Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I had the chance of visiting Iloilo when the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines or FPOP invited me there (as the president of its Nueva Ecija Chapter) for a workshop. There are plenty of Augustinian-built churches in the province so I braced myself for the following task: visit as many churches as I can while actively participating in the workshop.

On Day 1, our group was able to visit 3 of these churches upon my prodding. First stop was the church of Nuestra Senora de Purificacion in Jaro District that was built by Fr. Francisco Agueria (OSA) before the mission was handed over to the secular clergy in 1865. The hero Graciano Lopez Jaena was baptized in the church on 20 December 1856. One of the church’s attraction is an image of its patron saint that was taken down from its niche in the upper façade of the church because it was said to be getting bigger, and now installed in the front porch.

The “other" church is that of Santa Ana in the Molo District. It was built in 1869 and is known to be a church of women because all the 16 images of saints installed in the church are women. In contrast, the “other” church of Jaro is known to be a church of men because all of its saints are men. Dr. Jose P. Rizal visited the church in 1896 to look at its biblical paintings.

We ended the impromptu visita iglesia in La Paz, home of the famous batchoy. Despite the steady downpour, I persisted in visiting the church. The town was formerly known in various times as Lobo, Llauon, Ilaod (“down the river”), Bagong Banua (“new town”), Iznart before it finally settled for its patron saint --- the Nuestra Senora dela Paz. Fr. Candido Gonzales (OSA) probably initiated the building of what is now the present church in 1870. The church as it stands today has been disappointingly “improved” (defaced is my more appropriate term for it).

Sinful Batchoy

The batchoy I know is sautéed pig innards with a soup thickened by blood and misua noodles, and perked up by ginger and dahon ng sili. I was thinking of something like this in La Paz but was surprised by the very different dish: the yellow noodles are similar to that of Pancit Cabagan (almost like miki), the soup has the texture of bulalo, the sahog are pork bits and slices of pig liver, and garnished with chopped lasona. The pork bits are a combination of lean meat and deep fried pork skin (i.e. chinicharon: between chicharon and deep fried). We had the original, calorie loaded and deliciously sinful La Paz batchoy at Ted’s panciteria --- said to have the best batchoy in Iloilo. Perfect for soothing away the cold from being rain drenched during my visita to the church.

National Heritage: A Bas Relief for Celebrating a Distant Victory

I made arrangements with FPOP’s Iloilo Chapter to borrow their service vehicle for an early morning foray of churches along the south eastern Panay Gulf coast. Manong Rolly of FPOP’s Pangasinan Chapter, Madonna of the North Cotabato Chapter, and Regina of the Negros Occidental Chapter decided to tag along. We set off the next day at 4 in the morning, deciding to start at the farthest town then make the visita on the way back to Iloilo City.

We arrived by daybreak in San Joaquin --- Iloilo’s last town before the province of Antique. At various times, the town was called as Soaragam, Suiraga, and Suaraga after a river that runs through it that in turn was named after a poisonous snake called siuraga. The Augustinians established it as a visita of Hamtic in 1581. There are no records about the early parochial buildings. By 1850, a church of “mediocre quality” was reported. Fr. Tomas Santaren (OSA) had the present structure built from 1855 until 1886 probably on the site of the old church. News of Gen. Leopoldo O’Donnel and his Spanish troops’ victory over Moroccan Crown Prince Muley Abbas reached the Philippines while the church’s construction is midway. Father Santaren had Felipe Diez, a Spanish engineer, and an unnamed Filipino-Chinese carver depict this event in a bas-relief installed at the church’s façade. It is entitled “Redicion de Tetuan” and show the Spanish troops storming the gates of Tetuan in Morocco. The great Father Santaren also translated the legends of Panay into Spanish and, together with his brother who is also an Augustinian priest, supervised the building of a road that connected San Joaquin with the province of Antique. The National Commission on Culture and Arts had declared the church as a national heritage.

From San Joaquin is Miag-ao where one of the Philippines’ 4 world heritage sites on architecture is located (the 3 others are the churches of Paoay in Ilocos Norte, Sta. Maria in Ilocos Sur, and San Agustin in Intramuros). This will be later discussed in a separate posting.

