ILOILO IS IRRESISTIBLE

MANILA, November 22, 2003 (STAR) rendezvous By Christine S. Dayrit - Iloilo conjures images of a glorious past. In this side of the Philippines, manorial old houses sitting on acres of land bring back memories of centuries-old tales of the insulares and peninsulares. The province’s colossal churches rendered in Baroque and Neo-classic styles are enough to convert a non-believer to believe in the presence of a Supreme Being.

Our memorable discovery of the province started when we attended the Philippine Vegetables Industry Development Board (PVIDB) meeting in Punta Villa, Arevalo, Iloilo City. We were invited to the vegetable meeting by Director Ric Oblena of the Department of Agriculture (Region 4) and the Congressional Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries Management (Cocafm), chaired by Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and co-chaired by Rep. Alfredo Marañon Jr.

We were told by the affable Virgie Agcopra, Cocafm director, that the five-month-old PVIDB resulted from the need of farmers nationwide to band together in order to become competitive in production, quality, and market distribution of their produce. The board, Agcopra added, has made unprecedented success by having inked an agreement with the Philippine Association of Vegetable Importers to create the needed support from vegetable stakeholders for the production of ice berg and romaine lettuce. Angie Baldimo, Cocafm finance officer, shared that this is the first time ever that importers and farmers have made this sort of agreement.

At the end of the two-day vegetable meeting, participants were toured around the city by the gracious Arla Arenga. What better way to begin the unearthing of Iloilo than explore the resort where we were billeted: Punta Villa Resort in Sto. Nino Sur, Arevalo, Iloilo City. An elegant manorial house converted into a resort, the idyllic Punta Villa Resort is strategically located between Villa Beach and Batino River Punta Villa resorts. Punta Villa’s center of attraction, aside from its antique structure, are its swimming pools set in a lush garden and aviary.

The residential houses of the Lopezes, particularly the Nely Garden, are sights to behold in the town of Jaro. Made of wood and stone, the houses are revered by the locals as a testament to the splendid days of yore. As we drove through the major thoroughfares of the city – from Jaro to Molo, from Guimbal to San Joaquin – our senses were greeted by many grand houses of antiquity that have been preserved of by their owners.

To better understand the history and culture of Iloilo, it is a must to visit Museo Iloilo. After a brief courtesy call to regional tourism director Edwin Trompeta, he personally accompanied us to Museo Iloilo. The façade alone, rendered in embossed mural design depicting all the beautiful places in Iloilo, indicated what we would discover inside the museum. Elaine Flor, assistant curator, enthused that the repository houses an impressive collection of tradewares, heirloom pieces, relics and artifacts donated and loaned by civic-minded Ilonggos. My favorite finds in the museum: intricately designed jewelry and calcified cheeses from sunken ships.

Having viewed all the antique religious articles in the museum, we were all ready to see the grandiose churches all over Iloilo. The Jaro Church is truly splendid, one would think not only God was in this Gothic cathedral but also kings and queens from far away lands because of its castle-like bell towers. The awesome Guimbal Church is another massive structure symbolizing the utmost faith of the Ilonggos. The San Joaquin Church prides itself in being the only militaristic-type of church in the Philippines. Also in the town of San Joaquin can be found the majestic cemetery of Campo Santo.

"It’s serenity by the sea if you’re buried here," quipped Cocafm’s Lia Anonas, referring to the impressive location of the cemetery overlooking the beach.

Women wanting to be empowered by the graces of women saints have a place in Molo Church. This Gothic-Renaissance-styled church completed in the 1800s earned the moniker "women’s church" because of the presence of 16 images of women saints inside. The centerpiece in the retablo is the image of Sta. Ana, the patron saint of Molo. It was said that Jose Rizal frequented Molo Church because of its biblical paintings.

A visit to Iloilo is not complete without witnessing Miag-ao Church. The Church of Sto. Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-ao is one of the four Baroque churches inscribed in 1993 on the World Heritage List pursuant to the 1972 Unesco Convention that aims to protect cultural and natural heritage sites around the world. Miag-ao Church was built in 1787 while Fray Francisco Gonzales, OSA, was parish priest of the town and Domingo Libo-on was gobernadorcillo. The church was completed in 1797 and served as a fortress against Muslim raiders. It was badly damaged by fire in 1910. An earthquake badly shook it in 1948. The Church of Miag-ao was restored from 1960 to 1962.

Another highlight was our visit to a fascinating zoo where children and their parents can enjoy a leisurely walk in Racso’s Woodland which is a home to ostrich, eagles, turtles, deers, crocodiles, among other animals. The place also boasts of swimming pools, suite rooms, conference rooms, among other amenities.

Having toured Iloilo’s old houses and churches, it was time for us to sample the delicacies of Iloilo. When in Iloilo, it is a must to eat molo soup anywhere in the town of Molo where it all began. If you’re craving for La Paz batchoy, Ted’s is the place to be for your sotanghon batchoy or extra-na-super-pa batchoy that is truly delightful.

Iloilo indeed is a province rich in historical and cultural attractions. One can take home antiques, handicrafts, art pieces, native delicacies and a thousand and one more souvenir items. Iloilo is simply irresistible.

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For more information about Punta Villa Resort, call (033) 336-1106; Rasco’s Woodland, (033) 337-0033. For a guided tour of Iloilo, visit the Western Visayas Tourism Center on Bonifacio Drive, Iloilo City or call (033) 337-5411.

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I want to hear from you, e-mail me at miladay@pacific.net.ph.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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