by jun asuncion
Part I: The Search Begins
This post is my reply to this comment from Jeffrey, an Asuncion. This made me take out my copy of our Family Tree which I got from my sister Menchu. The research for this Family tree is largely credited to my uncle Dr. Ronaldo Asuncion. So there is something private in this post, with the purpose of connecting with the other relatives of mine who would be willing to supply more information about our lineage and/or help me answer Jeffrey’s inquiry.The Asuncions have always been closely associated with the town of Bulan and they are proud of their town.
Here is Jeffrey’s comment:
“hi i am jeffrey i grew up in manila but have roots in bulan. I learned that my great great grandfather rodolfo asuncion sr. is a son of zacarias. I wanted to know more about the line in the entry above stating that zacarias was among the many bulan residents persecuted by spaniards during the Revolution. would just like to know the exact details of what transpired that led to his detention. I presume this was the factor which led him to stay in pasig afterwards.”
Jeffrey was referring to this entry in Wikipedia/Bulan website which mentioned our great-grandfather Don Zacarias Asuncion:
“Don Teodoro De Castro y Zabala was arrested and incarcerated in Bilibid, because he was found in possession of letters written by anti-Spanish natives in Manila. Don Zacarias Asuncion and other residents suffered the same fate, for having no cedulas personales and for singing anti-Spanish songs.” (Wikipedia, Bulan website)
Personally, it interests me to know the music and lyrics of those anti- Spanish songs which my rebel great-grandfather sang and which led him behind bars. Composed or improvised?
Unable to find an answer, I went back to Justiniano Asuncion in search of any clue that might shed a little light to the Zacarias issue. Again, I found no answer but names after names of Asuncions in politics, arts and sciences. Verily, I’m proud of my grandfathers! To write about Justiniano alone would fill up pages, a task I wish I could do.
Well-known as “Capitan Ting,” Justiniano Asuncion was one of the leading Filipino painters in the 19th century. He was born on September 26, 1816 in Sta. Cruz, Manila. He was the 11th among 12 children of Mariano Kagalitan, whose family name was changed to “Asuncion” following the Claveria Decree. In 1834, he studied at Escuela de Dibujo, where he obtained his skills in painting. Sometime in 1855, he became capitan municipal of Sta. Cruz, Manila. Asuncion was the painter of the famous “Coronation of the Virgin,” the “Virgin of Antipolo,” “Filomena Asuncion,” and “Romana A. Carillo.” He produced life-sized paintings of San Agustin, San Geronimo, San Antonio, and San Gregorio Magno which were kept at the Sta. Cruz Church before the Pacific War. These precious canvases were destroyed when the Japanese bombarded the church in February 1945. His works mirror the mannerism of that period – the first 75 years of the 19th century. The portraitists of those time carefully delineated features of the head; the hands and other minor details with linear accuracy; usually disregarding tonal values and emphasizing hardness of effect. The University of Santo Tomas Museum owns one of Asuncion’s paintings, dated February 1862. An unsigned portrait of Fr. Melchor Garcia de Sampedro at the UST Museum is said to be the work of Asuncion. Most of his other works are kept as national treasures at the Central Bank of the Philippines Museum. On September 12, 1983, at the façade of Sta. Cruz Church in Manila, a marker was installed in his honor. He died in 1901 at age of 85.
A painting of Justiniano:
Portrait of Teodora Devera Ygnacio
Justiniano Asuncion (1816-1901)
CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art, vol. IV. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994.
Manuel, E. Arsenio and Magdalena Avenir Manuel. Dictionary of Philippine Biography Volume
3. Quezon City: Filipinana Publications, 1986.
(Justiniano Asuncion [1816-1901] was my great-great- Grandfather. Married to Justina Farafina Gomez. Their children: Benita, Zacarias, Marcelina, Jacobo, Gabriel and Martiniana. Justiniano’s father was Mariano Kagalitan, Sr. (later Asuncion) whose other children were: Manuel (1792), Antonio (1794), Victoria (1796), Mamerta (1798), Justo (1800), Mariano,jr. (1802), Epifanio (1806), Ambrosio (1808), Pascula (1811), Leoncio (1813), Canuta (1819), Theodoro (18??).
Don Zacarias Asuncion (son of Justiniano)
JEFE DEL PUEBLO (Municipal Mayor Of Bulan): 1898 – 1900
“Don Teodoro De Castro y Zabala was arrested and incarcerated in Bilibid, because he was found in possession of letters written by anti-Spanish natives in Manila. Don Zacarias Asuncion and other residents suffered the same fate, for having no cedulas personales and for singing anti-Spanish songs.” (Wikipedia, bulan website)
Zacarias was my great-grandfather. With Juana Zalvidea he had two daughters, Guia and Consuelo. With Remedios Ramirez he had I think 9 children: Adonis, Jacobo, Rodolfo, Salvador, Justina, Justiniano, Zacarias [jr?], Kenerino [founder of Southern Luzon Institute SLI, later KRAMS, married to Leonora Paras] and Digna.
(son of Zacarias)
Municipal Mayor of Bulan: 1941-43; 1945-46
Adonis was my grandfather, grew up with him in our compound; in 1967 this wonderful grandfather of mine wandered all over Bulan South Central School looking for me with a handful of school supplies. It was just the opening of classes. He found me at the classroom of Miss Ceres McCoy Villareal (?), my grade one teacher. Unforgettable!
Uncles and aunties:
Rafael Asuncion ( national artist, he comes from the Leoncio Asuncion lineage. Leoncio was a brother of Justiniano).
“Rafael Asuncion comes from the long line of Asuncion artists, namely Justiniano, Mariano, Leoncio and Jose Maria. This present-day Asuncion is a Master of Fine Arts graduate of theAsean Institute of Art. A recipient of many top awards, he was also a founding member of the Art Association of the Philippines and a president of the Art Directors Club of the Philippines. Asuncion is likewise credited with designing a dozen commemorative stamps and the 10, 50, and 500 Philippine peso banknotes and coins-flora and fauna series with two other artists. He is credited with designing the UP College of Fina Arts official seal. The Asuncion artistic lineage does not end with Rafael. His children, along with other members of the Asuncion clan are also artists and so the saga continues”
Among Rafael’s designs: The P500 bill
SCHOLASTIC ACHIEVERS/BOARD/ BAR TOPNOTCHERS
1. Digna Asuncion (sister of Adonis Asuncion)- Topnotcher, Pharmacy Board Exam/ Pre-War Doctor Of Philosophy and Letters, Universidad de Madrid (Spain) Summa Cum Laude
2. Rodolfo G. Asuncion, Jr. – No. 1 Marine Officers Examination (married to Remedios Grayda; his parents were Rodolfo Asuncion Sr. [brother of Adonis] and Monica Gerona; Among his siblings were Salvador [father of the actress Aurora Salve], Rizalina, Raquel, Ruben, Ronaldo [a medical Doctor, former Dean Of Radiology Department, UST] and Rene. )
3. Iluminada Asuncion (daughter of Jacobo, Adonis’ brother) 11th Place, Dentistry Board 1953
4. Consuelo Asuncion (sister of Iluminada)- 1st Place, Pharmacy Board 1954
5. Natividad R. Asuncion (sister of Iluminada)- 1st Place, Nursing Board 1954
6. Rizalina Asuncion (sister of Rodolfo, Jr.)- 1st Place, Sr. Teacher Exams for Physics 1956
JOSE MARIA R. ASUNCION
Painter and Writer
The eldest of four children, Jose Ma. Asuncion was born to Hilarion Asuncion and Marcela Raymundo of Sta. Cruz, Manila, on December 14, 1869. His father, the son of LeoncioAsuncion, a notable wood carver, was a portraitist and painter of religious subjects. Asuncion enrolled at the Ateneo de Manila and obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1888. At the time, he was studying at the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura, 1884-1889, then under the direction of Agustin Saez. Later, he transferred to the University of Santo Tomas to study under Felipe Roxas, who advised him to take further studies abroad. In 1890, both Roxas and Asuncion were in Paris. Asuncion received a grant from Agustina Medel, wealthy patroness of the arts from Manila and, later, owner of Teatro Zorilla.
