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The Ilonggo (Hiligaynon) People of the Philippines: History, Culture, Customs and Tradition

The Ilonggo (Hiligaynon) People of the Philippines: History, Culture, Customs and Tradition

The term “Ilonggo” refers to the people and the culture of the Malay race identified with Iloilo, Guimaras Island, and Negros Occidental, the western part of Negros Island, which is separated from Panay by the Guimaras Strait. It is derived from irong-irong, a Filipino-Hispanized form meaning “like a nose.” Irong-irong was the name of an islet located between the city proper and the Lapuz district of Iloilo City. It forms the Batiano estuary, which passes near the town of Oton, Iloilo, on its way to the sea. The islet was also called Catalman or Katagman, meaning “a pointed thing” (Fernandez [1898] 2006, 116). “Irong-irong” might also refer to the Iloilo River, which is shaped like a nose as it winds from the Iloilo Port to Forbes Bridge in the La Paz district. Irong-irong became the name of one of the sakup (districts), into which the island of Panay was divided before the Spanish times.

The language and literature of the Ilonggo people are called Hiligaynon; however, the term connotes the more formal and literary language as it is used in schools. “Ilonggo” is also popularly and informally used as a synonym for “Hiligaynon,” a term said to be a Hispanized contraction of the phrase manog-ilig sang kawayan (bamboo floaters), meaning people whose occupation was to float bamboo poles downriver to sell as building materials. Early Spanish documents refer to the people as Yligueynes.

Iloilo lies in the eastern part of Panay Island, which has three other provinces: Aklan, Antique, and Capiz. It is separated from Capiz and Antique on the west by a mountain range; the rest of it is surrounded by sea: on the east by the Guimaras Strait, on its southern tip by the Panay Gulf, and on its northern tip by the Visayan Sea. Much of its terrain is plain; hence, it is a large stretch of agricultural land. Jalaur and Pan-ay are the most important rivers of Panay Island. Originating from Mount Baloy of the Madya-as mountain range, these twin rivers run parallel until they diverge at Barangay Alibonan in the municipality of Calinog. Jalaur River runs southeast, traversing Iloilo province, down through the municipality of Passi down to Dumangas before draining into Guimaras Strait. Pan-ay traverses Capiz province (Magos 1996, 121-22; Fernandez [1898] 2006, 112).

Iloilo province has 42 municipalities and two cities: Iloilo City, the provincial capital, and Passi City. Guimaras Island, which is a separate province, has five municipalities. To the east of Panay Island is the Negros Island Region (NIR), also known as Region 18, which became a separate region from Western Visayas, also Region 6, on 29 May 2015, by virtue of Executive Order No. 183, signed by President Benigno C. Aquino III (PSA-NSCB 2015).

Negros Occidental lies on the western part of this boot-shaped island. It has 19 municipalities and 13 cities, including its capital, Bacolod City (PSA 2010; Province 2015; NIR 2016). However, the province’s four northern municipalities—Escalante, Calatrava, Toboso, and San Carlos—are predominantly Cebuano-speaking, originally settled by Boholano and Cebuano. The Ilonggo people belong to a larger group called Visayan, and they comprise one of the Philippines’ eight major ethnolinguistic groups. The Hiligaynon or Ilonggo language is a subclassification of the Visayan language. As of 2010, the Ilonggo numbered 7.8 million out of the total Philippine population of 92.33 million, making them the fourth largest ethnolinguistic group in the country after the Tagalog, 22.5 million; Cebuano and Bisaya, 19 million; and Ilocano, eight million (PSA 2012).

In 2000, out of the Philippines’ total population of 76.5 million, the Ilonggo numbered 5.74 million, of whom 3.75 million resided in their original provinces: 1.5 million in Iloilo; 2.1 million in NIR; and 150,000 in Guimaras. Additionally, the Ilonggo population of 1.5 million in Mindanao equalled that of Iloilo province, and comprised 8.2% of Mindanao’s total population of 18.1 million. Two-thirds of them were concentrated in the SOCCKSARGEN region (North and South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and General Santos City), where they numbered 1.031 million, comprising 33.54%, thus the majority of that region’s population, while remaining percentage was divided among several other ethnic groups. In the provinces of Bukidnon, CARAGA region, Davao, Lanao del Norte, Maguindanao, Zamboanga del Sur, and Cagayan de Oro City, they numbered 270,000. The islands of Palawan and Masbate, which have had ancient social, cultural, and economic ties with Panay, had an Ilonggo population of 100,000 and 32,000, respectively. The remaining 300,000 were dispersed in smaller numbers, such as 12,000 in the rest of Panay Island (Aklan, Antique, and Capiz); 4,000 in Cebu and Mandaue City; and 4,000 in Batangas (NSO-PSA 2002).

History of the Ilonggo People

The cultural history of the Ilonggo is woven out of mythology, archaeology, and documented history. According to folk history, 10 Bornean datus or chieftains, with their families, escaped from Sultan Makatunaw of Borneo, each on a biniday (boat). They entered Panay through the Suaraga River and landed at a village of the same name, now known as San Joaquin town. They purchased Panay from the Ati or Aeta, whose chief was Marikudo. Datu Puti returned to Borneo; Datu Dumangsol and his wife settled in Barrio Lawag in Suaraga. The couple’s two daughters, Uhay Tanayon and Uhay Salangaon, later married the culture heroes Labaw Dunggon and Paibare. The Bornean migrants cultivated the land and renamed the island Madya-as, which they divided into three sakup: Irong-irong, Aklan, which included the area of Capiz, and Hamtik, now Antique. These sakup were loosely united under a government called Katiringban it Madya-as (Confederation of Madya-as) (Monteclaro 1907; Fernandez [1898] 2006, 135-136; Salvilla 1993, 2:7).

Depiction of a Visayan couple, circa 1590 Boxer Codex
Depiction of a Visayan couple, circa 1590 (Boxer Codex, The Lilly Library Digital Collections)

According to a creation myth, the original name of Negros was Bugras or Buglas, meaning “a slice” or “to cut off,” because the island was severed from its mother island of Panay by an angry god. In 1521, Magellan’s chronicler, Pigafetta ([circa 1525] 1906), referred to the island as “Panilongo, where black men like those in Etiopia live” (379-380). “Panilongo” may derive from the words Panay and Ilonggo, lending credence to the creation myth that Bugras had once been a part of Panay. However, his descriptive statement, “where black men live,” already foreshadows the name that the Spanish colonizers would eventually give it.

