Bulakenya declined proposal of King Norodom I

Last Updated on March 9, 2021 by OJ Maño

Who would have thought that King Norodom I of Cambodia would fall in love with a Bulakenya? As Lourd de Vetra would put it, “Tsismis Noon, Kasaysayan Ngayon”

Bulacan is the home of many beauty queens. To name a few: Gemma Cruz-Araneta of Baliuag (Miss International 1964), Maricar Balagtas of Plaridel (Miss Philippines Universe 2004, Miss Globe 2000), Czarina Catherine Gatbonton of Malolos (Miss Philippines World 2010), and Teresita Sanchez Torralba of Plaridel (Miss Philippines Universe 1953). There is no doubt that Bulakenyas are regarded as beautiful women ever since.

King Norodom I of Cambodia

King Norodom I
King Norodom I (1860-1904) – Photo from hubert-herald.nl

On August 8, 1872, His Majesty, King Norodom I of Cambodia, arrived in Manila aboard the French warship Bourayne as part of his Asian goodwill tour. The king wanted to establish a diplomatic and economic alliance with the Philippines and other neighboring countries in Asia. Governor-General Rafael Izquierdo welcomed his Majesty and his entourage in Intramuros.

According to historians, lavish balls and state dinners were held in honor of King Norodom I. He was very pleased, but he also wanted to meet the Filipino people in the countryside. He was fond of Filipinos because, when Cambodia became a French protectorate in 1863, the Spanish government sent formidable Filipino troops to reinforce their militia. Upon hearing this, the Conde de Aviles and his associates chose the Bulacan province to welcome the royal guests because it was one of the most picturesque places in the archipelago, according to them.

Remember that during this time, Bulakan is still the capital of the Province of Bulacan (1580-1900), before it was moved to Malolos shortly after the American occupation.

On August 12, King Norodom I and his entourage traveled to Bulacan, via Manila Bay. They welcomed him in a grandiose and festive ambiance, which delighted the king. Once he reached the port, the ruler rode an open carriage pulled by four dashing horses while young women lined the Calle Real, throwing colorful flowers on his path to Casa Real, Malolos. He arrived at the place and was greeted by the townfolks. Inside the main hall of Casa Real, they presented him with 60 young, demure women dressed in their exquisite native raiment and regaled him with their token gifts. The king was instantly mesmerized with two graceful sisters from the town of Calumpit: Josefa and Ana Roxas y Manio.

Bulakenya declined proposal of King Norodom I 1
Josefa “Pepita” Roxas y Manio (Photo from jstor.org)

Josefa “Pepita” Roxas y Manio was 20 years old while his sister, Ana “Anita” Roxas y Manio, was 14. Pepita presented the king a hand-painted fan, while her sister Anita gave him a pair of red velvet slippers embroidered with pearls and golden adornments. The king was very pleased with the gifts, as mentioned. According to historians, it was love at first sight; the king immediately fell in love with Pepita. However, she was unaware of the king’s romantic attraction towards her. Manhid ka siguro, girl?

Read The 20 Brave Women of Malolos

It was said that during the event, the king suddenly interrupted the celebration and formally proposed to marry Pepita right there and then. His Majesty joyously exclaimed to make her not just one of his queens, but the “first queen” of his realm. Ang haba siguro ng hair mo, grabe!

Pepita was startled, and she had to compose herself in that awkward situation. She respectfully declined the proposal of the King. In her charming voice, she said that she appreciated the high honor he was offering her, but she was constrained to decline it as she had vowed to devote her life to the service of God and her parents. Panalo, pang Miss Universe ang sagot.

The king was profoundly disappointed yet appreciated Pepita’s response. With a heavy heart, the king had to leave after lunch and toured nearby Malolos and Quingua (now Plaridel) that covered much of his schedule the entire day. He finally reached Manila at 10 p.m. but left his heart in Bulacan.

The king had sent precious gifts to the Roxas sisters through his envoy. He gifted Anita with a gold medallion with a chain encrusted with diamonds, pearls, and emeralds. It was inscribed the words: “Su Majestad El Ray de Cambodja a la Señorita Doña Ana Rojas, 1872.” This is translated to, His Majesty The King of Cambodia to Miss Doña Ana Rojas, 1872. Rojas is the Spanish spelling of Roxas.

Bulakenya declined proposal of King Norodom I 2
King Norodom I of Cambodia and his gift to Anita (Photo from FB\TheAmbethOcampo)

According to a news article, “Josefa was gifted with a solid gold jewel as big as a mangosteen, that her descendants used to refer to as the “gintong granada” (gold grenade).” The heart-shaped gold nugget was personally picked by the king as a symbol of his undying love for her. She, however, did not recant her decision but kept the gift for fear of breaking the royal’s heart twice.

His Majesty and Josefa never had the chance to meet again. She’s probably the one that got away (TOTGA!).


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