, The Ruins are also be used for special events such as weddings, family reunions, pre-nuptial pictorials, etc.  There are also a stall selling Erv’s sugar cane juice, camping and picnic grounds, bath houses and a pavilion. Also within the grounds is a 3 m. high obelisk,the Landmark Award of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineering (PICE). Too bad, we left at 5 PM.  According to our guide, you will see the building glow from the sunset around 5:30 PM.

The simborio

The simborio

The Ruins: Open daily, 8:30 AM to 8 PM. Tel: (034) 476 4334. Admission: PhP60 (adults), PhP40 (students) and PhP30 (children).



Echo Valley (Sagada, Mountain Province)

After checking in to our rooms at Alapo’s View Inn, we rested for a while then assembled at the ground floor for our guided tour of the lush and picturesque Echo Valley, one of the most popular hikes in Sagada.  Though it wasn’t our first visit (Jandy and I have visited it twice before), it would be the first for most of the group. We conveniently wore shorts and slippers and brought along our jackets, water bottle and my camera.  From our inn, we all entered the compound of St. Joseph’s Resthouse and St. Joe’s Cafe, then crossed the road to the grounds of the Anglican Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the oldest church in the Cordilleras outside of Baguio City.  Here, we already noticed the huge number of people also undertaking this introductory tour of Sagada.

Echo Valley and its famed hanging coffins

Further up the St. Mary High School gate, past the basketball court, Centennial Bell and the Sagada Cooperative Store, we climbed paved steps up to the Sagada Cemetery which has 14 Stations of the Cross and is marked with a huge cross.  I asked the guide if he knew where the burial plot of Eduardo Masferre, the famous photographer who died in 1995, was but he was just as unknowing as I was.  Well, maybe next time.  William Henry Scott, the American historian who died in 1993, is also buried here.

Sagada Cemetery
The cemetery has a fine view of the northern valley. Further up the cemetery is Calvary, the cemetery’s highest point.  From Calvary, we went down a narrow, steep dirt path to Echo Valley.  Along the way, we espied, on the left side, a 40-ft. high cliff where the Sagada rock climbing tour is conducted (PhP250/pax).  Sagada, with lots of cliffs and rock formations, is one of the few Philippine destinations that offer the fairly young sport of natural rock climbing.
Sagada Rock Climbing Tour
At the valley’s vantage point, some of our companions shouted out loud to hear their echo while others just admired the pleasant scenery.  From afar, we could already see 2 clusters of the town’s famed hollow-log “hanging coffins” or kuongs.
Aldrin and Jandy at the vantage point
From the valley, we again made a steep hike down, to the “hanging coffins” located on large limestone cliffs at the opposite side.  The few “death chairs” (sangadil) placed next to the hanging coffins were still there.
It was already starting to rain when we made our way back up the valley and the path was already becoming slippery.  Our jackets, made just for cold protection, was soon soaked inside and out and we were soon drenched when we arrived at the church and sought refuge inside.  Here, we waited for the rains to subside before making our way back to the inn.

A Walking Tour of Escolta (Manila)

I have been dying to do a walking tour of Escolta, Manila’s historic version of High Street. During the Spanish era, this short (less than a kilometer long) stretch was linedwith rows of camarines (1-storey Chinese shops). On his way to his office in Intramuros from Malacanang, the Spanish governor-general would usually pass here with his escolta (official escorts), hence the derivation of its name (from the Spanish word escortar meaning “to escort”).  Later, these camarines along Calle Escolta were replaced by bahay-na-bato  (stone houses) adorned with Neo-Classical elements such as Greek columns and caryatids and, towards the end of the Spanish regime, by European establishments, the only ones permitted to do business along the cobblestones (imported from Hong Kong) of this narrow, historic thoroughfare.