In March 1565, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi sent out Esteban Rodriguez to head an expedition, which landed on the southeast (Negros Oriental) of the island Pinglas, “said to be full of negroes.” It might be surmised that Rodriguez, at the very least, had read Pigafetta’s chronicle, which had described the island thus. However, the island itself was well-populated by tattooed Malays living in towns along the coast. Upon inquiry, an inhabitant that they met affirmed that there were indeed “negroes,” though these were living in the mountains. From here, the expedition sailed around the heel of this boot-shaped island, reaching the large town of Himamaylan in the south up to the northern town where E. B. Magalona, also known as Saravia, now stands. It was a town of 50 houses, each of which had an abundant rice supply and domesticated pigs and chickens. The Malay inhabitants of the island variously named their island after their own respective villages, such as Nayon and Mamaylan (Rodriguez [1565] 1969; Loarca [1582] 1903).

By September 1565, five months after Legazpi and his men had settled in Cebu, they were in a state of starvation. Master-of-camp Mateo del Sanz and Captain Martin de Goyti/Goiti, with a hundred soldiers and Cebuano guides, set out to other islands in search of food. They landed on the eastern side of Negros Island and came upon the abandoned village of Tanjay, which they pillaged. In the next village, the inhabitants, armed with spears, engaged the Spaniards in battle, during which a datu was captured and held for ransom. Five datus came to negotiate his freedom and stalled for time so that their people could flee their villages. The Spaniards took the captive datu back to Cebu. This was the first act of Spanish colonization in Negros. Subsequent invasions were made on Negros from May to June 1565. In one such invasion, Datu Siumbas of the town of Tilafan, which had a population of 330, decided to fight, whereas Datu Sibas of a nearby town surrendered. By December 1566, Datu Siumbas had been subjugated and forced to commit 330 cavans of rice—one cavan from every inhabitant—to the Spaniards, although he later reneged on this promise (San Agustin [1698] 1998, 425; Cuesta 1980, 27-31).

On 10 April 1566, a year after Legazpi had settled in Cebu, master-of-camp Mateo del Saz, two officers, and a crew of 70 set out again to other islands in search of food. The rebellious Cebuano had been starving out the Spaniards at the urging of the people of Mactan and the villagers of Gavi. Del Saz landed at the village of Halawod—spelled “Araut” by the Spaniards, now the town of Dumangas in Iloilo—and stayed on to collect 600 cavans (1,000 fanegas) of rice from the inhabitants (San Agustin [1698] 1998, 42542-6). This was, in effect, the beginning of Spanish colonization in Panay.

On 25 July 1566, del Saz returned to Cebu with news about the abundance of food on the islands of Panay and Negros, which had numerous, thickly-populated villages, “flourishing and wealthy,” particularly along the Panay River. From then on, the Spaniards would regularly sail from Cebu to these islands to collect the enforced tributes on which they depended for survival. Once in a while, however, it would seem that the natives could put one over on the colonizers. In December 1566, Datu Umbas of Tilayan in Negros arrived in Cebu, offering surrender and claiming to have sailed over with a boatload of rice as his voluntary tribute but that it had been lost in the storm. Legazpi gratefully gave Datu Umbas gifts and a boat with which to return home to Negros (San Agustin [1698] 1998, 433, 524-529; Fernandez [1898] 2006, 116; Morga [1609] 1904, 16:134).

In November 1566, a Portuguese armada arrived to lay siege to the Spanish settlement in Cebu. Four years later the Portuguese lifted their blockade of the Spanish settlement in Cebu, and Legazpi resumed the project of colonial expansion in the archipelago. He sent his grandson Felipe del Salcedo to the village of Pan-ay, now Roxas City, in Capiz, and his trusted aide Sergeant Major Luis de la Haya to the village of Halawod, now Dumangas, in Iloilo. Del Salcedo forged an alliance with the people of Pan-ay by waging war with their enemy villages at their request and thus ensured a safe welcome for Legazpi. On 7 June 1569, Juan del Salcedo was sent to Panay to replace his brother Felipe, who departed for Mexico. By August, the datus of Pan-ay, Mariclong, and Macabug had been sufficiently subjugated for Legazpi to settle in this village. In 1570, the arrival of Juan de la Isla in Panay, with three ships and numerous Spaniards, signified the formal colonization of Panay. On 16 August 1571, Legazpi departed Panay to invade Manila (San Agustin [1698] 1998, 75, 425, 453, 524-529; Riquel et al. [1574] 1903, 3:207).

The Spaniards who subsequently came to Panay Island invariably remarked on its abundance of food, especially rice, as compared to the other islands, which had only tubers such as camote (sweet potato), balighoy (cassava), and ube (purple yam). Panay became the primary source of provisions for the Spanish colonizers stationed in the other islands, thus earning the label “granary of the archipelago” (Medina [1630] 1904, 23:165; Legazpi [1572] 1903, vol. 3).

Referring to this abundance, Legazpi’s chronicler Fray Gaspar de San Agustin took the island’s name and made a pun on it: “The island of Panay exceeds all others in harvests, verifying its name Panay.” Later, chronicler Casimiro Diaz explicitly clarified the pun thus: “This island is called Panay, so even its name suits it; for in it there grows so great an abundance of rice, which is the bread of this country” (San Agustin [1698] 1998, 75; Diaz [1698] 1906, 38:216). Such comments have spun off into the popular quote, “Pan hay en esta isla!” (Bread there is on this island!), supposed to have been exclaimed by Legazpi’s men in elation. Thus, according to this folk myth, it was the Spaniards who gave the island its name.

Historical fact, however, disproves this myth. Long before Legazpi’s men arrived in Panay, its two great rivers were already named Halawod and Pan-ay. Legazpi’s men first landed at the village also named after the river Halawod or Araut, now called Dumangas. It is the last village that the Halawod River traverses before it empties into the Guimaras Strait. On the opposite end of the island toward the north, the last village that the Pan-ay River traverses before it empties into the Visayan Sea was also called Pan-ay, now Roxas City. The local residents also referred to it as the bamban (channel), which some Spanish chroniclers mistook for its name (San Agustin [1686] 1998, 427; Magos 1996, 121-2; Fernandez [1898] 2006, 174).

