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Historic Alberto Mansion

Histo-cultural, See Biñan

The heavy roof of the mansion of the illustrious Alberto clan is made with tisa (brick tiles) which was banned in the 1880s so it is believed to have been erected way before that, perhaps two hundred years ago. The mansion was first owned by Don Lorenzo Alonso de Alberto, the most affluent resident of Biñan. He was the capitan or mayor of Biñan in 1844 and supervised the construction of the then-called Fuente de Isabel, now called Evangelista Bridge. He was granted the rank of El Caballero de la Orden Americana de Isabel la Católica (Knight of the American Order of Isabel the Catholic) for his service and contribution to Spain during the Expedición Franco-Española a Cochinchina (the Cochinchina Campaign), but he had passed away by then so the rank was earned by his son, Don José Maria Alberto. But Don José, in his own right, was also privileged as El Caballero de la Orden de Carlos III (the Knight of the Order of Carlos III) by the Spanish Regent General Juan Prim; and later as El Caballero Comandante (the Knight Commander) under King Amadeo I.

In 1856, the British governor of Hong Kong Sir John Bowring visited the Philippines. Before voyaging towards Manila, he visited Biñan, and in his account of his visit, he admired the beauty of the Alberto mansion where he was received and its owner’s fine ways. Biñan, as noted by the visiting governor, was an important land for its abundance in different aspects—opulent mestizos (persons of mixed descent), territories owned by Dominican friars, politeness and hospitality, festivals, well-planned road works, houses with gardens, fruits, rice, and trading with the capital.

By the main entrance of Don José’s inherited “handsome” bahay na bato (house of stone) was an arch supported by ornately Corinthian pilasters. In fitting with the tropical climate of the country, it had wide windows with panels made of capiz shells. Its remarkable roof was tiled with red tisa constructed with definite arching slopes—a characteristic of Chinese architecture. Its azotea (balcony) had the perfect view of the town plaza of Barangay Poblacion.

The mansion was a witness not only to Biñan’s monumental events, but to the feud within the Alonso de Alberto family as well. Apart from José, Don Lorenzo also fathered four other children, including Teodora “Lolay” Alonso. José was believed to be Lolay’s favorite sibling, naming one of her sons after him. José frequented Europe for business, often leaving his wife, Teodora Formoso, alone. Upon coming home from one of his trips in 1872, he found Formoso nowhere in the mansion because she left with another man. When José found his wife, he locked her somewhere in the mansion. He asked Lolay to look after his wife while he was gone. One afternoon, Lolay, together with her eldest daughter, Saturnina Rizal, prepared a merienda for her sister-in-law, which Formoso fed to her dog instead. The dog died. Formoso used this to accuse Lolay of attempting to murder her. Lolay was arrested by the Jefe de la Guardia Civil (head of the Civil Guard), who was believed to be Formoso’s lover. Lolay was imprisoned for two years despite the promise of the capitan that she would be freed if she would admit to the accusation.

More than a hundred years after the feud between the two Teodoras, in June 2009, the mansion made the rounds once again. Despite the existence of the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 which protects structures at least 50 years old, the mansion was being dismantled to be transported to, and reassembled and restored in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan.

In October 2012, the mansion collapsed from its roof. Many believed that it was caused by the dismantling of the supports of the heavy tisa-tiled roof. The collapse was a call for the local government to expropriate the mansion and make it stand again. The United Artists for Cultural Conservation and Development, City of Biñan Inc., headed by Dr. Rosauro “Bimbo” Sta. Maria and Bryan Jayson “BJ” Borja, together with the LGU headed by then Mayor Marlyn “Len” Alonte, led the fight to “Save the Historic Alberto House”. After the long and strenuous legal battle over the rights to the mansion, in 2017, it was rightfully taken over by the Biñan City government through the efforts of Mayor Walfredo “Arman” Dimaguila Jr. And in February 2018, the much-deserved restoration of the mansion started. This victory is considered to be the first of its kind in Philippine history given the rapid modernization of the country. After the grueling yet exhilarating restoration of one of the most handsome bahay na bato in Biñan, on December 6, 2019, the doors of the Alberto Mansion were opened to the public.

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