More than just being the site where the Declaration of Philippine Independence was first read, this Kawit, Cavite mansion reflected a unique period in history. Its structure -- with its secret passages, hidden compartments and camouflaged shelves showed how the revolutionary fervor pervaded even the comfort and sanctity of Filipino homes at the turn of the century.
The Aguinaldo mansion in Kawit, Cavite, site of the historic Proclamation of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898 was declared a national shrine in June 1964 shortly after the death of General Emilio Aguinaldo.
A year before he died, the General donated the house and part of its ground to the Philippine government, a fitting last act and grand finale, it seems, for the man who played so crucial a role in the history of his country.
The house was first built in 1845 from wood and thatch materials. Emilio Aguinaldo was born there on March 22, 1869. It was reconstructed in 1849, and then again in the early 1920s.
The main section of the house is a pyramid-like structure capped by a spired tower at the very top. It takes five flights of stairs and a ladder to complete the climb from the first to the highest floor.
A museum occupies the ground floor, an area which used to be unwalled as was the architectural fashion of the past eras. Perhaps this area was used for storing grain.
The second floor consists of the General's bedroom, the grand hall, the dining room and kitchen, a conference room and an azotea.
The next floor features a mezzanine library which overlooks the grand hall like an alcove or balcony. A corridor leads to the eastern wing of the mansion where the General's daughters used to live with their families.
Another flight of stairs takes one to the Ambassador Room, once used as a study by the late Ambassador Jose Melencio, the General's son-in-law.
The next set of stairs leads to the General's other bedroom, said to be the one he used in his last years. A brass bed, and a huge roll-top escritoire -- the latter being a baffling phenomenon since its size couldn't have permitted it to be transported through the narrow stairway -- are the features of the room. From the tiled terrace, one may have an excellent view of the Manila Bay and the shoreline of Cavite.
A narrower flight of stairs, now barely a foot wide and almost ladder-like, leads finally to the tower, said to have been the General's favorite spot.
The house interiors are a collector's dream: four poster canopied beds, an armoire, loveseats with inlaid ivory, Vienna rocking chairs, and China cabinets.
Most of these are of varnished Philippine hardwood, the kind that, in this day and age, are either rare or too expensive. Furniture, and even pillars and doorways, are carved ornately in varied styles: rococo, baroque, and Gothic.
Some of the pieces yield certain delightful surprises. The clams for instance, which adorn every post or pillar in the spacious reception hall, can actually be pulled out from the wall to serve as pot stands.
A number of chairs and cabinets have secret compartments, which, one might imagine, must have served a critical purpose in the past: to conceal important documents, or even weapons, perhaps.
There are secret passages too. One that leads to the General's bedroom on the second floor is camouflaged by a wall of shelves at the landing of the main stairs. Another leads from the kitchen to the air raid shelter below the ground floor. This one is concealed by a slab of wood which served as a dining table.
Along the narrow stairways to the upper rooms, wall panels may be opened to reveal storage areas for mattresses, brooms and other utilities. Similarly ingenously hidden cabinets are found in the bedrooms.
The main spectacle, of course, is the grand hall. Here, revolutionaries long gone must have held secret caucuses and made fateful state decisions. At the end of this rectangular room, is the historic window -- a balcony had been added and used often by the General and state officials during Independence day celebrations -- from which the Act of Declaration of Independence was read eight decades ago.
This room is a vital expression of one man's affair with history and his country.
The floor is a mosaic of wooden trapezoids, a waxed-and-polished jigsaw puzzle of flags. Even the pillars on the way to the dining room exhibit these mosaic flags.
The ceiling is a gallery or soaring symbols: "Inang Pilipinas," the eight-rayed sun depicting the revolt of the eight provinces; and the furled flags and dove. The latter is a symbol of the hero's aspiration for Philippine recognition as a member of the League of Nations.
A relief map of the Philippines adorns the ceiling of the dining area.
Behind the mansion is the tomb of General Emilio Aguinaldo, who died of coronary thrombosis on February 6, 1964.