Landing at Iloilo, Panay, circa 1910
Landing at Iloilo, Panay, circa 1910 (Photo courtesy of Leo Cloma Collection)

The people who lived on the banks of Pan-ay River called themselves taga-Pan-ay or Pan-ayanon; and those on the Halawod riverbanks, taga-Halawod or Halawodnon. However, the early Spanish colonizers took to calling them Pintados (Painted Ones) because of their tattooed bodies. Hence, in the early years of Spanish colonization, the Visayan islands, which included Panay and Negros, were called Las Islas de los Pintados (Islands of the Painted Ones), later the Bisayas de los Pintados. These islands were subsumed under one province, with Cebu as its capital. Not all the Pintados, however, fell under the jurisdiction of Cebu. For instance, Marinduque, though populated by Pintados, was not an administrative part of the Bisayas de los Pintados (Magos 1996, 121; Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:78; San Agustin [1698] 1998, 59-63).

The Spaniards divided Panay island into encomiendas (land grants), which gave the Spanish grantees the right to collect tributes from the natives. These tributes consisted of gold, cloth, wax, cotton thread, rice, and fowl. Panay was administratively divided into two subprovinces: Pan-ay, which then consisted of Capiz, Aklan, and the northernmost towns of Antique from Tibiao to Pandan; and Oton, also known as Ogtong, which consisted of the present-day provinces of Iloilo and Antique, up to Barbaza. Thus, the island was horizontally divided, with Pan-ay province being situated above Oton province. The alcalde mayor (governor) of each province resided in the town capital also called Oton. The town of Pan-ay also had the same name as its province of Pan-ay (Fernandez [1898] 2006, 114). These identical names of the town and the province have caused some confusion among later historians.

On 25 January 1571, Negros Island was divided among 17 encomenderos, eight of whom were in western Negros. By 1584, the encomienda system had been sufficiently systematized so that each family was to submit one tribute, consisting of the products that abounded in the island. Thus, in Negros, each family paid a tribute of rice, wine, wax, one chicken, and pakol (abaca; Spanish medriñaque). In turn, it was the duty of each encomendero to convert the natives and build a church in each village within his encomienda. Although the village populations were subjected to reduccion (resettlement within the hearing of the bells), the inhabitants resisted colonization by continually escaping back to their farmsteads under cover of night, leaving only the gobernadorcillo (town mayor) and the principalia (local elite) families to reside in the villages or towns. Western Negros was a corregimiento under the jurisdiction of Iloilo, but it had its own corregidor, who resided in Himamaylan. A corregimiento was a district that had not been sufficiently pacified and therefore had Spanish military garrisons in it. The corregidor was a military officer whose primary function was to quell any sign of native resistance to colonization. In 1734, Negros became a separate corregimiento from Iloilo; in 1790, Himamaylan was declared the capital of the district and the military governor’s residence (Cuesta 1980, 31-34, 46, 50-52, 114).

Calle Rosario, Iloilo, circa 1910
Calle Rosario, Iloilo, circa 1910 (Philippine Picture Postcards 1900-1920 by Jonathan Best. The Bookmark, Inc., 1994.)

In Iloilo province, also known as Oton, the seat of government was transferred from the old town of Oton to the newly-founded town of Arevalo in 1581 (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:62; Fernandez 1898, 123). Later historians erroneously named it “La Villa de Arevalo” (the town of Arevalo) because the primary source in the Spanish original, written by Loarca, had referred to it several times as such. Another arbitrary name that more recent historians have given it is “La Villa Rica de Arevalo” (the rich town of Arevalo) (Sonza 1977, 25), based on the brief description given it by its founder, Governor Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa: “The village of Arevalo, on the island of Panay, has just been settled. The land is very fertile and the inhabitants are rich” (Ronquillo [1582] 1903, 5:26).

Panay was prey to external attacks. From 1569 to 1606, the Muslims invaded Panay nine times. From 1603 to 1606, the main targets of the Muslim attacks were the towns of Oton, Arevalo, and the island of Pan de Azucar off the eastern coast of Iloilo. In 1606, a series of Dutch invasions occurred. In 1616, the Muslims and the Dutch combined forces to attack the coastal towns of Panay and its small islands.

In 1637, Arevalo’s vulnerability to Muslim and Dutch attack compelled the Spaniards to transfer the seat of government to La Punta, where they built a stone fort to replace the wooden one built in 1602. A lighthouse also stood there, the site of which is now called the Parola. A fish market and other stores sprung around the fort, later called Estanzuela. The city of Iloilo gradually grew around this area (Fernandez [1898] 2006, 116).

There was also a sizeable Chinese population, consisting of families of traders who had intermarried with the local women and settled in Iloilo permanently. Their number was so significant that the population of Iloilo was described as “Indians and Sangleys” (Malays and Chinese), and the Spanish missionaries had to learn Chinese as well as Hiligaynon to convert and administer them. In 1617, a Chinese barrio named Pariancillo (small Parian) by the Spaniards lay between Arevalo and La Punta. In 1637, with the enforced transfer of all the Chinese to the Pariancillo, its size expanded into the Parian, which became part of La Punta. Later it came to be called Molo, for which two possible reasons are given: that the word molow as a Visayan word for “a cluster of houses,” but the more popular narrative, recorded in 1898, was that a Chinese lookout had seen Moro pirates sailing in and had shouted in warning: “Molo! Molo!” because, being Chinese, he could not pronounce the letter /r/ (Fernandez [1898] 2006, 119; Medina [1630] 1904, 217).

The Ilonggo consistently resisted Moro invasions. Dallan Bakang, a Muslim pirate, conducted a series of raids every Friday on Dumangas from his base in Guimaras. In 1763, he was repelled by the townspeople led by a woman named Petra or “Pitay.” In preparation for other attacks, the people of Dumangas town built a tambobo (storehouse) , where they kept their food supplies and valuables. It was surrounded by a palisade and thick dalogdog vines. They then sent their women and children to Liboo, Barrio Calao for refuge. The Spaniards later fortified the church with stone walls and built a watchtower on each corner. A church bell, whose sound could be heard as far as Guimaras to the south and Anilao to the north, warned the people of Muslim raids. With this added security, the families in Liboo returned to Dumangas. In 1848, however, the warning bell of Dumangas inadvertently brought an attack upon it, when a wandering band of Muslims followed its sound to the town. The last recorded Muslim attack on the Ilonggo was in 1865 on the island of Zapatos in northern Panay.

