17 Aug2010


I was born in Cebu but left for Manila when I was just two years old. My parents weren’t obsessed with explaining who was who and how we were related to so and so, and with the added disadvantage of being the bunso or youngest of five kids, I think I got the least amount of verbally passed on family history. Nor was I interested at the time, so I grew up oblivious for the most part. On our maternal side, our grandparents were hunted then brutally executed by the Japanese at the end of WWII, and any mention of ancestors on that side of the family was limited to larger gatherings of the clan and an emphasis on much better times. Stories of being belles of the balls and wonderful weddings and parties still hold a special place in the memory banks of some of my aunts and uncles who were alive in the early 1900’s. For my mom’s family, the comfortable and socially connected pre-war days came to a fairly abrupt end. On the paternal side, my grandmother hailed from Mactan, and was always convinced she was related to Lapu-Lapu which is actually plausible given that her ancestors for eons were from the one little town on the island, true “natives” as it were. My paternal grandfather came from outside Legaspi, Albay and the little I now know about him, his old photos, and the area he came from has me seriously wondering if we don’t have a little bit of Indian blood somewhere in our history as well. So as with most pinoys, we are mongrels, a mixture of mostly native islander, with drops of portuguese, chinese, spanish, indian blood and gosh knows what else… :) But in the last few years, several articles and books have piqued my interest about Cebu and some of my ancestors more than it used to…

The book “Glimpses of Old Cebu – Images of the Colonial Era” by Lucy Urgello Miller is a coffee table book published earlier this year based on antique postcards that the author collected over decades from shows all across the United States. Lucy Urgello was one of Sister’s high school classmates in Cebu, who later moved to teach California and along the way she collected antique postcards as a hobby. The postcards/photos from Cebu during the colonial period are FASCINATING. Truly FASCINATING. Her book contains nearly 600 photos spanning a period of 75 years from around 1870-1945. The photos at the turn of the century are particularly interesting. Shots of Colon Street, like that on the cover above, are personally meaningful as our paternal grandparents owned a hotel on Colon Street (the oldest “street” in the Philippines) from the 1930’s onwards. Other shots of a beautiful tree-lined Mango Avenue in the 1930’s were shocking to see, as those same grandparents had a modest home and large lot on Mango Avenue, which then WAS LINED WITH MASSIVE MANGO TREES and decades later the avenue is now an ugly, urban nightmare… Photos of Jones (now Osmena) Boulevard and the stunningly imposing white capitol building at the end of it show glimpses of the empty hills and mountains beyond, now all heavily populated. There is even a photo where you can make out the exact place we are cooking Zubuchons today, but taken some 80 years ago!


But browsing through another book, “Life in Old Parian” by Concepcion G. Briones and published in 1983 held even more fascinating personal discoveries… The Parian district or enclave was for several hundred years the section of town for Chinese merchants/immigrants from the late 1500’s until the early 1800’s. After a few unpleasant “cleansing” episodes, the area in the early 1800’s onwards became the neighborhood of the “mestizo-sangleyes” or Chinese-Filipino elites, and later, the epicenter of much of commercial activity and wealth in the islands. What went from the equivalent of a Chinese ghetto, I gather, turned into the prime address for a segment of the merchant population.

In Ms. Briones’ book, I was surprised to find a list of “twenty eight families that composed Parian’s elite in the early 19th century:” and the list included, among others, the “Borromeo, Climaco, Espina, del Mar, Osmena, Sanson (Samson), Singson, Velez and Veloso families” and many of these names remain prominent to this day. My maternal great-grandmother came from one of these extended families (how far from the main root I do not know) and it is really only now that I realize they were part-Chinese; they always seemed to focus on the Spanish/Portuguese connection… Also cool is the fact that Mrs. MM’s ancestors also appear in the same book, from a list of families from the late 1800’s. And that there is a possible “baptismal” relationship some 5-7 generations ago, when one of her ancestors possibly took on the name of one of my ancestors during a baptismal rite… though they were not blood relatives. No wonder one of the older Cebu matriarchs at our wedding 18 years ago whispered to me that we might be cousins, how freaky is that? She was teasing, of course… Not such a farfetched claim, as counting all legitimate AND illegitimate relations, one could certainly be marrying a relative on a small island without realizing it. :)


