The Loving Eye For Detail


A 19th-century burgher records the faces of his people (originally published in the 1975 edition of the Archipelago magazine) 

by Santiago A. Pilar

Portrait of Romana Asuncion (cover Archipelago Magazine 1975)


Perhaps the most satirical of witticisms expressed about the Philippines during the Spanish times was made by a visiting French nobleman in a report to his country in 1766. « I am writing you from the other side of the globe, and may I even add from the 14th century ! » declared M. Le Gentil de la Galasiere who, steeped in the ideas of the then modern French Enlightenment, must have been intensely shocked about the medieval lifeways of Spain’s territory in Asia. 

The erudite Seigneur’s caustic esprit was only one of the volley of similar pointed comments hurled at the quality of the Spanish rule in the islands, criticisms which eventually stirred up some enlightened Spanish hearts into taking steps toward a better administration. Out of these attempts at reforms aimed primarily at improving the country’s unpredictable economy, one move was the institution of government-subsidized agricultural projects and incentives. 

Whereas years of economic dependence on the Chinese silk trade with Mexico neglected the natural potentials of the islands, the colonial government now turned its attention to the development of natural resources and the stimulation of agricultural activities. 

The much sought- after spices of yore no longer commanded a monopoly of interest; crops like sugar, tobacco, indigo and hemp began to be in demand. In 1834, when Spain at last officially opened Manila to international commerce, progress began to be seen in manifold manifestations, among which was art patronage. 

Perhaps no other painter’s life was more intimately interwoven with the course of newly prosperous 19th-century Manila than that of the early master, Justiniano Asuncion. Gifted with a durable life of 80 years, he witnessed prosperity coming upon the once languid city and bringing new turns in the destinies of its awakened inhabitants. As a consequence of this long life, his painting career reflected the artistic preferences of his flourishing milieu perhaps more faithfully than any of his contemporaries. 

Justiniano Asuncion was elected cabeza de barangay in the community of mestizos in Sta. Cruz, Manila. For this reason, he was ever after fondly called Capitan Ting. The biographer Manuel Artigas y Cuerva jotted a 14-sentence sketch of his life and called him modelo de honradez, an exemplar of tacto y prudencia

The Sta. Cruz of 1816, when Capitan Ting was born still carried the features of what Le Gentil de la Galaisiere, 50 years earlier, referred to as the “fourteenth century”. As any other Christianized spot in the islands, the district reminded the monsieur of some medieval European faubourg: a self-complacent artisan’s village that only trembled when threatened with the fires of hell. Little surprise it is, therefore, that the quiet nest of sculptors, smiths, embroiderers and jewelry setters was noted for spectacular church processions, activities which must have absorbed the year-round material profits and efforts of its dexterous denizens. 

According to the medieval scheme of things, the fine arts were crouched within the level of the crafts. The painter, however much praised, was seated between the tailor and the carpenter. In fact, he had to enlist himself in a guild encompassing all citizens who practiced his profession. This guild system was a mechanism of the colonial government to facilitate the collection of tributes. 

Another medieval aspect of Sta. Cruz’ lifeways was the classification of its citizens into communities according to race- Chinese, mestizo or native. Each community elected its own officials and competed with each other in the civic and religious affairs of the district. The Gremio de Mestizos, to which the Asuncions belonged, since 1741 surpassed in prestige its father guild, the Gremio de Chinos.and continued to be the most influential group in the arrabal until the end of the 19th century. 

It is often said that artistic genius runs in the family. Justiniano’s lineage is a shining example. His elder brothers, Antonio, Ambrosio and Mariano, were all recognized by religious organizations for their talents as painters. Antonio even earned a flattering epithet, Fra Angelico Filipino! Manuel and Leoncio- Justiniano was the youngest son in a family of 12-  maintained a sculptors’ shop and executed many life-size figures, like the Tercera Caida which was carried during Holy Week processions in their home district. 

Neither were the Asuncions an ordinary mestizo family. Their father, Don Mariano, assumed the coveted position of cabeza de barangay in 1805. An engraving of his ancestor, copied from a paste original by Justiniano, depicts him in the powerful pose of a grand patriarch. Of interest is his costume. Typical of his mestizo class, he wears loose pantaloons, an equally loose camiza, intricately embroidered at the hems, and a collar kerchief to simulate the European cravat. His hair is gathered at the back of his head into a Chinese pigtail. Curiously, he wears a pair of slippers with curled toes. 

Perhaps it is important to mention that the family name was recently acquired. Don Mariano was originally surnamed Kagalitan. Perhaps the old man adopted a Spanish surname as he rose in position in society. The spirit of change was beginning to dominate the times. 

Neither did the ambiance of progress leave the artistic world untouched. When Justiniano was about six years of age, the painter’s lot as a craftsman was elevated to better status with the establishment of Escuela de Dibujo, the first public art school in the community. Since the painter now went to school, the respectability of his position became fairly assured. Thus when young Ting reached schooling age, he had not only exposed himself to the artistic influences of his brothers, he must have also attended the Escuela wherein Don Damian seems to have been the sole professor. 

