Hofileña: The Man and the House

Silay City, Negros Occidental, the Philippines

April 16, 2011

Heritage conservation begins at home.

Ramon Hofileña doesn’t say it, but the winningest smile this side of Silay certainly makes that statement. A tour guide in his own home, Ramon has been welcoming visitors into his family’s ancestral house, the Manuel Severino Hofileña Heritage House, built by his father in 1934, for almost 38 years now – and counting. He leads the longest running cultural tour in the world.

Hofileña Heritage House

He uses his age as a punchline, but being a senior citizen has not dimmed the sparkle in his eyes when he talks about the antique pieces and old photos that fill the house. His first point of connection with his audience of three (my mother, sister, and me) is the German-made piano in the living room. Mom, an erstwhile piano teacher, correctly identifies it as a Rachals, a point that clearly delights him, as if finding out that they speak a common language.

This is one museum where the guide IS the tour, not just a part of it. He shows sepia-colored photos of his family that adorn the top of the piano and colors his anecdotes about his past as a strapping youth (clad only in his swim trunks!) and his siblings, all of whom have become accomplished artists (thespians, dancers, musicians), with humor and candor.

Ramon Hofileña and his Rachals

Actor and Hofileña Scion, Rey “P.J.” Abellana

Ramon lives and breathes art. The tour is not so much about the house, but the things that make it his home. He is the curator of his vast collection of Old World furniture and decor, archaeological finds, kitchen- and dinnerware, and objet d’art from around the world. He is also quite a historian, mining a lifetime of experiences as he explains each object with all the enthusiasm a kid would have in showing off his toys. He even demonstrates the old-school method of working a hand-powered printmaking machine.

Atop one table, a familiar face stares back from a picture frame – that of 80s heartthrob Rey “P.J.” Abellana, a Hofileña scion. He was very popular in my childhood that I patterned my nickname to his. That was how I came to be A.J. But my mother, who is more updated in showbiz than I am, is more familiar with his daughter, Carla Abellana, also an actress.

According to Ramon, there are 3 Kinds of Religious Statues (Santos): Popular, Classical, and Ornate

Two of the World’s Smallest Dolls (from Japan), not larger than rice grain but they can open-close their eyes!

Ramon’s Rock: Tektite

Most items were less familiar to me than P.J. Some of the curios may even be out of this world, literally. Ramon also collects and sells tektites. These black rocks, the size of a chicken egg, are believed to have been formed by meteorite impact. Unbeknownst to me, there are tektite fields in my home province. And even an art connoisseur needs a sideline.

We find the comedor (dining room) with the long dining table already set and his mother’s china from the former Czechoslovakia in full display in the cupboard. Ramon indulges Mom by lighting the candelabra to complete the ambiance, redolent of the genteel elegance of Negrense sugar barons in the early 20th century, for her photo op.

Mom at the Comedor of the Hofileña House in Silay

The Comedor with Table Settings

Mom in the Mirror

Milkmaid Milk, Sugar, and Salt Holders – We had the same ones in our Bacolod house.

Even the kitchen does not lack in interesting finds. One wooden chopping board was made by National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon Abueva. The house, which has seen the who’s-who in the world of high art, feels like sacred ground.

There is also a library of old books, although these days Ramon would rather watch DVD (his disc collection is pretty extensive too). One cabinet contains stacks of well-preserved original pocketbooks.

A Bookworm Blending with the Books

The Original Pocketbooks

This time, Mom explains, “These were the reading materials that Dad used to read during Liberation time. These books were supplied to the GI’s as their reading on their downtimes and later the GI’s gave them to interested Filipino who liked reading these novels. They were called pocketbooks because they could easily fit into a soldier’s pocket.” There’s a reason I call her a walking Wikipedia.

Upstairs, my sister frantically fans herself in the rarefied air of the virtual art gallery. A diverse collection by artists, which run the gamut from national artists to unknown local painters, decks the walls from floor to ceiling. Ramon highlights the works of Lamberto Hechanova, whom he claims to have preceded Andy Warhol in getting on the pop art movement.

