Old rich Pinoys: Antonio R. Roxas de Ayala master of the hunt, consummate outdoorsman, art collector

By Ces Oreña-Drilon

This week’s Ces La Vie gives way to Toto Gonzalez, writer and lifelong student of Philippine and world history.

This brilliant piece is a peek into the lifestyle of the Philippines’ original “bilyonaryos” at the turn of the 20th century.

But first some background: the subject of the piece, Antonio Roxas de Ayala, was the great grandson of Don Domingo Roxas, patriarch of the Roxas-Zobel-Ayala-Soriano clan. Don Domingo owned sugar land in Calatagan acquired in the early 1800s.

Antonio’s grandfather is Don Jose Roxas y Ubaldo, who bought the land on which Makati stands today. Don Jose and wife Juana had an only child, Pedro Pablo Roxas, who married his first cousin Carmen, daughter of Jose’s sister Margarita, who married her father’s business partner Antonio de Ayala.

In those days, intermarriages within the wealthy and even royalty were commonplace to preserve wealth and power.

Antonio had four other siblings. They were a very wealthy family with vast land holdings extending from Caluaun, Laguna to Nasugbu and Calatagan in Batanes

“Antonio Roxas de Ayala was a consummate outdoorsman. The biggest hunting expedition in the history of Calatagan took place in May 1913. It was organized for the American Governor General, William Cameron Forbes. The hunting activity lasted two entire days and some 150 deer and wild boar were caught. All in all, there were approximately 600 persons including guides, hunters, underbrush beaters, jockeys, servants and guests. The cost of the hunting expedition amounted to P 15,000, considerably a real fortune judged by the standards of the time. The dog packs consisted of English bloodhounds.”

Antonio R. Roxas de Ayala: Master of the Hunt, Consummate Outdoorsman by Augusto Marcelino Reyes Gonzalez III

Antonio Roxas de Ayala (born on 1881) was one of three sons and two daughters of 1800s tycoon Pedro Pablo Roxas y de Castro and heiress Carmen de Ayala y Roxas (Margarita Roxas de Ayala married Eduardo Soriano y Sanz; Pedro Roxas de Ayala married Margarita Argellies; Consuelo Roxas de Ayala married Enrique Zobel de Ayala; Antonio Roxas de Ayala married Carmen Gargollo; Jose Roxas de Ayala).

In his memoirs, former Manila Mayor Felix Roxas y Fernandez, who described himself as a “poor Roxas”, reminisced the fateful day of 13 August 1898, when he learned that Madre Espana had surrendered Las Islas Filipinas to the United States of America. He was in Saint–Jean–de–Luz in France with his “rich Roxas parientes” and among them was the fourteen year–old Antonio Roxas de Ayala:

“Don Pedro P Roxas, with whom I had lived in the French capital since my arrival there, upon recovering the properties and other assets which had been confiscated by the Manila government, had proceeded to London with the intention of emigrating, with his son Pierre and his servant Ciriaco, to one of the South American republics, should he be able to pick one to his liking. I realized the necessity of leaving Paris when I learned that a contingent of my relatives from Manila was arriving in Marseilles. Among those who figured prominently in this expedition were, on one side, Don Vicente D Fernandez, Mrs Carmen Ayala de Roxas, with her daughter Consuelo, her 14 year–old son Antonio and a servant. On the other side were Mrs Trinidad Ayala de Zobel, widow of Don Jacobo Zobel Zangroniz, her son Fernando Antonio, her daughter Margarita, and Marcelina, the old family maid from Seville.”

“As soon as I learned about their arrival, I proceeded immediately to the Latin barrio of the students to look for Enrique Zobel, a student of mine, so we could make the trip to Marseilles to welcome the newcomers. When visiting this port, we always stayed at the Hotel de Castille et Luxembourg of Mr Pereyra, a Portuguese. The newcomers from Manila also stayed in the same hotel. After two days, the dispersal of the group started. A London telegram from Pedro P Roxas sent Vicente Fernandez scurrying to the British capital. Mrs Trinidad Ayala de Zobel, with all her children, left on a tour of Europe as they had planned, leaving with us the mother of Antonio Roxas with her daughter Consuelo and her Filipina and Spanish maids in Marseilles.”