When the school closed in 1834- “for lack of funds”- aspiring painters had to seek private tutorship from recognized masters. Both the lessons under Don Damian and those under private tutelage seem to have consisted of the same rigorous training designed to acquaint their pupils with the nuances of realistic painting, with the fastidious emphasis on details, as the standard of times dictated. The supreme test of this sensitivity to details was the limning of miniatures, religious portraits on a golden or ivory or cloth surface, usually the size of a thumb and later on framed on chains or rosary beads. Justiniano made many of these locket paintings but it is difficult to make infallible attributions of extant examples to his name. 

One authenticated early work establishes his affiliation to Don Damian and his contemporaries. This religious painting, wrought on copper sheet, is entitled “The Coronation of the Virgin”. A favorite subject of religious paintings, the original picture may have been a polychromatic estampa. The subject, as further interpreted by local painters, has acquired an Oriental grace, a visual flatness or lightness as done in very fine polish with the Chinese brush. The young Justiniano’ painting of the Virgin had a cool sweetness that emanated from cautious hands. 

Filomena Asuncion (Oil portrait, miniature, c. 1875)


Little drawings of native costumes and scenery such as those trajes painted by Don Damian in the 1820s grew in popularity as more foreign ships docked in the country. What today would be called picture post cards, these little mementos attracted foreign travelers no end. A recently discovered collection of these so- called tipos del pais was done by Justiniano to depict the attire of his times in the 1840s. This album attests to his mastery of water color in drawing the minutest details. A matter of interest is the fact that his album had both Spanish and English captions which hint that they were aimed at some English patrons. 

A thriving contemporary, Juan Transfiguration Nepomuceno, also drew similarly costumed figures to illustrate the French scholar Jean Mallat’s Les Philippines. In comparing the two albums, an ineffable difference is at once apparent. While Nepomuceno’s models looked like garbed mannequins, cold and poised, Asuncion’s are breathing humans, pulsating and alive. The characterization of these figures indicate his realistic capturing of the particular personality of his portrait sitters. 

Justiniano’s album de trajes was to become the standard to be copied, both in subject and configuration, by future magazine illustrations in his century. His influence is clearly evident beginning with the drawings of C.W. Andrews, the British illustrator of La Illustracion Filipina, a magazine which ran for publication between 1859 and 1860. 

Toward the end of the 1840s, Justiniano’s name as a painter had grown in importance. In 1850, Rafael Diaz Arenas, a Spaniard who contributed articles to Diario de Manila, published his memoirs and in it made allusions to Justiniano’s fame. He wrote: “After Damian, Arceo excelled in portraiture…now it is said that there is one in Santa Cruz who paints very well but I do not know him” 

By this time, Justiniano had married Justina Parafina. In February 25, 1853, he was elected cabeza de barangay de mestizos in his district like his father before him. During his term, he inaugurated a new street along the San Lazaro Hospital area which is known today as Oroquieta. 

By the 1850s, a considerable number of truly affluent Filipino families began to emerge as a result of the flourishing trade with British and American firms. With more money to spend on the amenities of life, tastes for leisure, entertainment and material acquisition began to change accordingly. In the arts, for instance, a marked shift in interest from religious to secular paintings arose not out of sheer irreverence on th clientele’s part, but because it was almost mandatory to equate one’s wealth with more mundane signs. Moreover, the new bourgeoisie’s success in business and agriculture and their eventual ascent to society had precipitated their growing importance as individuals. Understandably, in posing for a portrait, one invariably underscored one’s position or consequence. 

Understandably then the earliest known portrait painted by Capitan Ting was dated in the 1850s. The sitter was probably the most influential señor of his district, Don Paterno Molo y Agustin, businessman-proprietor of a chain of merchant boats that brought divers goods as far as Aparri. It was actually Don Paterno’s first name which was later adopted by his socially prominent and affluent descendants as their family name. When he posed for this portrait Don Paterno was in the twilight of his life and his son, the equally prestigious Don Maximo or Capitan Memo was already overseeing his business for him. 

Another early portrait executed by Capitan Ting is a half-body close up of his niece, Filomena, eldest daughter of his brother, Leoncio. This retrato is dated to the late 1850s by inference of the style of the model’s costume. Interestingly, this is the only extant portrait depicting a Maria Clara of that period-  the panuelo over a non-transparent blouse with striped and relatively tapered long sleeves. One can easily pick out Filomena’s costume among the female figures painted by the German Karuth in 1858. 

By the early 1860s, the affluent in the provinces caught the fever for portraits. The portrait painters of Manila now traveled to the provinces to seek the patronage of the town principalia. In Candaba today, in what was once a great house there used to hang the magnificent life-size portrait of Don Norberto Castor, a wealthy landlord of that feudal town. Don Berto’s importance is more than suggested by Capitan Ting in the portrait he painted in 1861. Togged in the fine European fashion of his days, the retrato speaks of a bygone era now romanticized in the movies. 

In the late 1870s, Justiniano went back to the Paterno mansion to paint Capitan Memo’s third wife, Doña Teodora, and his daughter, Dolores, composer of the ballad La Flor de Manila, now popularly known as Sampaguita.The three portraits executed by Capitan Ting for the Paternos- Don Paterno  included- are of equal artistic merits all attest to the painters unsurpassed forte of capturing his sister’s individual personalities. 

