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Monday, May 20, 2019

Battle of the sexes in Iloilo

MINE eyes have seen the glory of the city. But the evidence is scant, because Instagram wasn’t on this accidental tourist’s mind when the sights happened by.

On touchdown in Iloilo, I got to the Richmonde Hotel through the kindness of a stranger who, on the ride on his pickup truck, tutored me on politics (like on the city’s division into seven districts), religion (on Jaro district being the seat of the Archdiocese of Jaro) and culture (on the Molo and La Paz districts birthing the gritty culinary treats Pancit Molo and La Paz Batchoy).

If I had the chance, he said, I should check out the Iloilo River Esplanade and the centuries-old churches. Then he threw in the tidbit that the Iloilo Business Park, where my hotel waited, was the site of Iloilo’s old airport the same way the Cebu I.T. Park was the site of Cebu’s old airport.

Trendy bistros with names like “Farm to Table” and “Cable Car” fronted my hotel, but my hunt for dinner ended at a 24-hour Korean store whose bibimbap gave me imperial dreams.

Festive Walk Parade, a strip of restaurants and shops with delicacies like biscocho (toasted bread topped with butter and sugar) and butterscotch, delayed my return to the hotel. But it was the Mango Otap and Mango Bars that eventually made it back to Cebu with me.

The way to this girl’s heart is also through thinly rolled barquillos (crispy wafer rolls), which were hard to find, like love, free Internet, and an employee who will deny himself Facebook time during office hours.

Later, I also picked up Mushroom Chicharon at the Molo Mansion, a 1920s-era home once owned by the prominent Yusay and Consing families. Restored by the SM group in 2015, the heritage structure is now a showroom of Ilonggo arts, crafts and delicacies.

Wonder women

Across the mansion, otherworldly females reign in the Gothic-styled St. Anne Parish Church. Built in 1831, it is known as “the feminist church” for featuring only female saints. No man will be safe here, especially with the Molo Plaza in front of it also featuring a gazebo decked with six goddesses from Greek mythology.

In this surreal Battle of the Sexes, the Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral, built in 1874, responded with an all-male lineup of saints.

It one-ups the feminist church, though, with double stairs on the front facade that take one to the balcony where the image of Our Lady of the Candles, crowned by Pope John Paul II during his 1981 visit to Iloilo, stands. The 400-year-old limestone statue is said to be “growing,” explaining its placement on the balcony after it outgrew the niche it had originally stood in.

Across the busy street from the church, a tall, freestanding structure looking lost in the park is, in fact, the cathedral’s belfry.

For a summary of the city’s most popular cultural and heritage attractions, there’s a wall at the ground-floor museum of the new Iloilo City Hall that visitors can ogle for free.

City Hall also features a 1.7-ton lady atop its dome. (We’re not done with the Battle of the Sexes yet.) Cast in an art foundry in Liloan, Cebu, the 18-foot bronze statue “Ang Lin-ay sang Iloilo” (The Lady of Iloilo) depicts a lady in native Ilongga dress standing on a pedestal carved with Iloilo’s four major assets: rice farming, sugarcane farming, fishing and education. She has towered over the city since 2011.

Methinks Insta-worthy too is the Iloilo Business Park with its neat bicycle rental station, elegant Casa Emperador Building housing the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art, and Iloilo Convention Center with its fin design inspired by the native double outrigger sailboat used in the annual Paraw Regatta Festival and glass panels featuring figures from the Dinagyang Festival.

But you’ll just have to Google it to believe it, as breezing past them allowed no time for photos. I was in town, after all, mainly for a training workshop conducted in earnest in a hotel function room.

But at the hotel breakfast, I made time for Pancit Molo (pork dumpling soup with shredded chicken) because anything with wonton wrapper makes the world a better place. For La Paz Batchoy, our 21-strong group sped to the La Paz Market at high noon.

This time, there was no battle. Man and woman, we faced the piping hot pork-beef noodle soup together—the women’s makeup evaporating in the heat, the men wisely making no comment on it—in the eatery whose air conditioning gave little relief from the 40-degree-Celsius temperature outside.

Remember, in this city, goddesses rule.


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