Transcendental Sister on Rattan Lounge Chair

Portrait of Ramon Hofileña by Lamberto Hechanova

Art Gallery on the Second Floor

The Old Woman by Silay Artist Conrado Judith at the Hofileña House

But Ramon gives the finale honor to an unknown Silay-born artist, Conrado Judith, who received no formal art training and made a living by painting movie billboards. It was only after the artist’s death at the age of 34 that his paintings and drawings were discovered in his hut. Ramon beams with hometown pride as he discusses composition in Judith’s works, which can hold their own beside those by Philippine national artists.

The art pieces on display comprise only a third of his collection. The rest are stashed in the bedrooms for lack of space. Perhaps the city should hold an annual exhibit of Ramon’s entire art collection.

Before going down, Ramon graciously permits us to peek into the bedrooms. A particular bedspread catches my attention. It is similar to one that my grandmother crocheted when I was a kid. I remember waking up from my afternoon nap with the pineapple design grooved on my face. I find my own point of connection.

Bedspread with Pineapple Design

Ramon Hofileña seems to have the enviable work-at-home job. I wonder, though, if he gets a moment’s peace living in a tourist spot. He must have found peace in this vocation; he devoted his life to it, after all.

His passion for art and sense of history extends beyond the house at 14 Cinco de Noviembre Street. He is a tireless champion of Silay’s cultural heritage as well. I recommend this tour to anyone visiting Negros; just call for an appointment. It is an afternoon well spent, getting to know the man who looms larger than the house.

Ramon and his Tourists

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73 thoughts on “Hofileña: The Man and the House

  1. i was lucky when i went there, because i was allowed to tour the house even without an appointment. I met Ramon’s older sister and she’s the one who gave me permission. I wish i also met Ramon, i wonder how he will show me his photo wearing his trunks. Hehehe!

    • Oh, Ramon is actually the highlight of the tour! Feeling ko performance level sha lagi. His personality and the background info he infuses make the tour. Balik ka! As for the swim trunks photo, I think he threatened to drop his pants while he was showing that photo. He’s a riot! :D

    • This is gilbert nemenzo assistant curator of ramon please help us to promote his cultural tour this coming december here is the details thanks.

      The 39th Annual Cultural Tour of Negros Occidental (ACTNO) will be held December 3, 10 and 17 this year. It has been confirmed as the longest–running cultural tour in the world.
      The itinerary, which starts 9 a.m. and ends 5:30 p.m., includes Birhen sang Barangay Chapel in Bacolod City; Bernardino Jalandoni House ( museum), Hofileña Heritage House and it’s art collection and printmaking workshop, food trip to outstanding delicacy sources in Silay City; Church of St. Joseph the Worker in Victorias City; Chapel of the Cartwheels in Manapla; plus the introduction of the new attraction.
      Also to be explained to the participants are the Philippines’ most internationally – known mural, the country’s first cultural center, first religious imageries as Filipinos, over 100 meteorites found in Negros Occ., Negros Island’s oldest antique ( Iron Age 900 – 589 B. C. ), enchanted trees, world’s smallest dolls which need magnifying glass to be seen, folk arts, printmaking among others.
      To be discussed on board the bus are San Sebastian Cathedral, Capitol building and park and the monument to Theodore Vinther in Bacolod; Hda. Matab-ang monument in Talisay; ancestral houses and Cinco de Noviembre marker in Silay; monument to heroes of Guintabuan in E. B. Magalona; Victorias Milling Co. and Iron Dinosaurs in Victorias.
      There will be corrections in “history” about Rizal, Luna, Hidalgo, how Negros Island got its name and so on.
      A sincere public service, ACTNO’s passengers are charged at cost without profit. The fee is P800 a person which already covers everything including lunch, snack, bottled water, bus fare, museum fees; nothing more to pay.
      Each tour is limited to 50 participants on first come, first served basis.
      Registration is ongoing at Jara Laboratory & Blood Bank at corner Lacson – 1st. Sts., Bacolod, tel. (034) 4346398. The tours will start and end at Jara Lab.
      Lunch will be cream of corn soup, imperial salad, fish steak, beef stroganoff, rice (additional rice P15 charged to passenger), buco-pandan, soft drink to be served at Victorias Golf and Country Club. Snack will be special chicken sandwich.

