Sunday, June 2, 2013

Iloilo City - Introduction to A Western Visayan Sojourn



Iloilo is Panay Island’s little gem. Steep in history, the uneven terrain of this Western Visayan province beckons with subtle seduction. In fact, nothing about Iloilo is outright impressive. But it charms in a slow burn a fuego lento. With a population of barely 1.8 million, the province is a bastion of tropical weather, the waters from the testy Pacific is mostly subdued by the eastern island of Guimaras blocking off direct monsoon effect, rendering a collected demeanor in terms of weather or waves much like its people: calm, soft-spoken, hospitable. Where else does the concept of “palangga” come from, but the moderate temperament of the Ilonggos, di bala?   


This photo only courtesy of wikipedia's Eugene Villar.
Iloilo City, though independent from the political assignations of the Iloilo province, remains the capital. The city is a habitable place for its 450,000 inhabitants. If Cebu City and Davao City were a relaxing alternative to the congestive bustle of Metro Manila, Iloilo City chills like a delectable popsicle on a blistering summer day. A regular commute in a sedan-style passad jeepney between 8AM to 3 PM will find you riding a public transport by your lonesome, as was my experience hopping between centro and Jaro, then again from Jaro to Molo, in very inexpensive P7 to P8 point-to-point fare.

DISTRICTS

The city is subdivided into 7 geographical districts, spread across 180 barangays with interesting names from Katilingban to Kauswagan, Maria Clara to Maria Cristina, Edganzon to Divinagracia, and tongue twisters like Tap-oc, So-oc, Ungca, Bolilao and Calahunan. But what’s more interesting than these government units are the 7 districts: (1) the City Proper has the most number of barangays (county) as well as the urban sprawl; (2) Jaro, (3) Molo, (4) La Paz, (5) Lapuz, (6) Mandurriao which is home to an SM Mall, the beguiling riverside Promenade, and the sophisticated leisure conglomerate called Smallville where bars and high-end restaurants hold festive nightly sprees and parties; and lastly (7) Villa Arevalo, a coastal settlement circa 1600s.




What does a visit entail? What should one expect? By whimsical fancy, I booked a flight to Iloilo on my way to Davao. Though I have been to Iloilo a few years ago, it was strictly for work. And there was hardly any touristic activity involved. I had ready rides from and to the airport, a hotel, and some people guiding me around the work place. I wasn't able to see a single place so it might as well have been a figment of the imagination, right? With that in mind, I did a fast research and read up, printed maps straight from the internet, oriented myself with the area surrounding my hotel, and started a mental checklist. Lo and behold, it was turning out more exciting than the nonchalant manner of hasty booking.

To answer the aforementioned question, I had to delve into a little historical backgrounder to put some perspective into this trip.


While the documented annals of Iloilo started in 1582 with the founding of “La Villa Rica de Arevalo”, now a coastal district of the city, stories abound regarding ten Bornean chieftains called “datu” in the oft forgotten 1300’s as they flee from a despotic ruler. Headed by Datu Puti, they sailed the uncharted waters until they reached the Panay Island. They were met by a friendly tribe of Aetas headed by a hospitable Datu Marikudo.

Seeing the possibilities of the place - and with virtually no place to call "home", the datus made a deal with the local chieftain, purchasing most of the lowlands in exchange of a golden salakot (a gold hat). To sweeten the deal, they threw in a golden necklace for the lovely Queen Maniwantiwang. The datus divided Panay among themselves while Datu Puti decided to venture north. Meanwhile, the aetas (or “ati”) headed to the mountains. The eastern flatland was handed to Datu Paiburong who named his conclave “Irong Irong”, which eventually evolved into what it’s called now.

HISTORICAL PARALLELISM

So goes the story of the purchase of Panay, which should be instructive of the validity of the 1878 pajak ("lease") with a handwritten deal between the Sultans of Sulu and a British company spearheaded by Austrian Gustavus Baron de Overbeck and Englishman Alfred Dent with Malaysia. The deed provided for an annual rental. Now, if you go by common sense, a seemingly unending yearly payment to the sultanate of Sulu from Malaysia should underline a continuous obligation that doesn't seem to have a date of completion. Isn't that “rental”? Otherwise, if it were payment for full autonomy, it should involve a bulk payment. The aetas might as well reclaim the whole Panay Island from the Bornea chieftains after, say, a decade or two if they were merely given a hat and a necklace. But in the olden times, a gentleman’s handshake was valid enough. Apparently, this isn't so.

