San Joaquin: Iloilo's Quaint & Historic Town

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Pasungay Festival
San Joaquin Catholic Cemetery
Ruins of the Convent
Punta Beach
Town Plaza
Campo Santo
Miagao Fortress Church

Flag of Philippines  , Western Visayas,
Friday, January 15, 2010

San Joaquin: Iloilo's Quaint and Historic Town

Day 1: Back to my Roots

                 It has been 13 years since I left Iloilo back to Manila and it was always been my plan to go back for a vacation especially during the much anticipated town fiesta in the month of January. That long overdue plan did materialize late last year when I invited my newly-wed friends Ces and Adrey to come with me in my homecoming.

               San Joaquin was my home for 10 years. I was not born there but I studied there until first year high school. The town became my home away from home and I was able to meet relatives and found friends dear to me during that stay. I lived there under the care of my paternal grandparents and aunts who all served as my parents.

                It is fun to note though that my stay there was supposedly just a vacation together with my older brother Ogie. It was even funnier to say that we are not even supposed to go to Iloilo the time our aunt brought us there. Maybe, it was due to circumstances relating to the conflict between my parents.

                Nonetheless, it was a fruitful stay. My interest to history and Spanish Colonial Churches started there with the help of my Lola Visit. I could still remember her telling me a story about the San Joaquin Catholic Church, on where the materials came from, on how it was constructed, and how beautiful the painted ceiling was before.

San Joaquin, Iloilo

                The town was said to be the site where the ten datus from Borneo led by Datu Puti landed in mid 13th century. The other datus were Balkasusa (Balensula), Bangkaya, Dumalogdog, Dumangsil, Dumangsol, Lubay, Paduhinog, Paiburong, and Sumakwel. They were then fleeing the Srivijayan Empire under the tyrant, Makatunaw. They first landed at Andonna Creek, located in present-day Barangay (village) Siwaragan.There they met the local chieftain Marikudo who agreed to sell the lowlands in exchange for a gold hat and a gold necklace for his wife Maniwantiwan. That purchase is called the Barter of Panay which happened at the Imbidayan Rock in Barangay Sinogbuhan.

                These datus developed Panay into three sakops or districts: Aklan (Aklan Province) under Datu Bangkaya, Hantik (Antique) under Datu Sumakwel, and Irong-irong (Iloilo) under Datu Paiburong. Meanwhile, Datus Balensula and Dumangsil sailed north, reached the present-day province of Batangas and founded the first Malay colony in Luzon. Datu Puti was with them but he continued his voyage and returned to Borneo via Mindoro and Palawan.

                Formerly called Soaragam, Suiraga, and Suaraga after the Siuraga (Siwaragan) river which was named after a poisonous snake siuraga, San Joaquin was an encomienda of the King under the guidance of Esteban de Figueroa. It was first founded as a visita of Hamtic (Antique) from 1581-1592, became independent, made a visita again, annexed to two Iloilo towns, and regained its independence in 1910.

San Joaquin at 100: Its Greatness

                It was Friday evening when we arrived at the town. Our flight from Manila to the new Iloilo airport in Cabatuan town was one of the last flights if not the last that evening. We originally planned to go to San Joaquin via Iloilo City but the transport guys at the airport convinced us to rent a van that would bring us straight to my hometown. Their alibi was that the traffic at the city was heavy since it was the opening day of Dinagyang Festival, the main tourist attraction in the province every January.  The rent was pricey although travel time was faster since it will not pass through Iloilo City. The "shortcut" road was pitch black though because there were few if not nil lamp posts. Ces later admitted that she was scared when we were traversing the said road.

                The night was cool when we arrived in San Joaquin. Our abode was the home of Auntie Josiemay and family in Purok 5. Not much has changed in the municipality. It was still quaint and rustic. Auntie Neneng, relatives, and some old friends welcomed us upon arrival. We settled, rested, and ate dinner before going to the Town Plaza where a program was being held for the balikbayans. I'm just sorry because I was not able to attend the previous night's grand reunion of Don Felix Serra National High School were I was once part of.

                The traditional perya, ambulant vendors selling hot cakes, mango shake, and popcorn were nostalgic. Ces, Adrey, and I dropped by the house of an old friend Kune and then went back to the plaza and to the historic Catholic Church. I was just surprised to see that much has changed especially inside the church. I was also surprised to see another friend Markee together with his friend Sheena who happens to be a relative of mine sitting at one of the pews of the church, perhaps dating.

