There is a tableau of the Roco family—the late senator and presidential candidate Raul Roco, his wife Sonia and their six children—that stands in the middle of the garden of the Roco property in Antipolo.
The couple is seated in the middle of the grouping, with Sonia holding an open book and Raul’s arms stretched out as if ready to receive a volume.
“Originally, the sculpture was to stand in front of the Naga Public Library (since renamed the Raul Roco Public Library) because it was Raul who funded its construction,” says Sonia. “Also, it was supposed to depict only Raul reading to a child, since he believed that books were meant to teach and impart learning to children.” But the artist convinced them to turn it into a family tableau instead, and they decided to put up the sculpture in “Ang Maogmang Lugar.”
This is the name coined by the late Naga Mayor and Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo (husband of Vice President Leni Robredo) to describe his home city—a “Happy Place.” When they moved into the Antipolo property, says Sonia, Raul decided to adopt the name as well. And in many ways, a happy place it is.
For as Sonia remembers, her husband used to say: “A happy place is a reading place.”
Roco Reading Room
As soon as one enters the property, one espies a simple structure, a two-story prefab building in front of which stands the Roco family tableau. This is the “Roco Reading Room,” the name inspired by a TV-movie starring James Earl Jones about a secret philanthropist who establishes a neighborhood library and transforms the lives of his neighbors, especially young people.
Actually, confesses Sonia, the Reading Room was inspired not only by Raul’s lifelong love of books and legacy in politics but also by practical considerations. After her husband’s passing, she donated his law books and legal references to his alma mater, San Beda College. But many more publications remained with the family, and to make room in their La Vista home, she decided to have the Reading Room built to accommodate most of the collection.
Books and documents having to do with Raul’s four-year stint as education secretary were housed in a separate building nearby, but a fire consumed both the structure and its contents. Still, says a friend, the “real treasures” of Raul’s private library, including rare books he collected on trips abroad, remain in La Vista.
Recently, Sonia decided to open the Reading Room to the public. Years before, she hired a retired librarian of the Naga Public Library to classify and categorize the collection, which is far more wide-ranging and eclectic than is to be expected from a high-flying lawyer, corporate legal officer, Con-Con delegate, congressman, senator, and presidential aspirant.
There are books on Philippine history, languages, geography, culture and heritage. Coffee table books on cuisine, tourism locales, biographies, and art and artists sit on the shelves alongside self-help volumes, pop psychology and even the records of the 1971 Constitutional Convention and the proceedings during Raul’s stint in the Senate.
While those who come to commune with the books will not be allowed to bring them home, Sonia says visitors will be encouraged to linger and read in the garden’s many nooks and crannies, with her envisioning reading sessions with adults and groups of children.
A short distance across the lawn is a patio which seems designed for bigger gatherings, while a small swimming pool on the side is, says Sonia, “the favorite spot of my grandchildren when they come to visit.”
At the back is a small structure that houses a kitchen and dining room and a replica of Raul’s office, with the desk he used in his law office and shelves of his favorite references. An odd feature is a grouping of three rocks that juts out from the tile floor. “Raul said they represent to him Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao,” laughs Sonia. The rocks are actually original to the property and they decided to keep them there for the novelty of it, if not the artistic aspect.
Beyond the Reading Room, “Ang Maogmang Lugar” is a working orchard, planted to tropical blooms and fruits like rambutan, siniguelas, duhat, santol, mangosteen and durian. There is even a clump of gabi (taro leaves), in homage, perhaps, to Bicol where it is a staple.
Purchased from an engineer who used to work for the Elizalde company and turned the property into a horse farm, “Ang Maogmang Lugar” sprawls across 2 hectares. In one corner of the property, Sonia had a “Japanese style” house built from bamboo, a tranquil spot which however needs some upkeep. A brook and its gurgling music can be found in one edge of the lot, and Sonia expresses a wish to turn a rocky ledge near it into an amphitheater.
With so much to see and hear, it’s a wonder visitors to “Ang Maogmang Lugar” would still find time to read. But that’s what books do, isn’t it? Transport us to other worlds, including the world of the mind, even as we bask in the nature that surrounds us, and the people who keep us company.
(For visits to the Reading Room, call Emmy at 4757176 to make an appointment. To get there, take a jeep to Antipolo Church, then a P40-tricycle ride to Maogmang Lugar, Roco’s Farm. Tell the trike driver to go toward Bosay Resort near Golden Hills Subdivision. The place is next to Loyzaga’s house).