While in Paris, he met the Filipino painters Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo and French artists. The following year he enrolled at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Madrid, where he studied for four years, 1891-1895. He garnered first prize in general history of art and costumes and obtained second prize in theory, aesthetics, and philosophy of art. While at the Escuela, he befriended Vicente Francisco, a government pensionado in sculpture who was then enrolled at the same academy. In 1895, he sailed back to Manila, passed a competitive examination, and was appointed assistant in the Escuela Profesional de Artes y Oficios, in Iloilo, which position he held until November 1898.
During the second stage of the Philippine Revolution, he served in the military administration and at one time took charge of the provisions for Filipino forces in Iloilo. He was transferred to the engineer corps as lieutenant under Gen. Adriano Hernandez. He helped in the construction of fortifications and trenches in Jaro, Leganes, La Paz and other strategic points. He also served under Gen. Pablo Araneta during the Filipino-American War. He was promoted to captain in February 1899, and three months later, to commander.
When the Americans gradually gained ground on his forces, he retreated to the mountains. After some time, Asuncion and his wife, Juana Hubero, whom he married in September 1899, went to Calbayog, Samar to join his father who ran a grocery store. It was in his town that his wife gave birth to their first child, Vicente. A year later, finding Samar not yet wholly pacified, he moved his family to Tacloban, Leyte. He stayed there for four years, spending his time painting landscapes and telons for local comedias. He also engaged in photography, a business which he left to his brother Gabriel’s management when he left for Manila in 1905.
He studied law, 1905-1909. He became a member of the Partido Independista, and was soon contributing articles on art and social and economic problems to the party’s organ, La Independencia. He also wrote for El Ilonguillo, La Voz de Mindanao, La Union, El Estudiante, El Renacimiento, The Independent, and Dia Filipino. Together with Rafael Enriquez, he founded the Sociedad Internacional de Artistas of Manila. Enriquez became its first president and Asuncion, its secretary. During their term, the Exposicion de Bellas Artes y Industrias Artisticas was held in December 1908, in time for the visit of an American squadron. This exhibition displayed more than 4,000 pieces of art. It aroused much interest and emphasized the need for a publicly supported institution in the arts.
Asuncion was a Freemason. His masonic writings may be found in Hojas Sueltas and The Cabletow. His studies on the history of Philippine art and his sketches of Filipino costumes are among the few exceedingly valuable contributions on these subjects. The drawings numbered 215 when Manuel Artigas y Cuerva saw them, but they were never wholly published. Some appeared in print under the title, “El Traje Filipino, 1750 a 1830,” in Revista Historica de Filipinas, for August 1905. He could have left a much more significant tribute to his memory had this collection of studies and drawings been published. But after his death, it was neglected. When another painter, Vicente Alcarez Dizon, saw Asuncion’s scattered works, they were already in a bad state. He acquired them and used them later for his studies.
When the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts was opened, Asuncion accepted an appointment to its faculty on June 1, 1909. Two years later, on July 1, 1911, he was made secretary of the school. Asuncion’s paintings are included in the private collections of Alfonso T. Ongpin, Antonio Torres, Epifanio de los Santos Cristobal, and the Limjap family. He was considered by Fabian de la Rosa as a specialist in “still life” and, at the same time, as one who “devoted himself with notable ability, to the studies of art, archaeology and journalism.”
He died on May 2, 1925. His remains were buried in the Veteran’s Lot, Cementerio del Norte, Manila. In 1932, his heirs donated his collection of writings to the National Library. /
(References: CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Volume 4. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994. Manuel, E. Arsenio. Dictionary of Philippine Biography Volume I. Quezon City: Filipiniana Publications, 1955.)/
Jose Maria R. Asuncion, the versatile Asuncion, painter, writer, soldier, educator, freemason, family man…what else shall we wish for? His father was Hilarion Asuncion, his grandfather was Leoncio, the brother of Justiniano. What else is there? Yes, he was the father of our living Asuncion artist Rafael Asuncion! Rafael has two other brothers,Vicente and Gabriel. That R in Jose’s name, his middle name, came from Marcela Raymundo, his mother, naturally.
Part II The Noodle In Asuncions’ Soup
Clarifying Some Confusions
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 nor 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. 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 confusion in my research because of this:
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 Lakadula, 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?
From Molo To Paterno
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 Agustin 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 Maxi 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 above 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: Toto Gonzales’ Remembrance Of Things Awry, Sonny Rayos, Micky and Jean Paterno, Resil B. Mojares, Wikipedia
Part III The Roughness Of Times
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 a 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.
A 19th-century burgher records the faces of his people (originally published in the 1975 edition of the Archipelago magazine)
by Santiago A. Pilar
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. Sruz, 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/ click photo to enlarge)
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.
An Asuncion at Mensa- Switzerland
A personal note, written primarily for my relatives and for those interested in child psychology.
Way back in the 1980′s, during my college years in Manila, my favorite psychology subjects were psychological testing (psychometrics), projective techniques, psychopathology, mental hygiene, theories of personality, experimental psychology and seminar on exceptional children. In projective techniques, the student learns the rudiments administering and evaluating personality tests. Throughout these courses, the student begins to be confronted with the question of personalities, the reality of individual differences, inborn and acquired traits, the nature of intelligence in all its theoretical aspects.
A college freshman is faced with these basic questions: First, what is personality? Second, what is intelligence? And then you slide into the third: Is there a direct correlation between personality and intelligence? Do intelligent people have more pleasant personality than less intelligent ones or is there no direct correlation at all between these two factors? The next thing that confronts the student is the relationship between high intelligence or genius and insanity? Is this true that geniuses are prone to mental illness and personality disorders whereas the normal ones not? Or is this just a myth or a hollywood invention? And then comes this simple issue: Are intelligent people practical and independent?