      Assisting the tours are those who volunteered help without being solicited. They are Gonzales Newspaper Dealer, Impress Quality Printing Inc., Jara Laboratory and Blood Bank and Silay Heritage Foundation. Jara lab has been handling reservations for 23 years now. Meanwhile, a friend Vicky Domingo Valencia has donated a megaphone.
      Ramon H. Hofileña will be the tour guide who originally planned the ACTNO as a one-shot deal as part of his art promotions, but public demand has made it an institution. Hofileña was an account executive of a travel agency in New York and had gotten in touch with their contacts worldwide to inquire about cultural tours in their countries. Not one is as long- running as ACTNO.
      Hofileña can be reached at tel. (034) 49554561, mobile nos. 09306620911, 09123118154 or email us at gilbert_nemenzo@yahoo.com.
      Each year ACTNO introduces new attractions, a feat which never failed since the start. And researches on history are continually undertaken even abroad.
      Passenger Dory Ledesma said about the ACTNO: “It’s a tour all Negrenses must join at least once.” For non-Negrenses, it’s the best way to know and see Negros Occ.
      Forbidden in the tour are all sound recorders, children aged six and below, as well as grade and high school students in big groups.
      Hofileña will talk in English.
      Flyers for more information can be obtained at Jara Lab.
      oOo

      • I s’pose you had a DSLR. I use a point-and-shoot, and as in the National Museum, it was allowed so long as no flash in used. I saw some people with DSLR who were not allowed entry with their cameras. I guess they associate DSLR-toting visitors as pro photogs and that photos of the artwork will be used in such a manner. Just my 2-cents.

      • Yes i do and you may be right. And that might be an absurd policy IMHO especially considering Mr. Ramon was once a photog too. Anyway the man is still boss man. Awesome guy.

  2. Wow! Age, this had me completely in awe. Ramon has made the best use of his house and how! This place will definitely be a stop when I visit there (I wish it is soon). I wonder how this house was during its hey day with servants bustling and children running. How does Ramon maintain the house. Does the government help? This is a museum! Does Ramon still live there or does he just come when visitors are there?

    Thanks Age. I guess your blog should be carried when I come there. Chuck the Lonely planet, when there is TT, who needs LP!!!!

    Joy always,
    Susan

    P. S: Thanks for visiting Corinne’s place and commenting. Much appreciated.

    • Looking forward to your trip here. But LP should still come in handy. :)

      The house has been recognized by the National Historical Institute. I doubt it involves funding though. There is also a minimal entrance fee (P40 – less than a dollar!).

      Yes, Ramon still lives there, which makes it a living museum. That adds to its charm. It does make you feel you are visiting someone in the family.

      Btw, great guest post. Nice to know the story and the man behind “joy always.”

      Cheerio!

  3. wow! mansion sa Silay!….. I was amazed with the story of the movie billboard painter….. I wonder how those billboards looked like ang ganda kase nung painting nya…. I hope to set foot to the island soon! =)

    • Movie billboards were quite artistic back in the day (yeah naabutan ko pa yun). Ngayon sa Quiapo na lang yata may ganyan at parang drawing lang.

      Yup Idol, Negros should be in your iti. You’ll be surprised at how different it is from Cebu. Just don’t miss your flight, hehehe!

  4. Agree with you, AJ. Ramon is the highlight of that tour. Fact is, he talked more about himself and his swimming trunk pictorials more than he talked about the house. His collections on the 2nd floor say a lot about the man and the life he chose. Did you also see the nude sketches (yes, him again) with yellow post-its on the errrr…appropriate places? If there are no kids around, he’s more than happy to let visitors take a peek! Lol.

    • Oh, that’s fine with me. I guess I saw myself in him – always talking about myself, hahaha! No matter, I prefer a more personal approach anyway. It was a peek into at least one family member, not some hired tour guide. Ramon has infused the house with his personality, so his tour centered around that too.