“Antonio used to go to the railroad station daily at noon and wait for the train from Spain in order to buy Spanish newspapers and fruits. One morning Antonio arrived very much upset; since we had already been seated at the lunch table waiting for him, he told us in a loud voice: ‘Now you will know some news of great importance’. He handed the newspaper to his aunt, Dona Trinidad, who read it aloud. Manila had surrendered to the Americans on the 13th of that month. All the ladies cried in anguish and copious tears flowed down their cheeks, tokens of their deep sorrow, while the men’s faces failed to show any emotion to the news of change of sovereignty.”

After his father Pedro Pablo Roxas passed away in Paris in February 1912, Antonio Roxas de Ayala had to travel back there with Roxas relatives via the Trans–Siberian Railway to retrieve his father’s body for the last rites in Manila. Felix Roxas recalled: “As the son of very rich parents, Antonio was really used to the ‘good life’.”

Arriving in Paris to close a painful chapter of his family’s life — his father’s sixteen–year self–exile of no return, he generously gave away the luxurious interior furnishings as well as the horse tack in the stables of his father’s hotel particulier to the loyal household staff that had served his exiled father for sixteen long years. Learning from the French lawyers that it would take several days to assemble and update his late father’s documents, Antonio towed his relative Felix Roxas to the Cote d’Azur/French Riviera for rest and recreation in the new land of sun, sea, and fun for the European aristocracy.

The rich Antonio took all the luxury and frivolity in stride, while the poor Felix was amazed at all the extravagance he saw. While there, they heard that their multimillionaire “parientes” — Demetrio Tuason y de la Paz (“Queso”) and his wife Natividad Zaragoza y Roxas (“Naty”), a niece of Felix by his successful businesswoman first cousin, Rosa Roxas y Arce, Sra de Jose Zaragoza y Aranquizna — were also in the area. Demetrio had just ridden the fashionable hydroplane. Natividad serendipitously encountered Antonio Roxas and Felix Roxas in Nice.

As expected of one of Manila’s richest men, Antonio Roxas de Ayala was also a political powerbroker.

“During one of the last days of November, 1912, I was invited as Mayor to be present at 2:30 o’ clock in the afternoon at the Tiro al Blanco Club on Buenavista street, Santa Mesa. At the time indicated, Manuel Quezon, Tomas Earnshaw, and Antonio Roxas arrived in the premises of the Club almost at the same time.”

“Finding me already there, they asked to be excused for a while because they had to discuss an important matter, and proceeded to one end of the gallery facing one of the tennis courts. The conference seemed very interesting and judging by the attitude of each, it could be deduced that Quezon proposed, Antonio Roxas persuaded, and Earnshaw meditated. They stood up, went down to the tennis court, always discussing while they went from one end to the other end of that sport center, until the time came when each one revealed in his attitude that they had reached a satisfactory agreement. With an air of complacence, they went to me and holding Mr. Earnshaw by the arms in an affectionate embrace, Quezon and Roxas exclaimed: ‘At last we have the Resident Commissioner that we anxiously desire’.”

Antonio Roxas inherited very well from his parents; in fact, he received the star lot of his parents’ Roxas–de Ayala estate: the Nasugbu sugar plantation and mill which was churning out yet another large fortune for the family.

However, because of his long and passionate involvement with the ancestral Roxas Hacienda Calatagan of 10,000 hectares, his Roxas–de Ayala family wept copiously when it was instead assigned to the Zobel–Roxas siblings Jacobo, Alfonso, and Mercedes Roxas Zobel.

Zobel historian Alejandro Lachica wrote in the 1984 book “Ayala – The Philippines’ Oldest Business House”: “In 1914 came the time for the family to legally apportion its inheritance. Viuda e Herederos de Pedro P Roxas, in which the Roxases, Ayalas and Zobels were represented, was dissolved and a new group, Viuda e Hijos de Pedro P Roxas, was formed to incorporate most of Don Pedro’s sugar properties.

This portion of the estate was assigned to Dona Carmen’s eldest son, Antonio Roxas. The Sorianos were awarded the bulk of Don Pedro’s shares in San Miguel Brewery. The Roxases in turn gave up their interests in Ayala y Compania which was adjudicated solely to Dona Trinidad. The Hacienda San Pedro de Makati was given to Jacobo, Alfonso, and Mercedes Zobel y Roxas, the children of Enrique Zobel and Consuelo Roxas y de Ayala.”

“As assets were valued at that time, the 1914 division left Antonio Roxas and his heirs with the prize of the combined Roxas–Ayala fortune: the sugar– producing Nasugbu estate. Although the Philippines was beginning to modernize, it was still basically a plantation and mining economy earning most of its dollars from cash crops and gold. Sugar growers had a guaranteed season–after– season market in the United States.”