Well, four years of basic psychology studies will not give you instantly the answers to these questions and give you peace of mind. I have learned that my favorite subjects had only given me a good starting point to continue the inquiry. One thing that I have learned after all these years is that everything is a matter of definition and the context to which this definition is being applied. Or, even better, let the context offer the definition of such things as intelligence, normalcy, perfection, etc. The other thing that has taught me more is experience. Experience gives you a solid understanding or even doubt about the subject. My years of experience in observing psychiatric patients have no doubt taught me more than anything else to evaluate roughly a person almost at a glance: Is he/she a schizophrenic, a psychopath, a drug dependent, an alcoholic, a manic-depressive one, a borderline personality, suicidal person or a sexual deviate; or, to evaluate indirectly by way of any available product of that person: a written piece, a drawing or illustration, etc.
But intelligence is something else. It’s requires more to gauge it. A mere glance cannot tell me if one is an average, genius or retarded (except for genetic abnormalities as Down syndrome, etc.). But this time, through indirect way, i.e. by way of a written piece or work of art, etc., I could tell more about the intelligence of the person.
On the other side, my experience has shown me how tricky this aspect is: For example, relying on school performance alone does not give you the real intelligence of a child or a youth. Behind an average or even below average performing child could be a gifted one. It is in the extremes of appearances that we have to exercise caution and observe more. But in general, we can say that a child is intelligent if it grasps abstract relationships within a short time than other children and translates his ideas successfully into concretely observable results for the observers. But what if this translation doesn’t occur, or if the child consciously – or even unconsciously – distorts this translation? It follows that our picture of the child is also distorted.
Then it’s time that we observers, parents or educators must look at ourselves. Are we competent enough to make the right judgment(evaluation) and do we have the necessary experience in this area?
I always recommend observing the child who has problems at school in the totality of his behavior and when needed to send the child to a recognized testing institution for aptitude and intelligence test. Ideally, school – pubic or private – should have also a team of counsellors which includes one or more school psychologists to help troubled parents and children.
In my neighborhood, I have given advice to concerned and troubled parents this way and even offered my on – the – spot analysis of the child’s personality and general mental aptitude drawing out of my experience in this field. I admit, that though it’s really hard to determine the child’s intelligence, still I can say that experience gives me a solid ground to base my guess or intuition. I was right in many cases because these grown-up children are now high achievers, out of the initially hopeless situation when they were in the elementary years.
But now, we come to my experience of this subject within the four walls of my home, an experience that has given me doubts about what I know and challenges that almost went beyond our limit as parents. And that is when my second son, Samuel, came into our life. From birth, I already sensed that he is intelligent. As a child he rarely cried, was very quite, curious and independent in his ways. At age three, he was reading until three in the morning that at times I had to switch off his bed lamp so he would sleep. At this age he had memorized the books he had in his room, performed weird chemistry experiments, etc. He protested by crying when we brought him to a play group but showed great joy when we brought him to a painting group for children.
His week, together with his older brother Cyril, was full of activities already before the age of five: music group for pre-school children and, a few months after, violin lessons where he always astonished his teacher for his excellent hearing, private English, French and cooking courses every Saturday for several years and swimming where he also excelled. Later on he switched to piano and about the same time he started with hip-hop dancing course from a known dancer and teacher and won second place in the Swiss dance team competition. With 16, he started teaching this dance style, now with 18, he resumed his Thai boxing lessons and intends after graduation this summer to go to Thailand for Muay Thai boxing teacher course.
Before entering primary class, he underwent a thorough intelligence and aptitude tests in a private human potential evaluation clinic that took the whole morning with a short break in between. The results showed him belonging to the top 2% of the population of children of his age group. The effect was that he jumped directly from kindergarten to Grade 2 and parallel to normal schooling, he had to attend special courses for gifted children organized and supported by the city of Zürich where they learned other supplementary subjects as chemistry, mathematics, physics, philosophy, etc. This satisfied all of his “mental needs”. During this time, at age 9, he was admitted to Mensa-Switzerland whose only criterion for membership is an IQ score in the top 2% of the general population on a battery of standardized intelligence tests (“normally” from above 130 IQ scores). But this too went not without a little problem because he was “under age”, which means below 15. But they readily made an exception to the rule. And so it went that he became the youngest member in the history of Mensa-Switzerland.
Parents can only be proud of this story but we had our own worries. His normal schooling went on not without problems for he showed little interest in his homework and in most of his teachers in the public school who were not trained for such a child with a different quality of perception. In fact, some of his new teachers in the primary school considered him below average. He was – and is even now – behaving like that so that, at age 12, I let him undergo another intelligence and aptitude test, this time administered by the school psychologist in that private school we found for him after we pulled him out from the Volksschule. I was there again to observe as he made his written and oral examination for hours. From the answers to the oral tests I heard and the awed facial expressions of the psychologist , I knew already that he was still in his “old” intellectual status. Hence, nothing was changed only that he needed the right environment that suits his needs.
But he remained an ordinary boy before the eyes of our friends and relatives and with time we got used to this fact. Only a handful of his friends (who are gifted themselves) realize and appreciate the gift that is in him. Same feathers flock together? Intuitively, I observed, they do.
With 15, he was turned down by many firms as he applied for apprenticeship because of his not-so-shining secondary school grades. Again, another problem for all of us. Until he was admitted to a Swiss Federal Institute of Technology or ETH (Einstein’s alma mater) spin-off IT firm. There his mentor, an ETH IT lecturer, himself a very intelligent man, has told us that “no doubt, your son is very intelligent”.
So, what’s the problem? Samuel will graduate this summer at age 19 as IT specialist. /
Asuncion Genealogy: Additional Information from relatives
The Asuncion and Gerona Connection
Dear fellow Asuncion relatives,
Had breakfast with neighbor Horace Gillego and he supplied me a copy of their family tree. In our previous emails last year, we mentioned that Horace pointed us to the Bulan Observer website of Jun Asuncion (Horace’s roots come from Bulan). Lately, Horace discovered in their late dad’s house an old folder which contained the family tree of Rafael Espiritu Gerona (died April 14, 1871) and Ma. Justaquia Gray (died Jan 1, 1873).
The family tree traces the line from the Gerona & Gray union (they were married July 30, 1821). One of their seven children was Casimiro Gerona (married Zenona Antiado). Their union brought forth four children, the youngest Salvador Gerona (married Rita Gimpaya). And the latter couple produced ten children, one of them was Monica Gerona.
Monica Gerona married Rodolfo Asuncion. Rodolfo Asuncion was one of the children of Zacharias Asuncion. Rodolfo’s mom is Zacharias’ third wife – Remedios Ramirez. Zacharias’ dad is Justinano. Zacharias’ grandpa is Mariano “Kagalitan” Asuncion.
From Rodolfo Asuncion and Monica Gerona came papa Ronnie Asuncion.
From Rodolfo’s brother Adonis came Andres Asuncion (dad of Andres “Jun” Asuncion & Malou Asuncion Lao).