But I am digressing. Anyhow, the events surrounding the Sabah conflict is contentious. While the Kirams’ claim could be valid, it shouldn't have employed undue violence. These days, only idiots resort to war. And Malaysia, having been left to exercise their sovereignty over Sabah for decades now, have the right to protect themselves.

Legaspi
Sometime in 1560, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi (left) set foot and founded a settlement in Ogtong, now Oton (a community along the highway en route to the town of Miag-ao).

However, this settlement was punctuated by repeated invasions and blood-soaked raids by the Moros, the British and the Dutch. All these resulted into a resettlement that had to strategically move eastward to where it is now - by the mouth of Iloilo River. In 1581, Spanish Governor General Ronquillo de Penalosa named this settlement “La Villa Rica de Arevalo”, Iloilo’s first capital and one of the first places in the Philippines to be named after a Spanish town, now incorporated as a district of Iloilo City.

This clues us in on what to expect in Iloilo: Spanish churches rising in every town, sun kissed beaches and, of late, malls, bars and restaurants. What's more interesting, the Ilonggos have taken to the color of white... painting every edifice, pedestals, amphitheaters and plazas in immaculate splendor. Moreover, Grecian sculptures of Athena, et.al. stand proud beside saints and heroes like Graciano Lopez Jaena (an Ilonggo, right) and Jose Rizal (the country’s national hero).

LANGUAGE

Most people speak Hiligaynon which others, like myself, refer as "Ilonggo", a descriptive term referring to (1) a person who hails from Iloilo and (2) the regional language. Hiligaynon seems more appropriate, as people from, say South Cotabato, also speak the same language, and they're not exactly Ilonggos (i.e. they don't come from Iloilo). The two terms are interchangeable. 

When asked the difference between the two terms, my taxi driver could only say yes to both: that he speaks Ilonggo and he speaks Hiligaynon, with hardly a difference. What's clear here: Hiligaynon and Ilonggo share distinct similarities - as well as differences - with the Visayan language, thus a "dialect". Regardless, the people here also understand Tagalog and, like most Filipinos, English.

I used to think that tourists use Iloilo as take-off point to the rustic charm of, and the powdery sands of Guimaras and Boracay, respectively. But I realized that Iloilo is replete with historical reminders from the country's colonial past. This is evident in the almost-rundown buildings of Calle Real, and elsewhere around the province. 

As earlier mentioned, the beauty of Iloilo City isn't blatantly obvious. One has to diligently find his way around to find them, like what a treasure hunter does for his precious jewels. Once you find these gems, you'd want to keep coming back for a second look... and a third.

Up next: Arrival in Iloilo City.

This is the Eye in the Sky!




7 comments:

shooting star said...

Some more pics of the island would have been nice!!

http://www.myunfinishedlife.com

eye in the sky said...

They will eventually be posted in the coming days. :)

NRIGirl said...

It feels like a page off of a history text unlike one of your travel journals; however lof of new information which I would have never come across. By never I mean ever! :)

eye in the sky said...

@ NRIGirl:

True. It's too specialized. :) And knowing that history doesn't amuse you so much, I understand. It will get better. Haha

Twin said...

Thank you for giving us a background of my villa LOL :)

Neil said...

Ilonggo is the people - people from Iloilo. Hiligaynon is the language of most people in the lowlands of Iloilo, as opposed to Kinaray-a, the language of most people from the relatively higher grounds.

Ilawod - where the river flows, towards the sea. Kun sa diin naga-ILIG ang suba.
Ilig - flow.
Iligaynon/Hiligaynon - language spoken by people who live where the river flows.

Ilaya - towards the higher grounds.
Inilaya/Iniraya/Kinaray-a - language spoken by people who live in the higher grounds.

Thus Ilonggos speak either Hiligaynon or Kinaray-a, or both. Some people in South Cotabato, North Cotabato and Bukidnon are ethnically Ilonggos, too. They speak a variation of Hiligaynon.

Neil said...

Ilonggo is the people - people from Iloilo. Hiligaynon is the language of most people in the lowlands of Iloilo, as opposed to Kinaray-a, the language of most people from the relatively higher grounds.

Ilawod - where the river flows, towards the sea. Kun sa diin naga-ILIG ang suba.
Ilig - flow.
Iligaynon/Hiligaynon - language spoken by people who live where the river flows.

Ilaya - towards the higher grounds.
Inilaya/Iniraya/Kinaray-a - language spoken by people who live in the higher grounds.

Thus Ilonggos speak either Hiligaynon or Kinaray-a, or both. Some people in South Cotabato, North Cotabato and Bukidnon are ethnically Ilonggos, too. They speak a variation of Hiligaynon.