It was two years ago when artist Tito Estrada took us to visit the ancestral home of his friends Ernie and Ria Villavicencio in Taal, Batangas. The house is a handsome mansion dating back to the 19th century though it was already almost in ruins. The couple has since restored the place and it’s now open to the public. We wrote about this house in this section (Home & Garden, Nov. 8, 2008).
Today, the Villavicencios continue to work to attract more attention to their hometown. At his own behest, Ernie formed an NGO called the Taal Active Alliance Legion (T.A.A.L.) of Taaleño homeowners. The NGO has created a Preservation Code which has been passed by the Sanguniang Bayan. The code prohibits the destruction of the old houses in Taal.
We were most excited when we received an invitation from an organization called Women in Travel (WIT) to join its fam tour of Taal. WIT member Mimi Noble of the de las Alas clan of Taal was largely responsible for coordinating the tour for WIT with Ernie Villavicencio. She has since made it her personal advocacy to contribute to the promotion of the town as a tourist destination. Last May, WIT gave workshops on customer relations in Taal and the tourism promotions of the town began in earnest.
Tony Boy Alcasid, a rural banker in Taal joined Ernie’s NGO and he now heads the tourism committee. He is also the artist in charge of the Casa Conchita: Souvenir and Gift Shop. Tony Boy confesses to have been among the Taal residents who were more often than not, absentee landlords. Conchita de las Alas Lualhati is Tony’s grandmother, whom the shop is dedicated to. Although widowed from Jose Lualhati at 39, she led an exemplary life dedicated to rural banking and schools. She had three daughters who all went into rural banking: Antonia (now deceased), Ligaya, and Tony’s mom Herminia. Herminia interestingly married an Alcasid named Herminio. They have four children; eldest son Tony Boy, entrepreneur sisters Gigi and Marichu, and the youngest, Herminio “Ogie” Alcasid.
We were soon to learn that the citizenry of Taal is peppered with families that trace themselves back to the time of Marcella Agoncillo, who sewed the first Philippine flag; from Antonio de las Alas, pensionado to Yale under Gov. General Harrison in 1919, to the next generation with links to Ambrosio Padilla, the Lontoks, the Concepcion group of Companies, the Rufinos, the Nobles, the Alcasids, the Tankehs and the internationally renowned sculptor Ramon Orlina.
Meanwhile, Tony Boy’s interest in painting was slowly being engaged when five years ago he held an exhibit of acrylic paintings in Manila. The artworks were all inspired by brother Ogie’s musical compositions. Soon he found himself spending more and more time in Taal in matters involving the arts. “We want to revive the crafts, especially embroidery because before Lumban became the center of embroidery, it was Taal,” says he.
The group’s recent cultural mapping revealed that the callado (that intricate dying art of embroidery) is still done only in Taal by a group of very old women living in the barrios.”
The Casa Conchita: Souvenir and Gift Shop, housed in the de las Alas-Lualhati-Alcasid home, is a relatively younger, circa 1920s structure. The family restored it in response to Taal Mayor Michael Montenegro’s search for a place that can house the town’s products. Naturally, much of the work required to convert the house fell on Tony Boy, who quickly redid the ground level and came up with a more modern look. The all-white sala littered with colorful pillows, now serves as the reception area. The main shop showcases the products while an ante-room was converted into a coffee shop. He confesses that there is still so much to do but his mom Herminia Lualhati Alcasid, and her sister Ligaya Lualhati Tangkeh, are a big help.
The shop is actually a cooperative of the municipal employees and they’re being initially assisted by the Alcasids. Tenants aren’t required to pay rent but they do take care of the electric bills. It opened in July with an exhibit of Boy’s watercolors of Taal houses and landscapes. “My mindset is now more in Taal. My paintings are of houses, and nostalgia,” he muses, not discarding the possibility of eventually living permanently in Taal.
Tony Boy has left the second floor of the house pretty much the way it was, though the furniture also consists of pieces sourced from the family’s other ancestral home in Lemery. During World War II, Lemery was destroyed by the Japanese, but the Alcasid home was strangely the sole structure spared. The Alcasids later sold the Lemery house as it was getting difficult to maintain two homes. There are many photos from the past that Tony Boy has unearthed. They are now displayed on the second floor with the love and sense of history by only one who has been part of it can muster.
The town of Taal, unlike many others in the country, has been spared from the destruction caused by the Spanish and American wars. This alone should make the residents proud of a heritage town they can share with the world.