From Rodolfo’s brother Jacobo came Sor Marissa Asuncion’s line.
Justiniano Asuncion’s Album Of Watercolors Mirrors 19th Century Filipino Life
( A reprint of Mrs. Florina Capistrano -Baker’s article in Philstar in connection with our search for the artist Justiniano Asuncion. junasun)
By Florina H. Capistrano-Baker
Not a few art enthusiasts are under the mistaken notion that the 19th century album of watercolors depicting various peoples and costumes of the Philippines in a special collection at the New York Public Library is yet another version of the Damian Domingo album at the Newberry Library in Chicago, a misconception apparently stemming at least in part from a typed commentary on a small slip of paper appended to the album stating thus: “Artists: Damian Domingo and Justiniano Asuncion, according to Mr. A. Roces, July 8, 1980.”Further, an earlier notation presumably handwritten shortly after the album was completed, indicates that: “These figures were painted for the sake of the costumes by a native artist of Manila [sic] for M. Soden Esq. of Bath — in the year 1841 or 2 (9 in number). The other four by an inferior artist the former being ill. [signed M.M.S.]“If we were to believe the 1980 notation that the artists were indeed Damian Domingo and Justiniano Asuncion, the logical assumption of most would be that the nine superior paintings were by Domingo, and the other four by Asuncion, who was the more junior of the two. Closer scrutiny, however, disputes the attribution to Damian Domingo, for the rendering of the figures is distinct from that of the signed Domingo album in the Edward Ayer collection at the Newberry Library.
Moreover, it is the opinion of many that Justiniano Asuncion surpassed his erstwhile mentor in artistic skill and virtuosity. It is therefore unlikely that the “other four by an inferior artist the former being ill” could refer to the talented Asuncion. Rather, the nine superior works are clearly those of Asuncion himself, and the four inferior works by another, unidentified artist.The handwritten notation placing the year of manufacture to the early 1840s similarly refutes authorship by Damian Domingo, who is said to have died a decade earlier in the early 1830s. A careful reading of the images, in fact, brings to mind the many unsigned 19th-century prints attributed to Justiniano Asuncion that are still seen occasionally offered for sale in various art shops today.Belonging to the genre popularly called tipos del pais, this album labeled simply as Philippine costumes consists of 13 gouache images of individual types and costumes of the Philippines on European wove paper, with three additional images that do not seem to belong to the set, namely fragments of an image of a Chinese lady, an illustration of different types of butterflies, and a print of a European hunting scene.
The album was formally accessioned by the New York Public Library in 1927, although, even before this date, it was most likely in the collection of one of the three philanthropic institutions that were consolidated to create the core collections of the New York Public Library – namely, the Astor, Lenox and Tilden foundations.Ironically but most appropriately, I first experienced the Justiniano Asuncion album at the New York Public Library two years ago, on the afternoon of July 3, while in pursuit of Damian Domingo albums overseas. As with my first encounter with Damian Domingo at the Newberry Library in Chicago, I sat transfixed as the album was placed before me, prolonging the chase a bit longer, relishing the anticipation, savoring the warmth of the lustrous wood around me – the rhythmic rows of reading tables embraced by luxuriously paneled walls, the hushed readers consumed by their particular passions and obsessions.
Subjecting the exquisite images to my trustworthy magnifying loupe, Asuncion’s distinctive rendering of facial features was magnificently revealed in consistent details otherwise invisible to the naked eye – a dab of red here, a bit of gray there, a dot of white strategically situated to simulate those vibrant, luminous eyes. Painted in a different style from that of Domingo, the Asuncion images appear more European in both features and skin coloring, in stark contrast to the Domingo images which are more Southeast Asian. Despite the marked stylistic differences between Domingo and Asuncion, it is clear upon careful comparison of the images of the Newberry and the New York Public Library that the types and costumes portrayed in the Asuncion album were inspired by, if not directly derived from, the Domingo album.
Besides its artistic virtuosity, the Asuncion album is particularly valuable because of the copious handwritten notes accompanying the images. Thwarted by the Fourth of July celebrations during my first visit, I successfully completed my own transcription of all the notes during my second, longer visit last year.
This revealing essay, for example, accompanies an image of a man with his fighting cock:
“No. IX. This is one of the best. The color, the dress, and the character altogether is exactly that of a Manila man. The fighting cock under his arm is very characteristic; for the two are inseparable — quite! They are constantly training their cocks to fight, and as they meet in the streets they always let their cocks have a little sparring. The peg attached to their leg is stuck in the ground when their owner is tired of carrying them, and they are allowed the range of the string. The natives like gambling better than work, and the Spanish government instead of discouraging, do all they can to encourage them to gamble. In every town or village is a theater built by the government for the sole purpose of cock-fighting; and upon every bird that enters they impose a tax which yields to government 100,000 or 200,0000 sterling.”
How little has changed today, from the lowly jueteng and small-town cockfights, to world-class government-sponsored gambling casinos similarly entrenched, siphoning hand-earned monies to line the pockets of some morally decrepit few!
A chatty commentary describes the customary way of wearing tresses of Rapunzelian proportions:
“No. VII. This is by the same artist as the two first – A Spanish mestiza of Manila. – The most striking part of this figure is the manner of wearing the hair, which gives a most fascinating appearance to the tout ensemble, but unfortunately this is not correctly painted; the hair when worn in this fashion is parted in the center of the head and allowed to fall gracefully and naturally from each side of the forehead over the shoulders and down the back: The comb has no business here; it being quite unnecessary. The hair is so abundant as nearly to obscure the whole figure if not thrown off the face. When bathing it has the strangest effect to see such a quantity of hair floating over the surface of the water and extending such a distance.”
Another detailed account describes the well-dressed damsel’s complete ensemble:
“No. II. Is a Mestiza. This gives a very good idea of the female costume. The blue stripe is a little jacket made of the same material as the man’s shirt; it has not so much work upon it, the cuffs only being embroidered. It reaches to the waist, and is made very loose: Under it is tied the red and yellow plaid petticoat; over which is the cabaya, a long piece made either of silk or cotton, as the wearer can afford; which is wrapped tightly around the body and the end tucked in; which if properly done never comes loose; this is so tight over the hips as to appear to impede the free motion of the limbs… Their slippers, which are very small, only just sufficient to cover the foot, are very prettily embroidered in gold, generally done by themselves. They are so small that the little toe is always outside, which helps to keep them on. They are never worn out of doors in dirty weather, but carried in the hand, and when the señorita arrives at her destination, she finds at the door a pan of water into which she immerses her feet before putting on the slippers. The handkerchief over her shoulders is made of piña cloth, or cloth made of the pineapple fiber, this is peculiar to Manila; in no other part of the world has it ever been made. It is as fine or finer than the finest cambric, and beautifully embroidered; all the señoritas excelling in that kind of work, and in doing which they spend a great portion of their time. The fair sex… pride themselves much in their hair, with which their heads are most luxuriously covered; if they were seen in this country, it would excite much envy… It is all combed to the back of the head where it is dressed; plaited or otherwise according to fancy; but it is always particularly neat.”
