Sunshine’s article

I’m usually loathe to grab content and repost it. Sunshine, please forgive. Honestly though, I saw this complete article posted as a comment on a wordpress blog ( It is unfortunate that I have to use that previous posting as a way to get Sunshine’s article here. But, far be it for me to deprive a “canonical” Lichauco blog from content such as this. Thanks.

Pasig River recalls memories of life, love

By Sunshine Lichauco de Leon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:11:00 03/22/2009

Filed Under: Family, history

MANILA, Philippines – On a historic street of Sta. Ana known as Herran (now Pedro Gil), stands a magnificently simple, 200-year-old Spanish colonial house, whose garden ends on the banks of the Pasig River. This is the home of 97-year-old Jessie Lichauco, whose memories reveal the spirit and heartbeat of a river whose glory has often been forgotten with time and neglect.

Having lived the past 65 years by the Pasig River, Lichauco feels she has one of the most beautiful views in the world. Sitting on the covered porch watching the boats go by, she declares: “Having seen this river gracefully flow as I myself have matured, I feel very possessive and protective of my part of the river. It’s beautiful and quiet and the most perfect little spot in Manila.”

The Sta. Ana portion of the banks of the Pasig River was the Forbes Park of its time. It was the place to live. She recalls a time when there were no borders between the river and the grand homes built on the water’s edge. Sometimes, however, the river would overflow and flood the whole garden but even that had its benefits. “We once were so surprised [because] we found shrimp swimming in the yard, so we ate them and they were good!”

Lichauco speaks of a Pasig River that was the source of life for everyone. Boats used it to transport their goods, people used it to travel from place to place, and children swam in its unpolluted waters.


She remembers one night when a lost animal ended up on its shores. “I woke up at 3 a.m. because the dogs were barking. There was a great commotion on Punta (an area in Sta. Ana) across the river from our house. I could not believe it but there was a wild deer running along the shores of the river. I could not help but wonder how it ended up there.”

Although Lichauco’s preference for dry land – she likes to look at the water but not to get in it – has kept her from ever swimming in the river, she shares a memory of a guest she invited for lunch during the liberation or postwar period: “An American officer was temporarily living across the river when there was nothing there but big old trees and a couple of houses. After lunch, he shed his shirt, jumped into the water and swam home to Punta!”

Living by the river has given Lichauco and her seven children an early view of, and an appreciation for nature. It also filled her busy and often noisy home with an underlying sense of calm and tranquility.

Breakfast by the river

Breakfast by the river, watching the water lilies float by and buying fresh fish from the bancas that came by regularly were cherished family memories.

She reminisces: “Sometimes we did not even have to go to the market. It was a pleasure to hear the river come alive through the voices of the boatmen yelling ‘Ayungin (small fish) … tulya (clams)!’”

Her family treasures activities such as picnicking in the garden, which is perfectly situated on the bank of the river and taking banca rides up and down the river “with no destination but to enjoy the moment and the changing views.”

They would then return home to enjoy the swing under the enormous Banyan tree in their yard – swinging to certain heights that offered a delightful glimpse of the setting sun sparkling light on the water.

Perfect setting

A widow for the past 37 years, Lichauco says with great affection: “All of this is dearly treasured as my children had a father like no other. He provided the perfect setting for us to enjoy together as a family, and we continue to treasure this even after he has left us.”

Her late husband, Marcial T. Lichauco, was Philippine ambassador to the Court of St. James’s and other European capitals and was executive secretary and counselor to the Osmeña-Roxas independence missions to the United States. A lawyer, he is reputed to be the first Filipino to graduate from Harvard.

Lichauco says that her children, all of whom have been living abroad for decades, often return to this home to refresh themselves with the calm waters of the river.

When asked about the Pasig River’s effect on her younger years, Lichauco laughs and says its impact was “to cool my breeze.” Her home was built to have natural cooling winds that refresh both body and mind.

A free spirit, Lichauco explains she has never felt trapped living between a road and a river. “I always have an alternative – If I could not take the car, I can get on a boat.”

It’s in her blood

Now in what she calls her “over-aged years,” Lichauco finds great solace in the peacefulness of the river.

“Since all my children have left, I recollect events in my life. It is both educational and entertaining to watch life go by on the river,” she says with a tinge of dreaminess in her voice.

She continues, philosophically: “In a way, it’s a bit like eternity because it flows and never ends … it reaches the bay and melts away …”

Although Lichauco is grateful to have the river as her companion, nothing gives her more pleasure than to share its relaxing and peaceful atmosphere with visitors who drop by to chat or to simply sit with her and watch the river in silence.

The fact that it’s possible to see the flowing waters of the Pasig from almost every part of the house ensures that the river has been integrated into the very fabric of her family. It’s in her blood and Lichauco’s love for the river has made Pasig a part of all those who love her.

The Pasig River was an important travel route during the Spanish colonial era. The earliest merchants would come up the river to sell their wares. It is what nurtured the birthing of Manila as we know it.

Mourning the Pasig

Although Lichauco has mourned the passing of many things that were once a part of her life, seeing the Pasig deteriorate has been particularly painful.

She says with sadness: “I have sat here day in and day out, watching it struggle. It has been suffering from neglect for years because it is no longer needed as it had been in the past. But if we choose to use it properly, it can still serve a purpose, it can be used to a greater degree than it is today …”

Lichauco speaks with passion about the maligned reputation the Pasig has today, the abuse done to the river and to the land along the river. She stresses that there is nothing the matter with the Pasig River at all, except the people’s lack of care and disregard for it.

Gift from God

She says the solution can start with simply a change in the basic attitude of people. “The river is in the condition it is now because we don’t have individual pride in the assets we have. People think nothing of disposing whatever they don’t want. We need to take pride in the Pasig. A river is a lifeline and why would you want to pollute that which gives you life?”

As she looks beyond the Banyan tree whose leaves provide shade to her corner of this lifeline, Lichauco’s experiences help provide a voice for the river which has grown mute with time. She reflects: “I do not have my children here anymore but I am glad I still have the Pasig. The tree and me are still flowing along. At least we are in harmony in a world that can be full of confusion and uncertainty.”

Highlighting the fact that Manila has been blessed by a beautiful river without which civilization and commerce would not have been possible, she continues: “My one hope is that this generation will treat it as the jewel that it is. We must not forget that a river is a gift from God and should be treasured.”

‘It is my joy …’

A firm believer that the river can be revitalized, Lichauco dreams of a Pasig River with a future as glorious as its past. She declares: “The river is an inspiration to my life. I am convinced that if people learn to know it as I do, absolutely anything is possible. It is my joy to ebb and flow with its tide as it passes by on its silent journey to wherever …”

(The author is a granddaughter of Jessie Lichauco.)

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