Sta. Cruz has an imposing old church made of red bricks. The first time I saw it, I knew the old Franciscan missionaries had a hand in its construction. These master builders had an affinity building using red bricks. Right beside it is the impressive old convent and school. It still houses a learning center. The Franciscan infirmary transferred here in the 1600s. Its old location was in Pila (Laguna).
The municipio consists of 50 barrios but with only fifty-thousand residents. Its forested land has scattered settlements. Like the rest of Marinduque, it’s blessed with scenic coastlines. What sets it apart is that it has three white sand islands off its coasts. They have great tourism potential.
The Lecarozes, well-known local politicians, hails from this town. The most significant ancestral house here was built by this family in the early 1900s. The longest-serving provincial governor was Don Aristeo Lecaroz. He was Marinduque governor from 1967 to 1986.
Maria Lisa, the present caretaker of the Lecaroz house in Sta. Cruz, claims that the house is in great shape. No structural damage but it did go through some minor repairs in the past. “It would last as long as we want it to be around,” she said. Maria sleeps on the upper floor. The ground floor has been rented out to a hardware shop.
Don Vicente of Santa Cruz
Not far from casa Lecaroz is a humbler but elegant wooden house built in the late 1920s by the Alfantes. Its original owner, Don Vicente Alfante, passed away in the 1990s. Leaving the house to his children and grandchildren.
I interviewed two of Don Vicente’s granddaughter, Catalina, currently a kagawad, and Aurora Jean. Aurora said her father named her after the wife of President Manuel Quezon.
Unlike his Lecaroz cousins, Don Vicente was a modest government employee in Manila—but his time was no ordinary time. He worked as a stenographer and proofreader when the country had an American governor.
Don Vicente’s name appears in the official roster of the civil service of the early 1900s. Along with the likes of Sergio Osmena, Manuel Roxas, Pablo Ocampo, and Luis Ma. Guerrero. He knew most of these men. According to his granddaughters, he attended private parties held by these illustrious Filipinos.
Don Vicente Alfante worked in the Bureau of Forestry and later on for the Philippine Senate. But everything about him appears so down-to-earth. After his stint as a government employee, he retired as a farmer.
I then asked for a photo of Don Vicente from her grandchildren. “Oh, better we’ll bring you some of his letters,” they said. I spent the next few hours browsing over his letters written in old Tagalog, Spanish, and English. A professional, stenographer and proofreader, his mastery of the languages were remarkable. His penmanship was exquisite, his letters, clear and concise.
His letters to his wife were romantic. His messages were moving, difficult not to get emotional. In one of the letters, he instructs his son, then living in the US, how to address his mother in his letters. His was a time when writing letters and sealing envelopes was not only an art but a reflection of one’s culture.
Don Vicente’s Spanish letters were more formal. Most were addressed to men in public offices. Thanks to his clear and beautiful penmanship, the letters were all easy to read.
Like men from his generation were productive even during their retirement years. There was a notebook about medicines and healing techniques. He wrote pages dedicated to proper nutrition and diet. Because the island is far from Manila, he wrote everything for his community’s benefit.
Stories of Rizal’s civil mindedness in Dapitan comes to mind—Don Vicente had that same spirit.
Don Vicente’s notes on agriculture were from the old Department of Forestry and Agriculture. He had several cows and farming lots. In one of his letters to the local agriculture agency, he sought permission to slaughter some of his cows. These days, anyone could slaughter anything and sell them.
According to Aurora Jean, he was a very gentle grandfather. Not the kind of mestizo snub we all heard about growing up. He greeted his Licaroz cousins with “hola primo.” They conversed in formal Spanish. But when upset, he cursed in Spanish! But never did he stay angry for long they said. He was a cerrado catolico. A wide reader and had spent his last years in the graceful wooden house he built for his family.
He died with his granddaughter, Catalina, beside him. His last words according to her were, “vámonos”
“Alam namin na dumating na ang mga mahal n’ya sa buhay na matagal ng patay, siguro kaya ganun ang sinabe n’ya, parang nagmamadali na s’ya umalis,” Aurora said.
Whoever they were, they spoke Spanish!
Don Vicente, unheard even in local town history, is the quintessential Filipino from the hispano-filipino era. He was a gentleman, a patriot and a true public servant.
Don Vicente Alfante was a subscriber of the Nueva Era. The last Spanish newspaper in the country. It kept coming long after his death. Aurora Jean said she wrote the publisher in Manila to have it stopped. My friend and distant relative, Guillermo Gomez Rivera, was the last editor and publisher of the Nueva Era. He remembers that he used to have a few subscribers in the island. Don Vicente was the last. Nueva Era closed 10 years ago.