Exploring Local Spots in Iloilo 

By Ria de Borja

It was a quick, pleasant ride on an OceanJet ferry from Bacolod City to Southern Iloilo. We arrived at Garin Farm, an agriculture, leisure and pilgrimage site founded by former Congressman of Iloilo and Mayor of Guimbal town Oscar Garin, Sr. We were served local delicacies amidst lush green surroundings. Mayor Ninfa S. Garin gave a heartwarming and humorous speech to welcome Secretary Frasco and other important visitors, such as members of her family and DOT Undersecretary Myra Abubakar.

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There was a hike up several staircases in the open air to reach the pilgrimage site, with signs at the entrance urging visitors to–essentially–let go, meditate and let God. We entered a tunnel with no light, trying to find our way in the dark, probing the wall to guide us through. It was a metaphor for going through the dark before reaching the light. A passageway with light at the end led us to a highly stark and white staircase adorned with sculptures of angels. The sun shone brightly and the experience was meant to guide us to "heaven," or Garin Farm's version of it. There was even a choir singing Christian hymns as we climbed some stairs, which led to a space with white sculptures of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and other saints and Catholic entities. Atop a high perch was a large white cross, which was almost impossible to see in the sunlight. We were literally blinded by the light; we perused this as the goal to end the experience of the pilgrimage.

We continued the Catholic journey and went to Jaro to visit the historic San Joaquin Church. Declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines, San Joaquin Church was built in 1869. An Augustinian church, San Joaquin is a National Historical Site and contains three devotional paintings made of limestone. It also has a pediment depicting the Battle of Tétouan in Morocco. 

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Clockwise from the top: DOT Secretary Christina Frasco, the pilgrimage site at Garin Farm, and the façade of San Joaquin church.

Our travels then brought us to Miagao, where we went to the Miagao Church and were greeted by festive Masskara dancers. The church, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, is also led by the Augustinians. Constructed in Baroque-Romanesque architecture, its devotional paintings or retablos are gold-plated. Its pediment shows St. Christopher carrying Child Jesus on his back and there are also sculptures of St. Thomas of Villanueva and St. Henry of Bavaria.  

Lunch was at Miagao Cultural Hall, where there was a hablon weaving demonstration and a terrific dance performance called the Sayaw ritual. Mayor Richard S. Garin gave a welcome message and we went on our way to travel from Miagao to Tigbauan. 

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A festive dance for the western Visayas tour.


We drove by the Tigbauan church, known for its Latin American aesthetic. According to online research, "Many architectural descriptions of the Tigbauan church focus on the carved stonework at the front of the church. The design is described as Churrigueresque or plateresque. These exotic terms send everyone to their reference books to figure out what they mean. Churrigueresque refers to the florid, over-decorated style practiced by a family of sculptors and architects in 18th century Spain, the Churrigureas. . . In Mexico, the Churrigueresque ended up incorporating indigenous themes. Plateresque literally means silversmith-like . . . [or] intricately carved like a piece of jewelry. This type of ornate carving was popular in 16th-century Spain."

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After all the traveling, it was time to rest at the beautiful, spacious and natural Sol y Mar Ecofarm. There was a farm tour with a large lake and painters sitting by the body of water, oblivious to the world. It was a picturesque scene, and we enjoyed our snacks of corn on the cob and other finger food, along with refreshing drinks–while sitting on benches on the solid earth. Dancers several feet away entertained us while others in our group focused on a product bazaar and weaving demonstration. It was a relaxing and invigorating time in the middle of the afternoon–hypnotizing–with the breeze and the simplicity of trees and nature.

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We primped ourselves at the hotel for dinner at the Western Visayas Regional Museum. The required attire was modern Filipiniana, and we all got dressed up. There was a performance by the Ilomination Dinagyang Warriors during cocktails. The mayor of Iloilo City, Mayor Jerry Treñas, and Governor Arthur Defensor, Jr. were in attendance. Others present were Congressman Jojo Ang, Congressman Jam Jam Baronda, Vice Mayor Jeffrey Ganzon, Councilor Binky Tupas, Councilor Rudolf Ganzon and Councilor Sedfrey Cabaluna. Dinner was a showcase of delicious Ilonggo dishes, more of which we would be fed the next day.

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Molo Mansion

Batchoy ice cream, anybody? It was a treat for the senses and we couldn't get enough. We were at the Molo Mansion and also had delicious pancit molo soup in cups. The picturesque house, also known as the Yusay-Consing Mansion, has Neoclassical balustrades and high ceilings and stands across the St. Anne Parish Church, also known as the Molo Church. The church, known as a "woman's church" because of the numerous sculptures of female saints inside, was made a national landmark by the National Historical Institute in 1992.

According to visitiloilocity.com, "Molo Plaza, with its recent renovation, is now adorned by statues of Greek goddesses and a monument of Maria Clara. A fountain is also found at the center of the plaza, breaking the monotony of artworks." One of the most beautiful plazas in Iloilo City, it's an apt place to just stroll, enjoy the sunshine and relax.

We also drove by other cultural landmarks in the city, like the beautiful Jaro Church and plaza, the famous Calle Real, often compared to Manila's Escolta, Muelle Loney or Iloilo's river wharf, the historical General Luna St. and City Garden of Love. But we were in for a beautiful surprise at the Iloilo Esplanade 1, where we got to walk along the sun-drenched venue and watch a dance performance. The esplanade is perfect for skating and jogging, with its slightly winding path and an impressive art piece at the entrance. The Iloilo River Esplanade Project reportedly has won several awards, including the 2017 GantimPALA Excellence Award by the Philippine Association of Landscape Architects, the 2018 Haligi ng Dangal Award for Landscape Architecture by the National Commission of Culture and the Arts, and the 2018 Galing Pook Awards for Iloilo River Development Project. 

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Clockwise from top left: the façadeof the UP Visayas Museums of Arts, Culture and Heritage, a serious piece of art with coins, a stunning painting,  an exceptional sculpture.

Next on our tour was the impressive UP Visayas Museum of Arts, Culture and Heritage, which could compare to small international museums. Among its exciting artifacts were Filipino clothing and textiles, and old books. Some books were from the 1700s and written in French, with topics as diverse as hunting on farmland and architecture. The museum also contained T-shirt printing equipment and several old masters' paintings.

It was the end of our trip to Iloilo, and sure enough, it exited with a bang: a feast of delicious food from the region at the Camiña Balay na Bato. The menu was rich and diverse, with various meat dishes, fish, chicken, rice–and of course, molo soup. But best of all was the music. Some volunteered to sing classic Disney songs; at other times, old Manila tunes and Ilonggo favorites blasted through the speakers. We ended lunch cheerful, energetic and a bit sad that our time in Iloilo was coming to a close. 

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