GUBAT, Sorsogon – Coinciding with the commemoration of the 123rd Araw ng Kalayaan, the Local Government of Gubat held the inauguration and blessing of the Gubat Heritage Center (GHC) on 12 June 2021.
GHC’s main feature is the lifestyle museum, which recreates the culture and history of Gubat during the Spanish and American colonial times.
As a living museum, GHC’s unique feature includes a multifunctional space where cultural events can be held.
Lastly, the center will also serve as the Municipal Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office (MTCAO) of LGU-Gubat.
“Sense of identity, cultural bond”
The vision of providing Gubatnons with a tangible structure where their sense of identity, belonging and cultural space can be conglomerated, came into realization when in 2017, the heirs of Luis and Paz Ma. Escurel-Sabater donated their century-old Spanish colonial house, Casa Escurel and its adjacent lot to the Local Government.
“Heritage focal point, single cultural repository”
“For a very long time, we have been talking about the town’s history, culture and the Gubatnon pride. Asking a Gubatnon, what makes him a Gubatnon, is a very hard question to answer for we do not have a physical manifestation of what makes us Gubatnons. Though we have our own dances, music, oral and written literature, unique products, artists, and prominent writers and personalities, but there was not a single repository where we can showcase these cultural heritage and pride as Gubatnons”, explained Patrick Erestain, the current Municipal Administrator and Tourism Officer-designate, in his speech during the Heritage Center inauguration.
Erected in 1918, Casa Escurel was the residence of Don Juan Pura Escurel, his wife Eduvijes Prado dela Cruz and their five children – Getulio, Maria, Servando, Rosalia and Alberto. Don Juan served as Gobernadorcillo of Gubat from 1873 to 1874, 1881 to 1882, and 1887 to 1888.
One of the sons, Getulio, became the Presidente Local of Gubat during the American occupation from 1908 to 1909. He was married to Eustaquia Fajardo Estavillo with whom they had a daughter, Paz. In 1934, she married Atty. Luis G. Sabater, son of Go Yngui, a Chinese immigrant who was baptized as Jose Sabater and Maria Gonzales. Luis and Paz settled in Gubat and had five daughters. They bought the Escurel House in 1938 from the surviving owners – her father Getulio, and his siblings Rosalia and Alberto.
In 1943, Luis bought the house’s adjacent lot from Iglesia Evangelica Unica. The family permanently resided in Manila and the house was left to the care of caretakers with Paz acting as the administrator of all Escurel-Sabater properties in Sorsogon. When Paz died in 1964, the youngest daughter Edita assumed the responsibility in taking care of the house and other properties until she died in 2007.
“From inheritance, donation to LGU – Gubat”
In early 2017, the 148 square meter family residence and the adjacent 364 square meter vacant lot was donated to the Local Government of Gubat by the surviving Sabater children- Paz Maria, Celia, Diana, and Luisa.
The family wanted the property to be kept intact and maintained by the LGU-Gubat as a heritage center that will become the home of artifacts and antiques; arts and literatures made by Gubatnons, and distinct products of Gubat.
“Conservation, Restoration works begin”
“As a catalyst of cultural preservation, the Local Government believes that protecting and preserving culture defines the identity of the town. Historical and built heritage, like the Casa Escurel which remains to the present day, is a living witness of the age-old traditions of Gubat. Thus, the common responsibility to safeguard this cultural heritage is recognized and it is the duty of all Gubatnons to hand them on in the full richness of their authenticity for future generations,” said Mayor Sharon Rose Escoto.
“Immediately, after the documents were transferred to the LGU, preparatory works were done. Conservation of built heritage is never as simple as building a new structure. The Local Government was confronted with delays initially because of lack of technical knowledge of the restoration process and, recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic”, added Erestain.
“Consultation with experts”
Hence, in 2018, a series of consultations were done between the LGU, De La Salle University- College of Saint Benilde Architecture Program, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) regarding design and restoration inputs for the structure. Also, as a result of LGU partnership with Liliw, Laguna, scoping and exploratory works were done in March 2018.
In 2019, the Local Government also sought the assistance of volunteers from Volontaires Philippines and Pistes Solidaires with the cultural mapping and design study.
“Training in Conservation and Restoration”
It was in 2019 that the restoration and construction work of Casa Escurel began, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, delays were inevitable, and that works were only completed by the first quarter of 2021.
“To ensure that the displays and artifacts were properly documented and restored, we participated in the restoration and conservation training with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) hosted by the Provincial Tourism Office and Museo Sorsogon. Also, we sought the help of one of Gubat’s distinguished historians, Dr. Stephen Henry Totanes in the verification of historical inputs for display in the museum”, Erestain further elaborated.
“Braving the storm with resilience”
At a time where the world is facing a pandemic and the communities needs have drastically shifted, the Local Government of Gubat braved the storm and launched the GHC.
The Gubatnons have a very strong sense of community. This can be observed in its two-week annual celebration of the Ginubat Festival or “kapiyestahan” were Gubatnons from all over the country, and the world come home to be present in the festivities. Sadly, these events came to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Sense of home for Gubatnons”
“The very reason why we pushed through with the opening of the Gubat Heritage Center despite the pandemic is to give hope, inspiration and a “sense of home” to all Gubatnons, especially those who are constrained to come home. As of this moment, the virtual tour preparation of the center is already on the way and soon the Gubatnons, regardless of their locations, can access it”, said Mayor Escoto.