The Rise and Fall of Lipa’s 19th Century “Aristocracy” according to TM Kalaw - Batangas History, Culture and Folklore The Rise and Fall of Lipa’s 19th Century “Aristocracy” according to TM Kalaw - Batangas History, Culture and Folklore

The Rise and Fall of Lipa’s 19th Century “Aristocracy” according to TM Kalaw

[In this article: TM Kalaw, Teodoro M Kalaw autobiography, Lipa Batangas, Lipa coffee industry, Lipa coffee boom, Lipa aristocracy]

In a previous article, Batangas History had already featured the so-called “grandeur” of the then-town of Lipa in the latter half of the 19th century fuelled by coffee production which peaked in 1887. The article was based on the narrative of the Spanish historian Manuel Sastron1 and can be found hyperlinked below.

This article, meanwhile, deals more with that “grandeur” at the personal level and is based on an autobiography of the Lipa-born Teodoro M. Kalaw2, a prominent nationalist during the late-Spanish and American colonial periods who would be hailed as the “Father of Philippine Libraries3.”

READ: “The Glory of 19th Century Villa de Lipa as Described by a Spanish Historian
In his autobiography, Kalaw recalled the opulence of Lipa’s aristocracy – a word used figuratively because European nobility was a consequence of the Medieval feudal system – during his childhood. For instance, he described a parade in the town circa 1888 – Kalaw was born in 1884, and he said the parade took place when he was four years old.
“In those days, people talked of the prosperity of Lipa, of its very rich aristocracy, of its handsome carriages drawn by huge horses, of the almost fabulous wealth produced by the then flourishing industry, coffee. I was four years old at the time. I saw various allegorical floats passing by, and crowds swarming in the plaza and streets. The young men, dressed in the style of the day, in shirt sprinkled with sequins which glittered in the sun, went riding by in spirited Arab horses.”
Women of the Red Cross in Lipa
Women of the Red Cross Society of Lipa, early 1900s. Image source: “The Story of the Lopez Family: A Page from the History of the War in the Philippines.”

Sastron had written that coffee was first planted around the year 1814 through the initiative of then-Gobernadorcillo Galo de los Reyes and an Augustinian Brother named Elias Lebredo. The coffee industry would hit peak production in 1887, so the parade that Kalaw described was right about the time of the peak of Lipa’s opulence as well.

Lipa’s estimated annual income, Kalaw further wrote, was about ₱4,000,000. The wealth from coffee spilled over to other industries as well, so much so that, Kalaw said, one Dr. Ramon Blanco made more than ₱70,000 from medical fees alone in just three months, a sizeable amount of money in that era.

Calle Real, presently known as C. M. Recto Avenue, the main street in poblacion Lipa City, was where the Kalaw family residence was situated. It was a bustling street which served as a showcase for the affluence of the town’s prominent families, as described by Kalaw:

“Calle Real, where we lived, was crowded with shops, stores and bazaars, just as Manila is today. In the afternoons, when the sons of the wealthy promenaded around the town, they went accompanied, or rather, went escorted, by a host of servants who opened the way for them and protected them from the jostle of the populace.”
As well-known as Kalaw would become – many roads around the Philippines are named after him – he ranked his own background as “middle class” and wrote that those from this class as well as the poor could but content themselves with gawking from the sidewalks as the “aristocracy” of Lipa went on their afternoon walks.
READ: “TM Kalaw: Knowing the Batangueño of the Common Street Name.”
Sastron had written that, as wealthy as Lipa had become, only a handful of land-owning families had really benefited maximally from the years of the coffee boom. The economic classes were well delineated that there existed something of a pseudo-caste system, which Kalaw also described:
“Families were popularly classified according to their wealth or social position. There were No. 1 families, No. 2’s, and No. 3’s. The income from the coffee served as the yardstick of social classification. After the people of family, came the poor laborers, artisans, servants, tenants, and others. There were also the professionals, who composed the middle class.”

High society in Lipa in the era was highly Hispanized according to Kalaw. To an extent, this was influenced by the presence in the town of the so-called Peninsulares, Spain-born Spaniards (as opposed to Insulares,, colony-born Spaniards), who were there, Kalaw wrote, because of government jobs or marriage with native heiresses. The Spanish language was spoken among the town’s wealthy families; and Spanish customs were observed.

Because there was a glut of money, this was spent almost mindlessly. Kalaw went so far as to actually say that the money was being “squandered.” He wrote:

“Money was lavished on ephemeral things: on clothes, parlor decorations, and pictures; on dainty crystal dinner services and plate imported from Europe; on curtains of the finest Venetian lace and stuffed chairs ordered from Vienna. Lipa society at its balls and banquets sought to equal those of Spain herself, the Metropolis, the Guiding Star, the Ideal.”

Needless to say, Lipa was looked upon with envy by people in other towns. Kalaw recalled that, wherever he went, people would sneer at the “haughtiness of the Lipeños.” In fact, Dr. Felipe Calderon, who would become known as the Father of the Malolos Constitution4, would scoff at Kalaw the first time they met that the latter was of the (biological) class “Lipendis.”

These derogatory remarks, according to Kalaw, came to the fore when the coffee bubble burst. The coffee plants that brought Lipa’s “aristocracy” so much wealth started to die out until eventually wiped out, Kalaw further wrote, by the bagombong worm5. There were those who actually believed that the pestilence was an act of Divine Providence to punish the town for its extravagance.

“...the evil tongues maintained that Divine Providence, aware at last that money was being foolishly wasted, even to such an extreme that ladies came to wearing golden slippers with embroideries in diamonds, imposed a punishment on the town, thus to set an example to all others. God sent, so it was said, the BAGOMBONG, an insect scourge which destroyed the coffee industry completely. And, the same tongues added, the pest first was visible among the coffee leaves immediately after that proud civic celebration I witnessed as a child, sitting on our window sill.”
[Lipa historian Renz Marion Katigbak has informed Batangas History, Culture & Folklore that the "Elias Lebredo" mentioned by Manuel Sastron in "Pequeños Estudios Batangas y su Provincia" was actually Fr. Elias Nebreda and became parish priest of Lipa. His signature is provided below, courtesy of the same.]
nebrado signature
Notes and references:
1 “Pequeños Estudios, Batangas y Su Provincia,” by Manuel Sastron, published 1895.
2 “The Decline of Lipa,” by Teodoro M. Kalaw, Translated from Spanish by Maria Kalaw Katigbak, published October 1938 in the Philippine Magazine, online at the Internet Archive.
3 “Who was TM Kalaw? Spanish academic tells us he was a nation-builder,” by Jorge Mojarro, 2014. Online at
4 “Felipe Calderón (Filipino politician),” Wikipedia.
5 Sastron had used the word bayombong instead. However, a dissertation entitled “Demythologizing the History of Coffee in Lipa, Batangas in the XIX Century,” written by Maria Rita Isabel Santos Castro in 2003, claimed that the real cause of the death of the coffee plants was a fungus infestation.
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