The haunting memories at Syquia Mansion

March 23, 2017

We were sure it was supposed to be in this exact spot. After having brunch at the Vigan Public Market, we walked our way to Libertad Boulevard. until we reached Quirino Boulevard. All we had to do was to proceed to Salcedo St, which we did. However, the map we had printed proved to be in the wrong orientation- it was essentially upside-down! Still, when we used Google Maps it also showed that we were supposed to be where we should be. We retraced our steps, and still we couldn’t find it. Until, at the height of our exasperation, we turned around and saw it: the Syquia Mansion. Never have I felt that kind of embarrassment before in my years of traveling.


The Syquia Mansion was constructed in 1830 by Don Justo Angco y Dada, making it 187 years old at the time of this writing. It was built as dowry for his daughter, Estefania, when she married Gregorio Syquia, and became the home of Don Tomas Syquia, father of Alicia Syquia. Eventually, it became the residence of Elpidio Quirino when he married Alicia, whence it came to be known as the first Malacañang of the North.

 The Pueblos y Reyes, an 1884 painting executed by Respal, Juan Luna's assistant.

 The wedding portrait of Elpidio Quirino and Alicia Syquia, painted by no less than Fernando Amorsolo. They were married on January 16, 1921.






 Gregorio Syquia.

 Another work by Amorsolo is this portrait of Victoria Syquia Quirino, second daughter of Elpidio and Alicia. Vicky became her father's First Lady in 1948 after Manuel Roxas died of heart attack.


Elpidio was imprisoned on charges of conspiracy after he refused to work as a governor under the Japanese Imperial government. By February 1945 and with defeat looming, the Japanese Imperial army engaged in an orgy of massacres. On February 9 in Ermita, Elpidio gathered his family as the Japanese rampage took momentum. When their house began to burn, he planned an escape to the house of his mother-in-law, Concepcion Jimenez-Syquia, which is also on the same street. Jaime C. Laya in his The Calvary of Elpidio Quirino 1945-53, provided the following details:


"Carrying the toddler Fe Angela, Mrs. Quirino flees with Tommy, Norma and Vicky to her mother's home. Elpidio and Armando stayed behind gathering food and valuables. The panicked group reached the Syquia mansion's gate, but from Leon Guinto, a machine gun fires. Mortally wounded, Alicia and Norma falls. Fe Angela, pinned under her mother, is bayoneted. Tommy and Vicky escaped. Another shell hits the Quirino home and Elpidio and Armando runs. With Agoncillo Street perilous they go through fences, over walls, under houses, and were separated in confusion. Early in the morning Elpidio reaches the Syquia home, alone. Elpidio can only retrieve Fe Angela and buries her broken body in the garage."


And for one month, hell descended on Manila and left the once proud city- then a confluence of Oriental, Spanish, and American cultures- utterly devastated.

Here is the president sitting alongside the same portrait. According to Cory Quirino, one of the grandchildren of Elpidio and Alicia, " (But) he did not cry. He was just very quiet, and he was always quiet for the rest of his life. He had moments in his life when dad finds him in the same kind of silence, sitting in one corner, very solitary, remembering the family. But not once did he say anything bad about the Japanese.”


In February 1953, he spoke before delegates of the Philippines-Japan Youth Conference, where he said: “Personally, were I to consider that my wife and my three children were all killed by Japanese machine guns, I would swallow the Japanese allies now; but I am not living in the world alone.“I have my remaining children, and their children to follow. I am not going to allow them to inherit feelings of revenge.”


Elpidio Quirino did not remarry. 


Credit for the photo goes to John Tewell.

Don Tomas Sy Quia, the father of Alicia. Note the original surname's form. During the Spanish period, it was customary for Chinese residents to have themselves baptized to break free from the rampant persecution and discrimination against them. Upon conversion to Catholicism, they changed how their surnames are written, in a process called concatenization, to make their family names appear more Hispanized.


 A room of family portraits.

 I may be mistaken, but this could be Vicente Romano Sy Quia (I inadvertently cropped the name tag off, silly me), who was born near Xiamen around 1823.

Petronila Encarnacion, wife of Vicente Romano Sy Quia. Terrible photo though. I should have used a tripod.

 Don Justo Angco, the patriarch who had the mansion built, from dowry given by Gregorio Syquia.


Concepcion Jimenez-Syquia, Alicia's mother.

 Alicia Syquia is seen standing on the left side of this portrait. Concepcion is seated on the right.


An Atay bed. 'Atay' of course translates to the Tagalog word for 'liver', but these four-poster beds were actually named after a Chinese artisan from Vigan of the same name.


 A vanity dresser with exquisite woodwork. 

 Containers for talcum powder, perfume, brushes, and other personal effects.




 Off to the opulent kitchen.



 Those draperies on the ceiling are manually operated by house helpers to fan the dining masters.




 A quite impressive and airy garden on the second floor. I especially like how the philodendrons have formed a lush green vertical carpet on the walls.



 La Gloriosa Ley Jones (The Glorious Jones Law), a painting exalting the United States government to grant independence to the Philippines.

  A painting entitled 'Chariot Race Roma'. I have not yet been able to find out who the painter was.




 A reproduction of Juan Luna's Spoliarium, painted by the painter's sister.

 Household helpers pass through this narrow corridor, as they were not meant to be seen by visitors.







 A carruaje. The ground is beset with piedra- stones that were formerly used to weigh ships.


 The Syquia Mansion. It was declared a Heritage House by the National Historical Institute on January 18, 2002.

 When my girlfriend and I were there, we could overhear the tour guides continuously mention the haughty attitudes of the principalia during the old times. If they have instead focused on the stories and history of its former residents, visitors would have left with better impressions of the house and its owners. Just my two cents though. 

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