Islander in the City:


What historic photo did I see in Manila Nostalgia on FB last week?

Playwright George Bernard Shaw at the Governor’s Palace (called Malacanan later) with then Governor General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. circa 1932.

Playwright George Bernard Shaw with then Governor General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. in Malacanang circa 32.

Caption said the trip happened during his voyage around the world on the Canadian Pacific liner ‘Empress of Britain’ circa 1932.

I am familiar with that Palace entrance having passed through it many times in the 70s and 80s during the time of the Marcoses.

History has it that Malacañan Palace was a modest summer house owned by Don Luis Rocha, a wealthy Spanish merchant, in the 1700s. In 1802, Rocha sold the property to then Manila mayor or alcalde ordinario, Colonel José Miguel Formento, for P1,000. It was later sold to the Spanish colonial government. After a strong earthquake destroyed the Palacio del Gobernador in 1863, Governor-General Rafael De Echague Y Bermingham was forced to move to Malacañan, becoming the first chief executive to reside in the palace.

Signed poster of My Fair Lady based on Shaw’s 1913 play, Pygmalion. Lead star was Lea Salonga.

On the other hand, my only direct connection with Shaw was that I watched local productions of My Fair Lady many times. The musical happened to be based on Shaw’s 1913 play, Pygmalion.

Shaw was an Irish playwright, critic and political activist and  wrote more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw became the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

How about Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.?

History sources said he was the Governor General of the Philippines before the Commonwealth term of President Quezon. Impressed with his work in Puerto Rico, President Hoover appointed Roosevelt as Governor-General of the Philippines in 1932. During his time in office, Roosevelt acquired the nickname “One Shot Teddy” among the Filipino population, in reference to his marksmanship during a hunt for tamaraw (wild pygmy water buffalo).

Then I saw a 1932 Tribune article entitled, “Roosevelt Praises Women as He Signs Bill On Paraphernal Property Before Visitors,” written by Bessie Agnes Dywer.

The columnist in the living room of Nelly Garden frequented by then Gov. General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. in the 1930s. Photo: Floyd Flores Evangelista.

The Tribune coverage in full: “Car after car set down its bevy of fair women at the steps of executive building at Malacanang. With swift steps, smiling faces and the frou-frou (a rustling especially of a woman’s skirts) of beautiful Philippine gowns, they advanced triumphantly to meet Governor-General Roosevelt and be greeted by the men who had stood in the halls of the legislature and fought for them and their countless sisters in the 48 provinces of the Philippines. There were the men, Senators Aquino, Avelino. Baluyot and Belo who originated the bill granting to the married women of the Philippines a revision of the Civil Code as follows: “The married woman, of legal age, can mortgage or dispose in any manner of her paraphernal property, and can appear before the court regarding the litigation of such property, without the consent of her husband.” The throng of women seated in the gallery held voting lists and followed with sharpened pencils the “Ayes” and “Nayes” breathlessly. For a brief time it seemed as if the opposition was winning, so loud and vociferous were answers in the negative. But the “still small voice” was omnipresent. When the result was announced the women had won by a vote of 49 to 30.

Then I found out that Roosevelt, Jr. was also a frequent visitor of the Lopez Mansion in Iloilo City now called the Nelly Garden.

With the mansion’s rich history, I set out to do a concert series by transforming its living room into a concert hall.

The rest is history.

I mounted three concerts in that heritage house from 2018 to 2019 and they all ended with rousing standing ovations.

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