While clearly impressed with the mestiza’s charms, the author did not seem to think too highly of her male counterpart:
“No. 1. An exact representation of a rich Mestizo. The complexion is admirably painted and likewise the dress. He is a great dandy and fond of imitating the Europeans, as you may see by his hat and umbrella… The umbrella is to preserve his complexion from the sun. Most people use them when walking in the heat of the day… This man leads a most idle dissipated life; he spends his day in gambling and cockfighting; his evenings in playing and singing the guitar; the songs are limited to very few in number.”
Certainly not a very inspiring image of the ideal Romeo, but most likely gifted with such charisma as to render hapless ladies oblivious to such deficiencies. Nonetheless, one must keep in mind that these commentaries are from a western, presumably male, perspective – male colonial gave undoubtedly swayed by the legendary charms of the winsome Filipina. How much or how little out world has changed since the 1840s!
About the author:
Florina H. Capistrano-Baker
Director, International Exhibitions, Ayala Museum
Born in Manila, the Philippines. Ph.D. from Columbia University. Visiting lecturer at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York. Specializes in Pacific and Island Southeast Asian art history. Publications include Art of Island Southeast Asia: The Fred and Rita Richman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA, 1994), “Containing Life: Basketry Traditions on the Cordillera” (Basketry of the Luzon Cordillera, Philippines, Roy Hamilton, ed., UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1999), and Multiple Originals, Original Multiples: 19th-century Images of Philippine Costumes (Ayala Foundation, 2004). Works in New York and Manila
An Asuncion Riding On The Crest Of A Wave
My cousin Eduardo Rojas just informed me about Amado Gabriel Esteban, a cousin who is now President of Seton Hall University in the United States Of America, the first Filipino so far to hold this prestigious position. Bulan Observer congratulates Amado for his excellent achievement! jun asuncion
Here is Eduardo’s info about the family roots of Amado:
// We have an Asuncion relative who will be the first (and non priest) Filipino president of the well-known Seton Hall University . His name is Amado Gabriel Esteban. He is an Asuncion through his mom, Isabel “Lita” Munson Esteban. Lita’s mom is Paz Maria Asuncion Intengan (married to Amado Munson). Paz Maria Asuncion Intengan’s mom is Consuelo Asuncion (married to Dr Gabriel Intengan). Consuelo and sister Guia Asuncion came from Zacharias Asuncion, son of Justiniano and grand son of Mariano Kagalitan Asuncion. //
Filipino Amado Gabriel Esteban Seton Hall University President
BY INQUIRER.NETON January 24, 2011 CATEGORIZED UNDER OUTSTANDING FILIPINOS, UNITED STATES
“Other than the food, I miss the sights and sounds of Manila—the packed Sunday Masses, big family gatherings and going out with the ‘barkada,’” he said in an e-mail interview with the Inquirer.
“I have to admit though that the Manila of my youth only exists in my mind. You know you are getting old when I was looking for a CD of Basil, I was asked to go to the oldies section!”
Putting the Filipino brand of leadership on the international spotlight once again, 49-year-old Esteban was recently appointed president of Seton Hall University (SHU) in New Jersey.
Esteban had been serving as interim president of the oldest diocesan university in America and New Jersey’s largest Catholic university with more than 10,000 students before he was named to the post last December.
Two priests in the running withdrew during the search proceedings, according to a New York Times online report.
“As a Filipino, I hope I can serve as a reminder, along with all the other kababayan who have been able to advance themselves, of our potential wherever we are in the world,” Esteban said.
His mother, Lita Munson Esteban, and his late Tarlaqueño father, Jose Esteban, were both educators.
Esteban credits his upbringing for a leadership style that listens and nurtures.
“Growing up in a Filipino-Catholic environment, I learned early on the value of building consensus, learning from past mistakes and failures, and most importantly treating everyone with respect and dignity,” he said.
“In leading Seton Hall University, I hope to never forget something my late father used to say, ‘A great university is not made up of bricks and mortar, but people of great minds with good intentions,’” he added.
Serving a term of five and a half years, Esteban aims to pursue a strategic development plan that would entail “strengthening our Catholic identity, strengthening and increasing our investment in key academic programs, increasing our student selectivity, and developing the financial resources to fund our shared vision.”
Exception to rule
Esteban’s appointment broke tradition based on SHU’s 25-year-old by-laws, where only Catholic priests were qualified to head the university. The university’s board of trustees adopted an exception to the by-laws a week before his appointment.
Two other laymen had assumed the SHU presidency before Esteban, but his appointment was the first for a nonpriest since the university adopted its priests-only selection criteria in the 1980s.
Esteban received praise from the university for his calming presence after the tragic shooting of 19-year-old sophomore student Jessica Moore near SHU in September last year, when he was still interim head.
SHU officials called him the right fit for the job.
In a broadcast e-mail announcing Esteban’s appointment, Patrick Murray, chair of the SHU board of regents, said: “Dr. Esteban has successfully navigated through many challenges during his interim presidency; we are extremely fortunate to have such a proven, compassionate leader at the helm of our University. He is ideally positioned to carry on Seton Hall’s Catholic mission and its tradition of academic excellence.”
Esteban finished a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and a master’s degree in Business Administration at the University of the Philippines before taking up master of science in Japanese Business Studies at Chaminade University in Honolulu.
He and his wife Josephine, a UP Economics graduate, came back to the Philippines in 1986, just as the country returned to democracy after 14 years of martial rule. He landed a job at San Miguel Corp. while his wife worked for the then Center for Research and Communications (now University of Asia and the Pacific).
The couple later went back to the United States for further studies.
“We had every intention of returning to the Philippines. In fact in the late nineties, I interviewed for and was offered a couple of faculty positions in the Philippines. As we were making preliminary plans to return, the Asian financial crisis hit,” Esteban said.
“Upon deliberation and reflection, we realized that over the short to medium term we had better opportunities in the United States,” he added.
But life seems to have come full circle for Esteban, as his connection to home has become even stronger with the position he holds.
SHU’s College of Arts and Sciences is studying student demand for the Filipino language, which it previously offered. At the university, Esteban has also met several Filipino seminarians and students.
“Seton Hall has a very active student group called FLASH (Filipino League at Seton Hall). We even have Simbang Gabi!” he said.
As an SHU official, Esteban has also established institutional relations with UP, De La Salle University and its College of St. Benilde and Health Sciences Institute.
“Since the establishment of relationships with sister institutions in the Philippines, I have been fortunate to be able to go to Manila almost every year for the past few years,” Esteban said.
The Internet has also made touching base with the Philippines easier, he said. “Connecting to home and friends in Manila was more difficult until the widespread use of technology, including YahooGroups and more recently Facebook.”
