Friday, August 7, 2015

*386. Bale-Matua: THE ARRASTIA HOUSE, Lubao

TO A MANOR BORN. Home of Pampanga sugar planter of Don Valentin Arrastia, Luba, Pampanga. 1925.

 In Lubao, in front of the municipal hall, once stood the palatial house of one of the town’s most affluent Spanish-Filipino family—the Arrastias. The patriarch, Valentin Roncal Arrastia, was a Basque who had come all the way from Allo, Navarra, Spain, to find his fortune in colonial Philippines. He, not only found the wealth he was seeking, but also a Kapampangan wife—Francisca Serrano Salgado of Lubao.

 The couple’s consolidated wealth included their vast hacienda planted with sugar and rice, as well as flourishing fish ponds. Befitting their stature, the Arrastias built a magnificent residence sometime the first two decades of the 1900s, where they raised their 9 children: Carmen (Mameng), Jose (Pepe, father of Ambassador Mercedes Tuason, and Ruby aka Neile Adams, wife of actor Steve McQueen), Justo (founder of Lubao Institute), Benito (died at 19), Crispula (died in infancy), Juanita (Miss Pampanga 1926), Esteban (Teban, father of actress Letty Alonso, married to actor Mario Montenegro), Francisco (died at 12), Enrique (died during the liberation of Manila) and Sebastian (Bastian, whose daughter, Sylvia is married to former senator and radio personality, Eddie Ilarde).

 The Arrastia House, designed by the patriarch no less, was typical of the architecture of the period—a transitional style featuring elements of the ‘bahay na bato” and modern American influences. The ground floor--which includes the receiving room, is made of concrete, its windows protected with wrought-iron grills. The lower floor could be accessed from upstairs through a secret passage that led to one of the storage rooms. The second storey features high frosted glass-paned windows and a wrap-around eave to shade the residents from the harsh Pampanga sun.

Ventanillas protected by ornamental grills had sliding windows to let air in and an enclosed balconaje (balcony) decorated with fretwork could be found on the upper landing. The roof itself, is made from thick American G.I. sheets. The house was fenced with simple metal grills and surrounded with bushes, shrubs and other greeneries. Accenting the garden is stately water fountain, ornamented with classical statues, while a pool is located at the back.

Lavish parties were regularly hosted by Don Valentin for his friends—mostly rich hacenderos and fellow-sugar planters. One such talk-of-the-town affair was the luncheon thrown by the Arrastias in honor of Mr. R. Renton Hind, a high-ranking American official of the country’s sugar industry. The guest list included Pampanga’s well-known sugar barons, mostly from the Del Carmen district which Mr. Hind used to manage: Dons Carlos Layug, Francisco Reinares, Martin Gonzalez, Alfredo Infante, Braulio Mendiola, Carlos Gil, Joaquin Varela, Quiterio Araneta and Leonard Moore.After felicitations were exchanged, the guest of honor was presented with a handsome desk set, and a case containing a solid gold pen and pencil.

 When Valentin and Francisca passed away, the house was bequeathed to the Arrastia children. Daughter Juanita felt most passionate about the house and the memories it held, so her husband, the famed doctor Wenceslao Beltran Vitug, bought out the shares of her siblings; in this way, the ancestral house was passed on to the Vitugs. Seven children were born to Juanita and Apung Beses, and they too, spent their growing up years in the house.

As such, the house teemed with househelps, mostly wives, sons and daughters of sharecroppers who worked on the Arrastia farmlands. A Japanese driver was also employed. When World War II broke out and Japanese forces overrun Pampanga, their officials took over the house and used it as their garrison. Thanks to their Japanese driver who couched for the Vitugs’character, the grand Arrastia mansion was spared from the ravages of war.

Also associated with the Arrastia house and its residents was the late president Diosdado P. Macapagal. It was said that the poor but bright Lubeño boy would pass by the house everyday. Catching the attention of the Arrastias, they would eventually learn of his plight and decided to help him with his school needs. Macapagal graduated valedictorian of his elementary class and finished his high school on 1929 with flying colors. He would eventually take up Law, enter politics and become president-elect in 1963. 

 A succession of Vitug descendants acted as caretakers of the house after the death of Apung Beses (+1986) and Juanita (+1994). The family finally decided to sell their ancestral home in 2007 to Architect Jose L. Acuzar. It was dismantled, transported and reconstructed in Bagac, Bataan as a heritage house of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.


acquiroz said...

Dr. Wenceslas Viyug specialized in Internal Medicine, was my professor at UST in the early 50's. He was known as an astute diagnostician and showed us how he woul analyze the data gathered by the clinical clerk and proceed logically step by step toward a working diagnosis. He would preface his conclusions by saying: in my humble opinion - etc. etc. he entertained questions and never insulted the students no matter how stupid the question. As a junior house staff at the UST Hospital, I spent some time with him. I knew he was Pampango but I never talked to him in our dialect because he was so straight-laced and almost unapproachable, Ver formal. His office was very austere and very non-pretentious. He had a desk and chairs and a couple of bookshelves. I learned a lot from him.

Anonymous said...

Please note that Neile Adams and Ambassador Tuason are aunts to Isabel Preysler and not siblings as your article purports to state.

alex r. castro said...

I corrected the article, thank you for the heads-up.

yoob said...

His office was very austere and very non-pretentious. He had a desk and chairs and a couple of bookshelves. I learned a lot from him.
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