Comparatively speaking, however, Don Paterno’s portrait would perhaps draw the interest of the more analytic viewers. Here, the subject is the venerability of old age rather than the relatively common place topic of Filipina femininity or the intricate embroideries of the Maria Clara. Capitan Ting seems to be playing homage to senility rather than to the worldly prominence of his sitter. His interest is in the steady gaze, the heavily drawn lips and the highly domed forehead. The conscious stiffness of his model’s carriage seems to be the wisdom of one who has had battles with life and emerges with more resolute views about it. The infirmity of age is however lightened by the rich designs of his embroidered cuffs and collar. The bold vertical line of the barong gives the old man one last tenacious display of strength and power. 

In contrast to the tone and temper of Don Paterno’s retrato, the one of Dolores is a visceral display of bourgeois ostentation. Justiniano justifiably eschews in this masterpiece the element of character- he is primarily concerned with what the eyes can behold rather than what the mind can analyze. The subject is a handsome young woman of the gentry class, and perhaps it should be so. Here, the actual and symbolic nuances of mundane prosperity is at once the order; the rich embroideries of the pañuelo and skirt, the rings on seven fingers, the bejeweled hairpin brooch, the matching fan and kerchief she clasps in one hand, the limpid eyes of one who has not seen much hardship in life, and the fine lips set in an aristocratic smile. The viewer is held back however of begrudging Dolores all her well-appointed fineries because Justiniano imbues her with a kind of inner warmth emanating from an Arcadian purity of mind and spirit. The eyes and the suppressed smile definitely conveys Dolores’ genial nature. 

Capitan Ting devotes equally meticulous attention to the exquisite embroidery of the pañuelo in the portrait of Doña Teodora. Yet still, the gracious-but-firm character, which a woman so young had to evolve as matriarch of Capitan Memo’s brood by two previous marriages and as manager of a complex joyeria, or jewelry store and workshop could not but illumine the smooth wood of the picture. 

The portraits executed by Capitan Ting, each a unique statement on the nature of a particular individual, always draw out fresh and varying experiences from their viewers. The opposite effect is what is rather felt in portraits done by his contemporaries who almost never went beyond idealizing their sitter’s physical appearance and whose work therefore when seen as a body, despite the variety of subjects, rather leave their viewers with a sense of the monotonous: that you’ve-seen-all-if-you’ve-seen-one-effect. 

The impression does not hold with the works of Capitan Ting. An admirer would, on the contrary, be even more amazed upon seeing his portrait of his niece Romana, daughter of his brother Antonio, married to a Carillo from Biñan. This, he painted in 1875. Here, the Master, can no longer be held back by the rigid artistic convention of his setting. The strict surveillance made upon the painter in the previous century conditioned the artist to merely copying engravings or actual objects and forbade him to express any personal interpretation of his subject. Now, the highly individualistic artist that Capitan Ting was, breaks away from the professional distance that he is expected to keep to his work and unabashedly suffuses it with his own presence, his own fine madness. His painting therefore reaches the level of a poet-artist’s manifesto. 

Unless other works of similar temperament come to the fore in order that a stylistic lyrical period among Manila’s painters of that time could be established, the portrait of Roman Carillio remains a phenomenon of expression in the entire history of painting in the Philippines. The presently known paintings dated to that decade are likeness-portraits by Antonio Malantik, Lorenzo Rocha, and Simon Flores. 

In 1875, neither Juan Luna nor Felix Resurrection Hidalgo had yet reached Europe to experience artistic emancipation. It could only have been through the spark of some book of artistic reproductions or the temperament of some circulating foreign novels that led the highly sensitive Capitan to the possible heights of freedom of spirit that the artist could enjoy in places outside of his environment. 

The decade during which Capitan Ting lived, the 1870s, was the decade of Cavite mutiny, a period of witchhunting and, as a whole, was stiflingly repressive. Perhaps such atmosphere was what precisely sent the Maestro to soar into some Elysian sphere. Indeed, the sublime aspiration to transcend the harsh, the bitter or the cruel is the one and only theme of the portrait of Romana Carillo. Just as Romana clasps a book, Capitan Ting’s oeuvre is an appeal to Reason, to Knowledge, to the Order that sometimes only art is capable of. Perhaps it is necessary to mention here that Justiniano went through a very bitter experience when in 1863, the calamitous earthquake that wrecked Manila, ruined his home and killed his bachelor brother, Ambrosio. 

There is much more to the merits of “The Woman with a Book” as a phenomenal milestone in the stylistic evolution of Philippine painting. In this work, Justiniano rises above the ground on which he and his artistic predecessors have hitherto worked. In painting the sunset behind Romana Carillo, he advanced the possibilities of the local realistic style, shifting it from its mere use as a technique to render life-likeness to its possible virtue as an idiom of temperament, a mode of self-expression. The landscape, not as a scene per se, but as an instrument to create atmosphere, was itself a novelty and the use of the colors of the sunset could have been a point of departure from the extremely linear predisposition of the current realism. 