Escolta – A shadow of its former self
From the early 1900’s to the 1960s, Escolta was the country’s premier shopping mecca, with high-end stores such as La Estrella del Norte and Puerta del Sol, which marked the east and west entrances of Escolta.  It is also home to H.E. Heacocks and Oceanic (for fine household items);  Berg’s (for fashionable clothes);  Hamilton Brown and Walk-Over Shoe Store (for quality leather shoes); 2 high-class cinema theaters (Capitol and Lyric) which brought the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to Manila; restaurants (Henry’s Donuts, Max’s Fried Chicken, Dencia’s Pansit Malabon, Savory Restaurant, etc.); and Botica Boie (for mixed potent medicines).  Founded in 1830, the latter also served the best ice cream sodas, brewed coffee and clubhouse sandwiches in its glass-in mezzanine overlooking the street.  With the emergence of commercial and business districts of Makati and Quezon City, the prestige of Escolta gradually faded.
The First United and Regina Buildings

Needing to buy some lighting fixtures along nearby Soler St., I decided to include a visit to Escolta  in my itinerary.  From Gil Puyat Ave., I took the LRT and dropped off at Carriedo Station.  The first notable piece of architecture I encountered was the Neo-Classical-style Don Roman R. Santos Building, fronting Plaza Lacson (formerly Plaza Goiti).  When the Japanese bombed the city during World War II, only 3 of its 5 floors were finished.  Luckily, it survived and the building was finished in 1957.  The building once housed the headquarters of Monte de Piedad and Prudential Bank and, later, a shopping mall (South Super Mart).  When the mall closed, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) took over the building. Its entrance has Ionic columns with a triangular pediment, within which is a big clock flanked by bas-relief sculptures.

Don Roman R. Santos Building

Both ends of Escolta open into impressive open spaces  (Plaza Sta. Cruz and Plaza Moraga).  Though no longer the premier shopping district it used to be, strolling along Escolta is still a rewarding experience as one could still find traces of its glorious past.  Uponcrossing the little Visita Bridge spanning Estero de la Reina, at the Sta. Cruz entrance of Escolta, I was attracted by 2 impressive, eye-catching (though marred by entangled electrical cables) buildings facing each other – the fancy, Art Deco-style First United Building and the elegant Beaux Arts-style Regina Building.

First United Building
The pink and white First United Building, formerly the Perez-Samanillo Building, is one of the few surviving examples of the Art Deco architectural style in Manila. Built in 1928 by Andres Luna de San Pedro (Juan Luna’s son), it’s awesome façade has a large amount of architectural and decorative elements.  Its central bay rises towards a crowning block rendered with a bas-relief of the Creation. Once described as Manila’s foremost business address, it prides itself with providing maximized space, abundant lighting and ventilation to its tenants.
Regina Building
The graceful, white Neo-Classical-style Regina Building, built in 1934, its design (with traces of Renaissance Revival) also attributed to Andres Luna de San Pedro, was originally designed as a 3-storey commercial building. A fourth floor was added by Arch. Fernando H. Ocampo (founder of the UST College of Architecture and designer of the UST Central Seminary and the 8th Manila Cathedral) when the de Leon family bought the building from the Roxases. The staff of the late Sen. Vicente Madrigal (grandfather of Sen. Jamby Madrigal) rented a suite in this building.  Also on the same floor, across the hall, was the office of Madrigal Shipping, then the world’s largest tramp steamship company.
Burke Building

Further out was the Burke Building, with its simple balance lines.  Built in 1919, it was named after the cardiologist William J. Burke who introduced and installed the first electrocardiograph in the country.  Also a philanthropist, he donated the land for the street (Calle David, renamed W. Burke St. in 1990).  The first Otis elevator in the Philippines was installed in this building.

Natividad Building

The charming, Beaux Arts-style Natividad Building, one of the most beautiful landmarks in the area, is one of the oldest buildings along Escolta.  It was burned during the 1945 Battle of Manila (leaving only its exterior shell) and was later restored.  In the 1950s, this building housed the office of the Insurance Commission.  Its alluring, ivory and white-colored facade, evocative of a French café in a Parisian neighborhood, has four levels alternately decorated with arched and square windows with cornices with tooth-like dentils underneath it.

