Bacolor, Pampanga occupies a special place in my heart. My father was from the town. Before the lahar, it was a very prosperous town. I could still remember the ancestral houses of the old, rich families. Visiting the place was like going back to the Spanish era.
I made a research on this family because it interests me so much. Here are the facts that I learned about them. I gathered the information from my Apo, Maria Vergara-Mana*o, the Center for Kapampanga Studies Director, Mr. Robbie Tantingco and Museum Curator/Consultant, Mr. Alex Castro. They were very kind to me. Mrs. Lilian Borromeo was very helpful also.
My great grandfather was the palsonero or overseer of the Ventura-Santos family and later on by the de Leon family. He was Ingkong (Lolo) Guillermo Vergara. I never got to see him as he died years before I was born. As a palsonero he was the overseer of the hacienderos like Dona Africa Ventura-Santos. He talked to the farmers and oversaw the operation of a portion of the hacienda, Barrio Irung. He kept the record of the accounts of the tenant-farmers and that of the area he is in charge.
Dona Africa Ventura was born to Don Balbino Ventura of Bacolor, Pampanga and the former Dona Juana Tizon of Sto. Tomas, Pampanga . According to Apung Maria, someone told her that whenever Dona Juana was about to give birth, she would travel abroad and she would name her child after the country where she had given birth. They were blessed with four children. Apo told me that the siblings of Dona Africa were Dona Nunilon ( She was named after the alon or waves because she was born during a sea voyage.), Dona Belen (She was born in Bethlehem). Obviously, Dona Africa was born when Dona Juana was in Africa. Her brother Don Honorio Ventura was born in the Philippines. He was once a governor of Pampanga and a secretary of the Department of Interior. He financed the education of several poor and deserving people. Among them were our former President Diosdado Macapagal (he was a lawyer) and Congressman Emilio Cortez, Sr.(doctor and lawyer). Both are dead now.
As to Don Honorio Ventura, Apung Maria told me that he never married. He had a mistress whose surname was Bautista but I forgot the first name. Apo told me that the mistress is not beautiful. They had a daughter, Sor Asuncion Ventura who was the founder of Asilo de San Vicente de Paul.
It is located in United Nations Avenue, Manila. She donated her inheritance to the orphanage.
Apo told the following recollections:
First, I asked her about the house on the hilltop. She said that the mansion was really big. Whenever they would go there, they rode on a car. She told me that there was a lift in the house and it was seldom used. Only Dona Africa used it. If you would want to go directly to the kitchen and you’re coming from the outside, you should take the staircase consisting of about 145 steps.
Second, she told me that she used to prepare Dona Africa’s breakfast. She said that she would first drink a glass of milk. The brand was Senorita condensed milk. Then she’ll take the uncooked egg yolk. Only then would she eat her breakfast.
Third, she told me that Dona Africa and Don Teodoro were blessed with three children- one girl and two boys. The daughter died when she was already married. It was about her gums. One of the sons was very intelligent. She told me that during the war, the other son was arrested by the Japanese Imperial Army. Dona Africa followed her son on the car and somehow, they managed to help him escape the Japanese.
Fourth, she told me that Dona Africa looked like a doll. She’s a mestiza. She’s very beautiful.
Fifthth, during All saints’ day, Dona Africa would go to the Campo Santo (Cemetery) in Bacolor, Pampanga. My Apo would tag along. The Venturas had a mausoleum there. They would light candles for their parents and Apong Nunilon, the sister of Dona Africa. Apo told me that people would stare at her whenever Dona Africa would come because she’s a real beauty.
It is now gone because of the destructive lahar in 1991. I know this is located at the back of the San Guillermo church because I saw it when I was still young. The church still stands today. It has been renovated by the Bacolorenos.
Sixth, my Apo told me that she stayed at their house in Pasay. She couldn’t remember the address anymore but it is in Ortigas, Pasay, Rizal near the bay. I asked her if it was really Pasay because the Ortigas I know today is in Mandaluyong but maybe in her time it was different. She told me that you would hear the waves even if you were inside the house. Sometimes you could catch alimasag.
Seventh, she also told me that during the election period, they would stay at the mansion of Dona Africa in San Jose, City of San Fernando. Her brother Don Honorio was a well known politician.
I know that there are two houses in town which used to belong to Don Teodoro and Dona Africa. The first one is now the Pampanga Hotel & Restaurant. It is at the right side of the San Fernando Metropolitan Cathedral and in front of the Methodist church. The other one is now owned by the Hizons. But it is just along the same street as the first.