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At Large

A ‘Mansyon’ of memories

Early in its existence, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, brainchild of construction magnate Jose Acuzar (New San Jose Builders), met with a firestorm of criticism for transplanting ancient buildings from their original locations to his resort in Bataan. If I remember right, the controversy erupted over the attempt of Acuzar to buy an abandoned, deteriorating church in Pampanga, relocate it to Bataan, and there refurbish it to approximate its old glory.

When I spoke with him, Acuzar said all he wanted to do was to save old, abandoned structures, some of which had historical value, and restore them. But then, given the pace of development or deterioration in the surrounding areas, the only way the refurbished homes and buildings could regain their dignity was to be transplanted to Las Casas.

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A recent visit to Las Casas shows that Acuzar’s vision has blossomed beyond even perhaps his own imagination. The resort has been transformed into a small town, and there is inherent charm in the neighborhoods displaying ancestral homes restored to “almost-new” state.

But I can sympathize, too, with those who feel that the houses — and their original sites — lost a vital connection when they were uprooted, to be enjoyed only by foreign and local tourists who can afford to pay the entrance fee.

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Out of its native context, does an ancestral home or community structure still retain its identity, its meaning, to the people and families who lived in it, loved it, and attach memories to it?

That is a question that crops up in “Mansyon, Isang Musikal” which had its initial run the other week at Abelardo Hall in UP Diliman.

With words and music by Leon Mayo, an architect and urban planner with an avocation for music since his youth, “Mansyon” tells the story of the surviving Santos patriarch who struggles to preserve his family’s ancestral home in the midst of forces—including friends and loved ones—who urge him to sell his house and lands and opt for a life of easy retirement.

In the process of fending off temptations to take the easy and profitable way out, Santos dredges up painful memories of his family history. And now, with the arrival from the United States of his granddaughter whom he must convince to stay in the country and help him preserve their heritage, he learns to cope with new ways and new attitudes.

I’m happy to say the dilemma is solved satisfactorily, although not without some heartbreak and conflict.

Clearly, this is a personal “passion” project. In a sharing with the audience at the musical’s end, Mayo said many of the songs—in English and Filipino—had been written years ago, although with no outlet for them, he had kept them secret from his friends.

The songs do find heartfelt interpretations at the hands of the cast, particularly Brylle Mondejar as the aging Santos grandfather and Ina Salonga as the spirited granddaughter. Stage direction is by Ruth Alferez, music direction by Lawrence Jatayna, music arrangement by Michael Bulaong, and script by John Quintana.

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The musical left members of the audience pondering matters like legacy, history, and family honor. During the Q&A, several in the audience stood to express their own dilemmas regarding their own ancestral homes that are expensive to maintain and thus serve as tempting lures for their own demise, with younger members of the clan agitating to sell them off and exploit their central locations. One even confessed that he didn’t know what to do because there were 16 primary owners, all in disagreement over the best way to cope with the challenges of keeping an ancient structure intact.

Mayo himself confessed that he had no choice but to buy off his relatives because he was determined to keep their ancestral home in Batangas intact. But not every family has such a wealthy and committed member. Thus, “Mansyon” provides a blueprint for the future of heritage structures — who may end up in a place like Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

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TAGS: At Large, Jose Acuzar, Mansyon, New San Jose Builders, Rina Jimenez-David
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