Thursday, July 19, 2018
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The Learning curve

Mauban remembers Horacio de la Costa

I had never heard of Mauban, a first-class municipality in Quezon, until I began researching on Horacio de la Costa, SJ, for a biography for children.  Mauban was where he was born; his mother, Emiliana Villamayor, came from an old and landed Mauban family. Until today, there are many Villamayors in the town, all relations of hers. I was eager to visit and see the fabled family home, known then and now as the White House, and walk the grounds that De la Costa walked on.

My first visit to Mauban and the White House in 2015 was facilitated by Conchita Dy Tan, whose family purchased the house from the Jesuits who had inherited it (De la Costa was an only child). The Jesuits did not want to see the grand house fall into disrepair. The Bonifacio Tans continue to maintain and restore the house, preserving the furniture, personal effects—including a large piece of tapestry from one of De la Costa’s travels—and household items found there. A room dedicated to De la Costa, which showcases original furniture and his life and writings, is open to the public.

I did not expect to return to Mauban a second time for the book, “The Playful Genius:  Story of Horacio V. de la Costa” (Anvil Publishing, 2017), had been released.  But who can resist an invitation from the Mauban Heritage Advocates (MHA) to join the celebration for the 102nd birth anniversary of the town’s most prominent citizen, in a morning ceremony that included a forum as well as book signing? And how I welcome and encourage events like this which are held outside Metro Manila, especially on the month that the National Commission for Culture and the Arts has declared National Heritage Month.

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As its name indicates, the MHA, a one-year-old group affiliated with the Quezon Province Heritage Council, has for its principal advocacy the revival and circulation of traditional customs in Mauban. What palpable pride there was in all that Mauban offers.

There is Quezon Street, where the White House stands along with many old homes, lovingly preserved and repurposed for modern living. Off this road is the 1915 home of Eden Clemente Almirez, who admits to the challenges of maintenance. The date is “recorded” because the workers had marked it on the concrete steps.  A block away is the San Bonaventure Parish Church, which is seen in an old photograph in the Jesuit archives of Horacio’s father, Judge Sixto De la Costa. It is a part of town that the recently departed architect and heritage advocate Toti Villalon would have applauded.

Intent on making the story of Horacio de la Costa, Mauban’s pride, known to the youth, the MHA had a campaign to donate the books to public schools. The day’s honoree, known to be self-effacing, may not feel comfortable with all the fuss, but he would have taken pride in the MHA’s revival of the forgotten custom of flower offerings called the “Ramahan.” It is the unique, all-natural arrangement of native wild flowers gathered from the forests and the riverside, held in a vase fashioned from banana stalks. The Ramahan led by Rosenda Talastas, Cleopatra Impreso, and Cherry Remoroza, was a daylong activity to teach the forgotten craft to the youth. The tradition is fading; the flowers are growing extinct. These were used for the “Flores de Maria” offerings in church and for the De la Costa bust and marker.

The morning had reminiscences about the youthful Horace, the name his mother called him. There were few detailed anecdotes about him, even from his cousin Tito de la Costa, because he was very quiet and always seemed to be in deep thought. The family’s rest house on a scenic hilltop is now gone, but this was where he did much of his writing. At the family’s equally grand residence on Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong—now gone as commerce has taken over—guests remembered gracious meals and the elder De la Costas pointing out cigarette butts and empty glasses of liquor as evidence of Horace at serious work.

And there was the amusing query: Was there anything in my research to show that De la Costa’s IQ was really superior to Jose Rizal’s, as rumored?

That only meant that the MHA, with an active FB page of old photographs and memories, has much to pursue.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Dela Costa, Mauban, Quezon
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