ALL roads lead to Iloilo City today for the Dinagyang – a unique Ilonggo festival that literally means “merrymaking,” unfolding every fourth Sunday of January. First-time tourists gasp “ohs” and “ahs” as colorful contesting tribes play their choreographed war dances in four judging areas.
The festival is not all there is to go gaga about. The leveled-up Iloilo City itself amazes natives who have gone away for a long time, and now are wondering whether they boarded the right plane to the right destination. The expanded streets and landscapes look strangely different, what with new buildings – including high-end hotels and restaurants – mushrooming. Iloilo City has become a tourist haven.
Today, local and foreign tourists will have all the time to explore the new hotels, condo offices and shopping malls along the Ninoy Aquino Diversion Road, some of which resemble the architecture of modern-day Paris.
Food trippers don’t have to spend much to savor gustatory delights and drinks. They would enjoy more but spend less by patronizing the food festival at the City Proper throughout the day and night.
There’s more to Iloilo City than the day-long Dinagyang. The place has become a round-the-clock, year-round destination for the wanderlusts.
Iloilo City prides itself as another mini-Athens of the Philippines. Like Athens – the capital city of Greece that exploits ruins of ancient temples, stadiums and theaters to draw millions of tourists yearly – Iloilo is carving a tourism future out of a colonial past.
Two lady officials of the DOT – Regional Director Helen J. Catalbas and City Tourism Officer Junel Ann Divinagracia – are leaving no stone unturned in their common mission to maximize tourist arrivals.
Unlike Athens, however, it’s not the ruins that attract visitors. We are prouder of our preserved scenes and infrastructure from gone-by Spanish era that affords Ilonggos and tourists alike the privilege of time travel as boosted by a law that is continuously implemented.
When he was congressman, Mayor Jerry P. Treñas, filed an important tourism bill. It is now a law – “an Act declaring the Jaro Cathedral, Molo Church, Central Business District, Fort San Pedro, Jaro Plaza Complex, Molo Plaza Complex and Plaza Libertad Complex as heritage and tourist spots.”
The law obligates the Department of Tourism (DOT) to continuously upkeep the said landmarks through “a development plan involving construction, installation and maintenance of appropriate facilitate facilities and infrastructure which shall enhance tourism.”
The Jaro Cathedral has the distinction of being the first and only cathedral built in Panay in 1864. It was in this Baroque structure where Ilonggo hero Graciano Lopez Jaena was baptized in 1865.
The Molo Church, constructed in 1831, earned the admiration of the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, for its distinctive and dazzling Gothic/Romanesque architecture during his one-time visit here 1896.
The Central Business District or City Proper boasts of old or restored buildings dating back to the Spanish and American eras.
Fort San Pedro, built between 1603 and 1616, was the bastion that protected Iloilo from invading foreign pirates. Amid its ruins has risen a park with a statue of Jesus Christ.
The Jaro Plaza Complex includes the Jaro Cathedral, the Jaro Belfry, the Archbishop’s Palace and the old Jaro City Hall that now houses the Jaro Police Station.
The Molo Plaza Complex consists of the St. Anne’s Church and the Molo Plaza Gazebo.
Plaza Libertad, facing the old San Jose Parish, was where Spanish soldiers surrendered to the Ilonggo revolutionaries led by Gen. Martin Delgado on Dec. 25, 1898. Hala bira! ([email protected]PN)