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MARCH 25 01

Enjoy Southern Iloilo Countryside

By Atty. Helen J. Camarista
Department of Tourism, Region VI

The most intricate designs on a church in Western Visayas is found in the Miag-ao Church. Photo by Kathy M. Villalon.

Let's say you're a visitor with but a day to spare off your hectic sojourn. Or you may be one who came to enjoy Iloilo to the fullest. Or perhaps, you are a local who simply wants to let go of the daily routine. If you are any of these, then this do-it-yourself tour may just be the right thing for you to do.

Take a day off. Go on a Southern Iloilo Countryside Tour. The itinerary will include the towns of Oton, Tigbauan, Guimbal, Miag-ao and San Joaquin.

Whether taking a private car, a tourist van or a public transport it is suggested that you go to the farthest town first-San Joaquin, 53.5 kms. south of Iloilo City. Start early in the morning say 8:00 or 8:30. Travel time is approximately one hour and a half. Go on a leisurely speed and enjoy the scenery along the way. Then on the way back to Iloilo City stop at each of the towns and visit local points of interest.

SAN JOAQUIN'S Premier attraction is its church, the only one in the Philippines sporting on its facade a bas relief of the historic battle between the Christians of Spain and the Moors, in Tetuan, Morocco in 1859. Considered the most militaristic church in the Philippines, the bas relief sculpture is marked "Rendicion d' Tetuan". The sculpture is so intricate that even the pained expression of wounded soldiers is visible.

Original pigments of yellow, blue and red have remained on the stone unfaded through the years. Fr. Tomas Santaren, an Augustinian friar, was responsible for the construction of the church.

You may opt to visit farther onward south to Siwaragan River, where, according to legend, the ten (10) Bornean datus landed in the middle of the 13th century and bought the island of Panay with a beaten gold hat and a long necklace from the Negrito chieftain Marikudo, long before Indians sold Manhattan to European settlers. Along the way, marvel at the magnificence of San Joaquin coastliine.
San Joaquin Cemetery is charming, a never eerie. It was built in 1892 of coral rock. A hexagonal chapel known as "campo santo" crowns the 20 step staircase flanked by a stone ballustrade with rose windows at the main entrance.

For those who want to go swimming, San Joaquin beaches offer clear waters, native cottages and private swimming areas.

MIAG-AO, According to historical accounts, its church, almost 38m wide and 72m long was built in 1979 by an Augustinian priest both as a place of worship and as a fortress against pirates then terrorizing the coastal towns of Panay. Centerpiece of the facade is an oval cavity, which has the statue of St. Thomas de Villanova, patron saint of the town. Decorating the pediment is a relief carving of St. Christopher carrying the Baby Jesus on his shoulder amidst native papaya and coconut symbolizing fertility. The Art of the Philippines calls this " a unique explosion of botanical motif curiously reminiscent of Aztec art."

The church's twin towers are dissimilar because the first foreman priest died before he could finish both and his successor deviated from the original plan.

In 1953, the church was declared a historical monument and awarded a plaque by the Philippine Historical Commission. It was declared a national landmark by PD 360 on August 1, 1973.

Old looms, some of which were used by a number of generations of various clans can be viewed at the Southern of Iloilo Polytechnic College.

Visit the spacious University of the Philippines in the Visayas campus and see its modern facilities. Prior arrangement may be necessary.

GUIMBAL is noted for its sweet mangoes (it's mango season, anyway) and town plaza considered by many as the most beautiful in the whole of Panay. Across the plaza is the yellow sandstone church of Spanish Filipino vintage built by Fr. Campus.

There are three stone watchtowers, two of which are in the poblacion. Called bantayan by the natives, they were built during the Spanish era to warn the townspeople of marauding pirates.

The town has outstanding resorts the most popular of which are Racso's Woodland Island Resort, Bantayan Beach Resort and Shamrock Beach Resort.

TIGBAUAN. A must-see in this town is the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center. Prior arrangement is suggested. One of the most important researches undertaken is the breeding of prawns and milkfish in captivity.

The town boasts of its old Baroque Church, a fragment of the facade of which remains attractive. At the back of the church next to the rectory was located the first Jesuit boarding school for boys in the Philippines, established by Pedro Chirino in 1592,

Have a glimpse of history. Visit the historical marker in Barangay Parara. There the American forces landed on March 18, 1945 and together with Filipino guerillas, liberated Panay from the Japanese.

OTON has a lovely park for outdoor cultural presentations and relaxation. Called the "People's Amphitheater", it was built through the cooperation of the townspeople. It has a high relief mural depicting high points in the town's history.

The town of Oton is the last stop in your itinerary. By the time you get back in Iloilo City, it would probably be about 5:00 p.m.

Of course, you do not want to miss your lunch along the way. If you want to make sure, you can take your packed lunch with you. But why bother? The resorts along the way offer excellent meals for reasonable prices. Or you can venture into any of the town's market places for a fill of local delicacies. After all there's a saying, "if you want to know more about the culture of a place, visit its public market place."

Market days are as follows:

San Joaquin - Wednesday and Friday
Miag-ao - Saturday
Guimbal - Thursday
Tigbauan - Sunday
Oton - Monday