Resistance to Christianization was led by the babaylan (shaman), who tried to keep alive the people’s indigenous beliefs despite their Christian conversion, oftentimes exhorting them return to the worship of the native gods. These religious uprisings, small and large, against Spanish oppression occurred throughout the whole colonial period. A babaylan resistance movement of 1663 in Dueñas, Iloilo was led by Tapar. From the mountain barrio of Malonor he had gained a large following by preserving the people’s indigenous religion and its ritual practices, including the babaylan’s ritual garments, erroneously described by westernized historians as “woman’s garb.” Tapar’s influence spread south to Jaro and north to Passi until a Mexican priest, Francisco de Mesa, alerted the alcalde mayor. The priest then went to the village of Laglag, now Barangay Pader in Dueñas, and attempted to lure the rebels out of their hideout. The rebels sent word that they had no desire to harm anyone and only wanted freedom of worship. Father de Mesa trekked up to Malonor, where he spent the night in the bamboo shelter by the church. The rebels emerged from the forest, killed him with their spears, burned the church and the hut, and returned to their seclusion in the forest. A combined force of Spaniards and Kapampangan troops quelled the movement after a prolonged pursuit. In 1874, another priest was killed in similar fashion in the mountains of Tubungan for the same reason (Diaz [1698] 1906, 38:215-23); Fernandez [1898] 2006, 137).

In 1833, the capital of Negros was transferred from Himamaylan in the south to the newly established town of Bacolod. This new capital was at the center of the island as Spanish rule expanded from the south to the northern towns of Minuluan (Talisay), Guimbala-on (Silay), and Tocgauan (Saravia, also known as E. B. Magalona). Moreover, the southern towns of Negros remained persistently recalcitrant. On 8 September 1833, the governor was killed with a kitchen knife during a prison mutiny in Himamaylan. The assassin was a former gobernadorcillo of Bacolod who was an inmate when the governor hit him with a cane while doing an inspection tour of the prison. A prison riot erupted, in which some prison guards and personnel were killed, and the unarmed mutineers were massacred by the Spanish soldiers. Their corpses were buried in a mass grave at a site that is now a barrio called Tampok (Mound) in Batang Peninsula, Himamaylan City (Cuesta 1980, 155; Varona 1938, 6-7).

In 1855, Negros progressed from a corregimiento into an alcaldia (politico-military province) governed by an alcalde mayor, the 24-year-old Infantry Major Emilio Saravia. This first governor of Negros gained notoriety in the history of the province as a ruthless and bloodthirsty criminal. His own compatriots denounced his crimes as unjustifiable, even in the context of the reduccion process. He speared 24 unarmed mountain dwellers, shot three others, threw six into the river, and killed another two in Kabankalan town. His term, 1855-1857, abruptly ended after the Spanish massacre of the Carol-an, also known as Kadul-an, an Ati village in the uplands of Kabankalan. Their chief was Datu Manyabog, who was also the acknowledged chief of all the other datus in that mountain range. Among them were Malays who had fled the lowlands to escape colonization, which entailed the payment of tributes, forced labor, and Christian conversion. Under Datu Manyabog’s leadership, they attacked military outposts scattered along the foot of the mountain from Isabela to Kabankalan (Cuesta 1980, 297; Bauzon 1998, 29-30).

From 15 to 30 July 1855, Governor Saravia launched military operations with full firepower against Manyabog and his 700 warriors, who fought back with spears, balaraw (daggers), siantong (long-bladed bolos), swords carved from palm tree trunks, and booby traps. Three months later in October, Governor Saravia expressed his determination “to persecute these people for peace and order in the town surrounding the mountains” (Bauzon 1998, 30; Echauz [1894] 1978, 17).

In 1856, Fray Fernando Cuenca traversed the mountain range from Minuluan, now Talisay, to Kabankalan to pacify Manyabog and his people through missionary work. He submitted to a blood compact with Datu Manyabog, who sucked the friar’s hand until he drew blood. Manyabog then agreed to convert and resettle in the lowlands. Governor Saravia subsequently sent to Carol-an territory a battalion of 510 civilian police with rifles, bolos, and two cannons. Upon arriving, they instantly opened fire without warning. After Manyabog was killed and the Carol-an had run out of weapons, they retreated to three nipa houses within their wooden fort and set these on fire. Even as they were dying in the fire and smoke, a last spear shot out of one burning hut and took down a soldier. The Carol-an population of 15,000 included women, children, and elders, all of whom perished. Saravia was brought to trial in Manila for this and other atrocities. Fray Cuenca perjured himself in defense of his friend, Saravia, and was consequently placed under house arrest for one-and-a-half-years in the Recollect convent in Manila. Saravia was exiled to Africa (Echauz [1894] 1978, 17, 72-74; Cuesta 1980, 226-229; Varona 1938, 6-10).

The Spaniards had a litany of terms for native recidivists who continually defied reduccion and from their mountain hideouts would ambush colonialist troops on patrol or their outposts. Under the generic term of malhechores (evil doers) fell the “cristianos remontados, monteses, infieles, contra costas, tulisanes” (Bauzon 1998, 32). In Negros, the term “malhechores” appeared for the first time in a report dated 20 January 1863 and was subsequently used with increasing frequency. The first report stated vaguely that 19 malhechores were arrested and 18 found guilty. In 1864, an attempted assassination of the governor led to some malhechores of Bacolod being convicted of the crime. A decade later, the residence of the gobernadorcillo of Victorias town was attacked by 197 armed malhechores, who also attempted but failed to abduct his wife. In Hinigaran, at about the same time, a father and son, Don Isidro and Esteban Vasquez of the local principalia, were jailed because the father, in a state of inebriation, remarked to an español peninsular named Don Inocente Colmenares that “Los españoles eran basura y se ensuciaba todos los meses!” (The Spaniards are garbage and defile themselves all the time!). By the 1880s, these criminal activities would evolve into subversive ladronism, which was a more explicit and conscious form of protest against colonial oppression (33).

