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Where is the outrage over the sad fate of the Manansala House in Binangonan, Rizal?
IT HAS THE COLOR OF turquoise and slaked lime, brilliant in the sunlight and still quite visible at twilight. It has retained the same color through four decades, as what original resident Vicente Manansala insisted it must be.

The structure is basically a stilt house styled in International Modern, with wrap-around verandah enclosed in decorative grille, and surrounded by orchard and garden. It stands on sloping ground of about 800 sq m, overlooking tree crowns and rusting rooftops, in San Carlos Heights at Binangonan, Rizal.

Manansala, a native of Macabebe, Pampanga, was the third homeowner to acquire a lot in the subdivision, just before martial law. It was the view that lured the artist to build his home and studio here in the early 1970s, when the spread of land was forested and one could see the rippling expanse of Laguna de Bay and the glittering skyline of Makati.

Locals still remember Mang Enteng, as he was fondly called by one and all, on the same spot on the verandah every morning standing with hands on the balustrade, imbibing the wind and enjoying the vista of forest and lake and his growing mango tree. This was the house where he thrived through the most fruitful years of his art, and spent his last decade with wife Hermenegilda.

Centennial celebration

This year is the birth centennial of Manansala, and the whole nation is celebrating with three major exhibits: ?Images of a Nation: Vicente Manansala as a Social Realist,? until July 4 on the ground floor of Ayala Museum, Makati Ave. cor. De la Rosa St., Makati; ?Si Mang Enteng... Encountering Manansala,? until July 31 in Tall Galleries, Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Complex, Roxas Boulevard, Manila; and ?Mga Gawa ni Mang Enteng,? until Oct. 30 at GSIS Museum, GSIS Building, Financial Center, Pasay City.

If the viewer would be so astute as to scrutinize the provenance of each piece, he or she would find out that most of the major artworks on display were done when Manansala was living in this house, where he mastered his style and perfected his art.

After his death at 71 on Aug. 22, 1981, the house was left to his widow Hilda and firstborn grandchild Rolando, whom the couple had adopted. The following year, after he was posthumously given the National Artist Award by the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the family donated the house to the National Museum.

Two years later, the National Historical Institute declared it a National Historical Landmark by virtue of Executive Order No. 260 signed by President Ferdinand Marcos on Aug. 1, 1973, and as amended by EO 375 on Jan. 14, 1974, and EO 1515 on June 11, 1978.

In the mid-?90s, the maintenance of the place was handed over to the NHI. Three years ago, it was shut down.

Three weeks ago, the last of Manansala?s artworks?several sketches in charcoal and pen-and-ink on paper; a portrait of his wife in oil on canvas; some reproductions of his paintings?were donated to the museum of Holy Angel University in Angeles, Pampanga.

Modernist interior

How did this happen? Why did this happen? How could a historical landmark go the way of a carinderia whose owner closes shop after declaring bankruptcy?

?Napagsawaan na? is caretaker Benjamin Confesor?s wry comment.

Now 53, Confesor was an NHI employee assigned to become caretaker when the NHI took over the management of the house in 1997. After it closed down and was reverted to the Manansala heirs in 2007, the family hired him to continue his job. ?Parang apo na nila? is how he describes how Manansala?s widow treated him.

The flowing stairs and the curving verandah are streamlined, the steps leading to the puerta mayor patterned with tiny blue and white ceramic tiles, the verandah flooring studded with marble crazy-cuts. As you enter, you get an overwhelming sense of the elaborateness of the decorative grille, the wrought-iron curlicues suddenly brought to life from those gates and windows in his paintings.

Side by side on the foyer are a metal plate engraved with the NHI declaration and a pedestal where used to perch Manansala?s bust-portrait by National Artist Napoleon Abueva, commissioned by Friends of Manansala and installed on his birthday in 1999.

Confesor says it was the artist himself who designed the house. The modernist interior is now devoid of furnishing and furniture, thus fully revealing its strong clean lines of verticals and horizontals, parallels and laterals, as can be found in the Japanese house. The floor is of parquet.

In the salon are built-in shelves which used to contain his plaques and trophies, knickknacks, chessboard, pipes, lighters (Ronson and Zippo, says Confesor). There is also a built-in rack for his canvases, palettes, paintbrushes, easels.

Happier days

The space under the house serves as composite garage, utility room, powerhouse and washing area. Here is installed the black Mercedes Benz 200, with plate number DAY 922, that he bought just before his birthday in 1980.

On a dim corner stands a wooden retazo, remnant of the block of yakal from which he had sculpted a Madonna and Child.

The garden is swept and trimmed. The orchard is scattered with santol, langka, breadfruit, banana plant, an old mango tree. The splendid structure is now only a shell surrounded by trees, santan hedges, stunted lagrimas vine, empty clay flowerpots where in happier days blooming roses could have been.

Confesor remembers the time when visitors would come by the buses, usually on Saturday and Sunday, particularly Fine Arts students from Far Eastern University. In 2005, 15 buses came from Muntinlupa Science High School. He says they had been asking the NHI for a brochure for visitors, but it could not provide even a flyer.

After the NHI deserted it, the place had been offered to the local government for its upkeep, but it showed no interest. ??Di tinanggap,? is how Confesor puts it.

Bigger controversy

In the news these days is the Alberto House in Biñan, Laguna, the house where National Hero José Rizal and his mother Doña Teodora Alonso had lived. A controversy is brewing over its eventual demolition, and it isn?t even a National Historical Landmark.

A bigger controversy should be raging over the fate of the Manansala House. After all, though it hasn?t yet reached the requisite 50 years to be considered a heritage structure, it has long been declared a National Historical Landmark. But it seems to have been totally forgotten, or simply ignored, by both government and culturati.

At this time of Manansala?s birth centenary, and his 29th death anniversary next month, that only underscores our attitude to culture and history, and exposes how we take cultural heritage and artistic legacy.

Near the spot on the verandah where neighbors often saw the late National Artist enjoy the view of Binangonan and beyond is a billboard with an image of him smiling to friends and relatives, fans and art-lovers, who would annually pay homage on his Jan. 22 birthday.

Now it just looks sad, welcoming guests to an empty house.