Jose “Jerry” Acuzar’s collection is a rather interesting one. It isn’t the usual stamps, nor is it old currencies. Instead, he collects houses – heritage houses, to be exact. For nearly two decades, he’s been growing this collection, forming the heritage resort that now allows visitors a step back in time to 18th-century Philippines, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.
This heritage resort in the small fishing village of Bagac, Bataan spans a total of 400 hectares. And though only 26 hectares of the vast area has been developed so far, the historical resort continues to grow.
The site houses several exquisite heritage houses, some of which are replicas, but the majority of which are the actual structures, carefully deconstructed at their original site, transported, reconstructed in Bagac, and then restored. The place also boasts replicas of important historical buildings, such as of the Hotel de Oriente in Binondo, Manila. The version in Bagac is a convention center skilfully built and embellished by the area’s locals.
But the true stars of the show are the individual heritage houses, each brought back to life by a skilled team of builders, artists, and researchers working together to restore the priceless pieces of Philippine history. Many of these old houses were deteriorating in their respective locations, until Jerry Acuzar stepped in, determined to revive their former glory.
While his buying of heritage houses doesn’t go without protest – usually from people who believe such historical pieces should be left where they are – it cannot be denied that many of these were extremely neglected and run-down. Without much government action to save them, who knows what would have happened to these houses had they been left to their own accord?
Over 20 heritage houses from all over the country sprawl across the resort. There are houses from places like Pampanga, Bulacan, Cagayan, Nueva Ecija and Manila, each carrying its own stories from the past – some dark, some controversial, but all interesting – and each with its own unique features that hint at the people’s way of life from their respective place and time in the country’s history.
Various tours are available throughout the day for visitors to take. Here, engaging tour guides give not only the houses’ facts and figures, but also the fascinating rumours surrounding each one.
Day passes are available for visitors who have limited time. But for those who seek the complete experience, who want to leisurely roam the cobblestone streets and plazas that transport you to yesterday’s Philippines, there is a hotel within the grounds in which to stay the night. But for a true, one-of-a-kind experience, visit with a group of friends or family and rent out one of their private casas (houses), and really feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
With such passion for restoring Philippine history and showing signs of further expansion and growth, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar continues to give visitors a unique way of experiencing, appreciating, and learning about the past. And by painstakingly reviving the collection of heritage houses, this place also revives a sense of Filipino heritage, culture, and tradition.