I guess I was 6 when I first visited Iloilo and when my mom’s older brother, Tito Domeng, had passed away. At that time we, together with other relatives, stayed in my uncle’s house in Miagao (pronounced as Mi-yag-aw).
I really had fun memories in Iloilo.
My younger brother and I were terribly adventurous, restless kids! I remember visiting the town’s marketplace, swimming all day long on the beach, traversing hilltops and dried-up rivers, and simply playing with other town kids. Twenty years after, I just got back, and I was extremely giddy seeing those familiar places all over again.
It was already our third day in Iloilo, and mom proposed that we go on a road trip and visit the towns in the south. From the city proper, we took a jeep bound to San Joaquin.
Iloilo has around 40 municipalities and on that day, we passed by these municipalities—Oton, Tigbauan, Guimbal, Miagao, and San Joaquin. All in all, including the trip from Santa Barbara airport and to Concepcion, I was able to pass by 17 municipalities. Sadly though, I wasn’t able to visit the towns on the east side. I was even yearning to visit Leon, Igbaras, Pototan (dad’s clan originated here), and of course, Lambunao (mom’s childhood town, plus the mystique!). Maybe next time, I would. For a week of stay in Iloilo, 17 towns aren’t that bad as a feat!
These towns of Miagao, Guimbal and others are situated at the shoreline of Panay. Of all these towns we visited, Miagao is definitely close to my heart.
I even felt more proud when this town’s century-old church, the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva (or most known as the Miagao Church) has been recognized as World Heritage Site of UNESCO.
Constructed more than two hundred years ago in the year 1797, the Miagao Church stands as a living legacy of the culture and way of life of the people of Miagao centuries ago, anchored in a strong foundation of Christian faith. As most travelers would agree, the Miagao Church is one of the country’s architectural gems because of its unique and imposing designs, ornaments and motifs.
The artistic facade of the Miagao Church is decorated with a relief sculpture of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child amidst coconut, papaya and guava shrubs. Like any other foreign influences, the architecture of many colonial churches has undergone the process of indigenization. This process is carried out by incorporating the prevailing Hispano-American and Medieval Spanish architecture with local as well as Muslim and Chinese touches. Thus, the synthesized topology which is anachronistic with the unmindful sues of decorative elements. It had no distinction in terms of periods or orders. A truly ‘Philippine Church’, it exudes a native touch.
A large stone image of St. Thomas of Villanueva, parish patron saint, dominates the center. Carved life-size statues of the Pope and St. Henry with their coat-of-arms above them flank the main entrance. Supporting the facade are the twin belfries, one towering two-stories, and the other three-stories high. The church’s simple interior is nevertheless highlighted by a striking gold-plated retablo.
In Baroque-Romanesque style, the church sinks six (6) meters deep into the ground with walls one-and-a-half (1 1/2) meters thick and buttresses thrice thicker.
The creative and aesthetic abilities of Spanish colonizers are reflected in many colonial churches in the Philippines. This is especially true in Miagao Church – a world-renowned religious structure now included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Other interesting facts I heard about this church. Since there was no cement back then, the rocks are glued together using limestone and eggwhites. The adobe is made out of silt and clay that can only be found in Miagao; thus its solid rocks give this church a unique warm-yellowish glow. The belfry at the left-hand side facing the church is older than the one at the right (way obvious when I saw both sides). You’d also notice that these two belfries have dissimilar designs. It is because both were commissioned by two different parish priests. So the latter priest wanted a piece of the church for himself then!
An escapade on the road won’t be complete without the food trip, of course! Especially here in Iloilo or in any places in Negros, it is advisable to relish their foodstuff. “Namit gid” (It’s delicious) is all you can say every time you taste an Ilonggo meal. They’re cheap too. Plus, fresh fruits, veggies, and meat are almost everywhere! And they’re cheaper finds than those in Manila.
Ang sarap! (It’s delicious). Since day one, I swear, I just hadn’t stopped eating! My first encounter with these foods was all thrilling and satisfying.
I tasted varying kinds of soup cooked with batwan (garcinia binucao choisy), a fruit that is believed only indigenous from the Philippines (and possibly Vietnam) and is commonly used as a souring agent in Ilonggo soup meals. I love the distinct sour taste of batwan! It’s less sour than the tamarind or kamias yet it even has a uniquely sweet, tangy taste. This fruit is such a superstar because Ilonggos are fond of using this in any kind of their soup dish. And this fruit is also behind the success of inasal, I tell you. A little bird told me that this is amongst the secret ingredients. Aha!
I tasted almost all kinds of kakanin (rice cakes) in Iloilo, and man, they all taste so good! I love the puto malaphap (another rice cake), rice pudding with bucayo (sweetened coconut bits), suman latik (another kind of rice cake), puto gawa sa gata (rice cakes made from coconut milk), cassava cake, bicho-bicho (rice cake, too!), baye-baye (and another), and the rest I just couldn’t remember their names at all!
I ate a lot of inasal (special kind of grilled chicken). Here almost all kinds of meat and seafood are now inasal-ed. Oh, what to do! Haha. The pantat inasal (mudfish inasal) in Zarraga was my palate’s ultimate winner.
Well, for one thing, I grew up with the Ilonggo cuisines. Even those meals that you hardly find elsewhere, except in Iloilo perhaps, I was able to enjoy all mainly because mom cooks them, the Ilongga way! Luckily, her lola (grandmother) was able to pass on her traditional recipes and cooking practices by teaching mom hands-on. Now I hope I can spend time with mom so she can pass the baton to me then. She’s one awesome mom-chef. I wish I have her cooking skills.