Finally, in a Metro Society magazine issue dated October-December 2006, there are several historical pieces of various families from various parts of the country, and one of them focuses on the move “From Parian to Principales” and how the members of that enclave’s elite later went on to dominate many aspects of business and politics on the island of Cebu. The piece was written by Gavin Sanson Bagares, himself probably a descendant of one of those original 28 families that were counted as part of the Parian elite. The article describes one of the richest Chinese-Filipino families in the Visayan region at the time and outlines the speed with which one can rise up the ladder if your commercial instincts were superior. It also, unwittingly shows how quickly such wealth can be lost in subsequent generations if improperly managed. In the end, all of this is of no consequence other than to provide historical context… yes, it’s nice to know where one comes from, even if it has little impact on where one challenges himself to go in the future. Next up, a 1960’s style meal right in the heart of modern day Parian.



  1. farida says:

    MM, you must have very close ties with Cebuano relatives as you are often in Cebu and still can speak Cebuano like a native. Glad you have not lost touch. Yes, Lucy was a classmate in grade school before I moved to another grade school and then back again to the same school for high school. Hmm, which one is sister?
    Cousins, don’t let that freak you out. My parents were 3rd degree cousins and my maternal grandparents were against their marriage so they eloped!! :).

    Aug 17, 2010 | 7:33 am


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  3. Marketman says:

    farida, OMG, has another STC graduate come out of the woodwork? :) My Cebuano is pretty appalling, but over the last few years it has improved as a result of taking care of business… And we don’t have too many immediate relatives left in Cebu.

    Aug 17, 2010 | 7:53 am

  4. marilen says:

    Thank you, MM, for this very interesting post. I always have been a student of Philippine history – from the particular (family and bloodline) to the regional (Bisaya ca ba? etc) to the national (Pinoy ca ba?) Thank you for the book titles, it will be a pleasure to track down copies. Found an interesting book by Marciano de Borja on Basques in the Philippines. Appears that most of the Spaniards in the Philippines were Vascos – prominent in Cebu are the Aboitiz.

    Aug 17, 2010 | 8:03 am

  5. Footloose says:

    This type of illustrated histories afford me so much enjoyment too. Ditto with poring over old prints and ephemera in flea-markets anywhere I travel. I feel so lucky and rewarded finding objects with Philippine connection in the unlikeliest of places.

    Masa podrida, that almost extinct coconut shortbread much priced and longed for by my mom’s generation could have been brought here by these vascongados then. A recipe I recently found in the internet for gâteaux basques turned out to be pretty close to that of masa podrida that I use. Substitute grated coconut for powdered almond, and replace the butter with lard and you have the identical recipe.

    Aug 17, 2010 | 8:38 am

  6. Marketman says:

    Footloose, Mrs. MM’s family cook and yaya, yes, she spanned some 40 years of service, made a masa podrida that was worth saving… unfortunately, we do not have a recipe. The next time I see her, I will coax her into making it from scratch, even if we have to do it several times to get it right… thanks for reminding me of this. Marilen, yes, that book on Basques in the Philippines is another interesting one… And of course the Aboitizes are amongst the most recognized ones.

    Aug 17, 2010 | 8:44 am

  7. present tense says:

    I remember the days when the only theater it seemed was Rizal Theater in Makati. With nothing but cogon thriving out on the streets. We used to stay in Taft Avenue and used to walk to San Andres Market. We heard mass in Malate those days and would walk through Manila Bay where there was only shore and no CCP. On Sundays we would go to Milky Way for buko sherbet. During those days, there was a water fountain smack center in Taft Ave. My Dad used to drive one of those old batman Mercedes. And milk was liquid and came in quarts nothing powdered. And the game of choice for kids my age was jolens. Today I find myself listening to Lady Gaga

    Aug 17, 2010 | 9:10 am

  8. elian says:

    my beautiful cebu.

    Aug 17, 2010 | 9:29 am

  9. PM says:

    This is a a wonderful post and I just had to comment! Although I grew up in Manila, my mom’s side of the family is from Cebu. My grandparents had a house along Mango Ave and I would visit them every summer. My mom often tells me about stories of the old family house of her own grandparents along Mango Ave, as well. My greatgrandfather owned a movie house in Colon, but sadly, I don’t remember much of it. In fact, I don’t even know what’s become of it now.