Esteban and his family came home for Christmas last year, their first since 1987. With Josephine and his daughter Ysabella, an SHU junior, he traveled to Boracay and Cagayan de Oro City and “spent almost all our time with family.” /
Faces Of My Fathers
by jun asuncion
Early in life I have learned to accept that some things shall just remain as dreams, as persistent longings that I’ll be carrying around. Since the start of this search for my Asuncion roots, my longings to know more about my fathers (and mothers) and to find any related information have intensified. And how my great grandfathers may have looked like have greatly preoccupied my imagination but came to terms with the fact that this was all to it and nothing more since even the known self-portrait of Justiniano Asuncion was lost. I thought that was all, lost forever. I thought, but I did not know. I did not know that a certain family by the name of Quintos – Guirzon have been keeping my dream in their photo collection and that one day I’ll be receiving a copy of it from my cousin Ding Asuncion.
Unbelievable but this time it was true. I admit that in my age, even a lightning strike wouldn’t make my eyes bluesy and wet. But that moment when the image unfolds itself by the click of the mouse, I lost almost a river of tears from this great joy and this feeling of reunion with my ancestral roots. I was speechless when I saw the faces of Justiniano, Zacarias, Benita and Jacobo! Zacarias is my great-grandfather. What I remember to have seen in my childhood was just a piece of Zacarias’ gravestone in our compound in Canipaan which unluckily I didn’t find anymore when I came home a few years ago. When times were getting rough for the Asuncions in Binondo, Zacarias left for Bicol in search for new possibilities. A different time, indeed, for who would think today of going to a distant town of Bulan in search for better opportunities? Whatever his true motivation was, Zacarias’ travel estbalished the Asuncions’ connection with this town.
This photo has closed those gaps in my mind and fulfilled those deepest longings of seeing the faces of my fathers.
It was my younger relative Christopher Yatco who first drew my attention to the existence of a new book about Damian Domingo with the photo of Justiniano and his children. My excitement soared even beyond the moon. But being out-of-town, I still do not have this book. And then, a few weeks after, Ding Asuncion, grandson of Kenerino Asuncion and Lola Leny, sent me this copy of the photo together with some excerpts of this book.
Usually, I share such document to my relatives immediately but this time I kept this photo for a while, viewing it many times a day in the intimacy of solitude, immersing myself deeply in my own part of the story, staring at their eyes being my only possibility of communication as I try to imagine many things about them, their pains of living as second class citizens in their own country (a situation I cannot accept) during the Spanish time, their thoughts about the future…
Here, you see the master painter himself, Justiniano Asuncion, the creator of those art pieces we’ve been talking about, those portraits of the Asuncion women, those watercolor paintings at the New York Public Library, etc. He was the first Filipino painter who allowed himself to be ” drawn with light”. i.e., to be photographed. Luckily he posed before a camera, a kind of high-tech gadget in the early 19th century which, to my view, seemed to have been invented to ultimately challenge Justiniano’s perfect eyes for capturing details of the subject when all other painters had given up the fight.
In 1816 Johann Heinrich Schultz discovered that a mixture of silver and chalk darkens when exposed to light. But for our case, a star was born that brightened the world of 19th Century Filipino art when the baby Justiniano was exposed to light also in 1816. Justiniano possessed a pair of highly photographic eyes that perfectly fitted to the miniaturist, realism painting style of his time.
To this perceptual acuity, Prof. Santiago wrote: “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 ca. 1894 when Schultz’s mixture went off into action which today – 117 years later – would have a profound effect on many of us, up to this very moment as I try to write while poring over this photo which seems to me a gift fallen from heaven. I’m highly indebted to the prime mover of this event, Hilarion Asuncion, the man behind the camera, my great grand-uncle and for all those good things and chain of events that worked together – in obedience to the inner logic of Asuncion’s fate – that ultimately preserved this image over a century, over these rough and repressive times.
Like his father before him who served as cabeza de barangay of Sta. Cruz in 1805, Justiniano became cabeza de barangay in this community of mestizos in February 25, 1853. By this time Justiniano was already established as a master painter. Thirty years after, his son Zacarias, in search for more better business opportunities, set out for Bulan, Sorsogon in 1886. Hence, this year was a milestone in the history of Asuncions of Bulan. There, twelve years later, at the turn of the century – and of the nation’s colonial history – Zacarias became Jefe del Pueblo (old name for Municipal Mayor) of Bulan from 1898 – 1900.
If artistic genius was in the Family of Justiniano Asuncion and so was community leadership, I think. It was due to Zacarias’ successful Bulan’s adventure that brought Justiniano Asuncion to Bulan, already old and grey, a man behind the sparkle of success, within the silhouette of death. Bulan became his refuge, the sanctuary of his tired body and soul and the gate to his eternal rest. If the biographer Manuel Artigas called him “modelo de honradez, an exemplar of tacto y prudencia”, then it was an honor for Bulan to have such qualities be buried in its grounds. For these qualities had to come out again forty-five years later after his death in the person of Adonis Asuncion, my grandfather, who became Mayor of Bulan in 1941.
My grandfather Adonis Asuncion had led Bulan not in times of political Padrenos, vote buying, plundering and pork barrel but in times of foreign aggression where one must have to defend the basic rights of Bulaneños. So my fathers were community leaders when three superior nations ruled our land; Justiniano in Sta. Cruz during the Spanish time, Zacarias in Bulan just at the beginning of the American rule and Adonis, also in Bulan, during the Japanese occupation. All three men had their share of what I call the roughness of times but all came out hardened in their character, in their convictions. From their stories I learned the lesson that political leadership is about self-respect in the first place. Methinks that the political, civil and military leaders of today who are now facing corruption and plunder charges had failed to respect themselves and their very own families in the first place. Hence, how could they ever respect the community of people they don’t personally know?
The three foreign aggressors may have ruined the Filipinos by introducing to us the culture of corruption, aggression and militarism but it seems that the families of Mariano Kagalitan- Asuncion were among those Filipino families blessed with the immunity from these foreign viruses that they were able to keep their name clean and their being “modelo de honradez, tacto y prudencia” while serving the people – in those times of conspiracies, opportunism and collaboration with the aggressors (survival of the “fittest”).
Their thoughts about the future? That future is here with me in this very moment as I search for my past and found it here in my room where I have spent hours of thinking about my fathers, bending my six strings to soaring bluesy heights as I figure out their faces, how they had lived, to what degree had they suffered from the roughness of times, from the yoke of colonialism and how much they had longed for freedom and dreamt for a better future. I was born 59 years, my father, Andres, Sr., 19 years after Justiniano’s death. Indeed, it seems not too long ago but if I add to it my own life where memories fade out already after a short moment of recollection then everything about my fathers becomes an abyssal zone except for some floating traces they had left which serve only to tickle my inquisitive mind and my longing to know more, thus eventually blowing my mind away every time I was trapped in some of these black holes of imagination.