After the opening of Iloilo to world trade in 1855, the consequent economic boom in Iloilo and Negros was founded primarily on the weaving and sugar industries. Both provinces exported their products to the world market. With economic prosperity, the hacendero families of Iloilo sent their children to Jaro Seminary and Spanish schools in Manila and later to Spain where liberal ideas had gained currency. This educated elite joined the ilustrados (educated) of other regions of the country in petitioning the Spanish government for reforms in the colony. In the 1880s, Graciano Lopez Jaena and Melecio Figueroa became members of the Propaganda Movement. Lopez Jaena was the first editor of La Solidaridad, 1889, and was known as a fiery orator. Melecio Figueroa, the chief engraver of the Philippine Treasury in 1893, was later invited by the US colonial government to design Philippine coins. Gregorio Mapa, an Ilonggo raised in Aklan, joined a society of liberal-minded students called Juventud Escolar Liberal, which included Paciano Rizal.

Jaro Seminary, Iloilo, circa 1910
Jaro Seminary, Iloilo, circa 1910 (Philippine Picture Postcards 1900-1920 by Jonathan Best. The Bookmark, Inc., 1994.)

As the revolution against Spain grew, the Visayan leaders convened at Santa Barbara town to establish a revolutionary government for the whole Visayas. The Spanish commander, not knowing that the revolutionary fervor had secretly spread to Iloilo starting from Aklan, appointed Martin Delgado of Santa Barbara to lead the volunteer militia, hence giving Delgado greater freedom to work for the revolution. He was then appointed by the Visayan generals to lead the Ilonggo revolutionaries and is now acknowledged by the Ilonggo people to have been “the greatest Visayan general of the Philippine Revolution.”

General Martin Delgado and staff in Iloilo
General Martin Delgado and staff in Iloilo (National Historical Institute)

On 17 November 1898, the Filipino flag was raised at the plaza of Santa Barbara, and the first cry for freedom in the Visayas was shouted: “Down with Spain! Long live the Philippines! Long live independence!” The day before, Patrocinio Gamboa of Jaro, Iloilo, who had sewn the flag in Molo, had transported it in a tartanilla under cover of a pile of grass, along with a sword that General Emilio Aguinaldo had sent as a gift for General Martin Delgado. Driving the coach was fellow revolutionary Lieutenant Honorio Solinap, who posed as her husband while Gamboa pretended to be his strident, nagging wife so as to distract the colonialist troops from inspecting their load (Salvilla 1993, 1:40).

Leandro Locsin
Leandro Locsin (National Historical Institute and Negros Occidental Historical Commission)

In Negros Occidental, the hacendero class led the revolution. The leaders’ meeting place was Leandro Locsin’s drugstore in Silay. Donors were listed in his prescription book as names of medicines, and donations were represented by weights in grams. Thus, the town of Silay, besides being the “Paris of Negros,” also became the “cradle of the Negros uprising.” On 5 November 1898, the Filipino flag, which Olympia Severino and her sisters had sewn, was raised in Silay. The revolutionaries took Silay without bloodshed as the Spanish hacendero residents persuaded the colonialist troops to surrender. From the north, the revolutionaries, led by General Aniceto Lacson, Timoteo Unson, and Simon Lizares, marched into Bacolod. In the south, General Juan Araneta raised the Philippine flag in his hometown of Bago before leading a thousand rifle-bearing laborers and peasants into Bacolod. They also had cannons mounted on wheels. The combined forces numbered 4,000 in all. Demoralized, the colonialist forces surrendered on 6 November 1898. Araneta’s men had actually been carrying branches of nipa palm, cut and tarred black to look like rifles; at one end of each they had attached a siantong to look like a bayonet. The cannons were rolled mats of amakan (Tag. sawali; woven bamboo splints or flattened bamboo nodes), also painted with tar and mounted on carabao sleds. The following day, the Federal Republican Government of the Canton of Negros Island, or Federal Island of Negros, was established, with Aniceto Lacson named as president and Juan Araneta as war delegate. Dionisio Papa, also known as Papa Isio, who had contributed to the revolution by leading a peasant movement in the south, was commissioned as military chief of La Castellana (Varona 1938, 85-87; Cuesta 1980, 443-446).

In the Spanish governor’s office, the revolutionary leaders discovered letters from several Spanish parish priests identifying them as troublemakers and recommending punishment. Thirty-five Spanish priests were rounded up from November 1898 to January 1899 and confined in the Bacolod provincial jail, which a fellow priest had built only nine years previous as a source of prison labor. On 18 January, the priests were force-marched for two days from Bacolod to La Granja agricultural colony in La Carlota, where they were assigned farm work and fed two meager meals a day. On 3 February, the priests were marched back to Bacolod and placed aboard a ship out of Negros (Cuesta 1980, 451-464; Varona 1938, 101).

Aniceto Lacson
Aniceto Lacson (National Historical Institute and Negros Occidental Historical Commission)

In Paris, starting on 1 October 1898, Spain and the United States were negotiating the terms of Spain’s surrender for what would be called the Treaty of Paris. By 31 October, Spain had ceded only Manila and Luzon but refused to give up the Visayas and Mindanao. The United States itself was reluctant to take on these two regions. With hopes for independence dashed, and given the possibility that Spanish rule would continue in the Visayas, the Negros federal government sent a peace commission to Adm George Dewey in Manila, negotiating for the status of a US protectorate but with “internal independence.” It was not, therefore, a “Republic of Negros” that the Negros leaders sought to establish, as misinterpreted by later historians Renato Constantino and Gregorio F. Zaide (Aguilar 2000, 28-39).

On 10 December 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. Two weeks later, on 24 December, the Spanish colonialist troops under General Diego de los Rios surrendered Iloilo City, the last bastion of Spanish rule in Panay, to the revolutionaries under General Martin T. Delgado. A mere four days later, however, on 28 December, US ships under the command of Brigadier General Marcus P. Miller docked at Iloilo demanding surrender. The Ilonggo revolutionaries in Iloilo stalled the US forces for 44 days. On 11 February 1899, the US forces bombarded Iloilo with cannon fire, forcing Delgado and his troops to retreat to Santa Barbara (The San Francisco Call 1899).

