The Main Branches: The Sañosas of Bicol, Visayas & Manila

From Polangui, Albay, two members of Isabelo Sañosa's family ventured out creating their own branches, one in Leyte and the other in Manila.  

Isabelo (b. July 6, 1844) was the son of Aquino Mariano (c. 1825) and the paternal grandson of Pedro San Jose (c. 1806). The family had used different surnames before the promulgation of Governor Claveria's decree of 1849 when they assumed Sañosa as their sole family name.

The Leyte (Biliran) Connection
According to family lore, Isabelo Sañosa's youngest son, Felix Aguilar Sañosa, joined General Emilio Aguinaldo's army as an insurrecto (freedom fighter) of the Philippine War of Independence which took place after Spain ceded the Philippines to the U.S. in 1898.  After the war ended in 1902, Felix settled in Leyte, a province in the Visayan Islands.  It is not known whether he moved there after his marriage or prior to it (returning to Polangui only to secure a bride). What is known is that on May 25, 1905, Felix married the nineteen year old Ceriaca Sabaybay Alcoy (b. 1886) in Polangui. The couple took up residence in Leyte where they established the Visayan branch of the family.

It appears that Felix was not the first Sañosa to have settled in Leyte, specifically Biliran Island (then part of Leyte until 1992 when it became its own province). In the recorded oral history of Almería in Biliran Island, which recounts the town's officials from 1880 until 1900, there is mention of a Facundo Sañosa who was a juez de sementera.

Crispin 33 yrs (Sorsogon, c. 1929)

During the Spanish colonial era, the juez de sementera was a member of the principalía, and one of four officials who directly assisted the gobernadorcillo. This local official was primarily responsible for farmland management and overseeing crop production. The title was used during the Spanish period until 1885 when it was changed to teniente de sementera. Therefore, based on the time period of when the title was revised, Facundo must have settled in Leyte (Biliran) prior to 1885. 

It is probable that Facundo originally came from Polangui and was related to Isabelo and Felix Sañosa. Biliran Island is not far from Albay; and at that time, was a new frontier for migrants from the neighboring islands who were in search of better opportunities. Although the majority of the Biliran migrants were Cebuanos, Ilonggos and Boholanos, it would not have been unlikely to find Bicolanos Tagalogs among them as well.

Also, people tended to relocate to places where other family members had settled. Felix and his young wife, Ceriaca, may have decided to head south to Leyte (Biliran) knowing that other family members and townmates like Facundo and his family, were already established there. Thanks to Facundo, Felix and other Sañosa pioneers who settled in Biliran, the Sañosa name continues to thrive to this day particularly in Naval.

From Bicol to the Capital
The son of Felix's elder brother Fabiano Aguilar Sañosa, Crispin Villez Sañosa (b.1893), started out as a school teacher in the municipality of Polangui, where he was assigned to teach at the barrios of Sugcad and Magpanambo. He eventually pursued a career in the civil service during the American era.  Despite his humble beginnings, he mastered the English language, became proficient in Spanish, passed the civil service exams (in both English and Spanish), and moved his way up the bureaucratic ladder landing government posts throughout the Bicol region until he was assigned in Manila where he served as auditor in some of the government agencies, such as: the Philippine Charity Sweepstake's Office of the Budget and Auditing, Philippine Council for US AID (PHILCUSA), Agricultural Credit and Cooperative Financing Administration (ACCFA) and the Philippine Tobacco Administration (PTA).

Crispin and his wife, Florentina Saunar Benipayo established the Manila branch of the family in the late 1930s. Florentina came from a prosperous family from Ponso, Albay.  She had family residing in Manila.  Her eldest brother, Donato Saunar Benipayo (b.1885-d.9/19/45), was engaged in printing and publishing; and established in the early 1930s the well-known but now defunct Benipayo Press. Later on, a favorite nephew, Celedonio Alcantara Benipayo, the son of her second eldest brother Lorenzo, would later establish the similarly successful and defunct Lucky Press.

Thus, with Crispin and Florentina's relocation to Manila in the late 1930s, the Sañosa family of Isabelo's line turned into three distinct branches: the original Bicolano line based in Polangui, Albay since Spanish times, the Visayan established by Felix Sañosa after the Spanish-American war and at the beginning of the American era; and the newer Manila line, which Crispin Sañosa established during the American Commonwealth era.

Aguilar, Felix. Personal interview by Jose Benipayo Sañosa. 15 September 1985.
Ibañez, Ambrocio. The Historical Data Papers of Almeria. 1952.
Memoirs, Crispin V. Sañosa, June 5, 1958.
Owen, Norman G. Questions about native names. Email to J. Sañosa. 13 Feb. 2012.

