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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Malolos City: Of women’s libber, freedom fighters and olden days heritage


Growing up in a time when a P10 bill was enough to buy me a bowl of arroz caldo and a bottle of soda, I always found myself being reminded of the historic significance of Malolos’s Barasoain Church, whose image was printed on one side of the currency. Coined from the term baras ng suwail, meaning “dungeon of the defiant,” the walls and four corners of this church was then the rendezvous point of the anti-colonial Illustrados.

Conversely, as history is told in a myriad of ways, it is also forgotten in innumerable ways. Eventually, the story of Malolos took a backseat, among other places of historic importance in the country.


In dire need of a history knowledge fix, it is as if the gods conspired and led me to Malolos, Bulacan, as part of the recently concluded seventh edition of Lakbay Norte—an annual media familiarization tour of Northern Luzon organized by the North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB).

A morning stride through the streets of Malolos’s historic district had us following the footprints of the earliest women’s liberation movement in Asia, and the rest of the Filipino patriots who took sanctuary in the city. It was here, in Malolos, where brave young Filipino men and women spearheaded the establishment of the First Philippine Republic on January 23, 1899.

Interim Capital of the Philippines

Following General Emilio Aguinaldo’s declaration of Philippine Independence from Spain in Kawit, Cavite, on June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo moved the capital to Malolos City, the seat of power from September 1898 until the conclusion of the First Philippine Republic, when Aguinaldo was captured by the Americans on March 23, 1901, in Palanan, Isabela.


Tracing the historic trail of the first Philippine Republic, we went to the Malolos Cathedral, which served as The Palacio Presidencia. or the Office of the President from September 1898 until March 1899. The adjacent Barasoain Church then functioned as the legislative building, and is where the Malolos Constitution was ratified on January 21, 1899.


If U2 sang about the streets that have no names, here, the streets bore the footpaths of heroes. At one time while trudging around the historic district of Malolos, our guide pointed to us, “That is the Maria Reyes House. It was Apolinario Mabini’s office when he served as Aguinaldo’s chief adviser.” A few steps later, he showed us the Arcadia Ejercito House. “It used to be the office of the Department of War, and there’s the Erastro Cervantes’s House, which served as the office of the Department of Interior,” he shared.

While engrossed in the stories as told by our guide and in awe of the sights of old houses, I felt goose bumps knowing that this was where our nation’s freedom fighters fought and ran the First Philippine Republic.

Heritage-painted Kamestisuhan District

Calle Pariancillio, a stone’s throw distance from the Neoclassical Malolos City Hall Building, was where we started our morning stride. After a few steps, I immediately noticed the postwar Art Deco Eden Cinema, which, despite of its derelict appearance, still evokes a charming look.


Situated a few meters from Eden Cinema, stands the Adriano House. Currently functioning as a Meralco office, it’s well-preserved exterior and interior still retains the pleasant vibe it had during the olden days when it served as the Gobierno Militar de la Plaza during the Philippine revolution years.


For art connoisseurs, the Art Deco Dr. Luis Santos Mansion should provide visual orgasm, thanks to the works of two Philippine National Artists housed inside the property: the garden fountain sculpture by Guillermo Tolentino and a ceiling mural painted by Fernando Amorsolo.


In the 19th century the community of rich Chinese mestizos resided in Calle Pariancillo and the snaking streets around it, better known as the Kamestisuhan District.

Perfectly conveying the opulent taste of the rich Chinese at that time were a handful of old houses exhibiting mostly French Nouveau and Neoclassical architecture. One such mansion is where one of the patriarchs of the Cojuangco clan, Jose Chichioco Cojuangco, was born.

The National Historical Institute has listed down more than 20 establishments comprising at least 15 ancestral houses, plus a few other centuries-old landmarks like the aforementioned Barasoain Church and the Malolos Cathedral—as among the heritage edifices forming the heart of the Kamestisuhan District.


Heavily concentrated around Pariancillo Street, the district was declared a National Historical Landmark and a Heritage Town by the National Historical Institute in 2001. The number of heritage structures in this district rivals those in Vigan and TaalTown in Batangas.

Turning into a corner, we were led by our tour guide inside the Alberta Uitangcoy-Santos House, which sits adjacent to the original site of Instituto de Mujeres.

‘To the Young Women of Malolos’

In the years preceding the Philippine revolution, whispers about a burgeoning women’s rights movement from Malolos started snowballing and eventually reached the far corners of the world—earning the respect of a group of young Filipinos in Europe.


Among those who admired the exploits of these ladies was Marcelo H. del Pilar. Upon his urging, the great Dr. Jose Rizal, who was then in Europe, penned a letter in Tagalog entitled ”To the Young Women of Malolos.”

In his message, Rizal voiced his support for women by stipulating a number of relevant ideas, such as for Filipino women to have the same rights as men in protecting their honor and dignity, Filipino mothers to get the same respect as Spanish mothers, to achieve an honored and noble name as their male counterparts, among others that buoyed the spirits of the Malolos women to intensify up their fight for equality during the Spanish rule.


Ignited by the message of Rizal, the 21 Filipinas went against the will of the Spanish friars and courageously handed a petition letter to Governor General Valeriano Weyler. Cornering him during a lavish party, the Filipinas demanded for an educational institution for women. This event set in motion one of the earliest acts of the women’s rights movement that paved the way for the establishment of the Instituto de Mujeres.

The Alberta Uitangcoy-Santos House now serves as a museum dedicated to these women of Malolos. An awe-inspiring painting depicting that historic encounter with Weyler is proudly displayed inside the said house, along with some photographs of these courageous women.

Unsealing the Past

As we walked back, we passed by the Old Carcel or the Casa Tribunal de Malolos building. First constructed in the 17th century as the original home of the Adriano family, it was turned into a prison in 1898. Looking up, I noticed the half-moon balconies that were sealed from the inside by a thick wall. This image came with a new perspective on the significance of the Kamestisuhan District. As it is easy to pour cement to seal a window, a door or any other opening, unsealing the past can be effortlessly accomplished, as well.


A day of wandering around the Malolos Historic District taught me more than I ever learned from my history classes. Merely associating Malolos City to the Barasoain Church printed on the P10 bill of my youth will never suffice anymore. Because right here was where a women’s libber movement was founded and whose streets bore the footprints of freedom fighters who risked their lives for our independence, and these will never be more real to me than that.

All photos courtesy of Martin San Diego / North Philippines Visitors Bureau.

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This is a first of a series of articles about Lakbay Norte 7, a media tour held from January 30 to February 5, 2018, and organized by the North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB), a non-stock, non-profit organization spearheaded by the Manila North Tollways Corporation, builder and concessionaire of the North Luzon Expressway.

This article first appeared on the Tourism pages of BusinessMirror on April 15, 2018.

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