Indeed, a highly creative person like the Capitan was now bored with the miniaturistic style and wanted to move to another direction in his art.His milieu, however, the entire powerful force actually lagging behind him compelled him to work with it. Hence the detailed workmanship of the portraits of the Paterno ladies. The spirit of the 1880s all the more called for the artist to record his setting in the graphic detail. The decade that cried for reforms- for material, specific changes- obliged the artist to graphically immortalize whatever was gained. 

After the earthquake of 1863, there was a rebuilding and renovating of church buildings and the most ornate of ornamentation possible, present evidences seem to say, was the natural defensive reaction toward the witnessed perishability of things. 

Four life- size oval frames painted by Capitan Ting, which used to hang on the predentives of Sta. Cruz Church depicting the figures of Saint Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose and Gregory the Grant were typical of the taste of the period. These works were done in the trompe l’oeil tradition, offering occasional distractions upon devotees who would look up now and then to wonder whether the adornment of the Saints’ robes were real or painted. An extant example he did in this phase of realism is the painting, “Virgen de Antipolo.” As in paintings of a truly realistic nature, the Capitan was able to capture the natural light that, translated to the canvas, projected the holy image’s priceless jewels to very high relief. Here is realism at its full development, and here was Capitan Ting, bored with it but desperately tied to it whenever commissioned by his powerful patrons. 

In the state of boredom, he often used his skills to amuse and confuse his guests and admirers alike. He is remembered to have painted on the downstairs wall of his newly built house, right under the window balustrade, a life-size infant falling in midair. The picture never failed to startle or evoke shrieks from passersby who at first glance thought the child was real. Once he also painted on the top of the chest, a scattering of very realistic coins, causing embarrassment to guests who stopped to pick them up. 

It was indeed time for Capitan Ting to amuse not only others but himself. The spirit of change seemed to be no longer working on his side. In 1884, Luna and Hidalgo become a sensational dou when they won major medals at the Exposition de Bellas Artes in Madrid. This achievement created a completely new turn in the artistic tastes of the time, for now artists who were educated abroad were lionized over those who stayed home and did not have the benefits of a European training. The wily ones began to copy Luna’s or Hidalgo’s techniques and concepts. Others who chose to remain as they were risked the danger of vanishing from the success scene. 

Capitan Ting who was in his 70s probably considered himself too old to compete with the young and trendy painters. In Manila’s art circles and to Capitan, it was clear that the miniaturistic style of realism had passed. 

Gray times too fell on the mestizo businessmen of Manila. The many foreign firms that had branches in Manila found faster market for their goods in the retail store of Chinese merchants. The Chinese, in turn, by virtue of their business connections with these big foreign firms, began to move steadily toward gaining control of the retail trade, once the domain of the mestizo businessmen. 

In the ambiance of this redoubtable financial losses, Capitan Ting’s adventurous son, Zacarias, set out for the province of Sorsogon about 1886, there to find better business opportunities where the Chinese had not yet gained foothold. It is said that his was the first “supermarket of Abueg town. With his marriage to a girl from nearby Masbate, Remedios Ramires, Zacarias so firmly established himself in that province that Capitan Ting felt sufficiently called upon to make the long and arduous trip to visit him. 

While in faraway Sorsogon, Capitan Ting learned of a new reform introduced in Manila. In a decree signed by the Overseas Minister of Spain, the guild system was abolished and replaced by a more systematized structurazation of the municipal government itself. By a stroke of the pen, the world of the Gremio de Mestizo, in which Capitan Ting figured most prominently, was cancelled. Capitan Ting never returned to Manila. In 1896 at the age of 80, Capitan Ting died in Abueg, Sorsogon, far removed from the middle class milieu that nurtured him and gave him fame. 

Rather ironically for such a meticulous portraitist, Capitan Ting’s own self-portrait does not exist today. It was kept in the house of one of his descendants in Malate, a southern district of Manila, which saw heavy damage not only during the battle for the liberation of the city in 1942, but also during two subsequent fires that leveled many houses to the ground. Yet more works of Capitan Ting, however, may surface. The Paterno family is supposed to have a representative collection. There has also been word that there are several works of Don Justiniano in Spain. When all his works are accounted for, another chapter in the life of Capitan Ting and his generation will reveal yet more delights. 


The Archipelago Magazine 1975


To see the scanned fotos of the  original1975 publication of the Archipelago magazine, please click here

About the author: Santiago Albano Pilar is a professor of art history at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. He teaches advanced courses in art history and connoisseurship in both the undergraduate and graduate programs. Pilar has authored several art books which include Juan Luna: the Filipino as a Painter, Pamana: The Jorge B. Vargas Art Collection and Domingo Celis: Inspired Calm and Harvest of Saints. He is associate editor of the Cultural Center of the Philippines‘ Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Volume IV: The Visual Arts. He was the 1980 TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men) Awardee for Art History and won the Araw ng Maynila Award: Tagapag-alaga ng Sining in 1996. He is also a consultant of exhibition projects for the Ayala Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Manila and Cultural Center of the Philippines. 



