Iloilo City is synonymous to Dinagyang Festival, its delectable heirloom cuisine, well-preserved heritage structures and warm hospitality.
The capital of Iloilo province, which recently marked its 80th Charter Day in August, has a colorful past dating back to the arrival of the legendary 10 Bornean datus in the 12th century and purchased Panay Island with a golden salakot.
In the 1800s, it had titles, like La Muy Leal Y Noble Ciudad (The Most Loyal and Noble City) and later, Queen Regent’s City in the South, given by the Spanish Queen Regent Maria Cristina. These official accolades have made this urban center the first “queen city” in the south because of its vital role in the political, economic and religious landscape during the colonial period.
But far more than a museum town frozen in time, Iloilo is an emerging metropolis and a preferred site for business and leisure.
Its modern face is represented by Megaworld’s Iloilo Business Park, a master-planned development where major firms have made their presence felt. The enclave teems with lifestyle shops, dining outlets, star-rated hotels, and mixed-use buildings to cater to a growing urban hub.
The core of this township is the Iloilo Convention Center, which aims to make the city a new hub for MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions), a growing sector of the tourism industry.
Referred to as Icon, this state-of-the-art facility is at par with the country’s best, and has played host to prestigious events, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ministerial conferences, the ASEAN 50 Summit, and the Charter Day concert of the Manila Symphony Orchestra.
Prominent hotel chains, among them Marriott, Richmonde, and Seda have sprouted around the area to cash in on the boom in visitor arrivals that reached 994,923 in 2016 and plowed more than P18.7 billion to the local coffers.
This phenomenal tourism growth is due to the city’s accessibility with flights from Manila, and key cities such as Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Davao. Malaysia-based budget Air Asia started serving the Iloilo route with three flights daily in October.
A new source of pride among the Ilonggos is the Iloilo River Esplanade, the centerpiece of a comprehensive river rehabilitation program of the city government.
Covering nine phases, the project includes river dredging, mangrove reforestation, landscaping of pathwalk for promenades and public recreation, which will have an aggregate length of about 10 kms when completed.
Designed by urban planner Paulo Alcazaren, the Esplanade was given the GantimPALA Excellence Award for Leisure by the Philippine Association of Landscape Architects (PALA) in the recent 2017 Landscape Architecture Festival.
An interesting addition to the city’s must-sees is the newly-opened Waterworld Iloilo in Jaro district, a two-hectare waterpark, the first of its kind in the world to be powered by solar energy. It boasts 17 slides, a 222-meter long lazy river, play area for toddlers, and family-oriented amenities.
Iloilo’s urban allure has earned itself a long list of national awards despite being alleged as the “most shabulized” city. It was named champion in the Asian Development Bank’s Livable Cities, and first place in government efficiency among highly-urbanized cities in 2015 by the National Competitiveness Council, to name a few.
Just recently, in October, it was named one among the five finalists in the search for Most Business-Friendly Local Government Units of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Despite its march to urbanization, Iloilo’s major tourist magnet is its wide array of ancestral homes that have survived the ravages of time. With the battle cry “The Past is Always Present,” the City Council has legislated the grant of fiscal incentives to encourage preservation of these antiquarian gems.
A number of notable mansions have retained their old world grandeur, among them Casa Mariquit, which houses the memorabilia of former Philippine Vice President Fernando Lopez, and the Magdalena Jalandoni house, now known as the Kasanag Well-Being Center.
The stately 1920s Nelly Garden, Iloilo’s “Queen of Heritage Houses” built in the tradition of Beaux Art of French chateaux, is a noteworthy mansion, which served as the colonial era’s social hall.
J.M. Basa St., known as the Spanish-era Calle Real, underwent a facelift to bring the downtown’s glory days. Aside from being an eye candy in their spruced-up facades, visitors can enter and admire at the well-preserved condition of the old buildings.
In the fringes of the city are the Yusay-Consing Mansion Mansion in Molo, the 1865 Camiña Balay nga Bato in Arevalo, and the newly restored old Jaro Municipal Hall declared an Important Cultural Property by the National Museum because of its exceptional Art Deco style.
An intrinsic part of the city’s living past are its historic churches such as the Cathedral of the Our Lady of Purification, the San Jose de Placer Parish, the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage Church in La Paz, and the Gothic-style Church of St. Anne in Molo which also hosted the MSO concert.
And with the past always present in its facets of daily living, Iloilo is a unique blend of an alluring bygone era and a comfortable rurban escape.