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Five Brothers, One Mother by EXIE ABOLA -----Many Mansions

EXIE ABOLA -----Many Mansions


Five Brothers, One Mother

Taurus St., Cinco Hermanos, Marikina

The Marikina house wasn’t finished yet, but with an ultimatum hanging over our heads, we had no
choice but to move in. Just how unfinished the house became bruisingly clear on our first night. There
was no electricity yet, and the windows didn’t have screens. There were mosquitoes. I couldn’t sleep the
whole night. My sister slept on a cot out in the upstairs hall instead of her room downstairs, maybe
because it was cooler here. Every so often she would toss and turn, waving bugs away with half-asleep
hands. I sat beside her and fanned her. She had work the next day. In the morning someone went out
and bought boxes and boxes of Katol.

Work on the house would continue, but it remains unfinished eight years later. All the interiors, after a
few years of intermittent work, are done. But the exterior remains unpainted, still the same cement gray
as the day we moved in, though grimier now. Marikina’s factories aren’t too far away. The garden
remains ungreened; earth, stones, weeds, and leaves are where I suppose bermuda grass will be put
down someday.

In my eyes the Marikina house is an attempt to return to the successful Greenmeadows plan, but with
more modest means at one’s disposal. The living room of the Cinco Hermanos house features much of
the same furniture, a similar look. The sofa and wing chairs seem at ease again. My mother’s growing
collection of angel figurines is the new twist. But there is less space in this room, as in most of the rooms
in the Marikina house, since it is a smaller house on a smaller lot.

The kitchen is carefully planned, as was the earlier one, the cooking and eating areas clearly demarcated.
There is again a formal dining room, and the new one seems to have been designed for the long narra
dining table, a lovely Designs Ligna item, perhaps the one most beautiful piece of furniture we have,
bought on the cheap from relatives leaving the country in a hurry when we still were on Heron Street.
Upstairs are the boys’ rooms. The beds were the ones custom-made for the Greenmeadows house, the
same ones we’d slept in since then. It was a loft or an attic, my mother insisted, which is why the stairs
had such narrow steps. But this "attic," curiously enough, had two big bedrooms as well as a wide hall.
To those of us who actually inhabited these rooms, the curiosity was an annoyance. There was no
bathroom, so if you had to go to the toilet in the middle of the night you had to go down the stairs and
come back up again, by which time you were at least half awake.

Perhaps there was no difference between the two houses more basic, and more dramatic, than their
location. This part of Marikina is not quite the same as the swanky part of Ortigas we inhabited for five
years. Cinco Hermanos is split by a road, cutting it into two phases, that leads on one end to Major
Santos Dizon, which connects Marcos Highway with Katipunan Avenue. The other end of the road stops
at Olandes, a dense community of pedicabs, narrow streets, and poverty. The noise – from the tricycles,
the chattering on the street, the trucks hurtling down Marcos Highway in the distance, the blaring of the
loudspeaker at our street corner put there by eager-beaver baranggay officials – dispels any illusions one
might harbor of having returned to a state of bliss.


The first floor is designed to create a clear separation between the family and guest areas, so one can
entertain outsiders without disturbing the house’s inhabitants. This principle owes probably more to my
mother than my father. After all, she is the entertainer, the host. The living room, patio, and dining room
– the places where guests might be entertained – must be clean and neat, things in their places. She
keeps the kitchen achingly well-organized, which is why there are lots of cabinets and a deep cupboard.

And she put them to good use. According to Titus, the fourth, who accompanied her recently while
grocery shopping, she buys groceries as if all of us still lived there. I don’t recall the cupboard ever being

That became her way of mothering. As we grew older and drifted farther and farther away from her
grasp, defining our own lives outside of the house, my mother must have felt that she was losing us to
friends, jobs, loves – forces beyond her control. Perhaps she figured that food, and a clean place to stay,
was what we still needed from her. So over the last ten years or so she has become more involved in her
cooking, more attentive, better. She also became fussier about meals, asking if you’ll be there for lunch
or dinner so she knows how much to cook, reprimanding the one who didn’t call to say he wasn’t
coming home for dinner after all, or the person who brought guests home without warning. There was
more to it than just knowing how much rice to cook.

I know it gives her joy to have relatives over during the regular Christmas and New Year get-togethers,
which have been held in our house for the past half-decade or so. She brings out the special dishes, cups
and saucers, platters, glasses, bowls, coasters and doilies she herself crocheted. Perhaps I understand
better why her Christmas decor has grown more lavish each year.

After seeing off the last guests after the most recent gathering, she sighed, "Ang kalat ng bahay!" I didn’t
see her face, but I could hear her smiling. My father replied, "Masaya ka naman." It wasn’t a secret.

Sundays we come over to the house, everyone who has moved out, and have lunch together. Sunday
lunches were always differently esteemed in our household. Now that some of us have left, I sense that
my siblings try harder than they ever did to be there. I know I do. I try not to deprive my mother the
chance to do what she does best.


She remains the reina of Hiligaynon

literature. No one knows if she once

had dreamt of herself as a reina for

the feast of Candelaria, or if she ever

imagined of Jose Rizal escorting her

down the plaza.


August 2009 | balikbayan 41

42 balikbayan | August 2009

The belfry of Jaro C hurch in Iloilo.

August 2009 | balikbayan 43


1896 when her first love was sentenced to death by firing squad by the

Spanish authorities. The man, who was known as José Rizal, was an

ophthalmologist who, in his times of passion, wrote reformist novels that

provided an indelible momentum for the Philippine Revolution in 1898.

