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Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Backpacker's Guide To Western Visayas

The residence Of Magdalena Jalandoni which houses some of her valuable writings


One of the well preserved watch towers in Guimbal


SEAFDEC in Tigbauan houses the facility for the breeding and research of fish and other marine animals.


Irresistible Iloilo (Part I)

           First stop is St. Vincent Seminary. St. Vincent Seminary is the fifth and last seminary founded in the year 1869 by Bishop Mariano Cuartero, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Jaro. This was founded to train priests for the different parishes which at that time were almost entirely in the hands of the Augustinian friars who were regarded as the Fathers of the Faith. Just fronting Jaro Plaza is the majestic Jaro Cathedral. Jaro Cathedral is the first cathedral constructed in Panay. Built in 1864 by Fray Mariano Cuartero y Medina, first Bishop of the Diocese of Jaro, with the help of Don Manuel Arguelles, ex-municipal head of Jaro, it was inaugurated on the feast day of the Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria on February 2, 1874. Its architecture follows a cruciform plan with a round, octagonal dome on its main altar. Pope John Paul II visited and celebrated mass here in 1981.
          The belfry you see over here was the former bell tower of the old Jaro Parish Church built in 1826-1837 by Fray Llavor but it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1948. Before that, it served as a lookout tower to warn people of the approaching invaders by the ringing of its bells. This belfry is considered an important religious landmark.
         Nearby from Jaro Plaza is the residence of Magdalena Jalandoni, the famed and well-loved woman novelist in Hiligaynon. Her place is much visited because it is a museum of historical artifacts. On the left side of the lawn, one can see life-size figures depicting Barter of Panay while in another corner is a set of sculpture, this time depicting the First Mass in the Philippines. Magdalena Jalandoni surely must have been a lover of history. In the ground floor is a rich collection of big antique earthen jars, paintings of rustic scenery and small dolls dressed in native Filipino costumes. A series of diorama depicting native Ilonggo customs and traditions particularly those of the country folks completed this collection.
          On the second floor, the walls are covered with large paintings showing important chapters in Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. On shelves below those paintings were 3-D dioramas showing rural festivities and other Ilonggo customs pertaining to marriage, birth and baptism. In a big room were found various memorabilia and souvenir items collected by the late Magdalena Jalandoni together with the original manuscripts and published book bound copies of her first and most recent Ilonggo novels. The whole house is really a showcase of Ilonggo literature and history. It was with regret that the group left the fascinating place.
          Another house of interest is the residence of Mrs. Letecia Jesena, Iloilo’s foremost collector of antiques. In the display room was a huge collection of antiques of varied shapes, sizes, forms and colors displayed artistically on tables, in shelves and on stands. They were mostly blue-tinted ceramics but others were made of bronze and compound gold. The next antique house was that of Mrs. Lourdes Dellota. Mrs. Dellota’s collection of ceramic pots and jars was arranged in elevated wood and iron stands near a double-paneled wall. Another group of plates, bowls and jewel cases was neatly arranged in half-opened glass-encased shelves in the center of the room. A wide assortment of intricately designed trinkets and body ornaments was also prominently displayed. In one corner of the room, a unique array of household tools and implements were exhibited on an open shelf.
          From the Dellota’s antiquarian, one can proceed to the iconic Museo Iloilo where the young people feasted their eyes on the history of mankind revealed in artifacts dug out of the earth’s surface. Just beside the information desk, a topographical ethnolinguistic map of Western Visayas in relief form was displayed on a white-painted panel together with an information module on the profile of Western Visayas.
Just right inside the main door, the Ati environment was recreated in the form of wooden statues. With it was a wall module containing selected weapons of the Mundos, an ethnic group inhabiting Panay’s hinterlands. Shown next were the relics salvaged from a British frigate discovered off Guimaras island in the 1980s. They included Victorian China, a bottle of English port wine and Glasgow beer. Personal mementos and memorabilia of Gen. Rafael Jalandoni, a narrative of the civilian and military resistance during World War II including an original copy of the radio message received by the Panay guerillas from Gen. MacArthur’s headquarters and the various types of World War II weapons used both by the guerillas and the Japanese, then followed by a display of a 250, 000 year old elephant fossil, stone artifacts of Panay primitive men and geologic rocks of the Cretaceous Period 25 million years ago.
