Friday, November 03, 2006


By the 1800s, the Chinese had assimilated into the Filipino culture; a large percentage had converted into Catholicism while some had taken on native women for their wives. A descendant of one of these migrant workers from China had surreptitiously changed the tribute lists so that his family would be classified an Indio. He did this as a measure to be relieved of the heavier taxes imposed on the Chinese mestizos by the colonial government. His name was Juan Mercado.

He had served three times as gobernadorcillo of the town of Binan, Laguna; discharging his duties with kindness, utmost diligence and greater honesty than his predecessors (although he had falsified the tribute lists). He lived in a large house at the center of the town’s plaza in which he had inherited from his wealthy father.

Capitan Juan, as he was popularly known, was blessed with thirteen children and a prosperous life. However, although his landholdings were extensive, once divided among his thirteen children, wouldn’t amount to much. For this reason, once of age, the youngest left Binan to seek his fortune elsewhere; settling in a town along the southwestern shores of Laguna de Bay called Calamba. As a son of a distinguished gobernadorcillo of Binan, Francisco easily obtained from the Dominican friars a lease for several hectares of sugar cane and rice land. An obliging elder sister, a spinster, managed his household while he rounded up his poor neighbors to till the land with him on a profit-sharing venture. The earnings made from his agricultural enterprises were promptly invested in more land so by the time of his sister’s death, he had already accumulated a certain stature in the town of Calamba. He married Teodora Alonzo soon thereafter.

A well-educated and devout Catholic, Teodora was born and raised in the city, and moved to Calamba with her mother some years earlier. She came from an admixture of Spanish blood; one of her forefathers was a descendant of Lakandula, the Malayan rajah who ruled Manila during the Spanish conquest. Her brothers and uncles were professional men — lawyers, priests and doctors — held in high esteem by their communities. She was only twenty when she married Francisco, but was a dutiful wife, managed the household affairs efficiently, and had eleven children by him. However, only nine reached maturity and of these only two were sons.

n 1849, after their first child was born, the governor-general decreed that all Indios should bear a surname regardless where it was obtained. The local mayor added the family name of Rizal to Mercado. Nonetheless, neighbors remained calling each other in the old way and Francisco’s family continued for many years to be known as Mercado instead of Rizal.

Francisco and Teodora, through the years, pursued a prosperous life. They were a busy couple; pretty much occupied by the daily routine of managing a hacienda, as well as by the feeding, clothing, and educating a large family. It was a pleasant, uneventful existence typical of the archipelago’s landed gentry. The couple was able to build a large triangular-shaped house in the center of Calamba made of adobe stone and hardwood with a red tiled-roof — traditional features of an affluent abode. It boasted a tropical orchard of fruit-bearing trees at the extensive yard behind the house.

Carlos Quirino in his book, The Great Malayan, provides a detailed account of this enchanting backyard:

The atis, with its delicately-flavored fruit, drooped it branches as if to save children the trouble of reaching up for them. The broad-leafed papaya bore drak green fruit that tempted birds as well as human beings. Nearby grew the sweet santol, the fragrant and honey-like tampoy, the purple makopa, further away the plum, the cashew with its fibrous meat, the tamarind, the jackfruit and breadfruit trees. The orange trees in the bloom diffused an aroma of sweetness, while the balimbing with its abundant foliage and beautiful flowers furnished a pleasing contrast to the eye. Here and there huge coconut palms laden with enormous clusters of nuts swayed in the breeze. At sundown, dozens of birds of all kinds frequented the garden, and little three-year-old Jose amused himself watching them hop and fly from tree to tree.

As for the house’s interior furnishings, one of Jose’s sisters would later donate some of the furniture from their family house in Calamba. Most are on exhibit at the Baluarte de Santa Barbara in Fort Santiago. It is presented by the National Historical Institute in coordination with the Intramuros Administration of the Department of Tourism.

posted by Señor Enrique at 11:34 AM


Blogger Plain_Jane_Too said...

Keep up the great postings. Thank you. I grew up in the Philippines, left when I was 21...but now older and wiser enough to realize I really just lived in my own small pond and knew none of the amazing Pinoy life outside my family's social sphere.

November 03, 2006 2:00 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! I didn't know that about Rizal's ancestry. The house is beautiful! BTW, my colleagues from Myanmar and Indonesia tell me that they study about Rizal in school too.

November 04, 2006 1:53 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Thanks, Plain_Jane_Toe. I was basically in the same boat as you, and this is the reason why I've embarked on a journey to study our local history and share through these posts whatever I learn.

November 04, 2006 11:02 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Isn't that something, Toe? I probably wouldn't be surprised at all if one of these days I discover that there is actually some Chinese blood in my family's gene pool.

Now that is truly surprising -- a subject on Rizal at Myanmar and Indonesian schools. Awesome, indeed!

November 04, 2006 11:07 AM  

Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

I enjoyed visiting the recreated home of Rizal in Calamba last year. I wrote about it in An Outing to Jose Rizal's House. If your looking for some tips on how best to see it, or how it looked through this American's eyes, check it out.

November 05, 2006 11:05 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...



November 15, 2006 9:37 AM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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