Philippine events that shaped the lives of Felix and Crispin

Two events in Philippine history clearly shaped the lives of both uncle and nephew, Felix and Crispin. These events are the Spanish American War of 1898 and the Philippine American War of 1899. One could only imagine what Felix was thinking, and how idealistic he must have been for joining General Emilio Aguinaldo's army in order to fight for Philippine independence.  Both wars ended with the U.S. becoming the victor and solidifying its power in the islands.

Crispin 25 yrs (1918)

American rule brought about the introduction and promotion of English as an official language, significant economic growth and the establishment of new government organizations and schools. By 1913, the Philippines had become a fully-established American colony, which provided job opportunities for young and ambitious Filipinos especially those living in the provinces like Crispin.

Crispin was only twenty in 1913, when he fulfilled his "American" dream. In his memoirs, he wrote that he studied hard every night while teaching at barrio Magpanambo in order to pass the civil service exam.  His efforts paid off, when on February 16, 1913, at the age of twenty, he took the exam and received the results three months later that he passed it. This led to his appointment as Land Tax Clerk at the Office of the Provincial Treasury of Albay. This achievement provided new opportunities and gave him the ability to further support his parents.

So, what exactly were the Spanish-American War and the Philippine War of Independence? Here's some basic information to gain an idea of what it was like in the Philippines of Felix and Crispin's day.

The End of Spanish Rule
The Spanish-American War of 1898 was a conflict between Spain and the United States (U.S.), which effectively ended Spain's worldwide empire and led to U.S. annexation of new possessions in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. The War's main issue originally centered around Cuban independence. American public opinion against the Spanish and on Cuba had grown steadily at the time, which eventually led to a call for war when the American battleship Maine mysteriously sunk in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. This event triggered a ten-week war, which was fought in both the Caribbean and Pacific.

First U.S. flag hoisted over Fort San Antonio de Abad, Malate, Manila, 13 Aug. 1898
(Source: U.S. Naval Historical Center, #USN 902954)

The first battle took place in Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, where Commodore George Dewey commanding the U.S. Navy's Asiatic Squadron easily defeated the Spanish squadron led by Patricio Montojo within a matter of hours. With this victory, Spain's crimson and gold standards were lowered down the ramparts of Manila's forts to make way for America's stars and stripes.  The outcome of the war by late 1898, was the Treaty of Paris, which allowed temporary control of Cuba and ceded Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the U.S. as its new colonies.

Philippine–American War (1899 - 1902)
By the time the Treaty of Paris was ratified, a new conflict arose in 1899. Soon after the Spanish-American War began, the independence fighter General Emilio Aguinaldo had returned from exile to the Philippines in order to assist the U.S. for he had thought that the Americans would help him liberate the islands from the Spanish. On June 12, 1898, he declared independence from Spain. When he later realized that the U.S. intended to keep the Philippines pursuant to the Treaty of Paris, Aguinaldo and his troops separated from the Americans. This resulted to a two year military conflict between the Philippines and the U.S.

Philippine insurgents, c. 1900 (Source: Nat'l Archives Admin. ARC:542454)

The capture and surrender of Aguinaldo in March 1901 ended all resistance towards the U.S and cleared all obstacles for the Americans so that they could firmly establish their regime in the islands. From then on until 1934, the Philippines became a U.S. territory, and turned into a Commonwealth under U.S. administration until 1946, when it finally became an independent country.

March, Alden. The History and Conquest of the Philippines and our Other Island Possessions. WM.E.Scull, 1899.

The Tsinoys in the family

There are likely others, but there are three known Tsinoys (Chinese-Filipinos) in the family tree. Two of them are descendants of Hokkiens from Fujian, while the third one is the daughter of a Cantonese from Macau.

Simeona Quintico - Grandmother of Crispin V. Sañosa
Simeona Quintico, my paternal great-great grandmother, was a Chinese mestiza who married Juan Villez. Their daughter, Isabel, married Fabiano Sañosa of Polangui and became the mother of Crispin and Esteban Sañosa.

The Quintico family name was not included in Claveria's 1849 list of surnames; and therefore, originated from the early 19th century when Simeona's Hokkien ancestor from Fujian filipinized their family name by attaching the honorific -co to their original Chinese surname of Ti. Ti is the Hokkien transliteration of the character, , which is the ancient name for the Chinese province of Henan. The Mandarin transliteration is Zheng, while its Cantonese counterpart is Cheng.

Flaviano Benipayo,78 yrs (1855-4/23/1945)

Flaviano Benipayo - Father of Florentina B. Sañosa
The second family member with known Chinese blood was Flaviano Benipayo, the father of Florentina Benipayo, whose Chinese ancestor most likely originated from Fujian as well. It is interesting to note that this progenitor had assumed his wife's Benipayo surname, which predated the 1849 Claveria decree.

During Spanish times, some of his descendants became members of the principalía as Cabezas de Barangay, which, in Albay, often belonged to Chinese mestizo families and ended up becoming a hereditary position as the title was passed on from father to son.

