May 30, 2003
REINERIO A. ALBA
A quick look at the fact sheet provided by the Department of Tourism’s Region VI Office reveals that Iloilo city is an “educational center” with five universities, two medical schools and 14 (imagine!) others offering tertiary education. The DOT fact sheet also offers that Iloilo has the oldest existing educational institution—Jaro’s Colegio de San Jose (1872), as well as the oldest public elementary school in the country—Molo’s Baluarte Elementary School founded in 1905 by Rosendo Mejica, the same person whose house had been turned into a museum.
Fort San Pedro
Fort San Pedro, down Gen. Hughes highway, was built by the Spaniards in the early 1600’s and was attacked by the Dutch, British, American, Japanese troops. The Fort, these days, has become no more than a promenade area for both young and old, much like Manila’s Roxas boulevard. Across from it lay quietly the Guimaras islands, purported to be the island of the sweetest mangoes in the whole of the country.
Museo Iloilo was designed by Ilongo architect Sergio Penasales, the same architect who did Antique’s Barbaza Catcholic Church –the church that was said to have the “most modern architectural style in the whole province of Antique.” Museo Iloilo’s permanent exhibit covers the cultural history of Western Visayas from prehistory to contemporary history. Inside is the carbon-q4 dated fossils, the swords and spears of the Mondo tribe of Panay, and the permanent exhibit showing an Ati family. What could surprise any visitor is the santo entiero or the dead Christ with a white hanky around its head. It looks so much like a preserved body of a dead person especially with the shriveled skin at its shoulders.
Houses and Bamboos
Visit the Carmelite Missionaries (CM) Bamboocraft at 2 Jereo St., at La Paz. The store is a joint effort of the Carmelite Missionaries and the Bishops’ Business Conference of Iloilo. Most of its workers are out-of-school youths from Dungon in Jaro, and from La Paz itself. Their products include Christmas decors, pendants, wine holders, hand-made paper cards from bamboo skins, and the nativity or belen sets depicting the Holy Family as Filipinos inside a typical nipa hut.
Nelly’s Garden, still along General Luna highway, can get anyone curious because it is all painted in white, and is situated at the end of an expansive garden. The place is, in fact, for rent.
The more interesting house is the Sanson y Montinola Antillan house, a block away from Nelly’s. The house is reminiscent of the Gaston house in Silay, Negros Occidental. The similarities can be explained by the fact that most of the rich families of Iloilo, at one point, all transferred to Bacolod, instigated largely by the spirit of unionism that had workers clamoring for reforms.
The Case of the Growing Statue
The Jaro Cathedral is among the churches in the country that has its belfry separated from it — across from it, sandwiching the highway, and historically, was used as a “lookout” tower for sea raiders. The historical marker of the church states, among others, that Philippine hero Graciano Lopez-Jaena was baptized there.
The Jaro Cathedral is the first and only cathedral in Panay built in 1864. A high point in the history of the cathedral was the visit of Pope John Paul VI, conducting a mass in 1982.
Jaro itself has an interesting story: the town’s old name is Salog from the Salog river. For unknown reasons the Spaniards changed it to Jaro. One would want to visit Jaro again in February when its traditional fiesta of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria happens, which is said to rival the grand fiesta celebration in Molo.
Visitors nowadays can go up to a kind of loft at the front of the Jaro cathedral where an icon of a Madonna and child, approximated to be at least five feet, is located. It is encased in glass and is dressed in typical cape. It even has a large white choker around its neck. The image is supposed to be miraculous and is originally sheltered further up in a small niche atop the churchfront. Over the years, the icon is supposed to have grown in size, and when it could no longer fit the niche, it had to be brought down, hence its current location.
The Magdalena Jalandoni House and West Visayas Writers
Visitors to Iloilo City should not miss the Magdalena Jalandoni house. Jalandoni (1891-1978) is regarded as the “Grande Dame of Hiligaynon Literature,” and was the first to receive the Republic Cultural Heritage Award for Literature in 1969. The University of San Agustin, in celebration of its 50th year, also recently published her book titled Labi sa Bulawan, a three-act play written in 1932 that was toured in the various schools in the province of Iloilo. Interestingly, she wrote her first corrido when she was ten and her first novel Ang mga Tunok sang Isa ka Bulak when she was 16, an age when most girls were just waiting to charm their princes.
