Tsinoy billionaire was Rizal’s model for Kapitan Tiago 2
Portrait of Don Telesforo Antonio Chuidian y Chuaquico by Félix Martínez y Lorenzo. Photo courtesy of Leon Gallery

Rizal’s ‘Kapitan Tiago’ was modeled after this Tsinoy billionaire, financier of the revolution

Also Heneral Luna’s confidant, the Don collected varied memorabilia, among them an intriguing saber coming up for auction this December
E.A. Sta. Maria | Nov 26 2021

Even in the 19th century, the Filipino Chinese were a formidable force. Presiding over vast fortunes built on property and enterprise, they controlled entire industries and various crops. Their children would continue to be not only immensely talented in business but also well-educated, highly cultivated personages, and collectors of the finest art and books.

In the case of Don Telesforo Antonio Chuidian, his father was a successful merchant who originally came from Amoy (Xiamen). He inherited the family business in his teens upon his father’s untimely demise. He quit his schooling at the Ateneo de Manila to devote his energy full-time to business, setting up with Manuel Buenaventura the partnership Chuidian Buenaventura y Cia. 

The Telesforo Chuidian Sword
The Telesforo Chuidian Sword, engraved with 3k nn cv 1899 • ca. 1899, blade: 32" (81 cm), handle: 5" (13 cm), hilt: 4 1/2" (11 cm), knuckle guard: 5" x 2 1/2" (13 cm x 6 cm)

The venture did a roaring trade, providing cash loans for coffee traders in Lipa and sugar businessmen in the rest of Batangas. Chuidian would become so successful he would acquire several haciendas as well as numerous properties in Manila.

Chuidian, at one time, even asked his partner Buenaventura, a lawyer, to represent the embattled Rizal family in their land dispute with the friars. A son-in-law, General Jose Alejandrino, would recount that Telesforo was indeed the model for Kapitan Tiago, whose fabulous home was immortalized in the first chapter of José Rizal’s iconic novel, “Noli Me Tángere.”

Philippine Flag
Philippine Flag c. 1899, used by the forces under the command of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, 20" x 36" (51 cm x 91 cm)

With the outbreak of the Philippine-American War, Chuidian was targeted and imprisoned in Fort Santiago in a dungeon so dismal that water would be up to his neck during high tide. As a result, he contracted tuberculosis which eventually led to his death in 1903, which was years after his release. Family legend has it that he paid for his freedom with a bribe of a bayong (tall basket) filled with magnificent jewels. 

In the course of his colorful life and his adventures, Chuidian collected various objects and memorabilia. Among them is an intriguing officer’s saber that will be up for bids at the Leon Gallery Kingly Treasures Auction this coming December 4. The object was part of an assembly of military weapons the businessman would pass on to his son, Don Telesforo Eduardo.

American Flag
American Flag, with 45 stars c. 1896 - 1908, 18 1/2" x 36" (47 cm x 91 cm)

Family lore has it that Chuidian’s standing as one of the wealthiest men in the Philippines — and his staunch patriotism — made him an early contributor to the secret society of the Katipunan and later the government of Emilio Aguinaldo in which he served as minister of finance. With vast landholdings in Batangas and Cavite, Chuidian was an influential patron of the Revolution in those parts and would receive many such weapons as tokens of their esteem.

The saber in question, of the kind used by the Russian dragoons in the late 19th century, is said to have found its way to Don Telesforo Antonio from a grateful Filipino revolutionary general. Engraved in Cyrillic (the Russian script), it may have been particularly selected for the abbreviation “3K” — that would have corresponded to the KKK — engraved on the base of its grip. Beside the letters is the date 1899, putting it squarely in the period of the Philippine-American War.

Félix Martínez y Lorenzo
Portrait of Don Telesforo Antonio Chuidian y Chuaquico by Félix Martínez y Lorenzo, late 19th century, oil on canvas, 29 1/2" x 24" (75 cm x 61 cm)

(Incidentally, there are three flags that tell the history of our nation also featured in the Kingly Treasures Auction: A Spanish banner captured from Intramuros by the American forces; an American flag also from the period; and a Filipino one, used by the forces of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo during the ensuing Philippine-American War.)

The Chuidian family historians say that Don Telesforo Antonio was a trusted confidante of General Antonio Luna and that he was, in fact, one of the last persons to see Luna alive. The story handed down several generations is that the fierce general had come to see Don Telesforo to collect a large contribution in gold to buy arms and pay the army’s soldiers. 

Spanish Flag
Spanish Flag taken from the Aduana (Custom House) at the Walled City of Intramuros. By Company C, 23rd US Infantry on 22 December 1898, presented by Maj. James A. Frye, Camp No. 20, USWV (United Spanish War Veterans) by Comrade PC James A. Mandeville , 28" x 27" (71 cm x 69 cm)

But Luna would be summoned to meet Emilio Aguinaldo and his fatal destiny; he would supposedly make an unexpected detour and leave the bullion with his mistress in Tarlac for safekeeping on the dangerous roads. That treasure would disappear forever after Luna’s death. All that remains, perhaps, is the saber that could have been a gift from a grateful soldier such as the impassioned Heneral. 

[The items for the upcoming Kingly Treasures Auction are available for viewing from November 27 to December 3, Saturday to Friday, from 9 AM to 7 PM, at León Gallery, G/F Eurovilla 1, Rufino corner Legazpi Streets, Legaspi Village, Makati City. The Kingly Treasures Auction 2021 is co-presented by ANCX.ph, the urban man’s guide to culture and style, and the lifestyle website of the ABS-CBN News Channel. 

For further inquiries, email info@leon-gallery.com or contact +632 8856-27-81. To browse the catalog, visit www.leon-gallery.com. For updates, follow León Gallery on their social media pages: Facebook - www.facebook.com/leongallerymakati and Instagram @leongallerymakati.]

Photos courtesy of Leon Gallery