      Tsk tsk, he didn’t show his nude sketches (lucky for us? Hehe). Maybe he was shy around my mom, but apparently not around you. :D

  5. panalo si mommy and ang mga poses! galing ng tour nito ah. I’m sure you’ll have your own tour one of these days wherein you’ll spitfire everything you know about history. The ‘Nosebleed Tour’ by the Transcendental Tourist. corny ko talaga. hehe

    • Hahahaha natawa talaga ako, pramis! Seems I’d never shake off my nosebleed rep in PTB. Yan ba branding ko? Hihihihihihi! Well, if I had a famous last name and we had preserved everything in our ancestral house in Bacolod, then yeah I could do a Ramon Hofileña. But fat chance. :D

    • You’re bound to miss the spot in a quickie, har di har har. :D If you only go to one H-house in Silay, this should be it. But don’t take my word for it cuz I’ve only been to this one, haha!

    • And what a life it is – to be surrounded by art and beautiful things every day. I know you’re not much into traveling overseas, but I do hope you’d make it to Asia. Thanks Mari!

  6. Okay, now I’m confused. Is this also what they call Balay Negrense, or is this a different house?

    It’s noteworthy how Silay puts extra effort in preserving its heritage. The old ancestral houses add to the city’s sleepy-town charm.

    This is a very interesting read, AJ. And that line about Ramon “clad only in his swim trunks” is a kicker! Very observant, I must say. *wink*

    • Balay Negrense, or Gaston House, is another house. Silay is a city of heritage houses! So much to explore, but I was there only for an afternoon. I dunno if it’s the same in Balay Negrense, but what I like about H-house is that a family member actually conducts the tour. And he’s quite a character! :)

      Oh, and Ramon himself shows off his swim trunks photo. Of course, he used the before-after joke. :D

      Ahhhhh yes, I’m the Nosebleed Blogger in PTB. Didn’t realize it was me till Marky specifically tagged me as one. I guess I was the last to know, haha!

    • Geologist! I could’ve been one in another life. That, or a paleontologist. Anyway, first time to see, and hold, a tektite. I think I sang under my breath, “And now you’re back from outer space…..”

      Must visit next time, Gay!

  7. How cool, It’s like Aladdin’s cave. He seems like a real character too. It’s really wonderful when you find a place that makes you feel like you have stepped back in time, being in history rather than hearing about it second hand. I suppose objects have their value in tha. Love the photos too, your mum looks so elegant!

    • Hahaha no grammar nazi here, Kris! Don’t sweat the grammar stuff. :D I’m notorious in my reckless disregard of SVA, tense consistency, and proper prepositions. But don’t tell our department chair.

      Oh yeah, Ramon is a real character…and that’s an understatement. He lived in New York so whad’ya expect? Hehe. He’s actually not the tour guide; he IS the tour!

  8. When in school, I used to look forward to two lectures- music and reading. We were taken in two queues (one boys and the other girls) to the library and given short story books to read. Now tell me one thing AJ how much can a person read in a period of 30 minutes? hehe..I used to prefer looking at the pictures in the books and keep turning pages and guess the story through the pictures…lol

    But on a serious note …Philippines is so rich in heritage!

    • Hahaha maybe because of the life-size statues. But I grew up in a similar wooden house (we didn’t have statues though). I didn’t find it creepy, just creaky.

  9. Oh my this must have really been a visit to remember….I would be walking on eggshells just in case I dropped something -everything seems so precious! I love how you’ve brought alive the character of the person behind keeping this house and its artefacts going!

    • Walking on eggshells – you couldn’t be more right. No one wants to break an irreplaceable antique! Thanks for dropping in, Corinne!

  10. Philippines can be a great nation if she has all people like you and Ramon Hofileña who always respectfully put the history in the most proper and respectful place in the book of the nation!
    Writing and maintaining something historical, is a noble thing one can dedicate to his/her country!

    • Right on the money, Neneng. If only we owned our heritage as a nation like Ramon. I saw that in your country when I visited, and I admired and envied it.