Calvo Building

The stunning, Beaux Arts-style Calvo Building, built in 1938 by Mr. Edificio Calvo, was also designed by Arch. Fernando Ocampo.  The richly-decorated facade at the second level has arched windows (except at the truncated corner) flanked by Ionic pilasters, above which is a cornice embellished by garlands and gracefully broken, in alternating sections, by cartouches supported by corbels above the window’s arch.

The truncated corner

This 4-storey building once housed the Philippine Bank of Commerce, the popular MV Villar Records Store and the original radio station of Robert “Uncle Bob” Stewart’s Channel 7. On its roof deck was Luisa, a popular soda fountain. Today, Mercury Drug and Tropical Hut flank the entrance to the building, with Wah Yuen Hot Pot and Seafood Restaurant in its Calle Soda side. Its mezzanine  is home to the little-known Escolta Museum.

Cartouche above the arched window

Across the street from the Calvo Building is the decaying and dilapidated shell of the majestic, Mesopotanian-inspired Art Deco-style Capitol Theater. Built in the 1935, this theater, designed by National Artist Arch. Juan Nakpil, had a seating capacity of 800 and an unusual double balcony.  Its lobby once mounted a beautiful wall mural by the late Filipino modernist and National Artist Victorio C. Edades. Now abandoned, it ceased operations in the late 1980s.

Capitol Theater
On the face of its western tower were bas-reliefs, evocative of Art Deco lines and curves, showing Filipinas (one holding a mask and another holding a lyre) in traje de mestiza frame and set in a tropical landscape, attributed to the Italian atelier of Francesco Ricardo Monti. The bigger, 1600-pax Lyric Theater, another Art Deco masterpiece designed by Modernist Arch. Pablo S. Antonio, was demolished in the early 1980s.
Burke Building: 321 W. Burke St., cor, Escolta St., Binondo, Manila
Calvo Building: 266 Escolta St. cor. Calle Soda, Binondo, Manila.  Tel: (632) 241-4762.
First United Building: 413 Escolta cor. David St., Binondo, Manila.
Natividad Building: Escolta cor. Tomas Pinpin St., Binondo Manila
Regina Building: W. Burke St., cor, Escolta St., Binondo, Manila
Roman S. Santos Building: Escolta cor. Yuchengco St., Binondo, Manila

Gota de Leche Building: A Heritage Conservation Success Story

Early this year, Jandy and I happen to attend a Heritage Conservation Society seminar held at the historic, nicely-preserved, American-era  Gota de Leche Heritage Building, within Manila’s “University Belt” (adjacent to the University of the East). In attendance were HCS President Arch. Nathaniel “Dinky” A. von Einsiedel (my former boss and wedding godfather married to my first cousin), HCS Chairperson Ms. Gemma Cruz-Araneta, Arch. Fernando “Butch” Nakpil-Zialcita, Ivan Anthony S. Henares and Ivan ManDy.   The Heritage Conservation Society advocates the preservation of our built heritage, cultural and historical sites and settings.  The iconic building where the seminar was held, the last remaining heritage property of value along historic Lepanto St., is an inspiring success story that should be emulated in the preservation of Metro Manila’s endangered heritage.

The iconic Gota de Leche Building

Gota de Leche (Spanish for “drop of milk”), the first and oldest nonsectarian charitable organization in the country, was founded in 1905 by the Asociacion Feminista Filipina, a women’s movement in the Philippines. At that time, women didn’t have equal rights and were dependent on their husbands.  This group, devoted to mother-and-child health, included educated women such as Concepcion Felix (the first Filipina to earn a college degree), Librada Avelino (founder of Centro Escolar University), Justice Natividad Almeda Lopez (the first Filipina to practice law  and president of Gota de Leche for more than 40 years) and Filomena Francisco (the first woman pharmacist).


