MANILA, JUNE 5, 2006 (MALAYA) By JIMMY C. CALAPATI - The month-long Filipino Heritage Festival ends in the tour of Negros and Iloilo houses.

It started with a concert in the San Agustin Church in Paoay, a visit of stately houses in Bulacan, the magnificent churches in Laguna and Bohol and now the ancestral houses of Negros and Iloilo.

Much has been said about Negros and the product that made it "sugar". There was a time that Negros was so rich, selling sugar to the world, it considered declaring itself a republic.

Sugar made it so rich and the center of trade many Europeans tried their luck in the island.

The Sugarbowl of the Philippines, Negros has 196,789 hectares planted to sugarcane. It supplies 90 percent of local demand.

Negros is so rich in historical heritage it many things to offer for the casual tourists to history buffs to intrepid, backpackers.

Manila newspapermen were treated to a tour of the heritage houses in Silay, Negros.

Our gracious guide, Mon Hofileña—whose family owns the Hofileña House which is among the heritage houses—showed us the trappings of the typical wealthy Negrense haciendero.

The foreigners lured by the rich sugar trade built magnificent homes with house parts imported or made to order from abroad.

The most popular among these heritage houses is the Balay Negrense. Built in 1897, the Balay Negrense is the restored residence of Victor F. Gaston, son of Yves Leopold Germaine Gaston who was originally from Normandy, Fance.

Left unused by the family and after becoming, among other things, a dance studio, the house deteriorated until a group from Silay decided to restore the house. By the time restoration began its furnishings were gone.

The house is an airier version of the bahay na bato. The first floor, raised from the damp earth is pierced by windows that make the interior brighter than older houses. The first floor is no longer just a storage space but large foyer which leads to rooms and offices. The lower floor connects to the upper story through a grand staircase. The upper floor has bedrooms flanking the living room. To the rear is the dining hall and kitchen. The upper story is made of wood with generous ventanillas that allow air to circulate throughout the house. The house has been furnished with furniture and appurtenances donated by various persons.

Another famous heritage house is the Jalandoni House. Built in 1908, the owners Don Bernardino and Ysabel Jalandoni had this two-storey house constructed with strong materials of hardwood from the province of Mindoro.

The house is influenced by the original nipa hut design of the roof and the square structure of the building.

The well-designed interiors show intricate artwork on the room dividers and on the beautifully embossed steel trayed ceilings molded in Hamburg, Germany. Another distinct characteristic of the ancestral home is its ventilation provided by the wide louvered big windows and the sliding Capiz shell window panels and high ceiling.

The Ramon Hofilena Residence is another turn-of-the-century house. Owned by Manuel Severino Hofileña, the direct descendants still occupy the house. Also located at Silay City, most of the original furnishings are still intact and used by the owners.

There are several other heritage houses in Silay City. In fact, to date, the National Historical Institute has listed 31 historical houses in Silay City alone. But local sources say there are more—at least a hundred more houses worth preserving.

But it’s a pity that several of these houses are so run-down they are falling apart. It is very said that several of the known houses have been torn down to give way to fast food joints or commercial establishments.

Several houses unfortunately are subject of inheritance suits.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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