             At the center of the eastern side of the room was a platform with religious objects of wooden “santos”, gold and silver chalices, bells and monstrances, with life-sized wooden statue of an interred Christ; Middle-Aged gold leaf mask for the dead, a reconstructed coffin, a collection of weapons, and Chinese porcelain and potteries of the Tang and Ching dynasties.
            At the northern side of the wall, a tableau of life-sized mannequins resembling quaint Visayan women weaving finely embroidered pinya garments greeted the roving weavers. Adjacent to it was a “babaylan” tableau of a witch doctor involved in a ritual initiating a newborn child into the world, graphically illustrating an aspect of the Visayan belief system.
           At the western side of the wall was a glass-enclosed showcase of a soil strata and composition of Western Visayas, the Western Visayas prehistoric period from Paleolithic Period to the Age of Contact with traders while at the northeastern portion of the building near the library, there were exhibits of paintings, sculptures, and prints of famous Ilonggo artists.
            Iloilo Society of Arts houses some of the precious galleries of paintings. At the second floor of the building, one can see a wide variety of paintings rendered both in conservative and in modern style, from Amorsolo and da Vinci to Manansala and Picasso style. At the lengthy pier-side street of Muelle along the intersection of Aduana Street stands a statue of Nicholas Loney with a usual historical marker embedded on its moderate-height base. Nicholas Loney is an Engineer and the British Vice-Consul to the Philippines assigned here in Iloilo. It was through his efforts that the once non-existing port of Iloilo was modernized which upsurged Iloilo’s economic progress through its sugar export starting 1855 and is opened to world trade in that year. The port grew with the sugar industry in Western Visayas, thus, promoted the rise of commercial and financial institutions in Iloilo. Iloilo then emerged as the biggest center of commerce and trade in Visayas and Mindanao. Now, Muelle Loney serves as the port of call for the titans of the shipping companies like the Negros Navigation Company, Inc., the Sulpicio Lines, and the Aboitiz Shipping Company and the government-run roll-on, roll-off (RORO) ships. Located at the southernmost tip of the nose-shaped city to the extensive wharf fronting Camp Delgado is Fort San Pedro park. Standing on a high pedestal erected a few meters away from the eastern seawall is the life-sized statue of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, facing the vast expanse of the sea.
              When the Spanish colonizers came to Panay in 1566, they made Ogtong (Oton) the capital of the province which comprised the islands of Panay, Romblon, and Negros Occidental. The Spanish Governor General Miguel Lopez de Legazpi appointed Gonzalo Ronquillo as deputy encomendero who in 1581 moved the capital to “La Villa de Arevalo,” a ‘sitio’ named in honor of his hometown in Avila, Spain. In 1700, due to recurrent raids by Moro pirates, Dutch and English privateers in Arevalo, the capital was moved to the village of Irong-irong where Pedro Bravo de Acuna, the Spanish ‘encomendero,’ built a fort close to the mouth of the now Iloilo River as a fortification against the raiders. The fort was first named “La Fuerza de la Senora del Santo Rosario” in honor of the Blessed Virgin of the Holy Rosary whose image was found on the mud by the carpenters building the fort. Later, the fort was named “Fuerza del San Pedro.” It was also the birthplace of the Iloilo-Negros Air Express Co., the first Filipino commercial air transportation and domestic airline in the Philippines founded by the Lopez brothers on February 3, 1933.