Part of a worldwide movement to help children whose mothers couldn’t breastfeed, Gota de Leche (also known by its institutionalized name La Proteccion de la Infancia, Inc. or LPI) established, among many things, a milk station for infants since the number of cases of beriberi, malnutrition, and child mortality was alarmingly high. Its impressive operation involved cow owners who donated extra milk (bottled and delivered to Gota de Leche in calesas).  San Miguel provided the ice to prevent spoilage and electricity and water was free. Famous Dr. Fernando Calderon, a leading Filipino obstetrician during the American colonial period and the first director of the Philippine General Hospital, also lent his time to the institution.

The colonnaded main entrance

During its heyday, Gota de Leche fed 500 to 1,000 babies per week. Today, during feeding sessions held every Thursday (with a volunteer pediatrician on hand), its feeding program provides 2 kgs. of powdered milk per person  and every month, the institution spends a total of PhP60,000 on ten 25-kg. sacks of milk. Once the babies are no longer malnourished, a 4-man staff monitors the height and weight of children who “graduate” from the feeding program.

NHI plaque (1977)
NHI plaque (2003)

The iconic, 2-storey building which housed this movement (which moved here from its original home along Evangelista St. in Quiapo) was designed by architects Arcadio Arellano and his younger U.S.-educated brother Juan Arellano (he would later designed the Manila Central Post Office Building and the Metropolitan Theater).  The building, patterned after the Osepedale Degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents), a still-existing orphanage designed by renowned Italian Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi from 1419 to 1427 in Florence (Italy), was adapted for the tropics.

Statue of a nursing angel

Erected on a parcel of land donated by bachelor industrialist and philanthropist Teodoro R. Yangco, it was completed in 1917 and survived World War II, earthquakes, fires and floods.  To the right of the building’s colonnaded, semicircular arched main entrance is a 5-bay loggia (Brunelleschi’s building had 9 bays) with round, monolithic columns with Classical capitals supporting a semicircular arch.  Above each column are circular tondi (roundels) featuring reliefs of infants in swaddling clothes (symbolizing the function of the building) set in spandrels (the space between arches).

The colonnaded facade’s semicircular arches and tondi

In 2002, the dilapidated building was restored to its original 1917 appearance by a team led by Arch. Augusto Villalon (his grandfather Dr. Jose Fabella was once Gota de Leche president), a member of the HCS Board of Trustees and the project’s lead conservation architect and project coordinator. The rental building, an unsympathetic addition attached to it in the recent past, was removed, providing vehicular access and clear sight lines from the street.  The original landscaping was also restored by landscape architect Ms. Ani Katrina de Leon.  In repairing the dilapidated building, traditional crafts and skills were undertaken within a clear and low-intervention conservation framework.

The Italian Renaissance-inspired, 5-bay loggia

The following year, this restoration project was awarded an honorable mention by  Dr. Richard Engelhardt, regional adviser for culture in the Asia-Pacific, during the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation, thus putting the Philippines’ heritage efforts in the world map and the building in the international heritage roster. A part of the building’s space is leased to a woman’s rights non-government organization and its main facilities and grounds are rented out for private functions.

The building’s interior
Gota de Leche: 859 Sergio H. Loyola St. (formerly Lepanto St.), Sampaloc, Manila. Tel: (632) 309-4562.
Heritage Conservation Society: G/F, Museo Pambata Bldg., Roxas Blvd., Ermita, Manila. Tel: (632) 353-4494.  Fax: (632) 522-2497.  Website:


New Year’s Countdown at Manila Hotel

Last New Year, my family and I tried tried something new and different, spending the start of the year outside the country, firecracker-free in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a first for all of us.  We just watched the fireworks at the Petronas Towers.  This year, we still had the same mindset, opting again to spend it outside our home (but not outside the country), this time a New Year’s countdown at the prestigious Manila Hotel for an incomparable evening of feast and festivities in a manner worthy of the country’s oldest bastion of hospitality.

