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A historic clan returns to its Ilocano roots

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Mila Quirino, Ruby Quirino Gonzalez, Auring Ortega

The Quirino clan converged in the historic city of Vigan, Ilocos Sur, on July 21-24, for their first hometown reunion. Coming from as far as the United States, Bahrain and Belgium, the 120-strong contingent of third- to sixth-generation descendants of the patriarch Mariano boarded two buses and a dozen cars and vans early in the morning of July 21 to begin a journey of 400 km.

The convoy stopped at the President Quirino monument and marker in Aringay, La Union, where the family once lived. After a quick lunch in San Fernando, La Union, the tired but excited group arrived in Vigan late in the afternoon.

Gov. Luis Chavit Singson welcomed the clan at cocktails and dinner at his Baluarte home west of the city. The governor regaled his guests with stories of former President Quirino’s visits to the province, and how he is still remembered in Japan by the former Imperial Army officers whom he pardoned toward the end of his presidency.

Sniper fire

The story is made more poignant by the fact the former president lost his wife, three children, and many of his in-laws to Japanese sniper fire during the last days of the Liberation of Manila in 1945.

The family gathered at St. Paul’s Cathedral for the thanksgiving mass the next morning, followed by the unveiling of the markers at the room in the provincial jail where President Elpidio Quirino was born, and a short program and snacks with the inmates.

At the Vigan monument

After lunch at Mira Hill, the family members were divided into several groups for the Heritage Race, where they were given instructions to look for certain tourist destinations in the city, culminating at St. Paul’s Cathedral and nearby Crisologo street. The younger members of the different branches of the clan learned more about their hometown in the process.

Dinner that evening was at the residence of Vigan Mayor Eva S. Medina, right by the banks of the Mestizo River.

The next morning, a Saturday, a short program marked the unveiling of the Quirino Family Tree inside the Quirino Memorial Hall in the Syquia Mansion, which was attended by local officials, together with Ms Almosara of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

Eddie Quirino welcomed the family to the home, and read the message of his cousin Ruby Gonzalez Meyer, thanking the organizers and supporters of the reunion. Lawyer Aleli Quirino, chair of the Quirino Foundation, introduced various members of the clan, who shared stories about their parents and grandparents.

Afternoon activities included the unveiling of a marker at the lighthouse in Barangay Pandan, Caoayan, where the family ancestors first settled from Abra, and a visit to the tomb of patriarch Mariano at the town cemetery. Various livelihood activities—bag-making using water hyacinth, artificial flowers from corn husks, abel loom-weaving—were visited, as well.

Baby D'Arcy, Gina Adea, Angel Adea, pacing Adea, James D'Arcy

Dinner was hosted by municipal Mayor Germie Singson-Goulart, at the Quirino Bridge in the center of Caoayan. The five branches of the family presented clothing, toys, books and monetary donations to the feeding program of the municipality, and made pledges for additional support.

A short drizzle dampened the celebratory spirit for a few minutes, but the weather cleared almost immediately to allow the boodle fight at two long tables flanking the length of the bridge. Family members and townmates shared a veritable feast of authentic pinakbet, grilled fish, chicken, pork, seasonal vegetables, longganisa, seafood, and a myriad of other Caoayan specialties.

First visit

For many of the younger generation, it was their first visit to the town of their ancestors, and very few know how to speak Ilocano, but everyone was impressed by the warm and genuine welcome of the officialdom and citizens of Vigan and Caoayan, led by Governor Singson, Vice Gov. Savellano, board member Jerry Singson, Mayor Medina and Mayor Goulart.

“Panagsublik” is the first-person singular possessive equivalent in Ilocano of “my return,” indicating a person’s return or homecoming.

The organizers used the word to show how personal the homecoming was for each family member.

Militza Quirino Lagdameo

Patriarch Mariano Quirino was the only child born to the second marriage of merchant Juan del Rosario Quirino from Abra, who owned a small fleet of boats, and who migrated to Barrio Pandan, Vigan (now part of the town of Caoayan, Ilocos Sur), in the middle of the 19th century.

Mariano sought his fortune as a member of the guardia civil in various assignments around the country, found his wife Gregoria in Agoo, La Union, and eventually returned to Ilocos Sur.

There happened to be a vacancy in provincial jail for warden when he returned to Vigan, and he was appointed to that position. It was in that jail that his third child, Elpidio, was born on Nov. 16, 1890, following older siblings Ernesto and Rosa. The two youngest, Eliseo and Antonio, were born in 1895 and 1906, respectively.

Less than two years after the birth of Antonio, their mother Gregoria died, leaving the elder siblings to take care of their youngest. Rosa, the eldest daughter, took on most of the mother’s household responsibilities until her own marriage some years later to Amadeo Eugenio from Ilocos Norte.

Ernesto was one of the first pensionados sent to the United States for law studies. He had to come home to be near his ailing mother, but he eventually passed the bar. He married Isabel Aquino Donato, and died in 1952.

Elpidio studied law at the University of the Philippines, and shortly after graduating with a law degree, caught the attention of Manuel L. Quezon, who took him in as his secretary. Elpidio ran successfully for representative of the 1st district of Ilocos Sur in 1919, as well as senator for the Ilocos Region in 1925. He married Alicia Syquia, heiress of the wealthy clan, in 1921.

Cabinet member

He went on to become a cabinet member of President Quezon during the commonwealth, participating in several independence missions to the United States. After the war, he won with running mate Manuel Roxas, becoming the first vice president and concurrent Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the newly independent republic on July 4, 1946.

He succeeded to the presidency upon the death of Roxas in 1948, and won the presidential election of 1949, retiring in 1953 upon turning over the presidency to Ramon Magsaysay. He died at his Novaliches home in 1956.

Eliseo was elected as governor of Ilocos Sur in 1951, and is recognized for bringing improved tobacco variants to the province, thus increasing the income of the tobacco farmers. He married Conchita Pahn, who disappeared during the war. The widower later married Amparo Topacio. He was appointed to the Bureau of Commerce by President Marcos in the 1960s, and died in 1971.

Antonio, the youngest brother, studied at the University of the Philippines, graduating with a law degree in 1930. Antonio married Aleli Regina Guzman, and served as judge, special assistant to Elpidio, and was also an entrepreneur. He set up the Alto Broadcasting Corporation in the 1950s, which was to become what is now known as the ABS-CBN broadcasting empire. He died in 1992.

From humble origins, the Quirino siblings rose to the top with their native intelligence, belief in the value of education, and unrelenting hard work. They served their country when called to duty, and retired to private life once they completed their service. Today, their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other descendants continue to live by the standards set by their forebears.


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