Denise Laurel’s hilltop refuge
Actress and new mom Denise Laurel says her 10-month-old son is fortunate to have as playground the four-hectare Laurel estate in San Pedro, Laguna.
Denise’s grandfather, the late former vice president Salvador “Doy” Laurel, bought the hilly property during the Martial Law years. On the hilltop is a two-story house that Doy and wife, Celia Diaz, built for their retirement.
“I spent lazy Sundays here as a kid with my other cousins. It is nice to have a place that is quiet and pleasant. It lifts your mood. It is cool and windy here all year round,” Denise tells Living Stars. “I remember Papa Doy telling us there were dinosaurs here and we believed him! Below the hill is a virgin forest.”
Denise’s grandparents planted fruit trees such as mango, duhat, chico, guyabano, santol and sampaloc, as well as herbs like banaba, tanglad and gotu kola, all around the area.
Some of her most unforgettable memories are of childhood spent here. “I would hide from my cousins behind the plants… We used to play patintero, sipa and tumbang preso. Sadly, kids nowadays don’t know these games. Papa Doy taught us, ‘Do not to be afraid of nature.’”
She likes to bring her son here at least twice a month, Denise says. “I call him
Buknoy. Everybody is angry that I call him that, but the nickname really matches his personality. He has gray-green eyes and light-colored hair. He’s adventurous, fearless, and loves to play rough.”
The young mom adds: “Buknoy loves pulling on the branches of the pine tree. Since we live in the city, it’s nice for him to have a place where he can run around. I want him to have a feel of nature. I’m glad that my Papa Doy did this for us.”
Celia says it was the himbabao tree, which can be seen on the road leading to the property that enticed her husband to buy the land. “We did not know this place, but every time we passed here from our rest house in Matabungkay (Batangas), he would look at the tree and tell me he wanted the place. He came home one afternoon and told me, ‘I did it! I bought the property!’”
Celia recalls: “This was supposed to be the last house we were going to build. He said he wanted it done right away, while we were still strong and our bones were not creaking yet.”
Doy passed away in 2004.
Architect-designer Gabby Formoso and naturalist Rodney Cornejo were hired to create the house’s “rustic country” look.
Now Celia plans to build “a museum in the middle of the garden” as a tribute to her hus band. “He loved plants and nature. I dedicate this to him. His study room (at the Laurel compound on Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City) was dismantled and brought here. I want to showcase my husband’s memorabilia, his life as vice president, and his service to the country.”
There is so much left to do, she adds. “We still have to transfer some artifacts here and then mount a video wall.” Celia hopes to open the museum to the public in November, Doy’s birth month. She has commissioned an archivist from the University of the Philippines to put together and preserve Doy’s book collection.
Also on the drawing board is an educational park, “which students can visit to learn all about nature.” Part of the property has been reserved for an outdoor auditorium. “My family hosts parties often and there’s always singing and dancing,” Celia explains. “Since we already sold the Shaw Boulevard property, we can party on the small unoccupied lot here beneath the museum.”
Celia says her husband would always drive to the place to meditate. He even had a chapel built beside the house. “For a while this was neglected. I did not come here often, until I realized I had to preserve his memory.”
Denise says she has too many fond memories of the place to choose just one. “All of us kids loved the living area. It is filled with big Thai pillows. Lola made us remove our shoes when we played on the carpeted floor. We would play with the old instruments that our grandparents brought from different Asian countries. I remember playing ‘Chopsticks’ on the piano.”
Her favorite picture of Papa Doy, Denise says, was actually taken here. “He is in his khaki polo, jeans and comfy shoes. It is not the usual Papa Doy who was very formal. In the picture, he stands near the ravine, holding his pipe. His German Shepherd is beside him.”
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