Manila  Hotel – the Grande Dame of Manila

The Manila Hotel was opened for the first time to the public on July 4, 1912.  The original US$700,000 hotel, also the country’s first air-conditioned building, was designed in the California Missionary-style by American architect William E. Parsons in 1910.  At the time, this magnificent, white, green-tile-roofed edifice had 149 spacious, high-ceiling rooms. Its fifth floor penthouse, designed by Arch. Andres Luna de San Pedro (son of painter Juan Luna), was, from 1935 to 1941, the home of Gen. Douglas MacArthur (its first chairman of the board), his wife Jean and son Arthur.

The hotel’s beautiful lobby

The hotel played host to author Ernest Hemingway (who said “Its a good story if it’s like Manila Hotel”), actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Edward (Prince of Wales), playwright Claire Boothe Luceand, during the Japanese Occupation,  Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita.  During the liberation of Manila, it was severely damaged by room-to-room fighting.  Reopened on July 4, 1946, it hosted author James A. Michener; actors Bob Hope, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, John Wayne, Tyrone Power and Burgess Meredith; U.S. Secretary John Foster Dulles; Sen. Robert F. Kennedy; British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, the Rockefeller brothers, Publisher Henry R. Luce, rock star Michael Jackson; U.S. Vice-Pres. Richard M. Nixon, U.S. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson, the Beatles and other notable personalities.

The lobby dressed up for the New Year countdown

In 1977, the hotel underwent a US$30,000,000 renovation with an 18-storey tower designed by the late National Artist Architect Leandro V. Locsin built behind the old building.  The lavish interiors were done by American Patricia and Dale Keller and the renovated hotel reopened on October 6, 1977.

The Sunset Suite

We made our own grand entrance at the hotel’s main lobby on the afternoon of the 31st of December.  The 125 ft. (38 m.) long by 25 ft. (7.6 m) wide main lobby, lined with white Doric columns, was designed, not only for making grand entrances, but for sitting as well, its furniture carved with Philippine mahogany.  The lobby floors were made with Philippine marble while the ceiling is lined with chandeliers made of brass, crystal and seashells. Traditional Filipino art also adorns its walls.

Cafe Ilang-Ilang’s Dessert Station

The hotel that day was 90% booked for the countdown, with a long queue at the check-in counter, and it took some time before we finally checked into our fourth floor Sunset Suite, one of 570  traditionally decorated and elegantly furnished rooms that reflect the hotel’s storied past blended with the conveniences of a modern luxury hotel. Our suite had 2 bedrooms, a dining area and a living area.  Amenities here include individually controlled central air conditioning, remote-control TV with cable channels, minibars, separate bath and toilet with extension phone, and secure in-room safes.

Grace, Cheska, the author and Jandy at Cafe Ilang-Ilang

Once settled in, we then went down for our crossover buffet dinner (6 PM to 9 PM) which extends through all the hotel’s celebrated food and beverage outlets: Cafe Ilang-Ilang, Champagne Room, Mabuhay Palace (an impeccable Chinese restaurant), Tap Room Bar and Lobby Lounge.  That night, it was not a choice of which restaurant to go to, but, rather, which restaurant to visit first.  We chose the famous Cafe Ilang-Ilang which was recently renovated and launched as a 3-period meal buffet restaurant. It opens to the newly renovated Pool and Garden areas and boasts of 9 live cooking stations.

The Tap Room Bar

Here, we faced a stunning and wide array of Filipino and international (Korean, Japanese, Indian, etc.) cuisine, tried-and-true dishes prepared by Filipino and foreign chefs, all backed by years of professional experience in acclaimed restaurants around the world.  To fully enjoy the cafe’s  stellar main courses, we ate small portions of everything.

The countdown begins …..

After our filling buffet dinner, we moved on to the Tap Room Bar for dessert and brewed coffee. We capped our evening with the New Year’s Countdown at the Lobby where, prior to bidding farewell to 2011 and counting the seconds to 2012, we enjoyed live entertainment, with music and dancing provided by the Filipinas Band.

