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Casa, Plaza, Escuela: Defining the Boholano life

Casa, plaza, escuela. In which ever order, these three words define the Boholano through the years.

The National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) recently handed out important markers of these equally important structures in Tagbilaran City, in an attempt to remind Boholanos of the way it was, and the way it is. Two houses, at least half-a-century old that figured prominently in Bohol history, an old Spanish school for girls, and the city plaza are the latest in the list of Important Cultural Properties (ICP) that formally gets government supervision and upkeep in their preservation and conservation.

The NMP conferred to Bohol Provincial Government, the City Government of Tagbilaran, and the owners of these structure the certificates that formally declared these among the country’s ICPs. 

ICP MARKERS. The National Museum of the Philippines turned over Important Cultural Property (ICP) Markers to four of its declared ICPs in century-old houses in Tagbilaran City, which now form part of a tourism heritage walk circuit near the Cathedral. (PIA Bohol)

The certificates, which were signed by the NMP, were handed over with bronze ICP markers that were either unveiled on that day, or would be displayed prominently in these sites.

Signing the ICP certificates were NMP Director for Visayas Museums Atty. Ma. Cecilia Tirol and Bohol Gov. Erico Aristotle Aumentado represented by Atty. Handel Lagunay for the Escuela de Niñas and the Bulwagang Rizal (Plaza Rizal which used to be Plaza del Principe), Tagbilaran City Mayor Jane Yap, Architect Gloria Balili-Katz for the Balili Heritage House along Jacinto Borja Street and Norma Beldia for the Beldia Heritage House in Poblacion Ubos, Tagbilaran City.

Aumentado, who has seen the potential for these ICPs as tourism sites, says that these could be a great help in attaining Bohol’s strategic agenda.

Tagbilaran City officials stand behind the house owners and caretakers of the newly declared ICPs in Tagbilaran City, with Bohol represented by Legal Officer Atty. Handel Lagunay, Balili Heritage House by Architect Gloria Balili-Katz, Tagbilaran City Mayor Jane Yap, National Museum of the Philippines - Visayas Museums Director Ma. Cecilia Tirol, Beldia House represented by Norma Beldia, and City Vice Mayor Adam Jala. (PIA Bohol)
Beldia Heritage House 

Situated in Sitio Poblacion Ubos, the historical value of this house is beyond contest: originally owned by an affluent businessman and gobernadorcillo, this served as the temporary municipal hall of Tagbilaran before it was transferred to the also abandoned hall on top of the bluff overlooking Sitio Poblacion Ubos.

There are also claims that the house hosted Don Manuel Timoteo Hidalgo, Jose Rizal’s brother-in-law, in the former’s exile in Bohol and possibly Jose Rizal himself when the Dapitan-exiled doctor toured Bohol sometime in 1894. Built in 1858 by Don Esteban Butalid, the imposing house sports a Chinese-pagoda style clay tile roof, something that could indicate the sangley culture pervasive in this port and trading center that survives until now.

The two-storey house has a floor plan in a general U-shaped form to afford an inner courtyard. But this is currently roofed-over, providing yet an enormous space for the house. 

Sporting a design carried over by Spanish houses, a huge gallery extended from the massive coral stone walls affords a wide airy feel, with still polished wood planks as flooring even if its old wooden panels have been long replaced by recent building materials.

In 1971, Judge Antonio Beldia bought the house from the Butalid-Calceta-Gallares family corporation, thus the name. Beldia heirs, represented by Archt. Norma Beldia, now administers the house.

CASA BELDIA. The imposing house of a mestizo sangley businessman in Bohol used to be the Tagbilaran town hall. Jose Rizal visited the place when he followed his brother-in-law who was exiled in Bohol. (PIA Bohol)
Balili ancestral home 

Tucked behind a huge garden of overgrowths and under the shadows of stately century-old acacia trees is another treasure of a house that has seen its best days as the favored venue for the who’s who in Bohol’s civil and political societies. It also attracts national figures in the country’s political sandbox.  

Considered to be one of Tagbilaran City's most prized ancestral houses, the Balili House is built by Eladio Balili, a history teacher businessman who is into lumber, furniture, and construction as a bachelor’s retreat in 1934. It is among the best preserved Art Noveau structures still standing right now right inside the vast Balili estate.

