One thing fascinating about my work is the variety of places when we do principal photography for films or tape episodes for television.
In my so many years in the business I have been to all sorts of exotic locales: the make-shift communities of informal settlers near an estero in Live Show (Toro), Las Ramblas at the heart of the most beautiful city of Barcelona in Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo, Biri Island while shooting Richard Gomez and Dawn Zulueta in Iisa Pa Lamang or Ursula Island, the famed island where migratory birds settle for the night off Palawan when we shot Ikaw ang Lahat sa Akin.
But yesterday's shooting did not take me much farther than Malolos in Bulacan. Come to think of it, Bulacan has ceased to be considered a location of distance considering the number of locals who commute to Manila as part of their daily routine. Bulacan takes pride in its share of significant contributions to Philippines history --- for indeed it is one province that even until today still glistens with its gentility.
Even if the busiest section of the locale overflows with franchise fastfood restaurants, explodes with the same noise pollution as you find anywhere from Libertad in Pasay to the Kamuning public market, there is still something different about Bulacan because of its cultural history. It is one place that, though tainted by the vulgarity brought about by commercial progress, still possesses a sense of pride because of what it was and what it shall always be not only to its homegrown constituents.
Shooting My Househusband brought us to one of the most beautiful and well-preserved ancestral homes in Malolos.
The house is a modest marvel of late 19th century woodwork architecture designed specifically for our tropical weather as it is situated right on the banks of a river. This is the house of the grandparents of the iconic performer Joey de Leon. I never knew he was from Bulacan --- more so the richness of his ancestry and the fact that his roots point to authentic Filipino illustrado blood.
But more than the fascination of this discovery is the beauty of the house.
That is one perk of my work: I am never confined to one place and I am given a chance to move around and absorb wherever my movies-in-the-making take me. I have a long-drawn love for tangible memories of the past as I have taken interest in antique furniture and paraphernalia. This is probably why moving around the old house touched a sensitive nerve deep inside me.
Nobody lives in the house any more except a caretaker.
He said that the house was built in 1900 --- which makes the residence 111 years old. Ever since the death of the last of the family occupants in 1996, the house has been left under the care of the caretaker and his family. But there is more than just a sense of responsibility but more of pride --- pride for being the guardian of a house that was apparently built out of love, occupied by a family who breathed more than just life but meaning to every corridor and room --- more so, decorated every wall with traces of memories.
For on the walls were photographs of the residents from the past --- sepia portraits of men and women at a time when the world was less complicated and manners, propriety and decorum were of utmost importance. The caretaker's son even went out of his way to show me an exceptional photograph secured in the wooden art nouveau frames so representative of the time: it was a photograph of Joey de Leon's relative, standing a few feet away from Emilio Aguinaldo and the stalwarts of Malolos at the time of the First Philippine Republic. Now that was Philippine history for you.
But then again as I looked around the house and the area surrounding it, a certain settled in me.
The river once pristine that flowed behind the residence has turned into a canal with murky dark green water. The caretaker, who must be in his early seventies, said that when he was a small boy he remembered the household helps drawing water from the river to use for washing and rinsing laundry. Now it has been diminished to the same sad state as most waterways in the city, practically incapable of supporting any life aside from scavenger aquatic creatures that can survive such levels of dirt.
Then I noticed that this beautiful house that sat by the river is now surrounded by tall gray concrete buildings and firewalls made of hollow blocks smeared by murky grime. I imagined that 111 years ago this house actually breathed --- it stood amid the flow of fragrant wind and sparkling river water, of beautiful foliage and a frenzy of colorful flowers.
But all that is gone.
Malolos has changed ... and the de Leon house looks like some speck preserved and lost in time. The house has been so pushed to the back that to reach this priceless piece of history, one needs to squirm through eskinitas with a make-shift karaoke bar right at the very front.
And even as I looked around the house I realized that indeed it was empty. I looked at the photographs of all those who gave and felt so much love in these rooms, sat on these chairs, leaned out from these windows ... and they are all gone. Except for their faces frozen from some millisecond of light at a time far away and also forgotten --- they have just been diminished to still lives and ... yes, photographs.
It is even more perplexing to think that the lives of deceased relatives are simplified by anecdotes that run a few sentences. Life has a way of summarizing people who were very much a part of who we are into a few sentences as if an entire lifetime can be made accessible such as that. I often wondered --- how many people remember their great grandparents' names --- so I went around my staff asking if they still knew the name of the grandfather of their grandfather.
Not a single one did.
Yet if it were not for these men who we do not even remember --- who we do not even acknowledge with a specific name --- we wouldn't be here at all.
Such is the cruelty of time inasmuch as this is the inevitability of life going on and not waiting for anyone.