The Roughness Of Times


by jun asuncion


The search for the roots can never be a one-man undertaking even if  given the time and the means to pursue it.  It is a teamwork. For unlike writing an article on  a particular theme, for instance, where one has an infinite resources available on the web or libraries, the search for one’s lineage is like an archeological adventure: the material is scarce and one is dependent on that factor that we call luck. Luck in finding the right spot on a vast space to start digging and luck if you meet the people who are working with you, not against you. You may have the complete tools that you need for this kind of work but without luck and this teamwork, you wouldn’t bump on the materials you are searching for that will answer the questions you have posed at the start of your quest.

I’m for instance lucky and happy that the fundamental work on our family tree was  done already by other relatives who worked hard together in gathering the data they needed. That’s teamwork. Now, my search focusses primarily on biographical details of our ancestors and in the future perhaps more on my own reflections on these.

 Big thanks, of course, to today’s internet technology which has made many things a lot easier for us,  from transfer of ideas to transfer of digital documents. Indeed, a lot easier and faster.

But still, your progress for this kind of work is still very much dependent on the materials you find or get from different sources, of documents that are relevant and could probably link you to another, or give meaning to the seemingly irrelevant material or even idea that you already have for long.

So, as in any work in progress, your grasp of the whole subject is constantly adapting to the new materials that you are getting or even losing because of being  proven to be wrong. Here lies the excitement of the situation, here is the excitement when you find luck, here is the joy of teamwork.

One such excitements that occurred to me was when I got an E-mail with an attachment which I think the best E-mail attachment that I received so far in my yahoo career. The e-mail came from my cousin Sonny Rayos who lives in Texas and who has been very much ahead of me in his search for the Asuncion roots. He said that he also received this document from a cousin Gabriel Asuncion. 

The attachment is an article authored by the now Prof. Santiago A. Pilar about Justiniano Asuncion entitled The Loving Eye For Detail which is biographical sketch of the artist Justiniano Asuncion. I said authored by the now Prof. Santiago because the article was published 35 years ago  in now defunct international  magazine the Archipelago and that I don’t know if Santiago was already a professor at that time. I’ve tried to contact Professor Santiago to ask for his permission for the reprint of his article here in Bulan Observer but as of now I haven’t been successful. In any case. I consider it necessary not to let this article lay dormant for another decades before it will have its readers again. Indeed, for such a beautiful work, to risk being accused of copyright  infringement is justified. But to the best of my estimation, a scholar in the caliber of Prof. Santiago wouldn’t lay about me if his work is appreciated for such a purpose that we have and within such circumstances.

In this article, and in other documents I received from Sonny Rayos, a few but very important questions were answered or earlier concept disproven. Disproven was my original conception that our patriarch Mariano Asuncion wasn’t a mestizo. He was indeed a mestizo with caucasian features and a prominent one in the 19th century Sta. Cruz. One solid proof of this argument is the existence of a sketch of him rendered by his son Justiniano, the master painter himself.  And my question that was answered through Santiago’s article was whether Justiniano ever visited his son Zacarias in Bulan. Indeed, the ageing father visited his son in Bicol and remained there until his death.

But there is one big thrilling  question here because Prof. Santiago mentioned another name of the town in Sorsogon which is Abueg, not Bulan which I expected. I thought for a while that Abueg must have been an old 19th century name for Bulan but my intensive net surfing rendered negative results. I really don’t know of any place in Sorsogon that bears this name today and in the last centuries. For the meantime I leave this issue open and just hold on to my assumption that this was a mistake until proven otherwise. Indeed, this is a work in progress.

With more and more inputs coming from other relatives about who is who and from whose line and where, this time is opportune to start updating the Tree. Hence,  I urge whoever is in possession of valuable material related to this work, blood relative or not, to share it to us so we can move on. Information of this kind should be passed around for it is not about you and me but for the future family generations to come and of continuing what Justiniano had started to pass around: His portraits of the Asuncion women, his drawing of his father and his self-portrait which unfortunately was destroyed by the roughness of times.


next: The Loving Eye for Detail by Santiago A. Pilar


On Looking Back


by jun asuncion


I guess many of you have already noticed that over the last few weeks, comments that came in were mostly on my posts about the Asuncion History thus giving us the impression that we’re drifting away from our aim of keeping an eye on Bulan politics.

This maybe true but only if seen over a short-term. But talking about the families of Bulan is also part of our initial definitions for it is about local history.  I started with the history of the Asuncions of Bulan not because I’m an Asuncion but because the Asuncions are also part of our municipal history. I have always stressed in my past writings that local history is a subject of great importance. For how does it help our young Bulaneños’ identity if they only learn about Napoleon or Alexander the Great? Bulaneños should know first of all who died for them in the soils of Bulan fighting for their freedom. In this way, I welcome Mayor Helen  De Castro’s plan of starting a local museum of Bulan for then we can start paying our tribute to our past heroes and people from all walks of life who made a little difference in our town.

Looking back is advisable only if we have the intention of coming back to improve our present situation. This is also what I expect from our politics in Bulan. It should look back with the purpose of improving Bulan and of uniting its people. It should neither look back with the intention of revenge or destruction nor build a local heritage museum only to glorify one family or an exclusive group of Bulan citizens. A local heritage museum should glorify the whole town of Bulan by bridging it to its past and to its desired future and by giving its local identity a solid historical ground.