Built in the period of American chalets, the Balili mansion builders have no concern for the use of wood as evidenced by the profuse arches, wooden posts, friezes, intricately carved wooden calados, wooden canopies, and gracefully rounded corners, which lend to the mansion's innate charm. Like the typical poured concrete made famous in those times, the mansion can be accessed through a grand concrete staircase leading to a patio that provides a commanding view of the gardens.   

Owing to its being frequented by Bohol’s and the country’s socialites, Balili house became a natural comfortable home and command center of the Japanese imperial army occupying Bohol during the second world war. Thanks to Architect Gloria Balili-Katz, the youngest child of the owner, the house still kept its charm despite its being rented out in the late 19th century.

This house exemplifying the Art Nouveau style has been the favorite hangout of local socialites and politicians. It has hosted the meeting of former President Elpidio Quirino and then Senator Manuel Roxas, who would also eventually become president. Carlos P. Garcia has also visited the house. (PIA Bohol)
Escuelas de Niñas 

In response to the Spanish Education Decree of 1863 by Queen Isabella II of Spain, two stone buildings were built in the 1900s, which would act as the primary school here for primary education as it was ordered to be free, and the teaching of Spanish was compulsory. By the end of the second world war, the Escuela de Ninos was damaged and had to be demolished to give way to what is now the Philippine National Bank building.

During the American period, the surviving Escuela de Niñas building was still used as a school by the Thomasites, after school teachers were deployed by the U.S. Government to establish an American educational system in their newly occupied territory.

In June 1958, the building, since it has stopped operating as a school, was opened to the public as the Bohol Provincial Library. In the next 40 years, it catered to the educational needs of Boholanos.

In July 2007, the building was inaugurated as the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) Bohol Branch and served as a repository of archaeological and ethnographic artifacts as well as paleontological, geological, botanical, and zoological specimens collected from the province. But after the 2013 Bohol Earthquake, the building also became the headquarters of NMP’s Bohol Heritage Task Force, where experts and technical personnel assessed the damages sustained by Bohol’s declared built heritage, most of which have already been restored.

On July 22, 2018, after Bohol donated to the NMP the old provincial Capitol, the Escuela de Ninas would soon be an open-use facility until the Bohol Tourism Office put up their office in the building.

ESCUELA DE NINAS. One of the two stone buildings flanking the Provincial Tribuna (old Capitol), escuela de Ninas stood over time surviving the war unscathed, until it was converted into a library, museum and now the tourism office. (PIABohol)
Plaza Rizal  (Plaza del Principe)

Established in accordance with the 1573 ordinance of King Philip II of Spain, which prescribed the layout of towns in the Spanish colonies, Plaza Rizal - which used to Plaza del Principe - is situated between the Tribuna (old Capitol) and the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of the Diocese of Tagbilaran.

The plaza now also features a fountain that was built in the latter half of the 20th century. Tucked in the northern corner of the plaza is a concrete kiosk created by Bohol’s first architect, Venerando Dumadag, for players of chess, the favorite sport of Bohol’s famous son, Carlos P. Garcia.

A regular venue for public debates, the plaza has seen heated altercations: politicians campaigning, faith-based groups in their public evangelization missions, and ambulant vendors working hard for their family’s next meal. A regular public area where people can pass time after celebrating mass, the plaza was then adorned with President Garcia’s statue created by Boholano National Artist for sculpture Napoleon V. Abueva.

This statue has long been transferred to the courtyard of the National Museum in Bohol across the plaza.

PLAZA DEL PRINCIPE (BULWAGANG RIZAL). The NMP has also declared the important role of the plaza in the social life of the Boholanos. (PIA Bohol)
More to come

With the unveiling and turnover of the markers, Tirol said these are just four of the 12 ICPs that Tagbilaran City has identified as its important cultural treasures. She also reminded Boholanos that preservation and conservation of these properties mean community stewardship of these invaluable heritage structures.

The Tagbilaran City mayor assured that this ensures that the city's legacy lives on and that the task of cultural preservation and conservation that the city commits to would also be a legacy illustrating the people’s creativity and resiliency.  (RAHC/PIA-7 Bohol)

About the Author

Rey Anthony Chiu

Regional Editor

Region 7

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