Iloilo City’s timeless glory

Molo plaza in March 1945 (left); Newly-restored Molo plaza (right)
Molo plaza in March 1945 (left); Newly-restored Molo plaza (right)

Iloilo City is one of the highly-urbanized cities in the Philippines today and is continuously on an upward trend in terms of commerce and tourism.

Let us not forget about the several museums here, scrumptious food, clean and tranquil surroundings, and green spaces like the esplanades.

The City of Love is filled with high-spirited and warmhearted Ilonggos. You will inevitably make a friend with one during your stay here over the Dinagyang Festival.

Dinagyang Festival is Iloilo City’s biggest religious and cultural celebration, held every 4th weekend of January in honor of Señor Santo Niño.

With all these developments, can you imagine what Iloilo City in the distant past was like?

Most of the visual documentation of the city’s past could be seen in a book and Facebook page called “Casanave: An American Photographer in Iloilo” by Mr. Nereo Lujan.

Left – Jaro plaza with the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Candles (Jaro Cathedral) in the background, circa 1950. (YUHUM PRESS PHOTO); Right – Pic 6 (present) – Jaro plaza today is undergoing rehabilitation with the newly-restored Jaro belfry in the background. (AJ PALCULLO/PN)
Left – Sunset at the Iloilo River, with large buildings on the right bank, circa 1915–1919. (ELIZABETH TOWER BAIRD-ORTIGAS FOUNDATION LIBRARY PHOTO); Right – Iloilo River is now a go-to tourist spot. The fresh river breeze is felt while watching the sunrise or sunset. (AJ PALCULLO/PN)
Left – Provincial Building of Iloilo, circa 1950. (YUHUM PRESS PHOTO); Right – Restored Provincial building, or what is presently called Casa Real de Iloilo, hosts some offices of the provincial government. (AJ PALCULLO/PN)

Lujan is the Public Information and Community Affairs Office (PICAO) chief and resident historian of the Iloilo provincial government.

Researching and collecting photos of landmarks, sites, or anything under the sun in Iloilo City’s past became Lujan’s avocation.

Through this, he said, he can narrate to Ilonggos how beautiful and dignified Iloilo has always been.

“These are mute witnesses to the glory of Iloilo during the American period,” Lujan said.

He mainly shares his finds on social media to raise awareness among his fellow Ilonggos, especially the city’s younger generations, of its rich history.

Some of these are being endeavored to be preserved by the Iloilo City Government, together with the national government agencies such as the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and the National Museum of the Philippines.

Left – Muelle Loney wharf in Iloilo, circa 1925–1940. (ORTIGAS FOUNDATION LIBRARY PHOTO); Right – Muelle Loney wharf today caters to sea vessels that carry passengers and products to and from Iloilo. (AJ PALCULLO/PN)
Left – Jaro Cathedral (center), Belfry (right), and Convent (left), circa 1915–1919. (PEDRO CASANAVE PHOTO); Right – Present-day Jaro Cathedral. Its historic belfry and carillon bells were restored by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) through the Iloilo City Government. (AJ PALCULLO/PN)
Left – Jaro Evangelical Church, circa 1914, home to the first and oldest Baptist congregation in the Philippines. (PEDRO CASANAVE PHOTO); Right – Present-day Jaro Evangelical Church still stands. (AJ PALCULLO/PN)
Left – Iloilo Customs House, also known as Aduana de Iloilo, is under construction and nearing completion in 1916. (ELIZABETH TOWER BAIRD-ORTIGAS FOUNDATION LIBRARY PHOTO); Right – Today’s Iloilo Customs House at the corner of Muelle Loney and Aduana Streets in Iloilo City. It houses the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Immigration offices, as well as the newly-opened Museum of Philippine Maritime History (AJ PALCULLO/PN)

“One way to encourage the preservation of these heritage [and] these structures, [is] to tell the people how proud this city was kag kon ano ang ipabugal sang syudad sang una, amo ni ang nabilin na lang,” said Lujan.

For the historian, once Ilonggos, especially the young ones, become more aware of how beautiful and rich the city was, they can contribute to pushing Iloilo City further toward greatness.

Left – Outrigger sailboats ply the Iloilo-Guimaras route and dock along Fort San Pedro in Iloilo City, 1953. (NEREO LUJAN PHOTO); Right – Present-day Fort San Pedro, where the Iloilo-Guimaras strait is in view. (AJ PALCULLO/PN)

“You have to restore pride in the Ilonggos. They will realize that in the past, Iloilo City was second only to Manila. Once they realize that we are rich in history and culture, they will help contribute to bringing greatness back to Iloilo,” Lujan added./PN


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