Hosting several APEC meetings in 2015 is said to be Iloilo’s coming out party. It was one of the only few cities in the Philippines selected to host such events. And Iloilo prepared well to meet the challenge.
The 15-kilometer stretch of road from the new international airport in Cabatuan to the business district was converted to eight lanes, with two of the lanes dedicated to bikers and runners.
There’s the new Iloilo Convention Center that hosted several APEC meetings. This state-of-the-art convention center located on the same place where the old Mandurriao airport was once located was built on a 1.7-hectare property. Architect William Coscocuella inspirations for designing the center were Iloilo’s Paraw and Dinagyang Festivals.
Around the Mandurriao area are several sparkling new hotels. Along the Benigno Aquino, Sr. Avenue, there are several new malls already built while the old ones are undergoing expansions. Indeed, Iloilo’s transformation into a modern city has taken the fast lane.
The name of the city (and the province) was derived from “Irong Irong.” “Irong” means nose, and the name took after the nose-like configuration of the main settlement area during the pre-Hispanic era as so shaped by the river.
The river in the size of an estuarine also played a vital role in the economic development of the city. Its large mouth and deep waters allows big ships to go inside. This helped Iloilo to become one of the biggest trading centers in the south. In 1855, the city opened to the world and became the biggest port in the country anchored on sugar exports.
The city enjoyed economic boom for almost a century. This enabled the many sugar barons to build stately mansions around Jaro, Molo, Arevalo and La Paz districts. Many commercial buildings were also constructed along the streets of Iznart, JM Basa and Ledesma to meet the demand of a burgeoning population.
However, during the 1950s the economy of Iloilo fell, caused by rumored port mismanagement, political conflicts and big drop in the price of sugar. Traders and businessmen left the city, settling in Manila, Negros and Southern Mindanao.
It took almost 50 years before the city finally recovered. This time it was the growing middle class that helped revived the economy. They engaged in small- and medium-sized businesses, went back to fishing and farming, and gone abroad and sent money back home.
The local economy is now doing great. Iloilo has become the preferred city for doing business in Western Visayas. Iloilo airport became the fourth busiest airport in the Philippines. And the city continues to top the list of the most liveable cities in the Philippines.
How to get there
The quickest way to reach Iloilo is to fly. Flying time from Manila takes a little over an hour. There are also regular flights from Cebu, Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Puerto Princesa and General Santos. The new airport is in Cabatuan, 15 kilometers north of the city.
It is also possible to do land and RoRo [roll-on roll-off shio] travel to Iloilo. Regular buses leave Cubao daily and make an 18-hour trip to Iloilo. There are also regular fast ferries from Bacolod.
What to see, what to do
Mandurriao district is where most of the modern attractions of the city are located. It was originally the location of the old airport, that’s why the SM group built its biggest mall there.
When the airport was transferred to Cabatuan, the city government saw the opportunity of converting the whole area into a business district.
The first area to be built was Smallville 21. This is where one of the first business process outsourcing (BPO) centers were located. Soon after, several hotels, restaurants and bars were constructed around the area. Smallville soon became the “in” place where the young Ilongos would hang out during weekends.
Next to be built was the Riverside Esplanade. It was an ambitious project as the city government envisioned to build a park beside the Iloilo River. They commissioned Paulo Alcazen, who worked at the Singapore Quay and Riverside Esplanade. Today, the Esplanade covers both sides of the river, and has stretched beyond the 1.7-kilometer length to become the country’s biggest river park.
Megaworld Corporation, the company that bought the old airport areas, has converted the 72-hectare property into the new Iloilo Business Park. The Business Park now hosts several BPO office towers, two new hotels (Richmond and The Courtyard by Marriot) and the new Iloilo Convention Center.
Right next to it is the 21-hectare mixed-use development by Ayala Land Inc. The new Atria Mall was recently completed and a new Seda Hotel is now serving business travelers. An Ayala Technohubis was also completed to house several BPO companies.
While there are many new attractions in the city, this does not mean that the old attractions should be ignored. The city government have started a program to bring back the glory days of the old Iloilo. Many of the city’s American era buildings and mansions at the Old Downtown are now undergoing restoration.
The old Capitol Building or Casa Real de Iloilo and the Iloilo Museum are also worth visiting to get a better understanding of the city’s rich historical past.
Also worth visiting are the many churches in the city. The Iglesia de Santa Ana in Molo is also called the “Church of Women” because statues of women saints decorate its pillars. The Nuestra Senora de Candelaria Church in Jaro is where the image of the Blessed Virgin was blessed by a Pope John Paul II.
Where to stay, what to eat
Business travelers usual stay at Iloilo Business Hotel, Seda, Days Hotel, Injap and Hotel del Rio, while those on a budget go to Go Hotel, One Lourdes Dormitel and the popular Highway 21.
The city’s other attraction that is generating interest is its food. What was once only available in carenderias inside the public markets are now available inside the air-conditioned malls. The traditional Batchoy of La Paz can now be tried at Deco’s, Ted’s and Netongs. The traditional Molo soup is now being served in most hotels as breakfast soup. The old seafood and grille restaurants like Breakthrough and Tatoys have have grown in size and numbers and their menus have expanded to include baked scallops, managat fish and lechon. Even the old Biscocho House now has a modern coffee shop inside the Atria Mall.
While many things have changed in Iloilo, some things remain the same. One of them is the indomitable spirit of the Ilongos. This is their weapon that helped them bring the city back to the road to progress.