Biñanenses are bound to recall the day when their city government won for them a piece of history; a history that now beckons to define Biñan’s identity for generations to come.
It began eight years ago, in 2010, when word got around that the 600 square-meter Alberto House was to be sold and transferred to Bagac, Bataan.
Built in the 1800s, the two-story Alberto House sits right at the heart of Biñan, fronting the city’s rotonda and plaza, with the old municipal building and Iglesia on its left.
But more than its being a centuries-old, bahay na bato (stone mansion) dating back to the Spanish colonial period, the Alberto House holds immense historical significance to Biñanenses because it is where Teodora Alonzo—the mother of national hero Jose Rizal—lived before she got married.
It is also in the Alberto House that Rizal and his brother Paciano stayed in 1869 to continue their formal education under Maestro Justiniano Aquino Cruz, who tutored the young Rizal for a year and a half.
More than 140 years after Rizal’s stay at his mother’s ancestral home, the Alberto House’s present owner, Gerardo Alberto, reportedly sold the house to Jose “Jerry” Acuzar, owner of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a heritage resort in Bagac, Bataan.
Walfredo Dimaguila, Jr., who was then the Biñan City vice mayor, said they were going to declare the property a heritage site to prevent it from being transferred or used for other purposes.
He added that the city government had not met with success at negotiating with the mansion’s present owner.
“When they started taking apart and transferring piece-by-piece the Alberto Mansion, I thought, ‘why don’t we rally the people to preserve the heritage of our city?’” Dimaguila said.
The city government then filed an expropriation case on the Alberto Mansion, which, according to Dimaguila, was the first time a case of this nature was filed in Laguna.
And true enough, residents of Biñan rallied behind the call to save the Alberto Mansion. “Ang daming sumali sa [Many joined the] campaign,” he said.
Together with the city government, heritage advocates led by the United Artists for Cultural Conservation ad Development (UACCD) mounted a sustained tri-media campaign that would last for seven years.
In 2011, the Biñan City government declared the Alberto Mansion a local heritage site on the strength of Republic Act (RA) no. 10066, also known as the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.
The act stated that structures 50 years and above has to be conserved if it has cultural importance.
SENSE OF IDENTITY
The battle to win back the Alonzo Mansion for Biñan gained headway with the election of Dimaguila as mayor of Biñan City in 2016.
“My intention really is to help define who is the Biñanense and what Biñan stands for. We need to have our own identity, other than our famous puto (rice cake) Biñan,” Dimaguila said.
Explained the Biñan City mayor: “When you read Philippine history, you will find that Dr. Jose Rizal stayed here in Biñan. He studied here. His father, Francisco Mercado, was born here. His mother had a house here. Rizal is our heritage. Ito ang pagkakakilanlan ng mga taga-Biñan [This is the identity of the Biñanense].”
Aside from the Alberto Mansion, the city government also declared 17 century-old houses and structures as heritage sites. These houses could be found along the streets of J. Gonzales, V. Ocampo, and P. Paterno.
The overall plan, Dimaguila said, is to restore Biñan City’s 19th century backdrop.
Today, Biñan City has its Culture, History, Arts, and Tourism Office. It’s old municipal hall has been transformed into a public library and a museum, the repository of Biñan’s history and cultural heritage.
In honor of José Rizal, a plaque of recognition was placed at the Alberto Mansion. A monument now stands at the center of Biñan’s town plaza in recognition of Biñan’s affiliation to Rizal.
The city also boasts of a choir and dance troupe that brings music and gaiety to the city as it celebrates Araw ng Biñan from February 2-4 and the popular Puto Latik Festival in May.
Dimaguila is proud to report that the expropriation proceedings on the Alberto House (now the House of Teodora Alonzo) has been completed.
“We were issued a writ of possession on June 16, 2017 and that is why we were able to start the restoration of the property,” Dimaguila said.,
He added that the city government only has to finalize the just compensation aspect of the case. “But as to whether it is for public use, the court held that indeed, it is for public use.”
Dimaguila said that the restoration of the Alonzo House was made through public bidding. “And the irony of it all is that Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, the firm that took away parts of the mansion and brought it to Bataan, is the same firm that won the bidding. Now, it returned what it took and is rebuilding the Alonzo House for Biñan. It is expected to be finished in October of this year.”