The city of Victorias in Negros Occidental has a lot of secrets.
At present when almost every destination is written about in social media, Victorias hardly gets any mention except by a few of its residents.
During my MBA days, Victorias Milling Company (VMC) was a popular topic of discussion. An interesting case study of an agricultural company trying to survive in the age of globalization. Stories of failing sugar prices, increasing overhead costs and unfair competitions have marked the years of this milling company.
Today, if you go to Victorias, you will see billboards stating “No to high fructose corn syrups!” The use of the corn syrups is being blamed for the fall of sugar prices. This has even led to a boycott of a leading softdrink brand by sugar farmers of Negros.
At the forefront of the Negros sugar industry is the city of Victorias. It is here where the world’s largest integrated sugar mill – sitting on a 7,000 hectares – is located.
Another secret is that this place is known by different names in the past. It was called Tugkawayan, a small settlement of Negritos or Negros, during the early Spanish period. It was later changed to Mahilao because of the abundance of mahilao trees in the area.
During the term of its first gobernadorcillo, Gregorio Conlu, in the mid-1800s, his wife, Capitana Tutang, and her servant were captured by pirates. Believing that the two cannot swim, they were thrown out to the sea. While struggling in the water, Capitana saw an apparition of a beautiful lady whom she believed was the Blessed Virgin. When she reached home, she prayed and promised to buy the image of the Lady who helped and saved her. She eventually managed to order an image from Barcelona, but when it arrived, it was not that of the Blessed Virgin but that of the Nuestra Senora de las Victorias. After seeing the image, Capitana confirmed that this was what she saw while she was drowning.
The image of Nuestra Senora de las Victorias was said to have been seen by many people and it has protected the town from attacks of Moros and pirates. Because of these stories of miraculous incidents, the residents proposed that the name of the town be changed from Mahilao to Nuestra Senora de las Victorias. The governor of Negros consented, but only Victorias was retained as the official name.
Victorias has been a city since 1998. It has a population of almost 90,000.
How to get there
Victorias is 34 kilometers from Bacolod and 16 kilometers from Silay.
The easiest way to reach Victorias is to fly from Manila to Bacolod (about an hour). As the airport is located in Silay, it takes less than half an hour using an airport express van (parked at the airport) to get to Victorias.
For those coming from Bacolod, Victorias is served by regular Ceres buses at the north terminal. Those with private vehicles can also reach Victorias in less than an hour when using the new Bacolod-Silay bypass road. Private vehicles are allowed to enter Victorias Milling Company provided their drivers leave an ID card at the entrance. Speed limit of 30 kph is enforced inside VMC.
What to see, what to do
The city’s biggest attraction is literally the Victorias Milling Company. Established in 1919, this refinery is considered the biggest sugar mill and refinery in Southeast Asia. It supplies 28 percent of the Philippine refined sugar requirement. Going inside its compound is like going back in time with its lovely rows of American-era buildings and houses.
Inside the VMC compound is the Joseph The Worker Parish Church also known as the Church of the Angry Church. The church was designed by the famous Czech architect Raymond Antonin in 1940. The “Angry Christ” mural was painted by world-renowned painter Anfonso Osorio, one of the sons of VMC’s founder, Don Miguel Osorio.
The Church of the Angry Christ has a large garden where the children of VMC employees come and play. In front of the garden is the Carabao Sundial built in 1975 by the students of Don Bosco Technical Institute Victorias (its campus is located inside VMC). Sugarcane serves as the hands of the clock. The numbers for the time are inscribed on carabao horns.
At the entrance of VMC is the antique steam locomotive engine called Iron Dinosaur. Tucked inside is another Victorias’ secret, the 19-hectare, 18-hole VMC Golf and Country Club.
Outside VMC is the thriving city center of Victorias. It now has a modern mall, City Mall Victorias with modern fastfood stores and supermarket. But competing for attention are the Church of Our Lady of Victory and the Victorias City Hall, which was built in 1935.
Victorias also has the Gawahon Eco-Park with it secret seven waterfalls and the Penalosa Farm, a 3,000-square meter secret organic Eden located right at the back of City Mall.
Where to stay, what to eat
Lodging in Victorias is very limited. There are a few pension houses but they cater mostly to traveling salesmen. Visitors to the city usually prefer to stay at the nearby city of Silay, where they can sleep in ancestral houses converted into beds and breakfast or in Bacolod where there are plenty of options for accommodations.
For dining, there are several restaurants in the city offering the Negreses favorite dish kansi. It’s a beef chunk boiled for hours and soured by a locally-sourced fruit, batuan.
Every December, the city holds its annual Kalamayan Festival. It’s the city’s sweetest Christmas celebration, and it pays honor to its premier product: the kalamay or sugar. It’s the city’s way of revealing its secrets.