The Filipinos’ penchant for drawing parallelisms between a foreign phenomenon and a perceived local version is mind-boggling. Although meant as flattering, the obvious irony (sadly missed by most) is that any comparison is, in essence, derogatory as it sets the foreign phenomenon as a standard and the local counterpart as a mere copycat. Erik Mana, dubbed the David Blaine of the Philippines, sees the point clearly.
But there are copycats who have capitalized on the comparisons to boost their careers. There’s Ramon Zamora, Bruce Lee of the Philippines, who sported a very Bruce Lee hairstyle and made martial arts movies with titles like Return of the Dragon and Bruce Liit. There’s Tony Ferrer, James Bond of the Philippines, who played Tony Falcon in the Agent X-44 movie series. And there’s Eddie Mesa who never hid the fact that he was an Elvis impersonator at least for a period of his entertainment career.
In other words, some comparisons are unfair while others are spot on.
Calling The Ruins in Talisay City the Taj Mahal of Negros is not only an unfair comparison, it is also moronic. It makes for a dramatic title for an article in ZestAir in-flight magazine but it is insulting.
Anyone who has remotely heard of the Taj Mahal knows that it is a mausoleum built with slave labor — a monument that houses a tomb — erected by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Ruins, although built in memory of a dead wife, was a house and the family of the woman in whose honor and memory it was constructed lived in it. It was not erected for the sole purpose of enclosing a burial chamber.
It is also worth mentioning how out of place the subtitle of the ZestAir article is. … once there was a love deeper than the seas, the subtitle goes. Really? A mansion built by a sugar baron in the middle of Sugarlandia and the subtitle uses the sea a metaphor?
What is known today as The Ruins in Talisay City was the residence of sugar baron Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson. He built it after his wife, Portuguese Maria Braga, died while pregnant with their 11th child. Maria’s ancestry should explain the choice of the Italian-inspired architecture. The construction followed the Spanish technique of using egg whites. Don Mariano lived in that mansion with his unmarried children until the second World War.
Under American command, Filipino guerillas burned down the house to prevent the Japanese from using it as headquarters. If that doesn’t make sense, it is called the scorched earth policy, a military strategy of destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy including buildings, food sources, transportation and communication.
Until it was banned under the 1977 Geneva Conventions, the scorched earth policy was a standard military practice. It was the same strategy utilized by the Americans during the three-year Philippine-American War which, in their embarrassment, has been largely played out in their official history books as a minor skirmish rather than the full-blown war that it truly was.
The Lacson mansion burned for three days, it is said. The roof and the hardwood floorings fell down but the structure remained. Whether or not the omission is intentional, the marker does not mention that the guerillas who burned down the mansion were acting under orders from the Americans.
Its current owner, a Lacson descendant, slowly rehabilitated the structure and the grounds, and transformed what was once a sugar baron’s palatial residence into a tourist attraction known as The Ruins.