                Much had changed as well to the nearby Municipal Hall and the Town Plaza. Both were reconstructed, improved, and well lighted in the evening.

                At the time of our visit, the town was celebrating its one hundred years of independence from Miag-ao with the theme "San Joaquin at 100: Its Greatness."

The Catholic Church

                Built around 1855 by the town's Parish Priest Fr. Tomas Santaren, the church made from white coral rock has one of the most beautiful church facades in the country.It's said that it was a new church possibly constructed on "new foundations patterned after the old one." It is also the country's most militaristic because of the impressive bas relief on its triangular pediment.

                Entitled Rendicon d Tetuan, it was added halfway through the construction as a gesture of Santaren's patriotism with the help of Spanish Engineer Felipe Diaz and a Filipino carver (perhaps of Chinese ancestry). It depicts the Battle of Tetuan in Morocco (1859) between the Spanish troops of General Leopoldo O’Donnel and the Moors led by Moroccan Crown Prince Muley Abbas. The Spanish forces prevailed and recaptured the city of Tetuan.

                The church underwent renovation and reconstruction in the past few years. It was declared a "National Cultural Treasure" in 1972.

Day 2: Fun, Fiesta, Party!

                Our first destinations after eating breakfast were the Municipal Cemetery in Purok 5 and the Catholic Cemetery in Purok 1 to visit departed relatives and friends. We were accompanied by my cousin Brown who was the driver of the motorcycle I am riding. Ces and Adrey were on another motorcycle. It was a coast to coast ride as the cemeteries are located on both ends of the town proper.

                The Roman Catholic Cemetery is one of the tourist sites being promoted by the Department of Tourism in the Western Visayas region. It was constructed during the latter years of the Spanish Period.   It is made of coral rocks, has an interesting architectural design, and steps leading to the campo santo(chapel). Like the Catholic Church, the cemetery has undergone renovations as well in the past few years.

                We went back to our abode before going to our next stops- the plaza and the Sports Complex (stadium) where the Pasungay Festival was being held. This time, I, Ces, and Adrey were with my father who incidentally became our official photographer and tourist guide. 
 
                 The stadium’s grandstand and bleachers were full of local and foreign spectators, animal handlers, and gamblers. It was literally jam-packed. The entrance fee was around Php 25 per person.  It is just fun to note that when we were still young, I together with my friend Allen used to do "over-the-bakod" over the elementary school wall since we don’t have money to pay for the fee.         

                 Ces and I were able to get a spot on the VIP area while Adrey was busy watching and taking photos of the featured fights just outside the makeshift fence on the arena. He, together with other spectators were in constant look out for they might injure themselves from the retreating, running bulls.

                 After witnessing one of the featured fights of the day, we went to the beach locally called Punta located adjacent to the Sports Complex. The beach is known for its coral rock formations and rich marine life. The place is also a haven for sea snakes at times.

                 We ate lunch that day a couple of times. Thanks to my father who toured us to the different houses of our relatives. It is customary in our place during town fiestas that one who enters a home is obliged to eat. And this does not only apply to relatives but also to strangers. 

                 Our only activity in the evening was the drinking session at the makeshift dampa, a row of food and liquor stalls on San Joaquin St at the back of the town plaza. We were joined by our friends Allen, Cornelio, and Giovani and sometimes by elementary and high school classmates. Ces would later comment to me that it was the best experience she had in San Joaquin and she would love to do it again once we go back.

                 We all enjoyed the night. We did not even notice that it was already early Sunday morning when we returned to Auntie Josiemay’s home. In fact, Ces, Adrey, and I went home around four in the morning.

                 And so our second day ends. A day of fun, binge, and booze.

Pasungay Festival

                 This age-old tradition of bull-fighting attracts foreign and local tourists every year. Aside from bull fights, it also involves conflict between two water buffalos and horses. Pigs were also featured at least on one occasion but were discontinued perhaps because of its negative impact.  The festival is being held at the town’s Stadium and Sports Complex. Money is also involved as spectators are betting for their favorites.  Pasungay Festival is a popular spectator sport in the province celebrated every January 16.

Bayluhay Festival

                The festival is a commemoration of the historic event in the town, the Barter of Panay. Tribe presentation and competition are the highlight of the event. It is formerly called Paiburong Festival which is named after Datu Paiburong, one of the ten datus from Borneo and from where the Province of Iloilo got its name according to one theory. It is held every January 10 during the week-long town fiesta celebration.

