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Silay Aug 27, 2010

Silay - The Paris of Negros

Historical Backdrop
While reading up on Bacolod, I came upon Silay, a quaint town just 14 kms north of Bacolod. It would seem like a another sleepy rural town. A passing tourist may not even be aware that during its heyday, Silay was home to the wealthy and influential families of Iloilo who established residency to pursue the economic lure of sugar. The names of these well-heeled families still resonate to this date - Ledesma, Montelibano, Gaston, Lacson, Locsin, Bascon, etc. Silay was then the social and economic hub of Negros. European intellectuals and musicians would make Silay their haunt. It was dubbed the Paris of Negros.. But due to shifting fortunes, Silay was reduced to an iconic reminder of a bygone era. To date, the vestiges of its former glory lie in the 30+ ancestral homes that withstood the ravages of time and war. My quest was to rediscover Silay's roaring heyday through the lives and times of the families who once lived in these homes.

Ancestral Homes
These majestic houses were built between 1880 to 1930, following the pioneering success of Yves Gaston to cultivate sugar commercially in the area. Fortunately, 3 of them are open to the public for an admission fee of P40:

  • Bernardino Jalandoni Ancestral House (aka - The Pink House)
  • Balay Negrense Museum (aka - Victor Gaston Ancestral Home)
  • Hofileña Ancestral Home
Silay map

Balay Negrense Museum (aka - Victor Gaston Ancestral Home)
I'm glad my remaining climbing buddies from Mt. Kanlaon (Aarone and Ian) decided to venture into Silay and into this home with me. I was only able to visit 2 homes. The first was the Balay Negrense, also known as the Victor Gaston Ancestral Home. Victor is the son of the patriatch who started it all - Yves Gaston. Through 6 generations, Yves' decendants now number over 800. They hold a reunion every 3 years to keep in touch and to update their family tree which is creatively illustrated on a round table. A familiar name on the list is actor Jaime Fabregas. Of the clan, there were tales of who was the wreckless maverick, the gambler, the womizer, the adept investor who protected the family fortune during bad times and those who made it grow during the days of plenty. It was life imitating a soap opera.

Susan Magalona
Another interesting story. Susan Magalona (now in her 80s), was Negros' Helen of Troy during her time. Her beauty was legendary - the pictures on the wall validate that. Suitors would line up every evening. Some would even climb up a tree just get a glimpse of her beauty. Her family however, was heavily indebted to another family. To even things up between creditor and debtor, her marriage was arranged. It was said she was crying her heart out while walking the aisle. Ah...this is stuff movies are made for!

Hofileña Ancestral Home
Visits are by appointment only (call 495-4561). However, I was lucky to chance on Ramon Hofileña to be available when I stopped by. At that point, Aarone and Ian have already taken their flight back to Manila. Ramon was still enthusiastic despite having done 2 tours previous to me. He candidly talked about himself (the only Filipino on the cover of Reader's Digest, posing nude at 50, etc.) and enjoyed talking about the house's history. There was a lot of collectible items in the house, each and everyone of them having its own story (meteorites, babushka dolls, etc). The 2nd floor was full of artwork from nationaal artists ranging from Manansala to Abueva. For these art works alone, the house is already an art gallery. It was already dark by the time I left Ramon's house.

Ending Thoughts
I could only imagine the decadence of hacienda living during those times when sugar was king. With the stories I heard, I left Silay feeling more dimension to the place and the people who once lived there. Silay is a historical account of an era committed to memory. I'm glad there are people like Ramon Hofileña who take stewardship of that snapshot in time.

I had to go back to Bacolod and prepare for my next trip - a visit to The Ruins of Talisay

--- TheLoneRider

    How to get there from Bacolod:
  • along Lacson St., preferably at Robinsons, take any jeep going north to Silay. P13, 30 mins, 14 kms.
(all pictures courtesy of Ian, Google Images and the internet)
balay_negrense2 downtown_silay el_ideal hofilena_home
silay_cathedral      
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