But above all these, it’s all about the attitude of thankfulness when we begin to treasure the past. Carried over to the present politics, we can only harvest good things from it. For a mayor and other elected municipal officials of Bulan to be sincerely thankful to the people who placed them to their positions is a good sign of cultivating that public trust.

Now, over the  long-range, my search for the Asuncion’s history is also one of the many ways I have in mind of connecting Bulan with other places in the Philippines and even abroad. This is my way of putting Bulan in the global map. With more and more Asuncions coming from different places- and so as Yatcos, Alzonas, Rayos, Paternos, etc.,- reading Bulan Observer we also increase indirectly observers of Bulan. In this way, we are actually fulfilling that definition of letting the whole world know about what’s happening in our town not ony politically but also culturally. Political vigilance should be spread out for it to be effective.

The other method of increasing our observers is that of inviting writers to publish some of their works here. We have  been graced lately by a Philstar columnist Michelle Dayrit-Soliven when she posted her articles here in Bulan Observer. We are humbled and honored by her gesture of recognition for the culture that we represent. Until now we have been successful with this method but it is clear to all contributors  that everything is on voluntary basis. So writers come and go and that’s good like that for we are all free to move around as we treat each other as good neighbors.

But lately this did not work with one contributor from Gubat for he had other expectations and couldn’t deal with criticism to the point that he literally ran amok and ordered me to go away and look for another master.  I’ve looked around for level-headed writers, not ego-inflated colonial masters.  And go away from what, from Bulan or Bulan Observer? Since I  don’t want that the youth should learn from such primitive language and arrogant attitude, I decided to exclude him from our round table where we treat one another as free beings, not as masters or slaves. In this way we remain true to our committment of preventing BO from becoming a hate site. Yes, we aim for a culture of freedom and  reason, not for a culture of slavery and hate.

Now, let it be made clear to our local officials that we have a broader and healthier concept of political vigilance. It is not about mistrust or paranoia but of appreciation of good things they do for Bulan. Though we still encourage every one not to hesitate to report observed unpleasant events  in Bulan that concern us all. It’s not personalities but  principles that interest us most of all. Indeed, nothing personal in the truest sense of the word, a motto which has cost me personally some good old friends but also left me with a few real good ones.

Back to writing about  family heritage, may this serve as motivation for others in n Bulan to do the same for it’s not only interesting but also full of surprises. It could for instance suddenly turn out that a neighbor you cannot stand is actually your relative. So writing about one’s family brings people closer together. This is one thing good about looking back.


Stitching Up Dreams




 by Michelle Dayrit-Soliven 



Her dreams are made of a thousand and one fabrics fashioned out of a thousand and one stitches. This I learned about Cora de Jesus Manimbo. 



One of the most meaningful events I was fortunate to attend recently was a store blessing of a newfound friend. More than just a dress shop, this blessed establishment represents a miracle borne from adversity, an answered prayer for Cora and her family. 

My scheduled time to meet her was quite unusual. “May I invite you for breakfast to celebrate this happy occasion,” read Cora’s SMS to me. Not wanting to miss it, my husband and I made sure we were at her shop in Greenhills at 7:30 a.m. on the dot. It was a Sunday, otherwise known as the Lord’s day. Truly we felt it was. Families gathered together as Fr. Fernando Suarez thanked a benevolent God who showered this gift unto Cora and her prayerful family. With gentle sprinkles of holy water, Fr. Suarez blessed each corner of the store, the lovely Filipiniana inspired dresses designed by Cora, exquisitely embroidered barongs, fabrics and accessories artistically displayed by her staff. His solemn prayer was, “Lord, please continue to bless the work of their hands and all those who enter here.” 

It was a joyful gathering of family, friends and loyal patrons who shared in her joys having witnessed firsthand the difficulties that Cora went through. Judging from the attendance, the Manimbo family is well loved by many. 

I spotted a lovely lady in a cloud of pink (my favorite color) fleeting around, warmly greeting her guests. It was Cora elegantly garbed in her own creation. 

“Thank you for being here, Michelle and Benny,” she said with a smile. 

Like an old friend, Cora continued to share with us her story. “This is a very special day for me. Now I know that God had a secret plan all along. What I considered the most challenging situation in my life turned out to be a blessing in disguise. That powerful typhoon Ondoy struck us full force in Marikina last September. We were overwhelmed by the challenges of rebuilding our home, our business, our lives. But thank God! After eight months, with everybody’s help, including my friends, staff and family, we have been able to relaunch this new and permanent shop for all of us to enjoy. This is a testament of our faith in the Almighty.” 

And really what a great address it is. Much more accessible, according to her clients, than the former Marikina location. Her new shop Cora D.J. Manimbo Fashion House is located on the upper ground floor of Swire Elan Suites, a condotel building on 49 Annapolis St., Greenhills in San Juan. 

Over a sumptuous breakfast buffet in the hotel café, we got to meet the dynamic couple behind Elan Suites. From architect Ramon Licup and his pretty wife Elena Murillo Licup, I learned that their condo hotel is very popular among balikbayans and foreign guests. Conveniently located right across the lively Greenhills shopping complex, it is a solid landmark in Greenhills. No wonder that this location is perfect for Cora’s balikbayan clients. After getting their wedding ensembles made at Cora’s they can stroll down the street in the company of their family and friends, catch up on the latest movies, shop for pasalubongs and then feast on a great variety of cuisine or just restaurant hop. When they are tired, they can simply walk back to the hotel with all their packages and indulge in the hotel spa which is right by Cora’s shop. 