Flaviano was the last Cabeza de Barangay in his family as the position was abolished by the Americans when they took over the Philippines after winning the Spanish-American War in 1898. Despite this, the local citizens of Ponso and Polangui continued to respectfully address him as Kabesang, which served as a reminder of his status within their community.

In the Sañosa family lore, the original surname of the Chinese ancestor is transcribed as Pua (Phoa), which is the Hokkien transliteration of the Chinese character,. In the Mandarin-speaking regions of Northern China, it is transliterated as Pan while in the Southern Cantonese speaking provinces, it is Poon. This character stands for the name of a place which had existed in the state of Wei during the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC).

Chinese Mestizos mid-19th century
Les Philippines (Paris, 1846)
by Jean Mallat de Bassilan

The Chinese Mestizos of the mid-19th century
Although the Chinese mestizos who had business dealings with relatives in the mother country could still speak Chinese, the majority could not. They were quite a filipinized and hispanized lot as they were brought up in the Catholic faith and speaking the language of their mothers and even Spanish. In Manila, the Chinese mestizos even developed their own patois which was a mixture of Hokkien, Cantonese and Tagalog.

The Chinese Mestizos were easily recognized during Spanish times by their unique attire, which was a blend of Chinese, native and Spanish dress. The men wore the camisa de chino, a loose knee length shirt.

By the 1850s, they wore top hats, which was a symbol of status that was formerly and exclusively reserved for the gobernadocillos. As for the women, their dress was called the traje de mestiza, which was heavily native and Spanish influenced.

The Chinese mestizos were typically the result of a union between a Chinese man and a native woman or mestiza. Marriage with a native wife meant marrying into her entire family as well; and the Chinese immigrant tended to marry or live with a native woman who had good business sense and could help him with his business endeavors.

As in Latin America, the Spanish colonial authorities similarly engaged in racial classification in the Philippines. Socially, male descendants of Chinese paternal ancestors were considered mestizos. The daughters, in turn, ended up assuming their husbands' social classification upon their marriage to either a native or Spaniard.

Josefina Lee (15 yrs) c.1955

Josefina Lee - Wife of Eugene B. Sañosa
The third infusion of Chinese blood in the family is more recent and came from my mother Josefina Lee, who is the daughter of Ricardo Lee, a native of Macau, China, and Susana Balantac of Isabela whose family moved from Ilocos Norte to Isabela during the American era.  Susana was one of the youngest of the many children of Catalina Barañay Balantac. 

Catalina, the matriarch, was quite enterprising and engaged in tobacco cultivation. Her farms in the mountains grew tobacco burley as a cash crop.  Sadly, my mother lost both parents at a very tender age.

During the 1930s- 40s, my grandfather Ricardo Lee established a successful retail business in the city of Cauayan in Isabela, which he lamentably lost in a great fire. My grandmother Susana would later marry a Filipino, Rufino Pandi; however, she soon passed away after giving birth to a son whom she named Ernesto. Uncle Ernesto currently lives in Isabela with his wife Edna and three sons.

The lost memento & the meaning of a name
My grandmother had passed on to my mother a keepsake from her father. This memento was a silver necklace pendant which had the Chinese character for plum engraved on it. The Chinese character for plum is , which is transliterated as Lee in the Cantonese-speaking parts of China specifically in the province of Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau. In the mandarin-speaking regions of China and in Taiwan, it is transliterated as Li. My mother had shown it to me once mentioning that it was the only thing she had left that belonged to her parents. Unfortunately, this pendant had gone missing.

About Macau - Where East meets West
Macau was a Portuguese territory from the early 16th century until December 20, 1999, when it was formally reverted back to China. Its Mandarin transliteration is Aomen, meaning Gate of the Bay. Although it is famous nowadays as an international gambling destination, it is actually much more than that as it is a place rich in history and traditions.

Macau's remarkable Luso-Chinese culture is the result of four centuries of Portuguese and Chinese cultural intermingling; and presently survives in its: Macanese language or Patuá (a Portuguese-Chinese creole), Christian and Chinese religious traditions, historic buildings and the Sino-Iberian flavor of its famous cuisine.

Today, many people with the surname Lee still reside within the historic districts of Macau, specifically near the Protestant Cemetery.

Senado Square, Macau (Joseph Lee Sañosa, 1995)

For an idea of Macau's unique heritage, here's a video highlighting its fascinating cultural blend. The dialogue and song are in Patuá , which according to UNESCO is now an endangered language. It also showcases Macau's  traditional architecture. The song you'll hear (at 2:07 of the video) has a catchy tune and quite reminiscent of Filipino folk music.


Sañosa Family Oral History.
UNESCO gives Patua "critically endangered" language status. Macau News. Web. 26 Feb. 2012.
Wickberg, Edgar. The Chinese in Philippine Life 1850-1898. 1965 Ed. Yale University Press. Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000.


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