Find­ing his­tory in a Malo­los home

His­tory un­rav­els in a Malo­los her­itage home


On De­cem­ber 1888, to­ward the lat­ter por­tion of the Span­ish col­o­niza­tion of the Philip­pines, a group of 21 young and af­flu­ent Mes­tiza-San­g­ley women, led by my great great grand­mother Al­berta Ui­tang­coy, made their way to the Malo­los con­vent to present Gov­er­nor Gen­eral Va­le­ri­ano Weyler a pe­ti­tion to pro­vide Span­ish ed­u­ca­tion to women. De­spite heavy op­po­si­tion from the friar cu­rate and an ar­du­ous so­cio-po­lit­i­cal bat­tle for the ap­proval of the es­tab­lish­ment, the women suc­ceeded in their lob­by­ing and were al­lowed to open a school.

Their move­ment was rec­og­nized and lauded by a num­ber of key re­formists, in­clud­ing Marcelo H. Del Pi­lar, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, and Fer­nando Canon. To­day, The Women of Malo­los are re­garded by sev­eral note­wor­thy Philip­pine his­to­ri­ans as he­roes.

How­ever, the nar­ra­tive of The Women of Malo­los is not as sim­plis­tic as a tem­po­rary vic­tory for ed­u­ca­tional re­form in a re­gres­sive time. Some of the women had also played cru­cial roles in es­tab­lish­ing the first Philip­pine Red Cross, in re­sponse to the out­break of the Philip­pine-Amer­i­can revo­lu­tion, and the Aso­cia­cion Fem­i­nista de Filip­inas, which aimed to tackle sev­eral women’s rights is­sues of their time. My great great grand­mother in par­tic­u­lar par­tic­i­pated in both.

To­day, in the heart of Barangay Santo Niño, within the his­toric Malo­los City Cen­ter, rem­nants of their of­ten over­looked con­tri­bu­tion to Philip­pine his­tory are pre­served in the newly fur­nished ex­hibits of the Museo ng mga Kababai­han ng Malo­los, cur­rently housed in the Ui­tang­coy-San­tos an­ces­tral res­i­dence.

The ba­hay na bato struc­ture, which was fin­ished in 1914, was where Paulino San­tos and Al­berta Ui­tang­coy had raised their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. Their es­tate re­mains pop­u­lar among town lo­cals not only for its his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance but also for the fam­ily’s con­tri­bu­tions to the lo­cal culi­nary and med­i­cal in­dus­tries. Ui­tang­coy is cred­ited for com­ing up with sev­eral na­tive Malo­los del­i­ca­cies such as em­panada de kaliskis, sus­piros de pili, maza­pan de pili, gur­gurya, and el­e­vated ren­di­tions of the en­say­mada and pastil­las de

leche. Her sons Gon­zalo and Luis, mean­while, went on to have suc­cess­ful med­i­cal ca­reers that drew in pa­tients from ev­ery rung of so­ci­ety, from politi­cians to plan­ta­tion work­ers, and even na­tional artists such as Fer­nando Amor­solo, Fabian de la Rosa, and Guillermo To­lentino. The San­tos Med­i­cal clinic and phar­macy still op­er­ate to this day, at­tend­ing to pa­tients ev­ery day through­out the year.

Be­ing the birth­place of Asia’s first repub­lic, Malo­los is one of the coun­try’s rich­est towns in terms of her­itage sites, with al­most ev­ery street and build­ing hav­ing its own story to tell. Given the Manila-cen­tric pro­gres­sion of the coun­try within the last cen­tury, cities such as Malo­los weren’t given the same op­por­tu­ni­ties to cap­i­tal­ize on growth. Most an­ces­tral homes in the Philip­pines are usu­ally sold to other par­ties for de­vel­op­ment and/or re­lo­ca­tion, given the high cost of up­keep and vir­tu­ally zero re­turn on in­vest­ment.

De­spite these hur­dles, the Ui­tang­coy-San­tos de­scen­dants, to­gether with the help of The Women of Malo­los Foun­da­tion, have never sold any part of the es­tate to an out­side en­tity. The foun­da­tion and its spon­sors have suc­ceeded in re­con­struct­ing vi­tal parts of the home, such as the ex­te­rior and the ceil­ing, hand­made from the house’s orig­i­nal mold.

Sus­tain­abil­ity, how­ever, re­mains dif­fi­cult. With the foun­da­tion fight­ing an up­hill bat­tle to keep things afloat and the fam­ily gen­er­ally see­ing the prop­erty as an af­ter­thought, I de­cided to spe­cial­ize in her­itage cu­ra­tion and preser­va­tion. Af­ter it was unan­i­mously ap­proved by a panel of muse­o­log­i­cal ex­perts, I re­ceived cu­ra­to­rial con­trol from my fam­ily and the foun­da­tion, and soon found my­self fac­ing the in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge of find­ing a nat­u­ral bal­ance be­tween the preser­va­tion and restora­tion of a her­itage home and the cu­ra­tion of a mu­seum with a le­git­i­mate his­tor­i­cal claim. It was im­por­tant for me to re­in­state the orig­i­nal in­tent of the space while al­low­ing it to serve the func­tions of a modern-day mu­seum. Out­side of the painstak­ing process of treat­ing and pre­serv­ing a plethora of de­cay­ing ar­ti­cles that some­how sur­vived the past cen­tury, per­haps the most dif­fi­cult part of the whole process has been reimag­in­ing a func­tion­ing house­hold even as I in­stalled the new ex­hibits. The most pow­er­ful guide ques­tion was sim­ply, “What would my lola have wanted?”

The restora­tion and re-cu­ra­tion of the mu­seum cul­mi­nate in a tour pro­gram spe­cially crafted for a con­tem­po­rary au­di­ence. As the mu­seum re­opens this month, I hope that it would be re­ceived as a space that not only houses the widest col­lec­tion of pri­mary re­sources sur­round­ing The Women of Malo­los, but also as a place that cel­e­brates the au­then­tic­ity of what life in the home once was. With all the work put into it, from mak­ing the liv­ing room com­pletely func­tional again and restor­ing the orig­i­nal bed­room to cre­at­ing a new din­ing room where my great great grand­mother’s recipes will once again be served to new vis­i­tors, I look for­ward to turn­ing hazy mem­o­ries of my child­hood into an un­for­get­tably vivid ex­pe­ri­ence that cel­e­brates not only his­tory but also a her­itage that has lived through five gen­er­a­tions.

Given the Manila-cen­tric pro­gres­sion of the coun­try within the last cen­tury, cities such as Malo­los weren’t given the same op­por­tu­ni­ties to cap­i­tal­ize on growth.”

In­di­vid­ual por­traits of Al­berta Ui­tang­coySan­tos and her fam­ily wel­come mu­seum vis­i­tors.

Carlo Herrera and his lola Lour­des San­tos Herrera, who used to live in the her­itage home

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