Cora’s proud family was there in full force. Charles Bernard, 19, a freshman in De La Salle University taking up Entrepreneurship, shared, “My mom’s store specializes in formal Filipiniana outfits for men and women. She does fabulous weddings here and abroad. The balikbayans and foreigners swear by her works, profusely giving thanks for they always stand out in their Cora DJ Manimbo originals.” 

I also met Cora’s other children Matthew Bernard, a high school senior in La Salle Greenhills and a member of the varsity basketball team; and only daughter Sophia Therese, 21, studying in UP College of Arts and Letters taking up Creative Writing. In that early morning affair, they were upbeat in telling me that their mother “never boasts of her creations but her works become her walking advertisement and always speak well of her awesome talent.” 

I asked Cora where she got the talent to make clothes. “As a fashion designer for Philippine clothing, I trace my roots down to my parents. My father, Primo De Jesus, and my mother, Fely De Jesus, are both born artists. Though we were trained to work hard early on in our lives because we were born poor in Marikina, I had a happy and wonderful childhood. My dad who strived really hard to finish school became a working student mechanic and a family man as well. My hardworking mom is a multi-tasker.” 

According to Cora, changes in their way of living happened when her father worked abroad as an OFW in Vietnam. At first, as a regular mechanic to being the team leader of their group serving the US Embassy motorpool in Saigon. “With his and my mother’s combined earnings, they were able to send us to college.” 

Cora entered UP for two semesters before transferring to Philippine School of Business Administration as a fulltime scholar and finished Business Administration major in Accounting. She eventually became a Certified Public Accountant. While working in Security Bank & Trust Company as a financial analyst, she helped set up a family business, a small pawnshop operation in Marikina and a one-stop printing shop. After four years of banking and family businesses, she resigned and focused in helping her parents send her siblings to college. After a while, she wanted to improve her skills, she accepted an offer to work in a big printing and packaging company, the “Propack Philippines” where she was trained to be an expert in color matching, combinations, separations and lay-out designing. After a year, her boss found a perfect employee who wanted to learn everything about the business, she was promoted to be assistant to the president after two years, handling all of her boss’ accounts. She was hungry for knowledge in everything she did. She excelled in organizing events and trade shows for the company; attending seminars and attending to suppliers and principals. In short, Cora was a superwoman. 

In 1986, at the height of the Edsa Revolution, Cora met a gentleman named Bernardito “Bernie” Manimbo, fell in love and they married in 1989. 

Cora said it was in 1990 when they first started their business at Tomas Morato in Quezon City. It was a tiangge with a few t-shirts and batik shirt overruns for export to Spain. Cora added: “Eventually, we started participating in bazaars at the American Women’s Club and also in foreign embassies. Though it was hard and much too complex for me and my husband as beginners, we really enjoyed meeting new people and improved ourselves to better the future of our family.” 

Because her schedule was flexible, she was able to attend to her growing up children while manning the business, too. 

“One good thing about our business is that it was the foreigners who enjoyed our products and began to promote the unique Philippine-made textile and designs that are mind-blowing in terms of quality. We began to scour for suppliers of materials and we also began to teach weavers on what to pursue in terms of color, design, quality, and to advocate the promotion of these Philippine artworks especially to other nationalities,” Cora said, adding that the happiest moments in her life were the times she gave birth to her three children. Cora said she has always dreamed of a better life for their children and that they anchor their everyday endeavours on hard work, love and faith in God. 

“My philosophy in life is always to do the right things and pray to God. I’m always grateful to God for all the miracles, the problems and the people around me,” Cora ended. / 


Cora Manimbo can be reached at 744-0401 

Michelle Dayrit- Soliven 


The Noodle In Asuncions’ Soup

 by jun asuncion            



Clarifying some confusions.            

Old Sta. Cruz, Manila


  I’ve tried to know whether our patriarch Mariano Kagalitan was originally a  native Muslim. He was for sure not a mestizo of any kind or a Spaniard for he also had to change his family name later on to a Christian name (which is Assumption, later  developed to its present form  Asuncion)  under the Claveria Decree of 1849.            

What was known was that Mariano was one of those prominent people who resided in Sta. Cruz, that he was an accomplished artist himself who, as many of you know by now, produced master artists  like Leoncio, Justiniano, Mariano, Jr. and Antonio. Marianos’ ancestors were unknown to us until now. But about his wife Maria de la Paz Molo much is known.            

 The Beginnings…Of What We Know Only Today.            

Maria De La Paz Molo’s father was Ming Mong Lo, who- according to the family history – was a Chinese apothecary of Mandarin origins and married a local woman. Ming Mong Lo adopted the Christian name Jose Molo upon baptism –  and that was before the Claveria decree of 1849 and prospered as a merchant in the district of Binondo. He was said to have bequeathed five children, among them Paterno Joseph Molo and  Maria de La Paz Molo.            