The first couple, Mariano and Maria de La Paz Molo Asuncion
Faces Of My Fathers
Mariano Kagalitan Asuncion
Justiniano Asuncion (1816 – 1901)
Adonis Asuncion (June 14, 1889 – January 8, 1976)
Andres Asuncion, Sr. ( November 9, 1920 – November 3, 2005)
Remembering My Father, Andres Asuncion, Sr. (an old post added here)
The Primordial Pain
The demise of our father last November 3, 2005 was certainly a big blow to all of us. Now three years after, we all seem to have accepted the reality of our beloved father no longer physically with us. There are moments though when I am caught unaware and seem not to realize this fact. Then I feel instantly transported back to these moments of grief last November. It is surely not easy to lose a father and I think I will never get over it. There are absolute privileges that you get only once in your life time and that if you lose them you can not replace them. A father is one of these privileges. The pain that you experience tells you how much you love somebody who has been taken away from you. There is nothing on earth can equal that pain. There are no words to describe it. You can only try to express it in some other ways except in words. And you can not describe it in real-time with words. For it is an experience beyond our language. It is a primordial event and that is why it is just purely pain that comes out of our innermost being. It’s like when a newly born cries responding to a sensed change and discomfort , and yet it’s more than that for a newly born is not weeping, – you are weeping.
I don’t know how my mother and my brothers and sisters deal with such moment of despair and pain. We all experienced our father differently, we all have a different image of him that each of us has carried throughout those years. But there is one thing in common that I am sure of, and that is, that we all love him. The way that each of us remember him in his/her own way that sums up the whole image of our father. I am not referring only to the images arising from incidental experience of him as other people had of him but this exclusive experience of inner connectedness to him as his children. This blood connection that goes all the way to the spiritual sphere of our existence.
I have been deprived of my father physically, for instance, for many years. But not a day had passed that I did not think of him. If not in dreams then just in my waking hours are these flashings of his images in my mind, and his voice was and is just there; vivid scenes of my childhood days with him in Ilawod and Canipaan, in Manila and here in Zürich when he came with my mother. In all those years of being away from him there was always this desire in me to have a coffee with him and talk with him about the world, yes, just about anything else. With my father I had always enjoyed sharing thoughts or just sitting together in silence. I felt this freedom, this feeling of fullness as a human being whenever I was with him.
Smoke gets in your eyes
I was about to go to work when I got a call from my sister Menchu bringing me the sad news. My world literally fell apart. As I look back to this moment, I wonder how I could have reacted if I did not know how to use these six strings and a piece of wood that has always accompanied my life ever since. That evening I just bended the strings as high as I could to express what I could not with words. My father played piano not a guitar but he did love its sound. I particularly remember that moment when he was humming the song Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, saying this was one of his favorite tunes. In the meantime I have finally arranged this tune for solo guitar after a long time of wishing to be able to do it. I dedicate this song to my father and when I play it, it’s solely for him for when he left smoke really got in my eyes…
A man of peace
A man of peace that he was and very dignified in his ways, his presence was always a source of joy to those who love him and perhaps an irritation to those who believe in approaching things and issues the more aggressive way.Yes, he remained true to himself to the very last moment of his existence. That’s the measure of being a man. His quiet countenance radiated an inner strength that came from deep insights and wisdom about life and situations. His courage was never an issue of alcohol content in the blood (he never drunk) , but in his refined ways of dealing with things due to his education and his unending patience, sharp intellect, broad knowledge and humility.
My father and the Japanese officer
My father experienced the cruelty of the Japanese invasion in 1945. He was then a young man of 25. He related his stories for the last time last August 2006 to me and my sons Cyril and Samuel, and I feel really privileged to have experienced this. This answered the question I’ve been carrying at the back of my mind for many years, a question that I always failed to ask him whenever I was with him: Why did you not take up your arms and fight side by side with your brother Agusto Asuncion ? (who at that time was the head of the Lapuz Guerilla movement in Bulan). His recounting of his war story last August finally revealed the answer to me. He said, his brother Agusto advised him not to shoot but rather to take charge of the logistics. My father had a very sharp memory and he could remember the details he experienced at that time, names of people and places, to the astonishment of my boys. I noticed his fair judgements of people and events involved. So Papa knew his own role in this war right at the outset. People like me would have instantly joined the front line at that time. But in the long run, justice and history is at the side of the wise and peace-loving people. One should know that my father came from a different tradition, from a tradition of love and compassion to all God’s creation. He came out right from a theological seminary in Paco, Manila when the war broke out.
The Japanese bombed Manila and that seminary where he was one of the three candidates for ordination. They had to separate ways and Pa went home to Bulan to his family, where his father Adonis Asuncion was the town mayor. He walked from Manila to Bulan, Sorsogon for around three weeks and survived the hazards in the streets, especially that critical moment when from under the tree trunk suddenly came out a handful of Japanese soldiers, stopped him, asked questions and inspected his backpack. “I remained quiet, and the officer caught an eye at the shaving blade (Labaha) I had and took it in his hands…(now the officer could have just swung this blade to his neck, if he wanted to.) He seemed to be interested in it so I just nodded my head and they let me go!” Wow, Papa would have flown like a bird if he could at this moment. Kidding aside, I thank this officer so much for letting my father go and, in retrospect, I respect this Japanese officer for his intuition. He must have felt that Pa was not an enemy. And, indeed, Pa did not kill a single Japanese soldier! Now the thing is, if you are proud that your father killed hundreds of Japanese soldiers at that time, I support that for it was wartime, and your father was destined to kill. That my father came out alive without harming anybody’s life, I’m certainly proud of this; he was simply not destined to kill. He was true to his convictions and fate was true to him whole life long. That unknown gentle Japanese officer was right.
The Family Man
I can imagine Pa in his prime: neatly dressed with hair soaked in pomade, misplacing probably his eyeglasses but never his smile. Beside him my mother, excited, and around them the eight of us.The flash went off and here is the picture on my table in front of me, taken about 40 years ago. I treasure this only family picture where we are complete. Those were memories to keep and live by, when my world was young and innocent in the true sense of the word. The family was my ground and I felt safe and fear was foreign to me. I was just happy being embedded in the family and that was everything that mattered most, not the hardships or the lack of other things. A boy who is happy has everything he needs to master the challenges and hardships that are normal concomitants to life. Deprived of this, you can not expect a better course of life.
So, I thank you Pa and Ma for laying down a solid foundation which was a mixture of fine ingredients, – of love, trust and compassion, coupled with patience and loyalty. This was how I perceived my parents and understand their role even up to now. How the rest of us had experienced my parents in our growing years, only they can tell. Throughout those years, there was one trait of my father that impressed me most, and that was his unassuming character. I’d never experienced him boasting around about anything. In fact there was always this permanent aura of understatement accompanying him throughout his life. Simple in his ways and in his daily needs, he would always put you first before him, giving you space and making you feel comfortable in the modest means available. He did not desire for more. For an opportunistic in character, a chance to attempt a coup’d’etat, for a sensitive in spirit a feeling of meeting with a teacher.