    Aug 17, 2010 | 2:14 pm

  10. faith says:

    Hahaha. Gave me goosebumps when I showed my mom the cover of Glimpses of Old Cebu and she did recognize it as that street. I think she was in Bohol until high school, attending College of the Holy Spirit (now Holy Spirit School after they phased out the college department), but went to CIT in college.

    Do you know where I can still get a copy of Glimpses of Old Cebu? I want one. :D

    Aug 17, 2010 | 3:45 pm

  11. Marketman says:

    faith, I think the book was published together with the University of San Carlos, so I suspect contacting the school will yield you a copy if still available…

    Aug 17, 2010 | 4:06 pm

  12. faith says:

    Yay! Thank you po, MM. :) I’ll text a favor in to my relatives still in Cebu. Hehehehe.

    Aug 17, 2010 | 4:41 pm

  13. Jr says:


    It reminds me of Binan, Laguna were I was born and raised. My mother keeps the family history going by providing us a family tree with a brief history. Our family had been in Binan for many generations. Some of the old colonial homes in the center of town belongs to my maternal side relatives but most of them were either sold or left to rot. I feel sad every time I go home for a visit and found out what happened to some of the homes.


    Aug 17, 2010 | 9:26 pm

  14. Isa Garchitorena says:

    I just learned from researching an above comment that my paternal grandfather founded a school in legaspi, albay! Maybe our grandparents knew each other way back when? The world is a tiny place, no?

    Aug 18, 2010 | 3:33 pm

  15. marissewalangkaparis says:

    My father in law belongs to the Veloso clan…you probably see one another at reunions…he is now 87 but stays in Leyte or Canada most of the time…such a big clan…

    Aug 18, 2010 | 4:41 pm

  16. fried-neurons says:

    Years ago, when I first started reading your blog, and you were much more fiercely protective of your anonymity, I thought that maybe you were an Aboitiz. I formed that theory based on your Cebu-related posts and other tidbits here and there. :)

    Aug 19, 2010 | 1:23 am

  17. Footloose says:

    Anyone visiting Cebu and interested in how the interior of those houses depicted in the first photo looks like can go and explore Casa Gorrordo. Not as grand and imposing perhaps as the Casa Manila restoration that benefited from Imelda largesse but nevertheless capable of transporting you back to an era before indoor plumbing. Quite inapposite in an otherwise well-appointed middle-class residence is the bath with split bamboo (as in batalan) drain/flooring. The sala floor though is impressive with its alternation of dark and light hardwood planks and the capiz for the sash windows are of a size that can hardly be found nowadays.

    Aug 19, 2010 | 6:19 pm

  18. sha says:

    miss Cebu… am on 3rd month of work no days off .. yet… hello from sardinia

    Aug 21, 2010 | 12:49 am

  19. chuchi new jersey says:

    MM, greetings!

    i’m always happy to read about people’s interest in their genealogy. my avocation includes philippine genealogy. if interested to trace your ancestors, maybe i could help you. simply forward your ancestors’ names. i have helped many kababayans in preparing their family trees. if you have further privacy concerns, my main reference is lucy miller who was a classmate. in fact, she acknowledged me in her book under my formal first name. and oh, i co-wrote our family genealogy book “honorato & ciriaca arguelles quisumbing.” you can google it in the national library website.

    Oct 4, 2010 | 12:43 pm

  20. rg says:

    re 9 – jr, you may wish to visit “remembrances of things gone awry, families of old binan”.
    re 15 – chuchi, this blog, covers many subjects eg families of old sta cruz, quiapo, binondo, among others. many interesting subjects

    Oct 5, 2010 | 11:14 am

  21. kennanwynnvalle says:

    maka relate judko ani nga blog site infact i was one of the descendants of those 28 elite families of old parian cebu by my paternal side the VALLE clans of cebu by Don isidro valle of spanish and chinese descent lineage.

    Aug 15, 2011 | 9:36 am

  22. Feliciano Espina says:

    hi! i am feliciano espina. my lolo donato espina was former fireman at parian fire station.
    He was born & grown in that place. His father was the late Don Faustino Espina, a naval architect & a ship captain.

    Nov 17, 2011 | 2:30 pm


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