A few puffs of clouds were sailing over the cobalt ocean of the sky. The sun was unmercifully blinding as I tilted my camera towards the centuries-old ancestral house that the First President of the Philippines once lived in. Sweat trickled down my neck as I pressed the shutter once, twice, thrice.
The Aguinaldo Shrine, built in 1845, was not as large as it is now. The roof used to be made of thatch and the now enclosed ground floor was like the houses of its period, open and used primarily as a parking space for horse carriages. The family wing on the east side of the building was still nowhere to be seen, so was the iconic veranda where the Philippine flag is annually waved from during Independence Day.
The house is surrounded by lush trees, and as I circled it, I found the President’s tomb where he is permanently interred, what seemed to be a giant oven and his prized car, a 1924 Packard limousine, which was once paraded during the Philippine Centennial Celebration in 1998.
Escaping from the hot midday sun, I entered its cool halls. A Guardia Sibil greeted me and I promptly asked if there was an entrance fee, he said there was none and smiled. The Aguinaldo Ancestral house has been donated to the Philippine Government in 1963 and is now a museum.
The first thing that struck me was the bowling alley inside the house. The Aguinaldo clan was indeed rich to have the luxury of having their very own inside their house. Photographs and memorabilia of the Spanish Revolution soon came into view; uniforms, car plates, pins and my favorite, the general’s very own lunchbox.
A niche in one of the walls near Gen. Aguinaldo’s office pointed to a passageway leading to a chamber underneath that acted as a bomb shelter and an escape route for the revolutionaries during the Spanish occupation. The tunnel leads all the way to a church, which is quite far from the house. It was unfortunate that they don’t allow anyone to traverse the tunnel as some portions of it had already caved in and not a few are using it to enter the Aguinaldo residence.
There were a few dioramas in display at the ground floor depicting scenes from the war; Filipino troops fighting the Spanish forces, Gen. Aguinaldo being sworn to office, among others. The miniatures were well-crafted down to the capiz windows and parchment documents lying on the table.
Proceeding upstairs, I ventured to the east wing; the main sleeping quarters for his three daughters, Cristina, Maria and Carmen. The rooms were large, fully furnished and accessorized with a mixture of Filipino, European and Chinese as befitting those from a wealthy class. Framed pictures of the occupants are neatly hanged and placed about.
The hallway that traverses the bedrooms was a marvel of it own, with surprising niches containing floor-to-ceiling medicine cabinets. The end of the hall terminates to an azotea or balcony which was dubbed as the Galeria de los Pecadores or Hall of the Sinners by the General himself. It is there that plots against the Spanish occupants were made and promulgated.
I was astounded as I moved to the main hall of the house. It was vast; certainly the largest ancestral house I’ve been to yet. There were three sitting areas surrounding a heavy-looking main table. The floor planks were about a foot in width and were made of hardwoods. According to one guide, the materials used in the house were so hard it was literally termite-proof. On the ceiling were intricate wood carvings that looked so heavy I’m afraid it would crush someone to death should it suddenly fall.
At the far end of the room is the relatively new balcony built by Aguinaldo himself between 1919 and 1921 where the flag ceremony for Independence Day is presided on. A room on the right reveals a music room and on the left is the massive dining area.
The dining hall has not one but two round dinner tables. A china cabinet is built on one end and a relief map of the country hovers overhead. The hall is lit by sliding capiz windows with painted portraits of the Aguinaldo family members above.
Another hallway leads to the garden where I was told a swimming pool is located. I, however, was unable to locate the pool. Puzzled, I asked again and was told to look below the staircase leading outside. And there it was, definitely not like the ones we’re used to with tiles and blue water. But in those days having your own swimming pool was something in itself, and to have it inside the house itself was just unbelievable. The pool was only halfway filled with water and it has now been turned into a wishing well of sorts with all the coins scattered at the bottom.
Resting a bit at the hallway, we sat on benches that we were told once held secrets. What sort of secrets we asked. The guide then moved the backrest of the benches and showed the compartments where guns were once stashed away from the enemies prying eyes.
In fact the houses have more secret passageways than my fingers can count. There are four from the General’s bedroom alone. And scattered throughout are secret walls and entrances that you wouldn’t have thought were there. The whole house is designed by Gen. Aguinaldo himself and I can imagine how paranoid he must have been in getting caught. But during those times, who wouldn’t really?
Saving the best for last, we finally climbed towards the middle part of Aguinaldo’s Shrine; its heart, the towering spire that characterized the house from so many other ancestral houses.
Walking through an almost hidden door, I actually asked the guide where I should enter; I can only see a wall. We then proceeded in semi-darkness through steep and narrow steps to hidden chambers and more steps upwards into the tower.
The light pours in and the view spills into a vast panorama. From four capiz windows we can see the sprawl of the nearby towns. It was said that the towers were once used to spot incoming enemies, the view reaching all the way up to Rizal Park or Luneta back in the day.
Another set of ladders lead upwards toward the tower’s attic. The heat was so stifling though that I just peeked, took one photo and went down ASAP.
We returned to the shrine later that afternoon after a downpour. We explored the adjacent plaza which was built for the Philippine Centennial celebration.
Dubbed as the Aguinaldo Freedom Park, it features a marble wall inscribed with the Acta dela Proclamation de Independencia del pueblo Filipino or the Philippine Declaration of Independence by Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista and Emilio Aguinaldo. It is translated in Spanish, English and Filipino.
In the middle of the plaza stands a bronze sculpture of General Aguinaldo’s riding a horse with a saber in hand. And on its marble base, a circa1897 poem by Aguinaldo entitled Sa Mga Cababayan (For My Countrymen) is inscribed.
The tour inside the Aguinaldo Shrine was something of a surprise for me. I’ve been to number of ancestral houses before but it is only now that I was truly amazed by one.
And as we were leaving the shrine, I spotted a reflection of the house. It seemed to mirror the history of the First Philippine President’s white mansion; the meetings for a government overthrow, the construction of secret passageways, the intrigues, the politics, the parties, the romance, the post-war life and the never ending wave of the Flag that constitutes the country’s cry for Freedom.
Aguinaldo Shrine and Aguinaldo Park
Address: Tirona Highway, Kawit, Cavite
Open Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 8:00AM to 4:00PM
GPS Coordinates: 14.444966,120.907177
Click to view location on Google Maps