  11. urggh so this is what i missed when i went to bacolod city. silay is really rich in heritage houses. would love to visit this too, including the Ruins!

    • You should! And I hope you take the Ramon tour. Be prepared to take notes! The other day I was at Balay Negrense, which is grander but the tour was rather anemic. Iba talaga kung ang tour guide ay anak ng may-ari mismo.

      The Ruins is in Talisay. Next city lang sa Silay so puede tuhugin. Visit pagpa-sunset na para photogenic pa lalo.

      • of course it helps that ramon is the son of the may ari. but the ramon hofilena persona itself is what’s special. when he walks you through the house, his soul, passion and verbal facility leave you breathless.

    • Religious ka pala, Jolo. :) I wouldn’t have known that there were 3 kinds of santo if not for Ramon. I think the one on the urna is classical.

  12. Hahah! I can totally relate sa weaved pineapple bed sheet. At least hindi lang basta “headlines” diba? hahah!

    Sayang I stumbled upon your entry just recently. Galing akong negros 2 weeks ago. Di ko tuloy to na-experience. Amazing yung smallest doll. Very interesting. Nananalig akong hindi pasmado ang taong may gawa nun. ^_^
    Your mom is a darling.

    • You went to see the Masskara Festival? Ako naman a week after nasa Bacolod. But did you tour Silay at all? Marami pa akong backlog about Silay. And yup, she’s a darling mudra. :)

  13. Hi AJ!

    I just discovered your blog and it’s impressive. Great writing. Great places. Great adventures.You are really are a smooth creamy traveler! I feel inspired.

    There are a lot of places I haven’t been to the Philippines yet and Negros is one of them. I promise to go there one day, drink in the history of Manuel Severino Hofileña Heritage House, and meet Ramon too!

    Andresa

    • Thanks Andresa! That creamy smooth tag is a joke, but I’m sure you know that. ;) I do hope I’ve inspired you enough to include my home province in your future travels.

    • Thanks Kulot! :) That’s why I used the present tense. I feel that it wasn’t just my experience, but everyone else’s as well.

  14. I was at the Hofileñas just a few weeks ago and I was amazed, too. I took a photo of Mr. Ramon Hofileña’s nude sketches and he did it at the age of 50. Let me know if you want to see it :)

    Nice blog..

  15. grandmother ko kaapelyido nya (ramon).. hope to see this place soon.. layo kc ng location.. by the way my grandma’s name is Erlinda Gumana.

    • Hi Nineveh (the biblical city?)! If you’re Negrense, then you must be related. Mon is very accommodating and knows his family history well. He might be able to shed light on your ancestry.

  16. Been in that place too and was personally entertained by Ramon. That’s my most favorite among the ancestral house in Silay. Now I’m starting to miss Bacolod. Great post :)

    • Same here Kay. Ramon gives the tour a personal touch. He makes visitors feel they are guests of the family, not just tourists getting memorized spiels from guides. That’s why the tour is most memorable. Thanks Kay!

  17. Hi AJ, I visited the Hofilena Heritage House 3 days back, and I’m still reveling in the life force that is Ramon Hofilena. It was like meeting the pope! Over, di ba? It is just that, his passion for the arts is very uplifting! My father was an artist, hence I grew up with paintings. I loved them so much and I would visit art museums everywhere I go. My mother was also an antique dealer, and it was (still is) very interesting to me to “step back into the past” through these antique pieces. I have always been a mere audience to the stories of paintings and antiques. But, this is my first time to visit a museum where the tour guide is the collector himself. It’s as if being part of art and history themselves; art and history coming alive. Imagine, he has paintings/drawings of Jose Rizal, Juan Luna, various national artist, Hechanova, Judith. And those prints, antique jars, statues,…house! Finally, I’m not a mere audience, I’m part of it. So now you could imagine my delight!

    • Life force – that’s exactly what Mon is. Plus 1 to everything you said. I’ve only seen Hechanova and Judith though. Must see his Rizal and Luna next time! Thanks for the input, NovCan!

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