Unassuming and reticent that he was, the most profound insights and comments that I heard in life came from him. Being modest in his ways and putting others first, he showed them how to respect themselves. No wonder why he got respected in return by people around him. This was my first lesson about authority, not a coerced one nor based on a false assumption of something but a natural process of growth from within that manifests itself as a result quite naturally in your essence . So harmless that he was before you, you got no choice but to respect him and show the best in you. This was exactly this respect that we learned from him that kept us together in our long journey as a family.
The Hanging Bridge of Magsaysay
With my father, I learned to cross a hanging bridge for the first time in my life in the barrio of Magsaysay where he used to teach. For Papa that was a daily routine, for me an adventure and a source of anxiety. I nearly got sick when I looked down for it was deep and the river beneath was wild and the bridge swinging to its sides, step was not stable and there were holes on the floor. I was then 9 or 10. Pa did not say anything at that moment that I could remember. He just looked at me, stepped on it and I followed him. It was an incredible act of balancing and I became dizzy. I was alarmed, gathered myself together to make it to the other end. He was already at the other end and was watching me, smiling. Reaching the end a feeling of relief and I felt proud as I looked back at the now empty hanging bridge that was still undulating like a long snake. My tension was transformed instantly to fascination when I saw the wonderful garden all around the school buildings and the school children also about my age. Flowers of all kinds. I especially remember the red roses.
Barrio Magsaysay, a world so beautiful abounding with floras and faunas and friendly people. A piece of paradise, just nature as she is. Looking back now, I just realized that Papa spent almost his entire teaching career in places like Magsaysay. I knew that he was also assigned in Sta. Remedios and in other remote places I don’t even know the names anymore. Those years had cultivated in my father the love for simple people, for farmers and nature. I went back to Magsaysay a few times with Papa, most of the times carrying ballot boxes hanged on my shoulders. During election day the teachers were busy and so was Pa. I was always with him to carry those boxes. Crossing the hanging bridge became an enjoyable experience then. I began to love it and in fact now it keeps me wondering if it still exists. That was many years ago but the memories remain. That hanging bridge connected me to my father ever more. I wish to visit that bridge someday for on that bridge were those nice moments left hanging in time.
A schoolbag with guavas- and sometimes a bird.
As a young child it was always a highlight in my life when the day was about to close for then my father would arrive from school. I used to wait for him in the street in front of our house while I played with other children. Then I would run to him the moment I recognized his silhouette at the horizon moving in front of the setting sun that was about to disappear behind the China sea. I would literally dive into his bag to find out what was in there. I remember well the smell of guava fruits of his bag. Indeed, he always brought home fruits of all kinds everyday but it was always the smell of a guava that dominated inside his bag, even without guavas in there. And I loved that smell always. But it was not the guava fruit that I was excited to find, rather it was a bird or two! Pa used to bring home birds he received along the way from his pupils in Magsaysay and he would just put the cage in his schoolbag together with his pens and notebooks. At that time I came to know the most lovely local birds in Bulan through Papa. One time I discovered in that bag a Kingfisher and it was the joy of my childhood to have such a noble bird as a house pet for sometime. I thank my father now for all those nice little surprises every afternoon.
Dinner for the mind by candlelight
Everyday after dinner the same routine: Help wash the dishes and restore order on the table for then comes the next dinner,- the dinner for the mind by candlelight. I would empty my schoolbag on the table and I would begin to work on my homework while Pa on his lesson plan. This went on during my entire elementary years. I also remember my sister Malou being on this scene. I did my homework religiously at that time. But one evening I was so tired that I think I just left my notebooks open on the table, leaving my homework haf-done only as I scrambled for bed. I was then in grade three.
The next morning at school my teacher Miss Chavenia ordered us to open the assignments for checking. So, as usual, she went from one desk to another scanning with her sharp eyes every pupil’s work and with a look which tells you “with me you can’t bargain”, or “you better run for your life”. I was nervous then for I was not sure if my work was finished or not, for I never bothered at all to check my things before going to school. So you can imagine how I’d wished to disappear, to be invisible before she could come to my desk. As I opened my notebook, my eyes nearly fell out on the floor out of disbelief that my homework was done! I instantly remembered Pa and marveled if he finished my homework when I deserted the war zone and went already half-sleeping to bed. Until now this remains a mystery to me and, as usual, I never came to the point of asking Pa about it. In any case I was spared from standing still for an hour in a schoolroom’s corner, a punishment for lazy pupils in my time. Thank you Pa for saving my life – and for all those dinners for the mind by candlelight
(to be continued)
Some tidbits from Sor Marissa
From Ed Rojas
Dear fellow Asuncions,
Last Saturday I picked up Sor Marissa at her sister’s house, Dr Numen Gonzales, we were then to proceed to Noel’s (my brother) place. At Dr Numen’s house I met one of our second cousins Xavier Asuncion (son of Roberto Asuncion of Bulan). Roberto is the oldest sibling of Sor Naty Asuncion, Dr Iluminada “Numen” Asuncion-Gonzales and Sor Marissa Asuncion. The siblings are the children of Jacobo Asuncion (Jacobo married to Trinidad Rosales).
Jacobo Asuncion’s siblings include Adonis (line of Jun Asuncion ), Justiniano (founder of UPSILON), Kenerino (founder of Southern Luzon Institute: Kenerino Ramirez Asuncion Memorial School or SLI-KRAMS) and Rodolfo (married to Monica Gerona and dad of papa Ronnie).
Jacobo, Adonis, Justiniano, Kenerino and Rodolfo are five of the thirteen children of Zacharias with Remedios Ramirez (based on the copy of the Asuncion family tree I have)..
Some tidbits from Sor Marissa:
1) Zacharias had a second wife after Juana Zalvidea & before his wife Remedios Ramirez. Her surname was Loilo. They had a child, but the child died, and in the Asuncion family tree we have, no mention of their names appeared.
2) Zacharias must have done well in Bulan, as he was able to send his children to Manila to pursue higher education. According to Sor Marissa, when Kenerino came back to Bulan after college in UP, he was shocked that his elementary classmates never got to higher education (no high school and no college). That inspired him to establish the Southern Luzon Institute, which later became SLI-KRAMS.
The information is interesting; because we know our great grandparents (generation of the children of Zacharias) got to finish college, so that must have been in Manila . And if there was no high school in Bulan then, they must have been shipped to Manila for high school at an early age and on to college.
In a past family get together, Auntie Nellie Intengan Jocson remembers her mother Consuelo Asuncion and aunt Ghia Asuncion (both daughters of Zacharias with Juana Zalvidea) were brought up by their unmarried aunt Benita, the older sister of Zacharias. Since Consuelo & Ghia knew Bicolano, can we assume they took their elementary schooling in Bulan? Was their aunt Benita also in Bulan during their elementary school days?
Or was Benita the guardian of Consuelo and Ghia when they had to go to Manila for high school? Who took care of their siblings Jacobo, Adonis, Justiniano, Kenerino, Rodolfo when they too had to go to Manila for high school and college?
Hope the other Asuncions can help.