Iloilo rising: Hometown of pancit molo, Jose Mari Chan & Grace Poe
WILL SOON FLOURISH - Wilson Lee Flores (The Philippine Star) - October 26, 2014 - 12:00am

Can the capital city of Western Visayas reclaim its old glory as the Philippines’ third most economically important city, next only to Manila and Cebu, a distinction it lost to Davao City?

Iloilo is the charming hometown of delicious Hokkien-influenced Filipino dishes pancit molo and La Paz batchoy (from the south Chinese Hokkien words “ba chui” or “pieces of meat”) soup; singers Jose Mari Chan and Jed Madella; the writer and anti-colonial hero Graciano Lopez Jaena; business tycoons like the Lopezes of ABS-CBN 2; John L. Gokongwei Jr.’s maternal grandfather, the immigrant Pedro Marquez Lim; flour mill tycoon Dr. Alfonso Uy of Amigo Terrace Hotel and Edgar Injap Sia of Mang Inasal; national leaders Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senator Grace Poe (Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago also studied in this city).

As a first-time tourist, I was impressed by Iloilo’s old-world charm, cleanliness and dynamism. The resurgence of this city is evident in the huge investments and frenetic construction all over the 72-hectare Iloilo Business Park (which includes the 3,700-seat Iloilo Convention Center) scheduled to host two ministerial meetings next year when the Philippines hosts the 2015 APEC Summit.

What are the various sights and experiences visitors shouldn’t miss in Iloilo City? Here are a few from my recent trip (not in any particular order):

Ilonggo foods. For a food lover like me, Iloilo City is a gastronomic paradise with a lot of diverse food choices like their pancit molo, La Paz batchoy, pinasugbo (banana brittle). Among the popular restaurants I enjoyed were Afrique’s, Tatoy’s Manokan & Seafood, and Breakthrough. Also highly recommended are places for sweets like the antique Panaderia de Molo and Panadeia ni Pa-a, also Biscocho Haus.

Heritage houses. Although Vigan in Ilocos Sur is more famous for its heritage houses since most of them are clustered along one street, Iloilo also has many such historic structures but dispersed in different districts of the city like the 200-year-old Casa Mariquit (I’ve visited at night, and I do not believe it’s haunted!), the sprawling Nelly Gardens or the Don Fernando Avancena Ancestral House.

Iloilo Business Park. The former old airport, this 72-hectare Iloilo Business Park is a mixed-development township project of Andrew Tan’s Megaworld and a powerful catalyst of Iloilo City’s renaissance. Megaworld is investing P35 billion in this project over the next 10 years. Tan donated 1.7 hectares of land for the government’s showcase project the Iloilo Convention Center, now being built with P700 million in state funds facilitated by Iloilo-born Senate President Franklin Drilon. Apart from luxury residential towers, office towers, two hotels, among the plans include the Megaworld Central Mall and the 1.1-kilometer Festive Walk retail/commercial strip. 

Calle Real heritage and culture district. This old “Royal Street” has old buildings with unique Art Deco and colonial-era designs, including the site of the Philippines’ first department store. It is the city’s old downtown. Dr. Jose Rizal was recorded to have bought a hat here in 1896 on his way to Manila from his exile in Dapitan.





Jaro Cathedral and miraculous Lady of Candles. Though this is the first and only cathedral in Panay island, built in 1864, and it houses a reputedly miraculous “Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria” Virgin statue which is the only Marian image crowned by Pope John Paul II, I was more thrilled to see the baptistery near the door where Senator Grace Poe was said to have been abandoned as a baby (later adopted by Fernando Poe, Jr. and Susan Roces).

Iloilo River Esplanade. This 1.2-kilometer linear park for recreation or sports by the Iloilo River was designed by Philippine STAR columnist architect Paulo Alcazaren, who also designed the Singapore Quay and River Esplanade.

Fort San Pedro. Completed in year 1616 and beside the domestic port, this is the former colonial military bulwark of Iloilo City and has immense tourism/cultural potentials.

Iloilo hotels. Among the top yet very affordable hotels in Iloilo include the 28-year-old Amigo Terrace Hotel with its own unique Amigo Terrace Arcade located at the city center. Coming very soon are the Philippines’ first-ever Courtyard by Marriot Hotel and also Richmonde Hotel, both of which are now being completed at Iloilo Business Park.

St. Anne’s Church or Molo Church, also known as the “Feminist church.” Tour guide Richard Paolo Poral said: “This is the only all-female saints church and also the only Gothic architecture church in the Philippines outside Manila. Built in 1831 with coral rock, it has 16 near life-size statues of female saints on its pillars. Dr. Jose Rizal described this as “La iglesia bonita” or “The beautiful church.”

Smallville complex. This is the city’s liveliest nightlife and dining center, where I relaxed on Saturday night.

Shrine of Sto. Nino de Arevalo. Reputedly miraculous, this is the third oldest Sto. Nino or child Jesus Catholic image in the Philippines and it dates back to 1581. A replica is inside the Iloilo City Hall.

Iloilo City Hall and City Gallery. A microcosm of the city’s past and present can be seen here, including busts of all past mayors, mementos of foreign sister cities, the rooftop terrace has expansive views of the city and the river. Dr. Jed Mabilog is the dynamic and young mayor.

Iloilo schools. Some of the Philippines’ finest and beautiful schools are in Iloilo, such as the 109-year-old Central Philippine University, University of San Agustin, University of the Philippines Visayas, etc. Downtown, I also saw the 102-year-old Hua Siong College of Iloilo from which singer-songwriter Jose Mari Chan, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) honorary president Dr. Alfonso Uy, entrepreneur Edgar Injap Sia and basketball athlete James Yap graduated.

Jaro Evangelical Church. This is first Baptist Church in the Philippines established by the Northern Baptists (now American Baptist Churches).

Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple. It is a Buddhist temple.

Calle Muelle Loney. This old river port of Iloilo was named in honor of the British Consul Nicholas Loney, who was the father of the Philippine sugar industry. It was established and opened to international trade since 1855.

La Paz Market & Madge Café. This public market is the birthplace of the famous La Paz Batchoy dish, and one of the best places to eat this is at Netong’s inside the market. Also inside this market is the popular 70-year-old Madge Café which sells good brewed local coffee for only P25 per cup and P30 for hot chocolate. Try their local pastries or the Ube Brazos from La Paz Bakeshop just outside this market.

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