             Molo is popularly known as the “Athens of the Philippines” because of the numerous intellectual giants it has produced seven senators, seven governors of Iloilo, a Chief Justice and three Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, five generals and many cabinet members, three famous writers in the vernacular, and the first Miss Philippines and national women suffragist. It is noted for its coral, Gothic, Renaissance church built in the 1800s. It is also known as the home of the nationally known “Pancit Molo,” a delicious noodle soup originally made by Chinese culinary artists in the late 18th century, and the equally noted biscuits and cookies from the Panaderia de Molo. Molo was formerly called “Parian” because during the Spanish regime, the Spaniards, fearing uprising, rounded up the Chinese and placed them in the “parian” (Chinese quarters) in the place now called Avancena Street where they built stores for their wares. Because of the busy trading, it was later on called “Calle Real.” The famous St. Anne Parish Church with its lofty, tapering facade with pointed spires of the Gothic-Renaissance church can be found in Molo. Inside, the large coral-rock structure of the open arcade and the pillars do not really obstruct the movement from the nave to the aisle but allows traffic to flow freely from one section to another.
               The church was constructed in 1831 under Rev. Fr. Pablo Montano as parish priest and was completed during the time of Rev. Fr. Agapito Buenaflor. It is said to be one of the most beautiful churches in Western Visayas. Its design follows a three-nave plan. Parallel rows of slender fluted pillars made of wood divided the nave from the aisles. The composite pillars are richly carved while the open arched close to the cornices are shallow. The overhead appertures are inserted like lunettes through the barrel-shaped ceilings. One can see that the graceful curves of the arches matched with the dome-like ceiling of the main altar which harmonizes with the richly adorned statue of St. Anne and the more than a dozen women saints statue which stand side by side and fronting each other. The church is more popular because of its exclusively women saints statue which adorned the walls of the church interiors. Outside fronting the church is the beautiful Molo plaza with its cupola-structured “Temple of Gods” fountain standing at the center of the finely lawned grounds.
              Molo is also the home of the Asilo de Molo, Iloilo’s only orphanage and home for the aged. There is a workshop room where princely vestments worn by priests and church dignitaries were designed, made and embroidered by the orphan girls under the direction and supervision of a Sister of Charity.
Arevalo is known as the “Flower Village” of the city and of the region as well. It is commonly called Villa by the people, a shortened name for “La Villa de Arevalo,” the name adopted by its governor, Gonzalo Ronquillo, in honor of his hometown in Avila, Spain. During that time, this district was made as the political, religious and military capital of Panay and Negros Occidental. It was also the supply base of the Spanish expeditions to Muslim Mindanao and the Moluccas. This place is also noted for its fire crackers and fireworks factory which could be well witnessed on the eve of its district fiesta on every third Sunday of January when Arevalo’s skyline displayed colored and blazing lighting effects accompanied with the endless deafening sounds of giant firecrackers.
             Next stop is Oton. Oton, hispanized name of Ogtong, is the oldest town in the province of Iloilo. Its former name “Ogtong” means “place of devils and demons” so it was changed to Oton. Oton in Visayas means “reef.” It used to be a well-known “encomienda” of Don Miguel de Loarca. Before the town plaza one can pass by the Ampitheater Green called the “People’s Ampitheater” because it was built through the cooperation of the townspeople. Serving as a permanent backdrop to a concrete stage is a bas relief mural depicting salient points in the town’s history. Beside the ampitheater is the modernized children’s playground with its complete playground facilities and apparatuses.
             Next is Tigbauan where the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) can be found. SEAFDEC is a fish research facility where different variety of fish and prawns are being stored for breeding and further study for research. Tigbauan comes from the word “tigbao” meaning “reed.” Therefore, Tigbauan means the “land of the reeds.” It was the site of the first Jesuit boarding school established by Fr. Pedro Chirino, the great Spanish historian. Fronting its plaza is Tigbauan’s Baroque yellow sandstone church with its facade decorated with carved shapes of cherubs and other intricate designs above the arched main entrance door. The church is made of yellow sandstone and corals and its ornaments are rather curved rather than straight and all its design were exaggerated to convey a theatrical effect. At the plaza can be found the statue of Gen. Fermin Rivas standing erect at the center of the two busts of World War II heroes at the place called as “Heroes Shrine.” Gen. Fermin Rivas was the Central Zone Commander of the Ilonggo revolutionaries who called themselves “Ejercito Libertador” during the Philippine Revolution of 1898. The two World War II heroes who were enshrined here were native Tigbauanons who led the Filipino-American forces in the liberation of Tigbauan as well as the whole of Panay from the hands of Japanese. Parara beach in Tigbauan has a significant place in history. Here on this beach, the Americans landed on March 18, 1945 to start the liberation of Panay. From here, the elements of the 40th Cavalry (Sunburst) Division of the U.S. 8th Army under Maj. Gen. Ralph Bush entered the city of Iloilo already cleared of the enemies by the guerillas under Col. Macario Peralta Jr. which completed the liberation of the city from the hands of the Japanese. The historical marker is composed of the bust of three World War II heroes above which a replica of a battleship cast in concrete was perched atop a concrete pedestal.