The following day, hoping to gain the upper hand in future negotiations, the Negros government raised the US flag in Bacolod without a fight. President Lacson welcomed Colonel James Francis Smith, newly appointed US military governor of Negros. War Delegate General Araneta had withdrawn to his hacienda in Bago, from where he sent a terse note of welcome but with a veiled reminder that Negros was capitulating to America only because it had been “reconquered by force” and to respect Negros’s “internal independence” in exchange for its surrender. Hence, Colonel Smith approved the Negros government’s draft of a constitution that was premised on “a federal government for the Philippine archipelago.” On 2 October 1899, with both Lacson and Araneta having retired to their haciendas, Melecio Severino, secretary of the short-lived Negros Federal Island, was elected as Colonel Smith’s Filipino counterpart (The San Francisco Call 1899; Aguilar 2000, 46-47).

However, from the start of the US occupation, the common people of Negros demonstrated their resistance to American rule by keeping away from public oath-taking ceremonies. The leaders of a breakaway faction of General Araneta’s troops included Colonels Ramon Valencia, Buenaventura Lopez y Ayalin, Remigio Montilla, Juan Ledesma Hiponia, and Vicente Gamboa Benedicto; Majs Anacleto Santillan, Gil Severino, Miguel Severino, and Marciano Lopez Ayalin; Capts Romualdo Gestoso, Antonio Valera, Fausto Javelona, and Segundo Yorac; Lieuts Guillermo Severino, Arsenio Rafael, Porfirio Lopez Ayalin, Felix Yorac, Bento Sanchez, Tomas Severino, Maximino Lopez, and Ramon Gamboa (Varona 1938, 118, 124).

The family of plantation pioneer Agustin Montilla was actively engaged in the anti-American resistance movement. Remigio Montilla, a son, was captured and summarily executed by US soldiers at La Castellana. The family of Eugenio Lopez was equally active in the resistance. His daughter, Rosario Lopez, was expelled from Negros by Governor Smith for donating arms to the movement and for her anti-American pronouncements. Two other Lopez siblings supplied the movement with cavans of rice. Heading the guerillas in the north was Captain Luis Ginete, while Papa Isio headed the anti-US forces in the south (Cullamar 1986, 50-51; Varona 1938, 132; Sa-onoy 2014).

Teresa Magbanua
Teresa Magbanua (National Historical Institute and Negros Occidental Historical Commission)

On 28 July 1899, Captain Ginete’s troops prepared for an organized assault on the US forces. Their stronghold was in the hinterlands of Barangay Gintabuan, Saravia, now E. B. Magalona. From here, they were to join Papa Isio in the south. With them were Lieutenant Elias Magbanua of Pototan, Iloilo, youngest brother of the siblings, and Teresa Magbanua and General Pascual Magbanua, themselves revolutionaries-turned-resistance-fighters. On 19 August, Solitario (also known as Nicolas Bariles), a Filipino, guided the US forces to Gintabuan in exchange for 50 Mexican pesos. After a day’s battle and having run out of ammunition, the bolo-wielding Ilonggo fighters led by Lieutenant Magbanua charged on the US soldiers. When it ended, the Gintabuan fort and its two defense trenches were filled with the Ilonggo’s corpses, including that of Lieutenant Magbanua. No one among them had surrendered. On 23 September, the northern Negros forces finally fell after another US assault on Gintabuan. Nevertheless, it was four more months before Governor Smith could report, on 3 January 1900, that the resistance in Negros had been defeated. This was not entirely true, however, as the surviving forces had escaped through the mountain routes to join Papa Isio’s forces (Cullamar 1986, 52; Varona 1938, 133; Sa-onoy 2014).

In 1901, the central government in Manila, headed by General Miguel Malvar, promoted Papa Isio to the rank of colonel and appointed him military chief and politico-military governor of Negros. However, Malvar surrendered in 1902. The US government declared the Philippine-American War officially ended and labeled the remaining resistance fighters as robbers and bandits. The US military pillaged and burned villages, as it was doing on all the other islands. With the combined force of the US military, the Philippine Scouts, and the Philippine Constabulary (PC) in relentless pursuit, Papa Isio’s top-ranking leaders began surrendering. In 1907, Papa Isio, in his late 60s, was lured to surrender with the promise of a government position. He was welcomed into town with a musical band, a feast, and a parade. Then he was meted the death penalty and thrown into Bilibid prison, where he died in 1911. His followers were given heavy sentences, ranging from the death penalty to life imprisonment, the lightest penalty being 25 years of imprisonment (Cullamar 1986, 55-66).

For eight months in Panay, the Ilonggo fighters, rallied by Colonel Quintin Salas from Dumangas, held their defense line covering 10 kilometers across several towns. Recognized as a general by the Ilonggo folk although not a commissioned officer was Teresa Magbanua, who had led battles against the Spaniards and then against the Americans. After the revolutionary capital of Santa Barbara fell into American hands, she joined the guerrilla forces and earned the respect of both comrades and enemies for “her great skill in horsemanship, marksmanship, and valor” (Regalado and Franco 1973, 458).

Another woman who took part in the revolution and then the Philippine-American War was Nazaria Lagos, who converted her family’s hacienda home into a hospital that clandestinely served her compatriots in the revolution against Spain and in the guerillas’ resistance war against the United States. At a time when it was dangerous to display the Philippine flag, Nazaria purchased the cloth for it from nearby towns, sewed it with the help of other women, and raised it at the town plaza.

General Adriano Hernandez of Dingle organized the resistance fighters into guerilla units, thus earning the label “the tactician of Panay.” He had represented the Visayas at the Malolos Congress and had been captured by the Americans in Manila. After his release, he joined the resistance war against America in Iloilo and took charge of the ammunitions factory in the Maestranza Cave in Dingle (Salvilla 1993, 2:42).

For two years, the Panayanon Ilonggo resorted to guerrilla tactics until General Delgado finally surrendered to the US forces in Jaro during its town fiesta on 2 February 1901. The US civil government was established in Iloilo on 11 April 1901, and Delgado accepted the appointive position of governor. However, Colonel Quintin Salas continued the guerrilla resistance until October 1901. Raymundo Melliza and Benito Lopez successively became appointive governors until 1908.

Under the US civil government, elections were held on 30 July 1907. Five representatives of Iloilo were elected into Congress, including General Adriano Hernandez. Ruperto Montinola was elected provincial governor in 1908. In 1912, with the Filipinization of the civil service, Ramon Avanceña of Molo became chief justice of the Supreme Court, and Gregorio Araneta, also of Molo, became secretary of finance and justice. Among those who led the suffragette movement were three women from Panay: Pura Villanueva Kalaw, Sofia de Veyra, and Josefa Abiertas. Their efforts enabled women to vote in the first election of the Commonwealth period.

