Saturday, February 23, 2013

Las Casas Filipinas: Jose Acuzar's Masterful Rendition of Our Past

The beauty of bahay na bato
How to market or brand the Philippines? This has been the question eversince by people who want to increase tourist traction in this country. Obviously, the Philippines is highly marketable, no doubt about it. This country offers innumerable surprises---a rich biodiverse environment, a friendly and intelligent people who speak English, and a culture rich in Western and Eastern influences.

Every single one can soak up the Filipino culture because it is an elegant mesh of every thing that is excellent about the human race. Be it expressed in food, in architecture, in arts (paintings and stuff) or languages, the Filipino cultural contribution to world culture is already there and being recognized globally.

If you look at the landscape though, gone are the vestiges of past Western and Eastern influences in the structures that dot the land. These structures should have been splendid attractions to an ever-weary and ever-expanding tourist horde who not only seek the fine beaches and natural attractions of a country but often ask for historical heritages of previous generations.

What we now see are modern structures that show a future brighter than today. Those old, yet grand structures of History are slowly being erased from the landscape in exchange for modern structures that are built merely to satiate commercial interests rather than keeping the aesthetics of the place.

Today, ask of any monument or structure that would really represent the Filipino, and we find none. Is the Rizal monument a true depiction of what is Filipino? No.

Malaysia, for example, has their temples and a world-class building. Indonesia has their rich Muslim culture. Singapore has its modern and cosmopolitan structures, while Thailand offers both modern and centuries-old structures.

The important thing why I am writing about this is the fact that the absence of these cultural landmarks and structures reinforce the belief of a Philippines peopled by sub-human or uncultured races prior to the arrival of Western powers.

Obviously, this is entirely a false and untrue interpretation of the Philippines. The Philippines of eons past was the toast of the region. The Philippines of eons past was a country proud of the many mixture of peoples that make it their home. The Philippines was the first cosmopolitan country in the entire Asia, visited by peoples around the world, and being managed by peoples practising a high level of civilization and culture.

The thing is---where are the evidence of such a high, rich and culturally diversified civilization? Where are those structures that depict a Venice of Asia (the Philippines was once referred by Westerners as such)?

A proper marketing of the Philippines should consider what the past may offer for the present. Of course, our past is replete not just of suffering, but of grandeur. The grandeur of the historical Philippines must be made public and must be the core marketing concept.

Jose Acuzar of New San Jose Builders had that in mind when he built the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan.

This 56 year old entrepreneur and builder is a true marketeer and visionary. Here, in this place which he created in Bagac Bataan lies the very answer to the age-old problem of how to market the Philippines to the world.

In this 12 hectare resort property at the very edge of Bataan peninsula fronting the majestic South China sea lies a cultural wonder that is not just a feast for the eyes, but also, for the intellect.

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is being positioned as a Genesis or Heritage site, but for the common tourist like me and my family who spent a wonderful night there, the resort is a mix of a theme and heritage site.

It is not enough to spend a night there. The place is just teeming with wonderful sights that astound the senses. No where in the Philippines could you find such grand and proud expression of historical heritage such as Las Casas Filipinas.

Las Casas Filipinas is not just a place which will raise your awareness about housing of the past or the architectural creations during our colonial past. Being there, spending time in Las Casas Filipinas affords you with innumerable and delicious discoveries of what life was at the time of the colonial era.

Imagine yourself spending time in a place which you only read in history books. Before, it used to be just a dream as an historiographer to experience living in 18th century Philippines. It was the time of the heroes.

Now, it is surely not enough to just spend the night sleeping in one of the majestic stone houses or bahay na bato. For the purists, they would probably tell me that it is a sacrilege praising these houses since these are expressions of our people's slavish past.

No. I see in the bahay na bato the true Filipino soul. There is just some of us who realize the fact that these houses are not replications of Western architectural thought; rather, these are symbols of how Filipinos interpret Western thinking.

Look at these houses and you'll find that these are living synergistic expressions of Western, Eastern and Filipino expressions of their environment. These houses are expressions of how Filipinos brand themselves. Every Bahay na bato has a Filipino, a Spanish, an Iberian, an Arabian, a Chinese, a Japanese, an Indian and even Roman influences in it. Fact is, the Bahay na bato can actually be described as a cosmopolitan house, the previous generations interpretations of what a house of a cosmopolitan family might look like.

The Bahay na bato is an indigenized creation, something truly Filipino and something which we must be proud of presenting to the world, like what we presently are proud of presenting--the jeepney.
(First of three parts...)