The Filipinas Band
Manila Hotel: 1 Rizal Park, Ermita, Manila: Tel: 527-0011. Fax: 527-0022-24 & 527-1124.  Domestic Toll Free: 1-800-9-1888-0011.  Email: and  Website:

Sta. Cruz: Laguna’s Provincial Capitol

Laguna Provincial Capitol

It was already late in the afternoon when Jandy and I arrived at Sta. Cruz town, Laguna’s provincial capital and one of the province’s 2 main route centers (the other is San Pablo City). The health, education, transportation, commerce and social services center for the entire province, Sta. Cruz also serves as the business and commercial hub particularly for the predominantly rural northeastern towns of Cavinti, Famy, Luisiana, Mabitac, Majayjay, Nagcarlan, Pakil and Pangil.

Sta. Cruz Municipal Hall

Formerly a part of Lumban, it became a separate municipality in 1602 and was made into the provincial capital in 1858, replacing Pagsanjan.  This town is made famous for its delicious kesong puti (salty white cottage cheese).  This native delicacy, made from carabao’s milk, is cooked in large vats to which salt and vinegar is added till it curdles.  The cheese is then fermented, strained and molded and then individually wrapped in banana leaves.

Church of the Immaculate Conception

Upon arrival at the town, I parked the Revo across the blue and white municipal hall at the town plaza.  The town’s layout seems to be broader than most Laguna lakeside settlements. Sta. Cruz, however, has no natural tourist attractions, only man-made.   Near the plaza is the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

Check out  Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

Old Provincial Capitol Building

After merienda at a MacDonald’s outlet nearby, we proceeded to visit the Provincial Capitol Building along P. Guevarra St..  Also within the compound is the old provincial capitol.  Our visit to Sta. Cruz capped our Laguna joy ride and we proceeded on our 87-km. drive back to Manila.

Mayor’s Office: Municipal Hall, Poblacion, Sta. Cruz,  Laguna.   Tel: (049) 808-1008


The Ancestral Houses of Pila (Laguna)

Pila Municipal Hall

Past the town of Victoria, we soon reached the Pila town proper (87 kms. from Manila) and its plaza lined with shady, giant talisay trees.  Surrounding it are quaint early 20th century, American-era ancestral houses and, finding them interesting, decided to make a long stopover here to explore the town further.  I parked my Toyota Revo at the Municipal Hall, a heritage building built in 1931 and faithfully restored by Mayor Edgardo Ramos.

Town Plaza

Pila is cited as one of the few intact examples of Spanish colonial town planning where the center of the town was the plaza complex surrounded by the church, tribunal, school and large ancestral houses of the town’s leading citizens.  On May 17, 2000, as a consequence of these efforts, Pila was declared as a National Historic Landmark (a status also enjoyed by Vigan City in Ilocos Sur, Silay City in Negros Occidental and Taal in Batangas) by the National Historical Institute (NHI) .

Pila’s ancestral homes

Unlike nearby Sta. Cruz and Pagsanjan towns which were reduced to rubble by American bombing, Pila survived the ravages of World War II because American bombers failed to spot it.  Because of this great piece of luck, Pila still boasts of 36 19th century and turn-of-the-century structures, 28 of them ancestral homes.  Mostly located in Brgy. Sta. Clara, many of these ancestral homes, a good number of which belong to the Agra, Alava, Dimaculangan, Relova and Rivera families, have withstood the test of time and are still well-preserved, with fresh coats of paint with pastel and cream colors.  These home owners take great pride in town’s old world charm and their rich and varied heritage.  Once parked, Jandy and I strolled along the town’s plaza and its quiet streets, enjoying up close or from afar, the experience of seeing these stately structures that reflect a rich and varied architectural history.

Jose Agra Ancestral House

This lakeshore town, founded by Franciscan missionaries in 1580, has been given the moniker Lupang Pinagpala (“The Blessed Land”) and there are a number of reasons for this. In 1610, in recognition of the noble Pileños refined manners and genteel customs, this town steeped in history and culture was conferred the special status of La Noble Villa de Pila (“The Noble Town of Pila”), one of only five towns in the country accorded this honor by Spain (the others being Cebu, Vigan in Ilocos Sur, Libon in Albay and Oton in Iloilo). The town also survived the ravages of World War II because American bombers, on a bombing run to flush out Japanese soldiers, failed to spot it.  Nearby Sta. Cruz and Pagsanjan towns were not so lucky, both being reduced to rubble.