His life had been accentuated by women of different languages. He left

Leonor Rivera, his childhood love, when his family sent him to Europe

for further medical studies, only to fall in love with a German dame in the

person of Josephine Bracken. When he visited Japan in 1888, he wrote a

woman named O-Sei-San about the equation of her beauty and that of

the blooming sakura. There were other women; some of them were kept

in secrecy along with José’s indecent encounters while sojourning with

other ilustrados who established relationships with women of European

lineage. His looks were ordinary; Filipinos, in fact, felt deceived when he

once came home and packaged himself as a doktor Aleman. But he was

gentle and, perhaps, romantic that Magdalena, heiress to the incredible

fortune of Francisca Gonzaga and Gregorio Jalandoni, fell in love with


Magdalena’s father died when she was two. Her brother Luis was

only three-months old and her mother was only twenty-three. After

Gregorio’s death, the Gonzagas supported the Jalandonis, sending

Magdalena to Colegio de San Jose. At night, she would hear stories from

her mother. At one instance, she asked if the happenings and situations

in the narrative were true. Having told that the storyteller imagined the

story, Magdalena resolved to make one. And the household was amazed

that she narrated a story that she originally owns. At ten, she wrote

her first corrido, Padre Juan kag Beata Maria (Father Juan and Mother

Maria). At 13, she has four of the same genre, manuscripts of these were

submitted by her mother to La Editorial in Iloilo City, which published

them in 6”x8” softcover newsprint edition.

When Magdalena was sixteen, almost ten years after her first love’s

death, she wrote her first novel, Mga Tunoc sang Isa ca Bulac (Thorns

of a Flower). It was becoming evident then that she would be a wellknown

writer like her José. But writing was a male-dominated sphere, so

Magdalena was prohibited by her mother from producing more literatures.

She would write at night and keep her notebooks under her clothes in

her trunk. When she was 18, her mother wanted her to get married. The

bothered Francisca had chosen a prospective husband for her daughter.

Magdalena, out of obedience, agreed to marry the man of honorary

stature; but she had one unjust precondition, that he should write a novel

within the year. So, Magdalena remained single, and wrote 37 novels, 5

autobiographies, 8 narrative poems, 6 corridos, 10 plays, 213 lyric poems,

132 short stories, 9 essays, and 10 melodramas. Not almost over José, she

transformed into painting all that was imagined by him in his novels. Along

with her dioramas of Filipino life, society, culture and history are striking

canvasses of scenes from Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

From her room, Magdalena could view the quarters of the Spanish

priests ruling the Archdiocese of Jaro. So religious that she ornamented

her inherited house with wood statues that she personally carved. In

present Iloilo, the house, located at No. 84 Commission Civil Street in

Jaro, no longer bears the sophistication of Magdalena’s isolated world.

Perhaps, even the local government lacked the funds to preserve the

grandeur of the history of Jaro. The Jalandoni house was among the balay

na bato styled after European architecture, and was among the mansions

that decorated the vicinity of the bell tower and the Cathedral of St.

Elizabeth of Hungary where the statue Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria

can be found. On the streets of Jaro, formerly known as Salog, rumbled

the carruajes driven by cocheros.

The feast of the Señora or the Lady of Candle has been celebrated
ostentatiously with a reina, a festival queen chosen from among the

daughters of the richest and the famous of Ilonggo families. She is often

considered as binukot (literally means “isolated”) or family treasure for

her affiliation with powerful, usually through marriage, could bring more

affluence. Contemporary Ilonggos continue to observe the spirituality

and essence of the Virgin who is believed to have been discovered by a

fisherman in the banks of Iloilo River. It was only a foot high then but was

dreadfully heavy until folks decided to bring it to Jaro. Since then, she had

the habit of disappearing in the early mornings. Stories say that a beautiful

lady with long hair had been seen bathing her child at the artesian well at

the plaza.

The Candelaria, as colloquially known, called for an extravagant

procession of Jaro’s material assets, a practice that Ilonggos were not able

to protract along the onset of inequities in a colonial society. Unwritten,

it must be celebrated every 2nd of February to commemorate the

presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the purification of the Blessed

Virgin. Once, perhaps was just imagined, when the wealthy families were

broke and cancelled the feast, Great Flood came. The lineage, wealth, and

opulent lifestyle, and prominence of affluent personages of Jaro largely

contributed to the glory of Iloilo as the “Queen City of the South.” In

its streets figure the gem-bathe mansions of the Lopezes, Montinolas,

Ledesmas, and, of course, the Jalandonis. But the heirs could only

imitate the arrogance of colonial models that Jaro lost from the track of

development and progress.

When she was 75, Magdalena wrote about this leitmotif of losses and
finds in Juanita Cruz, her most mature novel according to scholar Lucila

Hosillos. Conscious of the depreciating affluence of Jaro, she wrote about

Juanita who is a binukot of her family, a treasure kept by her father to the

highest bidder who offers the greatest wealth and power. But she fell in

love with a poor choirmaster Elias. Disinherited, she disguised as Celia de

Asis, went to Manila, found a surrogate family, and became heiress of her

foster parents. Juanita was reunited with Elias in the end only to discover

that he is involved in the revolutionary movement against Spain. He was

killed in a victorious battle and now, Juanita, or the old woman who tells

the story, or Magdalena, confronts Elias’s monument at the plaza.

On the 70th anniversary of her first love’s death, Magdalena wrote

about an undying love – whether filial, agape, nor eros, it was a passion

toward a country finding golden meanings out of its centuries of feasts.

From her glass windows, Magdalena might have had internalized, more

than ever, her life role of a binukot, isolated and untouched.

In 1978, 80 years after the realization of José’s dream, Magdalena

died at the age of 87. She remains the reina of Hiligaynon literature. No

one knows if she once had dreamt of herself as a reina for the feast of

Candelaria, or if she ever imagined of Jose Rizal escorting her down the