Panay on my mind

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Friday, June 13, 2014


By Ching Pangilinan
Culturati

ONE of the best and biggest islands in the Philippines is Panay, which is home to four provinces namely Iloilo, Capiz, Antique and Aklan. I have been to the island several times in the past decade and each trip leads to new discoveries aside from revisiting old haunts.

Last weekend found me in Panay Island as part of an official trip of the City Government of San Fernando, Pampanga and our first stop was Iloilo City. Iloilo City and the City of San Fernando are the only cities in the Philippines to have achieved the Palladium Hall of Fame award for excellence in governance through the Performance Governance System that utilizes the Balanced Scorecard developed by Harvard University. This means that both cities give high importance to the role of the private sector involvement in governance processes.

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Iloilo City and the City of San Fernando, Pampanga, aside from being home to beautiful people, share several similarities. Both cities serve as regional and financial centers in their respective regions, with daytime populations that are double or triple the actual number of residents. One observation which made me smile is that the two cities also have two SM malls each. One advantage that Iloilo City has is having its own port, which made me quip that if only we could add a beach to San Fernando we probably would.

I was very impressed with the Iloilo City Hall which is an eight-storey high building that incorporates principles of green architecture in its structure. The ground floor of the building has a well-appointed city gallery which highlights not only the award-winning Ilonggo festivals such as Dinagyang but also showcases the arts and crafts of the city. At the time we visited, the Dinagyang Festival dancers were on their way to Singapore or Hongkong to be part of the Independence Day Celebrations. Talk about world-class homegrown talents there.

Iloilo as a province amazes me, especially with its wealth of built heritage and historical landmarks. My personal favorite is the Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church in Miag-ao, which is one of the four baroque churches of the Philippines listed as Unesco World Heritage Sites, but in this particular trip I didn’t have a chance to revisit it. If I remember correctly, Sotero Baluyut who designed the Baluyut Bridge in San Fernando also built a concrete bridge in Cabatuan, Iloilo which was destroyed or badly affected by typhoon Frank a few years back.

After Iloilo City, the next leg of our trip was Aklan province. The bus ride from Iloilo to Caticlan took almost seven hours but the rustic scenery made the long drive all worth it. We made a quick stop at the Midway Cafe in Passi City, Iloilo, which was home to an organic farm.

One of the nicest capitol compounds I have ever seen is the Aklan Capitol in Kalibo. In a place where high-rise buildings are sparse, government edifices have a certaing majestic charm. More than Boracay I would have loved to spend time in Kalibo which is the site of the Ati-Atihan Festival.

The roads going to Caticlan from Kalibo were lined with white sand beaches sans the Boracay crowd. As far as beach going is concerned, the silky white sands of Bora are very popular. But for a nature lover like me, I fear for Boracay’s sustainability as a destination. I could only imagine how many times over the island exceeds its carrying capacity. A look at the beach front early in the morning reveals garbage that is washed ashore by the waves.

Boracay never fails to entertain people with the wide assortment of activities to offer. While I didn’t go island hopping this time around, I spent a lot of time strolling along the shops and food establishments in the island. By my estimates, the tourism receipts from that island alone rival that of whole regions in other parts of the country. What is sad is that there is a lot more that remains to be seen in the Philippines than just Boracay.

A few days later and back at my desk at work, Panay with all its charm is still on my mind.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on June 14, 2014.

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