In the 1920s, the industrialization of the sugar industry created unemployment and labor unrest. Two labor associations, which were the predecessors to labor unions, sprang: the pro-labor Kusug sang Imol (Strength of the Masses) and the pro-hacendero Mainawaon (Merciful). However, their rivalry led to violent confrontations between the two groups and distracted them from workers’ real issues (Aguilar 1998, 225; Carbonel 1926).

A fleeting distraction was the Intrencherado movement, an anti-hacendero and anti-foreigner uprising in 1927 led by Florencio Natividad, also known as Flor de Intrencherado, a self-proclaimed “Emperor of the Philippines.” Natividad was of Jaro, Iloilo, where he had built a fortune on a dried-fish business in 1921. By 1927, he was in Negros, having gathered 30,000 followers, most of them hacienda workers. He promised them the abolition of taxes, a Filipino-controlled economy, and the redistribution of the wealth of the ruling elite. On 13 May 1927, his barefoot followers, armed only with bolos and siantong, attempted to take control of the hacienda towns of Negros such as La Castellana, La Carlota, Bago, Silay, and Victorias. In La Castellana, the rebels bound the policemen after throwing sand in their faces; and then they tied three Spanish hacenderos to posts and flogged them. In Bago, four government officials were killed, but so were several rebels. In Victorias, his men, led by his lieutenant Policarpio Montarde, seized the municipal building. Intrencherado and his followers retreated to Jaro, where Governor-General Leonard Wood negotiated his surrender. The authorities anticipated that jailing Intrencherado like a criminal would cause his thousands of followers to rise in revolt that would be uncontrollable. Hence, the local court had him confined at San Lazaro Hospital for mental illness. In May 1938, after a solar eclipse did not generate excitement in his followers, Intrecherado was quietly released from the hospital (Gilmore 1927, 111-112; Aguilar 1998, 224-225; Hurley 1938).

Filipino regiment on parade in Iloilo, 1898
Filipino regiment on parade in Iloilo, 1898 (National Historical Institute)

In 1928, labor leader, poet, and playwright Jose Ma. Nava founded the largest labor union outside of Luzon which led a strike in 1930 to 1931 that paralyzed shipping in Iloilo, inadvertently making Negros an alternative site for the sugar centrals and trading houses. Hence, the Iloilo economy declined and along with it, its literary and theatrical activity. Plantation owners and entrepreneurs moved to Negros Occidental and elsewhere.

On 12 April 1942, Japanese forces landed in Oton, Iloilo. Guerrilla resistance, led by Captain Julian Chavez, was based in the mountains of Calinog in Iloilo, Central Panay. Governor Tomas Confesor established a civil resistance government and Lieutenant Colonel Macario Peralta Jr. led the guerrilla forces.

In Negros on 21 May 1942, the Japanese landed in Bacolod, which had already been evacuated by its residents. Despite General Jonathan M. Wainwright’s radiobroadcast ordering all USAFFE forces to surrender, the Negrense officers Lieutenant Colonels Salvador Abcede and Ernesto Mata decided to conduct guerrilla warfare. During this initial stage of resistance, the rank-and-file carried on the war on their own with ambushes and other forms of harassment of the enemy. They set fire to hacienda houses that the enemy might occupy and to sugar plantations to prevent these from being harvested and distilled into ethanol, a substitute for gasoline. Bereft of leaders and organization, they came to be described as “wild units” and “brigands” (Cleope 2002, 26, 43).

When the the Japanese Imperial Government started pressuring Alfredo Montelibano to be their puppet governor in Negros, he evacuated with his family to the mountains and became the underground military governor of “Free Negros,” with Lieutenant Colonel Salvador Abcede as the commanding officer. They restored order and discipline among the guerrillas, and the looting dissipated (Uriarte 1962, 42).

Unable to entice the evacuees back from their mountain hideouts, the Japanese resorted to a reign of terror, particularly through its military police, the Kempeitai. They divided the island into the “free zone,” which was within 15 kilometers of the coast, and the “bandit zone,” which was any part outside this perimeter. Anyone found in the bandit zone would be shot. On the other hand, the civilian population that stayed within the “free zone” was vulnerable to enemy atrocities and, at the very least, being robbed of their stock of food at bayonet point. In Bacolod City, the Kempeitai interrogated suspects by subjecting them to unspeakable forms of torture. Their victims included PC provincial commander Alonzo Gatuslao, future Representative Felix P. Amante, La Carlota mayor Democrito Canlas, Emilio Zayco of Kabankalan, Ramon Planta of San Enrique, Bacolod department store owner William Kanaan, and businessman Masing Ciocon. Those tortured for reading and passing on the underground newspaper Free Philippines included Fernando Cuadra, Graciano Torbela, Jose Lopez Jr., and Santiago Ochoa. The graveyard for those that the Japanese executed in Bacolod is the site of the south wing of the Paglaum Sports Complex, Negros Occidental High School (Cleope 2002, 32-33; Uriarte 1962, 22; Guanzon 2002, 191).

During World War II, the evacuees in the “bandit zone” survived by reverting to their ancestors’ use of natural forest products. Clothing came from the most basic material and served an essential function: The bahag (loincloth) were woven from pakol; buttons were cut out of coconut shells; pineapple fibers were used for thread; and jute sacks were recycled into short pants. For jackets, they stripped the tree bark, which they beat into a pulp and dyed with plant juice. The sap of the papaya tree served as laundry soap while that of the acacia tree could be used for both laundry and bath soap. For food, there was a rich variety of root crops and yams besides the staple ones of camote, balinghoy, gabi (taro), and ube: bolot, egao, balyakag (Tag. tugi; lesser yam), and biga (giant taro). The pith of the lumbia and buri palm trees provided sago, which was made into natok (buri flour) to form into chewy balls called kinogay. Kulo and kamansi were two types of breadfruit that substituted for potato and bread. For salt, they made tultol, fist-sized balls of rock salt. To warn of approaching Japanese patrols, lookouts pounded on the tultugan (bamboo drum), blew the budyong (shell trumpet), or simply hung a color-coded sheet of cloth at a designated spot (Uriarte 1962, 145, 148; Cleope 2002, 50, 59).

