Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Silay Honors Mr. Ramon Hofileña And His Ancestral House

Who doesn't know Ramon Hofileña?  So many people have written about him that he is easily the most recognizable name when it comes to arts and cultural history in the Province of Negros Occidental. Although he lived abroad for a period of time, his love for Silay lured him back home.  He took it upon himself to bring to Silay art exhibits and workshops of artists like Manuel Rodriguez Sr., Lamberto Hechanova, Vicente Manansala and Hernando Ocampo. I remember participating in one of those printmaking workshops during my high school days.  Ramon also single-handingly conducts the Annual Cultural Tour of Negros which is now on it's 38th year.  His ancestral house where he continues to live in to this day is preserved with much love and you can see this in the way Ramon talks about his beloved home. He regales his guests with stories and the memories that goes with each and every furniture and fixture,  all precious antiques. The second floor is where you can find even more art treasures - paintings of Luna, Hidalgo, Amorsolo, Manansala and even a sketch done by the young Rizal as well as a painting by Goya and Picasso. There is however one painter whom Ramon to this day talks about with sadness and regret...Conrado Judith, an unknown but very talented Silaynon painter who due to illness and poverty passed away early. His few works which Ramon was able to acquire are displayed right along those famous ones.  

His love and passion for the arts, culture, history and heritage prompted him to open his family home, the Manuel S. Hofileña Ancestral House (c.1934) in 1962 to the public.  This was fifty years ago and last May 3, 2012, the city gave honor to this man who unselfishly gave his time and talent for the promotion of Silay as the seat of culture and arts of the the province of Negros Occidental. Today, Ramon is busier than ever.

While before people usually make an appointment to see his house, they now come at anytime of the day and almost every day.  He says he misses having his siesta but he cannot find it in his heart to refuse their request. Listening to him say that during the short program, I suddenly realized that there will never be another like this man, indefatigable in his mission to bring culture to the people.  In fact right after his speech, he went on to give his guests a tour of his house.

Although I have seen his house so many times before and heard his stories, there always seems to be something new to learn and discover about Ramon, his home and it's history. He is always enthusiastic and is a master story-teller. It is obvious that he loves doing this.  It is also because of this love and passion that he and a group of like-minded Silaynons fought for the preservation of the heritage houses in the main highway around the plaza. These houses was up for appropriation and then demolition because of a road widening project in the 70's. The group won the fight. Today, those houses have withstood the test of time and the shortsightedness of government.  Silay has been declared a heritage city since then because of the work of this group of individuals. Without them, the city would have lost it's old world charm.  And while he lives and breathes, Ramon Hofileña continues to be at the forefront in  the efforts  to preserve the history and heritage of his beloved Silay. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Silay Stories: The House With The "Maldicion"

This story is another Silay family secret. Sometime in the 50's an affluent family in Silay put a "maldicion" or curse on one of their daughters for marrying a man they did not approved of.  It is said that the father placed a big handwritten notice in front of their house stating the name of the daughter and that she is "cursed and will never be allowed to come back and step inside the house for as long as she lives". This happened so long ago but the story never really died.  It would come up in conversations but somehow as the years past, people forgot which of the old houses in Silay put up this "maldicion".  Of course, the elders who saw it for themselves still remember the story vividly.  In fact my mother was one of those who saw and asked about it when she first came to Silay, but was left wondering till today because nobody really told her anything except to say that a father was displeased with the marriage of his daughter.  I myself don't remember this story and became curious after some people mentioned it. After a little sleuthing, I found out the names of the maligned daughter and what happened to her. She settled in Manila and from what I heard led a comfortable and happy life. Indeed the daughter never came back to Silay although she and her family would occasionally visit Bacolod where her husband has relatives.  I don't know if she ever reconciled with her parents. My version only tells the simple facts.  I really do not know the complete story and if ever there was anyone who does, it would be the relatives of the family and present owners of the house.  However, they are very private persons and would not be the type to talk about family secrets.  The people of the stories are long gone and the house itself has long been empty and recently, it was sold to a Chinese businessman who bought it for it's hardwood.  The owners of the house did not sign the MOA with the NHI and NCCA and therefore is not listed among the protected heritage homes of the city.  The last family who lived there (pro bono according to stories) were known tikoy makers until the mother died and they too left the place.  Although I used to pass by this house everyday going to work, I never really paid much attention to it.  Now that it is almost gone, I suddenly had this urge to immortalize it, even if only on paper.

photo above courtesy of Maricar Dabao
photo taken last week
going....(taken today)

Update: As of this morning, the second floor has been taken down.


Someone informed me that the signage had the word "Kamatayan" written before the maldicion...that's scary!

According to a reliable source, the daughter is still alive, albeit elderly and yes, she was eventually forgiven but only after the husband died.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Muscovado Mills

Before the existence of the modern sugar centrals in Negros Island, there were the Mucovado mills. When I was little, it was not uncommon to see the "simborio" or smokestack of the old muscovado (brown) sugar mill found in large sugar plantations of the province.  In the farms surrounding Silay City alone,  from a distance I think I saw about 3 or 4 of them, grey stone structures which stood alone and imposing in the middle of unending fields of green. I remember asking my dad what they were and his simple answer was "old sugar mills".  It was much later that I learned that they were part of a century-old technology of milling sugar, and were actually the smokestack or chimney part of the muscovado mill. In the old days, almost every plantation had it's own muscovado mill. It must have been cost-effected if not energy-efficient since most of the owners had really large plantations. Some smaller landowners also had mills but these were primitive in type and less efficiently run. Today, however, these antique structures are not very visible anymore in the province. I can only guess that perhaps many have been destroyed to give way to modernization. I believe that LGU's, historical or heritage groups should document the few left standing in their respective areas so that these could be preserved and protected for it's important historical value in the evolution of Negros sugar. Among the many cities and municipalities of Negros, La Carlota City still has a relatively intact Muscovado mill in Hacienda Canman-ug, although this is no longer functional. 

Location:  Hda. Canman-ug, La Carlota City
(all photos above were taken from

Silay City has immortalized the muscovado simborio as there is a replica of it as one enters the city in the south boundary. This picture is the background of this blog.  Of course, it is a stylized version but the symbolism for the city does not escape the viewer.  Silay, after all has one of the biggest group of families who migrated from Iloilo and who became big landowners of sugar plantations.

So it was a very pleasant surprise to know that there was one right in my backdoor.  A FB friend and a Silaynon took a picture of the ruins of a muscovado simborio that is still standing in Hda. Fortuna.  It is ironic that nobody who lived in that area nor the owners of the farm has mentioned this or gave it much importance.  I think this relic from the past should be properly documented.

Location:  Hda. Fortuna, Silay CIty
Photos courtesy of Mr. Edwin Estrobo Mijares
Who knows how many more unseen ruins are still in existence around the city?  Maybe like the WWII pillboxes, this too could be included in our Silay walking tours.