               One can notice the four ruins of the Moro watchtowers upon entering Guimbal looming like squat giants with its massive, deteriorating coral-stone structure partially covered with mosses and ferns at the sides and thick shrubs at the top. These Moro watchtowers were constructed around 17th century to warn the natives and the Spanish authorities of the impending Moro pirates attacks. There is also another separate isolated watch tower from these with a half-submerged coral stone base and tapered conical-shaped tower jutting around eight feet above its base. At the mid-section of the conically shaped tower is a horizontal peep hole through which one could easily view the approaching enemy but could not be easily seen by the enemy himself. This tower is exceptionally neat as it has no weeds, mosses, ferns or shrubs growing around it.
               Guimbal plaza has an underground ampitheater and colored fountains. At the left side of the road facing the plaza is a yellow sandstone church and just across the street beside it is the municipal hall which retained its colonial structure. The yellow sandstone church of Guimbal was built by Father Campos at the same time with the watch tower at the beach. Its Spanish-Filipino vintage towers were built by Fr. Agustin Llorente together with the stone-walled cemetery located farther from the church.
               As one leaves Guimbal, it may pass the Pedro G. Trono Bride, the longest steel bridge in Panay. After Guimbal, the municipality of Miag-ao is next where the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site Miag-ao church is located.
               This Baroque church was built both as a place of worship and as a fortress against the Muslim pirates terrorizing the coastal towns of Panay during the Spanish times. Its area is almost 38 meters wide and 72 meters long. The construction of this church was started on a Saturday in 1786 by Fr. Francisco Gonzales Maximo and was completed in 1797. It has withstood all earthquakes and typhoons including the powerful earthquake of January, 1948 which reduced 80% of Panay Island to rubbles. The huge stones used in the construction were quarried from Sitio Tubo, San Joaquin, and from the mountains of Igbaras. The foreman was a certain Matias from Igbaras but had to be replaced by a certain Aquino from Alimodian because he had to help complete the church in his hometown. It was constructed on top of a hill called “Tacas” overlooking Miag-ao River. This church has been called the most Filipinistic of our churches because it exudes the native touch with its facade ornately decorated with reliefs of coconut, banana and papaya trees and stylized guava fruits. Immediately below the pediments, carved in a niche, is a small relief sculpture of Saint Christopher carrying the Christ Child. Centerpiece of the facade is an oval cavity which has the statue of St. Thomas of Villanova, patron saint of the town. It is also called as a unique explosion of botanical motif reminiscent of Aztec art. Its massive, four-storey fortress-like belfry was built to provide protection for the faithful from Muslim raiders. The two massive towers are not alike in terms of shape and size because the priest foreman in charge of the building died before he could finish the job and his successor deviated from the original plan. By virtue of Presidential Decree 260, 1 August 1973 as amended by Presidential Decree 375, 14 January 1974, this church was declared as a National Landmark. In 1994 it was listed by the UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Sites. At the belfry, one can see the large bells with inscription: “N.P.S.N. Agustin, Siendo Carra Parroca, De Este Pueblo de Miag-ao, R.P.E. Jose Laviana.” It must be that of Agustin, maker of the bells and the bells were acquired during the time of Father Jose Laviana as the parish priest. University of the Philippines Visayas Campus can also be found in Miag-ao.

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