CITY OF Love it is, indeed. Having found love in Iloilo City in 1976 yet and remained steadfast with, in, for that same love in all these years.
Dare I declare then that there’s nothing unloveable in Iloilo City, notwithstanding Duterte’s unfounded and therefore unwarranted canard of it being the Philippines’ “most shabulized city.” Yeah, hogwash most sloppy!
As much a matter of fact as a matter of heart that every coming is an occasion to fall in love with the city anew, and at every going, a yearning to return again. And again.
As did I and a group of Pampanga media just this weekend past, taking part in Philippine AirAsia’s inaugural Clark-Iloilo flight.
In essence, Iloilo is two cities at once: Old World and millennial. At its grand and glorified, edifying and enriching best in both.
The city’s legacy of faith is not merely displayed but all-too abiding in its magnificent churches, arguably grander than Pampanga’s own edifices of faith.
The San Jose Church, locus of the city’s signature Dinagyang Festival. The seat of the Archdiocese of Jaro that is the Nuestra Senora de Candelaria Cathedral with its separate belfry. The Sta. Ana Church of Molo, so-called “feminist church” for its exclusive array of santas for veneration.
At the city’s periphery is the most ornate, if not the grandest, of Iloilo’s churches that is the Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Church, better known as Miag-ao Church.
Predominantly baroque, local elements – coconut and papaya trees among native flora – are incorporated in the façade of yellow ochre limestone, making it a one-of-a-kind church, at least in this part of the Catholic world, meriting no less than a UNESCO Heritage Site status.
Even more unique – “of all churches in the whole of the solar system,” as our tour guide West Visayas State University Prof. David Quimpo put it – is the San Joaquin Church.
Instead of the usual images of Jesus Christ and patron saints niched or in relief motif on the façade, the church has a battle scene – inscribed Rendicion d Tetuan – celebrating the victory of Catholic Spain against Moors in the Battle of Tetuan in Morocco in 1860. War as centerpiece theme of a holy edifice. Where else in the universe, indeed!
A commonality among all these legacy churches of Iloilo is their dual purpose of being places of worship as well as fortresses against marauding Moro pirates. Hence the massiveness of their walls and foundations, which has served them well in times of earthquakes and other disasters, both natural and man-made. Pity that its is churchmen themselves that have been reported to have irretrievably damaged the antiquity of some churches in their vain pursuit of rehabilitating and modernizing them. Majesty The city’s rich cultural heritage is not merely showcased but actually lived in its stately mansions, unarguably more majestic than Vigan’s. Straight out of epoca bella and still resplendent are the villas grandes bearing the names of the local aristocracy – Ledesma, Lizares, Locsin, Lopez, Consing, Montinola, Javellana. Add Nelly’s Garden there too.
If only for a night, Capampangan pesantes had a fill of the sumptuous comida del haciendero complete with the turn-of-the century ambience at the Camina’s Balay nga Bato. Five kinds of ensaladas and pancit Molo for starters, four kinds of rice and a stream of pork, fish, chicken dishes for entrée, fruits and chocolate de baterol for a most gratifying gustatory finis.
Pampanga prides itself as the “culinary capital of the Philippines” but Iloilo cannot be far behind.
While famous for its signature gastronomic fares of La Paz batchoy – the best at Netong’s inside the public market – pancit Molo and chicken inasal, there are a lot more in the Ilonggo menu to sate even the most finicky gourmet. Like KBL — for kadios, baboy, langka soupy vegetable dish – kinilaw nga isda, sinugba nga baboy, and sisi – blanched small oysters dipped in sinamak, a mixture of vinegar, chili peppers, garlic, onions, ginger and turmeric. Best served at Tatoy’s Manokan and Seafood, and at Breakthrough by the Villa Beach.
All comfort foods that have withstood the invasion of the American hamburger, the Korean kimchi and the Japanese sushi. Not to mention the German bratwurst and the English scones and sandwiches.
All coming in droves with the “malling” of Iloilo that commenced with SM City and transformed the once swampy area and saltbeds around the old airport into a virtually new city still in a flux of construction with the country’s big names in commerce and industry – the Ayalas, Megaworld, Villar, Gokongwei – aside from the Sys and the local boy Mang Inasal founder Edgar Sia getting into the development frenzy with hotels, condos, BPO hubs, and shopping malls in the works.
Injap Hotel which 21st floor restaurant gives a 240-degree view of the city will not for long be the tallest building in Western Visayas. Its very neighbor, SM Strata stands to be a storey or two higher.
Amid all these strides to millennial modernity, the Old World charm of the city has not diminished any. In fact, one feels no jolting transition from old town to new metropolis, there obtaining a synergic complementation.
This is most palpable at the various bridges crossing the city divide – lush mangroves banking the clean, garbage-free river evoking some primeval pristine ecosystem, bordered by a serpentine red-brick walkabout pavement called The Esplanade. All in keeping with the laidback attitude, the unhurried pace of old provincial living in a cosmopolitan setting.
Glorious past living in a grand present, making the best of both worlds. Who would not be in love with Iloilo City?