Antonio Roxas was most associated with two places during his short lifetime: Hacienda Calatagan in Batangas and the newly–established Baguio.

Antonio Roxas de Ayala was a consummate outdoorsman. His nephew Alfonso Roxas Zobel (second son of his sister Consuelo Roxas de Ayala with her husband Enrique Zobel de Ayala) in an essay titled “Calatagan: Visits to an Enchanted Country” (in the book “Ayala – The Philippines’ Oldest Business House,” 1984) remembered:

“What we liked most were the hunting expeditions for deer and wild boar with our cousin Antonio and his father. The hunters, foremen, the guides and the men from the kennels used to assemble in front of the manor house. At Tio Antonio’s signal, the expedition went on its way. Hunting was a passion for my Tio Antonio. I think I inherited my love for the sport from him. On specific occasions when he was on vacation with his family in Calatagan, he used to invite us to join him.”

“The biggest hunting expedition in the history of Calatagan took place in May 1913. It was organized for the American Governor General, William Cameron Forbes who, like my Tio Antonio, also loved the sport. Hunters who took part said that 25 shotguns were used.”

“They said that the following were present: Tio Antonio, my father Don Enrique Zobel de Ayala; Tio Edward Soriano; Tomas Earnshaw; Francisco Ortigas; Joaquin Elizalde, Sr; Jose Zabarte; John Kennedy; Federico Martinez; Manuel Nieto; Manuel Iriarte (Yriarte) and Faustino Perez.”

“There were close to 400 hired guides and foresters from Nasugbu, Calatagan, Balayan, Calaca and Lemery who were transported to Calatagan on the M/S Tito and the M/S Don Antonio. The hunting activity lasted two entire days and some 150 deer and wild boar were caught. Since the manor house bedrooms could not accommodate everyone, beds were set up in the living room and even in the dining room. Horses had to make countless trips to transport the guests from Taal and Lemery. All in all, there were approximately 600 persons including guides, hunters, underbrush beaters, jockeys, servants and guests. The cost of the hunting expedition amounted to P 15,000.00, considerably a real fortune judged by the standards of the time. The dog packs consisted of English bloodhounds owned by Tio Antonio and by some families of Nasugbu, Balayan and Lemery.”

Antonio Roxas de Ayala married Carmen Gargollo and they had four children: Antonio Gargollo Roxas Jr (“Tito”); Jose Gargollo Roxas (“Pepote”); Ramona Gargollo Roxas Left: Ramona Roxas at 2 years old. Right: Ramona Roxas. (“Ramonita”); Eduardo Gargollo Roxas.

Antonio Roxas de Ayala passed away in 1915 in his Baguio summerhouse, only three years after his father Pedro Pablo Roxas de Castro in 1912 and fifteen years before his mother Carmen de Ayala y Roxas in 1930.

(Clarification: the author only uses the Spanish (paternal surname before maternal) or Spanish–Filipino nomenclature (with a “y” between surnames) and the honorifics “Don” and “Dona” for those born during the Spanish colonial period (up to 1898). For women, the maiden name is retained, Spanish–style. For everyone born during the American period (from 1898 onwards), it’s the American nomenclature with or without the formal Mr, Mrs, Miss, regardless of financial or social stature. – AMRG3)

Don Antonio’s daughter, Ramona weds Esteban Fernandez.Ramona Fernandez y Roxas.
Don Antonio’s daughter, Ramona weds Esteban Fernandez. Ramona Fernandez y Roxas.
Don Antonio Roxas’ unica hija at two years old.
Don Antonio Roxas’ unica hija at two years old.
An Amorsolo masterpiece dated 1930 once belonged to her.
An Amorsolo masterpiece dated 1930 once belonged to her.
Ramona’s home in Barcelona. An era before the advent of goldenpassports.
Ramona’s home in Barcelona. An era before the advent of golden passports.

A masterpiece by Amorsolo which once belonged to the Don Antonio Roxas de Ayala collection will be auctioned off at the are at Leon Gallery’s Kingly Treasures Auction on December 3. Bidding starts at P8 million.

Fernando Amorsolo (1892 – 1972) Evening Meal on a Raft House signed and dated Manila 1930 (lower left) oil on canvas 27″ x 37″ (69 cm x 95 cm)