After Miag-ao is the town of Guimbal which started as an Augustinians visita of Oton in 1575. Its people are known to be “the best traders of Panay”. The building of the present church (dedicated to San Nicolas de Tolentino) was finished in 1774 during the term of Fr. Juan Campos (OSA).

Our last church for the day is in Tigbauan. Fr. Fernando Camporredondo (OSA) probably initiated in 1750 the building of the first stone church (dedicated to San Juan de Sahagun) that was probably reconstructed by Fr. Fernando Martin (OSA) in 1867. Recent additions are two fake bell towers that somehow gave a grotesque outline to the church facade. Tigbauan was known as “the land of the reeds”. Its annual celebration of the feast of the Sto. Nino attracts many devotees from all over the island of Panay.

I took pictures of Madonna and Regina during our visita. The soft early morning light combined with the reflection of rain wash is perfect. The ancient church walls are also excellent backgrounds. Madonna later said that they seem to be in another country in the photos; its almost like Europe. I told her they look like angels among Iloilo’s ancient church walls.

Janiuay's Cemetery, Cabatuan Church and Other Angels

The third day of our workshop is an exposure trip in Bacolod which is around 45 minutes away by boat. I told the workshop facilitator that I won’t be coming and would prefer hunting around for old churches (besides, I have already been in Bacolod). This time, my itinerary is in the northern part of the province.

I again traveled my way from the north towards Iloilo City. In Janiuay, I dropped by the ruins of the church which is currently being rebuilt. The ruins is the town’s second church built in 1839 mainly by F. Miguel Carod (OSA) and destroyed during World War II. In one of the shattered walls partly hidden by foliage is a couple in romantic embrace, oblivious to the world around them. Almost a kilometer away is the cemetery --- acknowledged to be the most artistic Spanish-era cemetery in the Philippines --- built by Fr. Fernando Llorente (OSA) in 1874, and still in use today.

From Janiuay, I proceeded to the town of Cabatuan and savored the beauty of its church (dedicated to San Nicolas de Tolentino) --- one of the largest and said to be the best ever built by the Spanish in the island of Panay, and considered a “model church”. Its builder is Fr. Ramon Alquizar (OSA) who started the work in 1833.

My next destination is the town of Sta. Barbara, once the seat of the Philippine revolutionary government in Western Visayas under its native son, Gen. Martin Delgado, during the country’s years of revolt in the late 1800s. The well-preserved church was started to be built by Fr. Francisco Agueria (OSA) in 1849. It was spared from destruction during the war against Spain and World War II, and was faithfully restored (including the convent) by Fr. Enrique Perez.

I ended my visita in Pavia, a not so old town having been established as an Augustinian mission only in 1862. The church (dedicated to Santa Monica) is similar to the Augustinian church of Pavia in Italy and was started to be constructed by Fr. Antonio Fermentino (OSA) in 1882. Like most of the churches I visited in Iloilo, both church and convent were used as a Japanese garrison during World War II and were raided several times by Filipino guerillas inflicting damages on the buildings.

Post Script

The last church I visited is that of San Jose which is just a 5-minute walk from the Iloilo Grand Hotel where we stayed. The San Jose District is where Irog-irog --- later hispanized as Ilong-ilong that means "something that is similar to the nose" --- was said to be founded by ten Datus from Borneo. It is also the old town center where American era art deco buildings are still intact. The Jesuits probably built the first church in 1617 --- the same year that Hilo-hilo was accepted by the Augustinians as a mission. In 1873, Fr. Mauricio Blanco (OSA) started building the present church where an image of the Nuestra Senora del Rosario, said to be found in a box during a raid by Dutch pirates on La Punta de Iloilo in 1614, is enshrined.

My brief interlude in Iloilo left me exhausted but very much fulfilled. I enjoyed the company of angels (Madonna and Regina). Most importantly, I have communed with the “Angels in Stones” of Fr. Pedro Gallende (OSA) --- imminent church historian and curator of the San Agustin Church Museum.

1 comment:

eman said...

Goodness gracious! Ba't ngayon ko lang nakita ito? Magkasama tayo nun, Sir! This is Eman from FPOP Iloilo. :-)