A life dedicated toward Arts and Culture – Ramon Hofilena
During our trip to North Luzon, lacking of time, we cancelled our visit to Vigan. Vigan is one of the only remaining cities in the Philippines where architecture’s conservation has been a priority. Spanish colonial architecture is highlighted, creating a museum-city where we can witness the bourgeoisie during Spanish domination in the 19th century.
We found in a small city of the North of Negros what we missed in Vigan, and probably even better: in Silay, time did not stop. This really pretty city with his 31 ancestral houses from the early 20s century, disseminated all around the city, has some something authentic and dynamic. Life is going on, even in these heritage houses. With the bourgeoisie appearing in the beginning of the century after the success of the Negrense sugar canes industry, Silay became the “Paris of Negros”, celebrating arts and culture. Bourgeois came from all over the country and abroad to enjoy refined parties and the beauty of the city, surpassing the celebrity of Manila.
But more important, we found a man with passion: a passion for Arts, culture and history. According to him, Arts in his different forms is the expression and representation of a country, its culture and its history. That’s why, since his very young age, he fed this passion through arts studies and multiple arts-related jobs in the Philippines and abroad ; especially in New York, where he was a model and a journalist specialized in arts, among other activities. Ramon Hofilena, 78 years old and still so hyperactive, is probably one of the finest Filipino experts in his domain. Friend and arts collector of the best Filipino artists, he owns more than 1000 pieces, from paintings, to antiques, sculptures and engravings. From this passion, he strives to share and disseminate his knowledge as an event and exhibit organizer, a speaker and as tour guide, implementing the longest-running tour in the world, 39 years old.
Ramon raised our hope and interest toward Filipino arts, architecture and culture. Now, Manansala, Hidalgo, Rodriguez Sr., Hechanova or Ocampo are familiar to us and we will pay more attention to these subjects. With the visit of his Spanish-like ancestral house, built in 1934, which he opened to the public in 1962, we could learn and experience the way of life of bourgeois at that time. We could learn the meaning of different architectural aspects and the usage of the objects used in the daily life. Full of stories, Mr Hofilena makes you travel in the past when he talks about history, and makes you travel in other parts of Negros or Manila when he talks about these places. He is true story-teller, making you want to stay, listen and learn even more…
We stayed almost 4h listening and talking about his collection of paintings, Chinese and Filipino antiques, about architecture, the history of the faded Silay and the impossibility to create a comprehensive Filipino Art due to the oppression under Spanish colonization and the censorship during the Commandant Marcos’ era. Having such a tour guide is an inestimable chance, a source of inspiration and hope for us, visitors and tourists.
Opening his house to the public 50 years ago, he has always answered the questions of his visitors when he was in town. During the Martial Law under Commandant Marcos, declared in 1972 and lasting until 1986, he fought against the local government of Silay in 1977 and its project of widening the main municipal road. Many ancestral houses would have been demolished, giving a deathblow to the heritage conservation of the city and to the proof that Silay used culturally powerful.
Threatened by the mayor, he succeeded to stop the project by forming a lobbying group and a petition. He then created the first cultural centre of the Philippines in Silay, before the famous official one in Manila, exhibiting the finest Filipino artists and reaching prodigious sales records. His secret: his communication skills, his conferences and speeches on the artists he exhibits, on history, arts and culture in general which moved the crowds.
Today, Ramon has no rest. Visitors are continuously coming to his house but he is still eager to tour and give a glimpse of all his stories. Every December and for 39 years, he has run the annual cultural tour in Western Negros, during which he explains the famous Western Negrense destinations. He always illustrates facts with stories, anecdotes and rectifications of wrong historical facts. Indeed, Ramon Hofilena regrets the lack of cultural and artistic education of the Filipinos. He dedicated his life as a speaker, collector, journalist, exhibit and event organizer and tour guide to remind of the importance of Arts in the identity of a country.