Day 3: A Visit to Miag-ao

                Our third day was a busy one as well. Our first stop was our home in Barangay Baybay, located just outside the town proper’s limits. We were joined by Auntie Neneng who requested someone to climb one or two coconut trees to get buko for us.

                Nothing has changed to our home, a modest bahay-kubo built mainly from bamboo. The structure is still the same albeit some obvious degradations.

                It was already afternoon when we left for the nearby town of Miag-ao to visit Auntie Inday and family. We were joined by my cousin Doll on this trip. Before heading back to San Joaquin, we dropped by the Miag-ao fortress church, a national historical landmark and one of four Philippine Baroque Churches declared as World Heritages Sites by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

                Our activities that night include small time gambling at the perya and drinking session at Allen’s house in Purok 2 with Giovani and Brian.

Miag-ao Church

                The church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva was constructed from 1786-1797 during the term of Parish Priest Fr. Francisco Maximo Gonzales and Capitan Domingo Libo-on, the mayor of the town. It was the third church constructed in the town after the previous two were burned and looted by Muslim pirates.

                The first church was completed in 1731 under the guidance of Capitan Nicolas Pangkug, the first mayor of the town. Muslim pirates burned it in 1741. Another church was constructed on the same site during the term of Fr. Fernando Camporedondo, parish priest 1746-1747. The church suffered the same fate as the first as it was burned and looted by pirates. Both structures where then located near the Tumagbok River in Ubos.

                The present church is situated in an area called Tacas (meaning uphill or an elevated area in the local dialect Ilonggo). The area has a commanding view of the mouth of the Miag-ao River which happens to be the normal entrance route of the pirates. The blocks of stone used in the church came from the nearby towns of San Joaquin and Igbaras.

                And if the San Joaquin Church has an impressive bas relief of the Battle of Tetuan, the Miag-ao Church has its own relief sculptures on its triangular pediment. The relief has a native touch though compared to that of San Joaquin as it "features a relief sculpture of St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child amidst coconut, papaya, and guava trees." Dominating the center of the facade is the large stone image of the town’s patron saint, Santo Tomas de Villanueva.

                Reconstruction and rehabilitation of the church were undertaken after the Second World War. It was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1973.     

Day 4: An Unforgettable Lunch

                An interesting event greeted us early in the morning. The wife of my cousin Brown surprisingly delivered a bouncing baby girl. It was unexpected because according to her, she was only six to seven months pregnant at that time. Auntie Josiemay concluded that the former miscalculated her pregnancy since the baby looked like it’s already on its full term. And besides, she was not able to see an OB gynecologist.

                We left San Joaquin for the city just before lunchtime. After arriving at the bus terminal in Iloilo’s Arevalo District, we headed directly to SM City Iloilo in Mandurriao to leave our things. We then rode a taxi and asked the driver to bring us to a restaurant where we’ll be eating lunch.  That driver brought us to Marina Seafoods, a restaurant located on the banks of Iloilo River not far from SM.

                We chose to be seated on one of the tables located on an area directly above the riverbanks. The views as well as the air quality were good.  The river is not that polluted considering it is located on a highly urbanized city.

                The restaurant offers a wide variety of foods including some of Iloilo’s best. We’re all hungry so we ordered a lot. We feasted on Molo soup, talaba kinilaw, baked talaba, and a whole lot more. A must try is their green mango shake. The place is highly recommended as it is literally value for money. Considering the number of orders we had, our bill was just over Php600.

                After eating lunch, we went back to SM. There we witnessed a cheer dance competition, part of the week-long Dinagyang Festival. Few teams participated as it was the first time the event is being held as part of the said festival.

                We bought some pasalubong inside the mall before heading to the airport for our flight back to Manila. It is important to note though that some taxi drivers had a bad habit of “contracting” passengers and not using the taxi meter just like their counterparts in Manila.  And that’s exactly what happened to us.

                Nonetheless, this is a fun-filled trip as a whole. We enjoyed our short but meaningful stay at the beautiful and historic town of San Joaquin, one of 25 most overlooked destinations in Asia according to CNN GO.

