Don Estanislao Bilbao – An Abridged Bio

“The settlement and development of hitherto unexplored lands, particularly in the Bicol, Negros, Panay, and the hinterlands of eastern Mindanao, gave a new impetus to the colonization and development of the areas with an eye towards commercial ventures. Some Basques would practically hack their way into the thicket of lush forest and grasslands to establish settlements and plantations.”  – Marciano R. de Borja – ‘Basques in the Philippines’

 This was the case with Estanislao Bilbao…



 The Autonomous Community of the Basque Country Its Three Provinces: Bizkaia, Araba, & Gipuzkoa
Its Flag  Its Coat of Arms 

Don Estanislao Eugenio de Bilbao y Mota was born on October 11, 1890 in the small coastal town of Getxo (Guecho) by the Bay of Biscay, province of Vizcaya (Bizkaia), in the autonomous community of Basque Country, Northern Spain.

In 1910, eschewing military conscription in the Carlist Forces and seeking a brighter future, the 19-year old Bilbao departed the motherland for the Philippines.  Shortly after arriving in Manila, he headed south to the bustling port city of Iloilo, in Panay province.  Iloilo at that time was the leading commercial center in the Visayas and was home to a sizable (second only to that of Manila) Basque community.  Residing with his cousin Roberto Mota, a local Basque businessman, and hotel proprietor, Don Estanislao took no time in acclimating, indeed in adopting this ‘Queen City of the South,’ in this far-flung former Spanish colony, as his own.

No sooner had Don Estanislao settled in that he ventured forth, eager to seize opportunity wherever it lay.  And it lay, he was convinced, in the largely undeveloped, neighboring island of Negros and in ‘Homesteading’—the settlement of the country’s hinterland.  Many a pioneering sort had staked their future on this vastly rewarding if enormously daunting undertaking.  A few were presently acquiring title to lands successfully homesteaded.  Don Estanislao vowed to be counted among their ranks.                                                                    

Together with his Mota cousins—Roberto and a brother, Don Estanislao crossed over and mounted an expedition (undertaken on horseback) across a southerly route down the sock-shaped island of Negros.  Their route took them past the outpost town of Cawayan into frontier land.  A few grueling weeks and umpteen river and mountain crossings later, they came upon a wild (the beach was crawling with monkeys!) and a densely forested coastal area just south of where Hinoba-an would come to be.  Deeming the location ideal, they began its long and laborious settlement.

At the onset by themselves, proximately with hired labor, they—as Marciano R. de Borja, in his book ‘Basques in the Philippines’ so vividly describes-–”hacked their way into the thicket of lush forest and grasslands to establish settlements and plantations.”   In a few short years, a significant plot of land had been rehabilitated to which thousands of germinating coconut husks were planted in precise rows.  Maturing and bearing crop in under a decade, once coastal wilderness was transformed into copra producing land.  Rice fields were likewise developed further inland close to irrigation sources.

At a later point, the Mota brothers divested from the venture.  Fairly recompensing them their share, Don Estanislao acquired a sole interest in what had become a profitable enterprise.  Reinvesting profits and continually expanding, the plantation’s yield and proportions accrued considerably through the years.

In 1924, the 33-year old Don Estanislao married 21-year old Dona Felicidad Huntington Rivas, an Iloilo-born, patrician lady who resided in the northern Hinoba-an locality of  Bacuyangan.  Dona Felicidad was heiress to a substantial tract of agricultural land (christened ‘Virginia Plantation’), similarly homesteaded by her pioneering father, a retired US Army Colonel named James Watkins.  The matrimony consolidated the two plantations into a large, non-contiguous (though no great distance separated them) ‘Hacienda’ that ostensibly stretched for miles on end.  Over this domain, the couple held sway with a beneficence that engendered the lifelong reverence and affection of the populace. 



In his forties, Don Estanislao had made it to a rarefied company of Philippine Basques who had attained affluence through their merit and industry.  Though not nearly as prosperous, one might well be remiss not numbering him among fellow Basque titans of commerce such as Aboitiz, Araneta, Ayala, Elizalde, Garchitorena, Isasi, Loyzaga, Luzuriaga, Moraza, Uriarte, Ynchausti, Yulo, Zubiri and Zuliaga, to name a few.


Don Estanislao Eugenio de Bilbao y Mota -1890-1963

Don Estanislao & Dona Felicidad  (circa 1959) / Casino Espanol, Manila




4 Responses to “Don Estanislao Bilbao – An Abridged Bio”

  1. Thickets of lush forrest and grasslands… are you kidding me? Here’s how I figure it: Thickets of mangroove, nipa and saw grass! They didn’t hack their way through… that’s the slow way to do it – fire – that’s the ticket! Imagine chopping a tree with an axe, it’ll take them a week to bring one down plus you’ll need more than an army to clear out that land. I say they burned their way through, no way axes or manchetes can clear up that area. They probably dug around the base of a tree and used oxen or teams of horses to pull them down, this way you not only clear the tree and you don’t have to deal with the stump – I wasn’t there but thats how I’ll go about doing it.

    The Motas divest? I don’t think so. I say after a few years of extreme working hours, not getting rich, primitive living conditions and putting up with all the annoyances such as malaria, yellow fever, etc. – its enough to make any tough man cry – I say they got fed up and quit!

  2. Let me address the points you raise, Senor Carlos, in reverse order.

    On the Motas, you’re absolutely right. The sociopolitical tribulations of the mid 19th and early 20th century Basques: heavy taxation and military conscription (by-products of the two defeated Carlist Wars), paled in comparrison to the tribulations wreaked by the Negros jungle.

    That the Motas succumbed to the unrelenting hardships of the hinterland and beelined back to Spain was never in doubt. That your ‘Lolo,’ on the other hand, persevered and prevailed, is a testament to his mettle—his heart and resolve undeniably stouter than the stump of the trees he felled. Doggedly forging on, Don Estanislao surmounted the odds and prospered beyond his wildest expectations.

    That they hacked through the jungle is both literal and figurative. On day one and throughout the early going they would’ve had to. In time, the hacking was replaced, of course, by more practical and efficient methods (including burning). The grunge work carried out by native labor who would’ve relied heavily on the country’s quintessential beast of buden: the Carabao.

    Lastly, genus Rhizopora (mangrove trees & shrubs) and nipa abounded in areas around Totong and the Obong headland, but not along Pook where Don Estanislao begun. Be that as it may, what is significant, is the historical fact that dense vegetation, i.e., the jungle covered the land all the way up to the very edge of the beach.



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