By Tonette Orejas
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 01/01/2008
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Philippines -- An art deco-style mansion, designed by architect Fernando H. Ocampo for a relative here and bought by the Archdiocese of Manila as the official residence of Pampanga bishops, is being renovated in time for the 60th year of the Archdiocese of San Fernando.
The Arsobispado de Pampanga, formerly the Dison house on A. Consunji Street in the village of San Jose here, is now 85 percent restored. Hopefully restoration work would be completed in time the 60th anniversary of the Archdiocese of San Fernando as a diocese in 2008, according to Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, who supervised the heritage conservation project.
The house was built in 1935 for the couple Luis Dison and Felisa Hizon, Ocampo’s aunt on the side of his mother Leoncia who married Basilio Ocampo, gobernadorcillo (colonial governor) of San Fernando.
Monsignor Prudencio David, the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Manila, mediated for its purchase in 1948, which was approved by Archbishop Michael Doherty and Auxiliary Bishop Rufino Santos, a Kapampangan who later became the first Filipino cardinal.
Bishop Pablo David called the Pampanga diocese a “daughter” of the Manila archdiocese.
The cost of the two-story structure and the one-hectare lot on which it sits is not known to older priests. Some surmise it went for P300,000.
Ocampo first worked on the Dison house and later became involved in the restoration of the war-damaged Manila Cathedral.
David said Santos not only hired a Kapampangan architect to design the house, he also employed builders and craftsmen from the province.
Thanks to a Japanese gardener that the Dison couple hired to create a genuine Japanese garden, the Dison house survived the ravages of World War II.
Treated fairly by the couple, the gardener, who turned out to be a military officer, reciprocated by protecting the mansion.
After the war, the Dison family relocated to Manila and decided to sell the house to the Archdiocese of Manila. It was not known if the decision to move out of Pampanga was because of the peasant rebellion.
The mansion’s first tenant was Cesar Ma. Guerrero, the first bishop of the diocese of San Fernando. His term was from 1949 to 1957.
The house was witness to Guerrero’s devotion to the Virgin de los Remedios under whose auspices he began the crusade for peace when the province was rocked by agrarian unrest. The Virgin Mary’s canonical image has been enshrined in a chapel beside the house. The devotional practice continues to this day.
So when David agreed to restore the Dison house, he had in a way, come full circle. It was David’s maternal grandfather, Victoriano Siongco, owner of the Catholic Trade Center, who carved Mary’s image in the chapel.
Guerrero’s successor, Bishop Emilio Cinense, lived in the mansion during his term from 1957 to 1975 and three years after when he, as archbishop, saw the transition of the San Fernando diocese into an archdiocese on March 11, 1975.
For a decade starting 1978, Archbishop Oscar Cruz stayed in the room that Cinense built at the Mater Boni seminary, about two kilometers from the Arsobispado.
The present resident, Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, has also stayed here since 1989.
The archdiocese found use for the mansion as the office of the econome (finance officer) and mandated organizations like Adoracion Nocturna, Mayap A Balita publications and the Association of Parochial Schools.
During the Marcos regime and until now, the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines held office here, launching many civil liberty campaigns and fact-finding missions for desaparecidos (the disappeared).
The Social Action Center of Pampanga had its roots here in 1988, providing a venue to development workers, who in 1991, faced a big challenge in disaster management following Mt. Pinatubo’s eruptions.
The mansion, having witnessed so many significant events, was worn out by decades of use. A restoration was in order.
Bishop David said Aniceto, 70, gave him a free hand in the undertaking, working on a P1-million budget.
Before the restoration began in July 2006, Bishop David said the roof was leaking, the gutters were broken and the wooden floors creaked or sagged.
Through years of use, the mansion’s architecture had been altered. Glass panels covered the entire verandas on the first and second floors, shutting out elements harmful to the structure.
Additional panels hid the high ceilings and folding walls. A service staircase from the dining area to the second floor was removed. Some of the callado, originally in harp design, were missing. The French windows were permanently closed. Air-conditioned units were put in the wrong places.
Without formal training, David established the mansion’s original features “by taking a closer look at the house.”
He also relied on his personal familiarity with old houses and tapped a network of workers in the wood-carving village of Betis, his birthplace.
Work, as of the third week of December, was 85 percent completed, Bishop David said, adding that at this rate, the house has once again become a “fitting residence of the archbishop.”
On the first floor, two rooms have been converted into the offices of Bishop David and Bishop Roberto Mallari. The main hall serves as a conference room. The smaller room next to it is an office, complete with computers. The dining area and kitchen are clean and tidy.
The main staircase to the second floor is elegant, leading to a room that has been converted into a chapel. Here, there is an image of the Virgen de los Remedios on a refurbished altar.
The 14 Stations of the Cross, made by wood artisans, fit well in the 14 panels like they belonged there.
Bishop David has reserved the next room for the archbishop. Another room serves as a property office. The bigger hall is now a library with some heirloom pieces donated by Good Shepherd nun Tess Feliciano of Magalang town.
From the warehouse, they found two posters of national eucharistic congresses in 1929 and 1937 that have been framed. There is a concrete bust of Pope Paul VI and portraits of Pope Pius XII, John XXIII, John Paul II and Pope Benedict.
A mesa altar that Bishop David found in the warehouse of the Dominican Sisters in Apalit town has been refurbished, and now graces a corner in the hallway.
The tiles—Malaga upstairs and bronze-lined on the first floor— have been polished for a bright shine. A few pieces of wooden furniture, capia among them, were put to good use by replacing the worn-out parts with recycled pieces.
The efforts seemed to have appeased the unseen occupants.
“The ghosts are quiet now. On the first night I slept here, I slept soundly. The spirits must be happy now,” Bishop David said.
The heritage conservation work faces a threat, though. The Department of Public Works and Highways plans to raise the road by one meter, which would put it on the same level as the base of the house.