Chronology of San Joaquin History

1250- ten datus from Borneo landed at Andonna Creek; those datus purchased Panay from the local chieftain Marikudo in exchange of a gold hat and a long gold necklace

1581- the town was founded as a visita of Hamtic (Antique) until it became independent in 1692

1692- became a visita again; was also made a parish with Miag-ao as its annex

1687- was given a Catholic minister

1703- annexed to Guimbal, another town in Iloilo

1731- annexed to the nearby town of  Miag-ao

1793- separated from Miag-ao and became an independent parish under the advocation of the Most Holy Name of Jesus which probably explains why the town has two fiestas (January for Santo Nino and August for San Joaquin)

1801- became an independent parish known as San Joaquin

1855- around this year that the church was constructed as per historian Fr Pedro Galende; another source says it was constructed in 1869

1910- the municipality regained its independence from Miag-ao

1972- the church was declared a “National Cultural Treasure”

2010- Centennial Celebration of its independence from Miag-ao

 What to See in San Joaquin

Andonna Creek- landing site of the ten Bornean datus; located in Barangay Siwaragan

Anturayan Cave- a tourist destination located in Barangay Jawod

Basang Basa Beach Resort- located in Sitio Magurampao, Cataan

Bogtong-Bato Beach Resort- located in Cataan

Catholic Cemetery- built late 18th century; has an interesting architectural design, steps leading to the campo santo; located on Real St Purok 1

Catholic Church- constructed around 1855 by Father Tomas Santaren; has an impressive bas relief of the Battle of Tetuan in Morocco

Imbidayan Rock- site of the Barter of Panay; located in Barangay Sinogbuhan

Lawigan Beach Resort- located in Barangay Lawigan

Ruins of the Convent- has an oval well larger than the ordinary wells and a kiln for baking bread; destroyed during World War II; located beside the Catholic Church

San Bernardino Village Mountain Resort- located in New Gumawan

Scogliolandia Beach Resort- located in Sitio Catigpan, Lawigan

Stadium and Sports Complex- venue of different sport activities and Pasungay Festival; located at the back of the Municipal Hall and San Joaquin Elementary School overlooking the sea

Talisayan Beach Resort- located in Purok 4, Poblacion

Tiolas Wet and Dry Market- a unique market located on a steep hill on the National Road in Barangay Tiolas; the flowering fire trees are also a sight to behold for in the Barangay

Tobog Beach Resort- located in Cataan

Town Plaza- located at the center of the town fronting the Municipal Hall and the San Joaquin Elementary School; venue of the celebrations during the town fiestas and other communal activities.

There was once a Bantayan (watchtower) located in Purok 5 but has long been demolished. It was built from coral rocks during the Spanish Colonial Period.

Postscript

CNN GO’s Unseen Asia: 25 of Asia’s most overlooked destinations

Hoh Xil, Tibet- a nature reserve

An Bang Beach Vietnam- a great alternative beach

Shodoshima, Japan- known for its verdant olive groves, hot springs, and wild monkeys

The Wild Wall, China- the unrestored portion of the Great Wall of China

Garden of Dreams, Nepal- has exotic plants and European-influenced Nepali pavillions and gardens

Ratu Boko, Indonesia-an ancient palace complex

Rua de Tercena, Macau- an area in the former Portuguese Colony that offers a glimpse of an old Macau

Koh Kood, Thailand- an island-paradise

Haedong Yonggung Temple, South Korea- a Buddhist temple located next to a cliff in Busan

Shandur Polo Tournament, Pakistan- being held 3,700 meters above sea level; perhaps “the most remote polo tournament in the world”

Sea Urchin Farm, Hongkong- offers fresh sea urchins at a low price

Miho Museum, Japan- most of the museum is submerged in a mountain

Terelj National Park, Mongolia- offering a peek through the nomadic life of the Mongolians

Haputale, Sri Lanka- a bizarre market located at an elevation of 1,579 meters with high cliffs on both sides

Hai Ba Trung District, Vietnam- the country’s old quarter

Kota Gede, Indonesia- Yogyakarta’s old city

Kranji Farms, Singapore- fresh, organic produce are being sold

Pekan, Malaysia- a Malaysian town that has lots to offer including old shops and a museum

Serosugil, South Korea- an area full of boutiques, eateries, cafes, bars among others

Edo-Tokyo Open Air Archiectural Museum, Japan- has preserved historic buildings transported from the different parts of the country

Burma- a troubled but a must-see Southeast Asian country

San Joaquin Church, Philippines- the country’s most militaristic church

Doi Inthanon, Thailand- tallest mountain in Thailand

Jungles near Tasik Chini, Malaysia- has rich biodiversity and natural wonders

Tarim Poplar Forest Natural Reserve, Xinjiang- known for its poplar trees (2010)

Sources: Angels in Stone, Philippine Church Facades, History of the Philippines, Notable Churches of the Philippines, The Miagao Chuch historical Landmark (books); San Joaquin: The Jewel of Panay (pamphlet); cnngo.com (online). All photos are copyrighted materials.
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