The house, which looks like a castle, is heavily protected with barb wires. But one needs to notify the keeper of the house, Jalandoni’s niece, days in advance, to get a visit clearance. Jalandoni’s contemporaries include novelist Angel Magahum, poet Delfin Gumban, poet Serapion Torre, poet-translator (from Spanish) Flavio Zaragoza Cano, essayist-journalist Rosendo Mejica, zarzuela masters Jose Ma. Ingalla and Jose Ma. Nava, playwright Miguela Montelibano, essayists Augurio Abeto and Abe Gonzales, the young novelist Ramon L. Musones, and the poet Santiago Alv. Mulato. The triumvirate of Gumban, Torre and Zaragoza Cano also ruled it out for years in poetry, their rivalry often magnified by the public balagtasan or poetic joust.
Thanks to EDSA Revolution of 1986, there is now an emergence of Kinaray-a writing along with Aklanon writing, and multilingual writing in the West Visayas region. The prestigious Palanca Awards has, in 1997, also included Hiligaynon short story, alongside that of Cebuano and Iluko, among its categories.
Important young writers in West Visayas today include (Hiligaynon) Alicia Tan-Gonzales, Peter Solis Nery, Edgar Siscar, Resurreccion Hidalgo, Alfredo Siva, Alain Russ Dimzon; (Kinaray-a) Ma. Milagros C. Geremia Lanchica, Alex C. de los Santos, John Iremil E. Teodoro, Jose Edison C. Tondares, Maragtas S. V. Amante, Ma. Felicia Flores; (Aklanon) Melchor F. Cichon, Alexander C. de Juan, and John E. Barrios.
Visitors can set out next to the nearby Biscocho Haus, located along Lopez-Jaena street. The store offers kinihad, banana marble, angel toast, paborita, ugoy-ugoy, pulceras, pacencia. It is interesting how specialty stores in the country become “hauses” as attested to by the store across from it—Squid Hauz.
Visitors to the nearby Graciano Lopez-Jaena house could be in for a disappointment. There is just the historical marker and a vacant lot behind the wall. One could not help but wonder how one of the country’s hero, or for that matter, his descendants, could not have left any decent house. It is ironic that across it stood the much-preserved building of The Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches.
The Church of 16 Women Saints
An Iloilo City tour is not complete without a visit to the nearest church—the Molo church. The historical marker reveals that it is home to sixteen women saints. Even our National Hero Jose Rizal had to see this place for himself en route to Dapitan. Inside, lining up the church on both sides are sixteen women saints in various iconic representations: St. Monica holding a bloody heart, St. Margarita crushing a dragon-like creature, St. Clara with a chalice, St. Lucia holding out a plate with her eyes in it, St. Isabel de Hungria with flowers abloom on her skirt, and St. Magdalene with a skull, among others.
A brief walk down Osmeña street leading to Oton would lead one to the Arevalo House of Weaving where one could find sinamay cloths. Its current owner is Cecilia Gison Villanueva, great granddaughter of the sinamay house’s pioneer—Capt. Victorino Chavez.
The Arevalo house is a two-story well-kept old house and at the first floor, one can spot a hundred-year old loom and a worn out vintage black Chevrolet. At the same floor is Mama’s Kitchen, which sells great cookies, and is owned by Corona Villanueva de Leon, Cecilia’s daughter.
When it comes to Ilonggo food, visitors to Iloilo are always advised to have a meal at Breakthrough in Arevalo and Tatoy’s Manukan in Villa Beach. Breakthrough is the famous seafood restaurant that could seat a thousand on weekends. Order a plateful of crabmeat, bangus, shrimps, and scallops, each sweet from the freshness. The best thing about eating at Breakthrough is that it is located by the shore so one could be relaxed into eating by the soft sound of the sea forever returning to the shoreline. Where Breakthrough is known for its fresh seafood, Tatoy’s piece de resistance is chicken. The place could seat a total of 2,000 people on a full day and is also located by the shore. It earns the reputation of serving the tastiest chicken in town.