 No doubt Maria de La Paz was half-Chinese and half-Filipino – assuming that her mother was not a “local” Chinese ( I have problem understanding what a “local” woman or man meant at that time).  Her mother’s  identity is totally unknown to me until a few days ago.            

And there was some sort of confusions in my search because of this:            

Old Binondo, Manila


 In his book,  Brains Of The Nation (published 2006 by Ateneo de Manila University Press), Resil B. Mojares took up as subjects of study his  “three figures of Filipino Enlightenment”, namely, Pedro Paterno, Th. Pardo De Tavera and Isabelo De Los Reyes and their influence on the production of modern knowledge in the Philippines. He mentioned that Ming Mong Lo, the earliest known patriarch of both the present day Asuncion and Paterno families, got married to a local woman with “blue blood” in her veins, she being  the “direct descendant of the Great Maguinoo, or Prince of Luzon”.            

My question was: Does this mean that the Asuncions could go as far as Raja Soliman as one among their patriarchs? This Great Maguinoo or Prince of Luzon could only be Raja Soliman, the famous King Of Tondo who initially resisted the Spanish adelantados. Resil’s argument had led me to wrong places which increased the confusion.            

 Until I was summoned by Maning Yatco by way of his comment here at BO to visit Toto Gonzalez’  Blog Remembrance Of Things Awry because of the interesting discussions there about the Asuncion-Molo-Yatco’s connection. It was in this site where I got an authoritative argument coming from Mickey and Jean Paterno who said that Ming Mong Lo (Jose Molo), their ancestor, married Anastacia Michaela , the proofs of which are the “baptismal records of his sons circa 1780’s.” They argued that their ancestors originally belonged to the “parish of the Parian” and that most probably they moved to the “upcoming barrio San Sebastian in Quiapo, the place “which his children cite as their principality in their legal documents.”            

It was probably in Quiapo where Maria De La Paz was born to Ming Mong Lo and Anastacia. ( Her birth had fulfilled already one requirement among others for the realization of the Asuncion clan.) By this point, it was clear to me that we couldn’t count Raja Soliman as among our patriarchs, the “blue blood” in our veins is out of the question then. Resil’s argument was not right, unless Anastacia Michaela, the wife of Ming Mong Lo, could be proven as descendant of Rajah Matanda or Raja Lakandula, both uncles of Rajah Soliman (political dynasty is as old as our history!)            

But who was this woman with this blue blood in her veins whom Pedro Paterno was explaining to the English author Mr. Foreman?             

Well, at this point we have to clear up first another confusion about Molo and Paterno. Substantially, they are the same. The  family name Paterno of the succeeding Molo generations came to be adopted by 1849 (most probably in fulfillment of the Claveria decree) to honor Paterno Joseph, a son of Jose Molo (originally Ming Mong Lo). Notice that Paterno is actually a first name. But it was common at that time among the Chinese mestizos to acquire the first names of their parents as their family names- exactly what the Molos did, at least with certainty by Paterno Joseph’s son, Maximo Paterno who was the father of the widely known historical figure Pedro Paterno of the Pact of Biak- na- Bato.            

It was probably from the lineage of Paterno Joseph where this “blue blood” in the veins could be traced back among the succeeding generations of Paternos due to his marriage with Miguela Yamson, the daughter of Juan Yapson and Maria de la Cruz- the name which is claimed  to be a descendant of Raja Soliman. (Note that during the introduction of the Claveria Decree, those natives who couldn’t read and write were just asked -or ordered- to draw a cross after their first names, hence the family names De La Cruz).  But it was through this  “marriage to Miguela Yamson that opened to Paterno Joseph Agustin (Molo) opportunities available only to local royalty, or the “principalia”. Hereafter, he was addressed as Don Paterno Agustin and qualified to run for public office”, commented Micky and Jean Paterno of today.            

The Asuncion and Paterno (Molo) Connection            

This started with the marriage of Mariano Kagalitan Asuncion to Maria De La Paz, the sister of Paterno Joseph. Paterno’s son Maximo was therefore a cousin of the first Asuncions — Justiniano, Leoncio, etc. It was Maximo who supported Justiniano Asuncion by commissioning portraits for the ladies of his house. Maximo had an astute sense for excellent investments and he had maximized his  fortune  in his capacity as gobernadorcillo of San Sebastian and Quiapo. He himself married thrice, the first with Valeriana Pineda, the second with Carmen De Vera Ignacio and the third with Carmen’s sister Theodora De Vera Ignacio whose portrait is shown here as painted by Justiniano.             

Hence, two things are clearer to me now: First,  that the Asuncions have partly  Chinese blood in their veins, second, that though they had also engaged in politics, like Mariano, Justiniano, etc., down to Don Zacarias and Adonis Asuncion their strength was not in politics, i.e.,  the way we understand “political strength”  in the Philippines before and now, but it is in the arts and the humanities and sciences that they excelled and earned recognition even beyond their times.            


Acknowledgement:  Sonny Rayos- Asuncion, Toto Gonzales’ Remembrance Of Things Awry, Micky and Jean Paterno, Resil B. Mojares, Wikipedia