Relova Ancestral House

In December 1993, the Pila Historical Society Foundation was established to preserve and maintain these remnants of a gentler way of life.  The foundation raised funds and, with the cooperation of the late Mayor Querubin Relova and the Sangguniang Bayan, undertook the huge task of demolishing and relocating new structures that detracted from the beauty, purpose and historical relevance of the original town plan.  Pila is cited as one of the few intact examples of Spanish colonial town planning where the center of the town was the plaza complex surrounded by the church, tribunal, school and large ancestral houses of the town’s leading citizens.

Rudolfo Relova Ancestral House

Many houses built during the Commonwealth Period reflect a shift in architectural styles, evolving from the massive bahay na bato (stone house) to the charming American chalet-style houses with touches of Spanish design elements, decorative Art Deco or Art Nouveau treatments.  Using more Philippine hardwoods and cement, all provide comfort, a respite from the tropical heat and a general feeling of airiness with their high ceilings; tall and wide capiz or paned-glass windows that allow the breeze to come in and woodcarvings on the ventanillas that allow for good cross ventilation. The living and dining rooms, on the second floor, are accessed by stairs that figure prominently in the facade.  The ground floors of many houses facing the plaza, formerly used as storage areas, now house cafeterias and shops.

Pila Historical Society Foundation: tel: (049) 559-0382 (Ms. Cora Relova).

Home of "The Other Rizal" (Los Banos, Laguna)

The Paciano Rizal Shrine

My next stop in my Laguna (Calamba City to Sta. Cruz) joy ride with my son Jandy was the charming resort town of Los Banos.  The town is famous for its hot medicinal sulfur springs that flow from the foot of Mt. Makiling and its present name is derived from the Spanish word for “The Baths.” These thermal springs were discovered in 1590 by Franciscan martyr St. Peter Baptist (San Pedro Bautista).   Today, most of the sulfur springs are piped into the pools and baths of the many hot spring resorts that line the National Highway.  This is the Los Banos that most people know and not many people know this town’s association with “the other Rizal.”

The old Los Banos Municipal Hall

To find out, I parked my Toyota Revo at the old municipal hall (a new one is being built along the National Highway).  Beside the town’s fire station is the inconspicuous retirement home of Paciano Mercado Rizal, Jose Rizal‘s elder (and only) brother who was also a revolutionary general (he led the defense of Laguna) and Emilio Aguinaldo‘s first Minister of Finance.  Though not as popular as the Jose Rizal Shrine in Calamba, this shrine, jutting out to Laguna de Bay, was built atop a hot spring in 1927 by Andres Luna de San Pedro (son of master painter Juan Luna) when Paciano’s original nipa hut was destroyed in a typhoon in 1926.

The back of the house

Rizal lived here, as a gentleman-farmer, with 2 helpers (with occasional visits from his grandsons, from daughter Emiliana, Franz and Edmundo), until his death from tuberculosis on April 30, 1930.  First buried in Manila North Cemetery, his remains were later transferred here, with full military honors, in 1985.  A historical marker was installed here on April 13, 1983 and the house was declared as a National Historical Shrine by the National Historical Institute on July 31, 1992.

Laguna de Bay

This modest American-style, one-bedroom bungalow was turned into a Japanese garrison during World War II, resulting in the loss of much of Paciano’s personal effects. Still around are some photos of his grandchildren, binoculars he used during the revolution, a pair of his shoes and a Quiroga bed.  Rizal’s spinster sisters Josefa and Trinidad are also buried in the sprawling garden which has a bronze statue of Paciano Rizal, on a pedestal, in his general’s uniform.  The shrine has a view of Talim Island. At the back of the house is the Paciano Rizal Park.