IT'S been years since I stepped foot on Sugarlandia. What I recall was how small and quiet the place was. I was mistaken. Gravely. The fact was, I never strayed from the boundaries of Bacolod City, or the perimeter of the place I stayed in. That explains the little I saw and know of the region.
The recent visit was THE eye-opener. Thanks to the Department of Tourism team of Region 6, I got to explore the vast sugarcane land and some of the many attractions—museums, ancestral houses, old churches, organic farm, and of course, the food spots!
First stop -- Silay (14.4 kilometers from Bacolod City). This city was founded in 1760 and said to be the “seat of arts, culture and eco-tourism” today was our entryway to the Sugar Bowl of the country. The direct flight from Davao took an hour via Cebu Pacific Air, the plane landing at the new Bacolod-Silay International Airport, 15 kilometers from Bacolod. At the airport, we were met by our hosts from the DOT 6, with smiles that justify the region’s nickname-the City of Smiles (my guess is it’s the sugar).
We were ferried to the Silay Museum as soon as we arrived. The museum, the first room of the Silay Tourism Office at Sen. Jose C. Locsin Cultural and Civic Center, presents a “quick look” of the city’s cultural history through the dioramas, antique religious vestments, articles and documents, and a photo nook that features the city’s ancestral houses.
There is so much to see within Silay but to see it all we needed time, and time was what we didn’t have much of. However, we were lucky to visit the destinations that top the list of must-see in the city.
One on the list would be the Iglesia of San Diego Pro-cathedral, formerly known as the San Diego Parish Church, the only pro-cathedral (a parish church temporarily serving as the cathedral) outside of Manila.
Another feature of the church that makes it unique in the Western Visayan region is its copula or dome, which was built in 1920 and said to resemble that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Why the Italian inspiration? Why not, the architect is Italian. Antonio Bernasconi, may have been inspired to put a touch of the “greatest church in Christendom” in this church.
What numbers most in the list of attractions in Silay are the ancestral houses. There are 31 of them identified by the National Historical Institute as cultural landmarks.
Among them are the Balay Negrense, the Gaston’s ancestral mansion, and the 1908-built Bernardino-Jalandoni House. Both have been converted into museums.
The only ancestral house turned museum we managed to visit and tour happens to be favored with a number of “firsts.” The 1934-built Hofileña Heritage House is the first house to be opened to the public in 1962, and the first inhabited house to be declared a museum by the NCCA and installed with a historical marker. Maybe it’s these recognitions that made the place enjoy the top spot on the list of must-visit ancestral homes in Silay (based on recommendations) as well.
Or is it? Perhaps it’s the heir that made the place more popular.
The inhabitant and the heir (one of) of Manuel Severino Hofileña and Gilda Ledesma Hojilla (a former Miss Silay), Ramon Hofileña, happens to be the tour guide as well. The best man for the job, passionate and knowledgeable, he gave us the bits and pieces of history of the beautiful well-preserved home filled with curios (the world’s first pocket books and smallest dolls), heirloom pieces (the furniture are authentic period pieces older than the house itself), antiquities (including a 3,000 year old oil juglet, the oldest antique in the whole Negros Island), the artworks of sculpture and paintings, which includes the works of the Filipino masters Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo and Felix Ressureccion Hidalgo, National Artists like Napoleon Abueva, and even Jose Rizal.
The important and impressive collection will probably take the back seat once the guide unveils the nude paintings, to which the tour guide is the subject. Ramon injects in the tour his heydays as a model (sorry PJ Abellana, but your uncle is the hotter “bagets” in this house’s history). Special thanks to DOT 6 for hosting the Davao Media Familiarization Tour, and to Cebu Pacific (with direct flights to and from Davao City to Bacolod every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday).
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