Perhaps no one is as passionate about Vigan’s place in Philippine history than one of its beloved daughters Cita ‘Manang Citang’ Hoersch.
Married to Konrad Hoersch and now living in Sydney, Cita has long campaigned for the full repair and restoration of two Spanish colonial houses, Casa Nening and Casa Grande, in her city.
Both houses have belonged to the maternal side of her family for at least two generations. Casa Grande, named as the most beautiful house in Vigan during its heydays, was passed on from her great grandparents, former Gobernadorcillo Jose Singson and Marcelina Pablo.
“Unfortunately, as practiced in the olden days, houses in Vigan were not bequeathed to a few individuals but to the whole family. As we go down from one generation to another, the more heirs there are. We are now in the third generation,” said Manang Citang.
The problem with that is that the more descendants there are, the harder it is to get a unified plan, particularly as many of the family members have moved to Manila or overseas, she said.
Casa Nening, which was passed on from her grandparents, Dionisio Singson (son of Jose and Marcelina) and Maria "Nening" Sebastian, also needs repairs.
“The houses have been occupied by caretakers and, through the years, have been neglected. I feel so bad every time I go home when I see their conditions … personally, I would like the houses restored and continue within the family,” she said.
Once restored, Cita believes they can be used by the community as cultural centres, boutique hotels or even as medical centres.
“For these to be achieved, investment is needed to fully restore them or we could go into partnership with agencies such as the UNESCO, National Trust of Australia or with private businesses.”
Cita has also reached out to members of the Singson family still based in Vigan. In other words, not even 40 years of living in Australia, has kept her from maintaining family ties.
A multi-faceted woman
Cita was born Florecita Singson Lazo, named in honour of St Therese of the Little Flower and was the fourth of seven children. Her dad is a distinguished doctor and her mom a pharmacist, no mean feat for a woman during those days.
Growing up, she recalls her dad’s devotion to the sick and ailing. Shortly after the Second World War, when peace was finally restored in Vigan, the then four-year-old Florecita helped raise funds for the poor. Her father dreamt of building a local hospital and sent all five of his children to the US to study. Yet having completed their degrees: one became a dentist, two became doctors, one an accountant and Cita became a dietician, none of them returned.
“My father never pressured us to go back; instead, he understood that we had our own lives to live,” said Cita. “My younger siblings Ben, who became a medical doctor, and Emma, who did marketing, would have completed the team.”
Before settling in Australia, Cita traveled the world, first as an exchange student in the US based in Washington D.C. and the Michigan State University then New York, before sailing on board the last voyage of HMS Queen Mary to work in London for a year, where she met the royal family at a garden party in Buckingham Palace.
Trips around Europe with her parents was followed by a position as a Philippine Representative at Expo'70 in Osaka, Japan, then in Adelaide and, finally, in Sydney, where she worked at the Royal North Shore Hospital for 27 years until her retirement in 2004.
A dancer, a model, a beauty queen, a community volunteer and leader, Cita’s most recent foray was in radio broadcasting as a co-host of Radio Dalisay although she has pulled back from that this year due to health reasons.
Her ongoing project is the one closest to her heart: the full restoration of Casa Nening and Casa Grande so they can be enjoyed by future generations. After all, not everyone can trace their family roots in the region as far back as 17th century when the first Lazo settled in San Vicente and when the first Singson settled in Vigan.
If not as her legacy, she is doing it for love. “Time and distance have not changed my affections for the place.”