The administrative government districts of the resistance movement had the facilities to listen to radio broadcasts, particularly of the KGEI from San Francisco. War news was transcribed and printed in newspapers, of which the most widely circulated were the English-language Voice of Freedom and its Hiligaynon version Tingug sang Kaluwasan, both of which Soledad Lacson Locsin edited. Other papers were The Freeman, edited by Lieutenant Tiburcio Tumbagahan; Liberator, edited by Captain Robert Betia, and Pahayag (Cleope 2002, 94).

In the “free zone” of Bacolod City, the residents tried to ease their tension by reviving familiar recreational activities such as mahjong and card games like pangguingge and monte. The youth formed basketball teams: the I Owe You 69, which included the brothers Tañedo and Labayen (one of whom became Bp Enrico Labayen), Isaac Gumban, and Homer Jocson; the Bakla Torotot, which included the brothers Lizares and Kilayko, Nena Borromeo, and Eli Coscolluela. Other teams were the Noravic 606, the Chinese Commercial, the Alipongoy, and the Great Question (Guanzon 2002, 187-188).

On 22 March 1945, Panay was officially declared liberated by General Douglas MacArthur. In Negros, the victory of the liberation forces at the Battle for Bago Bridge ensured the fall of the Japanese regime on 30 March 1945. The remnants of the Japanese imperial army retreated to Patag in Silay, where the wounded committed hara-kiri. The last of the Japanese soldiers, who were in Murcia, finally surrendered to Major Placido Ausejo, commanding officer of Negros Oriental (Guanzon 2002, 195-197).

In the 1950s, the conflict between the rich and the poor increasingly became a political issue. In 1951, Jose Ma. Nava and his son were arrested and jailed in the Bilibid for alleged membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines. In 1955, the positions of mayor, vice mayor, and city councilor became elective. Rodolfo Ganzon, who came from the lower middle class, succeeded in shattering the traditional oligarchy led by the powerful Lopez brothers, Fernando and Eugenio, with his program of “timawaism.” The program, he claimed, would transform the poor into a “strong, militant middle class,” which would make them ideologically independent of both “the rich and the communists.” Ganzon won as mayor and served as senator until 1971 (Leichter 1975).

Bacolod City politics, on the other hand, is more dynasty-based. One historian has remarked that the “political and socioeconomic history of the city is the history of the Montelibanos, Aranetas, Yulos, Gatuslaos, Lizareses, and Gonzagas” (Leichter 1975, 61), who at one time or another were the biggest sugar plantation owners in Negros.

On the other hand, grassroots interest is represented by the National Federation of Sugar Workers-Food and General Trade (NFSW), which organizes the various workers in the province, especially those in sugar plantations and in the mills. The NFSW was organized in 1971 with Father Luis Jalandoni as chairman of the Board of Directors. Father Jalandoni had been exposed to the exploitation of rural workers and dislocation of hill peasants when he became head of the diocesan Social Action Center. The NFSW’s organized action aimed to compel plantation owners to comply with the workers’ legal rights and benefits. The hacenderos, however, typically responded with forms of harassment and intimidation. When the workers went on strike, the police and PC were called in to break their picket lines and jail the leaders (Cruz-Lucero 1988, 129).

With the declaration of martial law on 21 September 1972, the NFSW lost the right to picket, hold public demonstrations, or conduct meetings. Hence, it shifted its activities to educating the workers, called conscientization, and to drawing up a land reform program. However, these activities were broadly interpreted by martial law as “subversive,” for which Luis Jalandoni was arrested and detained in 1973. On 1 May 1976, Labor Day, the NFSW defiantly held the first of a series of annual rallies and marches since the declaration of martial law. Some 2,000 workers bearing placards and streamers, and distributing pamphlets and manifestos, marched for two days from the north and south to converge in Bacolod City. On Labor Day of 1978, the number of marchers swelled to 12,000 (Cruz-Lucero 1988, 131-132).

By 1984, the collapse of the sugar industry and the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983 had given a number of hacenderos reason to forge a tactical alliance with the workers’ sector. They organized their own rallies in their own fashion and for their own reasons, giving each other a quota of the number of truckloads of their own workers to join them. The hacenderos’ issues concerned President Ferdinand Marcos’s stranglehold on the industry through agencies such as the National Sugar Trading Corporation (NASUTRA) and the Philippine Sugar Commission (PHILSUCOM), which was headed by his close crony Roberto S. Benedicto. On 4 February 1984, the hacenderos organized a “sugar rally” against the “economic terrorism” being wielded by the Marcos-Benedicto partnership. Claiming that within the past five years, 1979-1984, they as sugar producers had been deprived of their income of 8 billion pesos, they were thus “victimized by government control and injustice.” The sugar rally was a parade of a hundred plantation trucks and tractors with placard-carrying workers, millers, and hacenderos united in protest. At the same time, the hacendero protesters emphasized that “the issues were economic, not political” (Cruz-Lucero 1988, Appendices).

Ilonggo's Way of Life

Archaeological findings indicate extensive trade with other Asians from the 10th to the 15th centuries, particularly among the Chinese. Burial sites have yielded Ming porcelain jars, one of which is the magnificent, 36-inch tall, blue-and-white Ming burial jar discovered on Mount Kanlaon in Negros (Lopez-Gonzaga 1994, 12-13).

When the first Spanish colonizers arrived in Panay in 1565, they found an abundance of rice, swine, fowl, and honey for food; beeswax for lamps; woven pakol and cotton cloth (Spanish lampotes). By 1572, Manila had become greatly dependent on Panay for rice and meat (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:149-150; Echauz [1894] 1978, 109).

Negros abounded in rice, cocoa, and notably gamuto (Spanish cabo negro; Malay sago palm), which was preferred to abaca hemp as raw material for ship cables because it was stronger and more durable in seawater. The most fertile part of the island was in the south, which, besides the ubiquitous rice, had plenty of swine, fowl, and abaca. Thus, it had thickly populated villages, situated along the rivers Ylo (Ilog), Ynabagan (Binalbagan), Bago, Carobcob (Silay), and Tecgaguan, also known as Saravia and E. B. Magalona (San Agustin [1698] 1998; Loarca [1582] 1903, vol. 5).

Ilonggo man and women pounding rice
Ilonggo man and women pounding rice (Photo courtesy of Iloilo Provincial Library and Archives)

The kaingin (slash-and-burn or swidden) method was practiced in precolonial times, rice having been the Ilonggo’s staple food since ancient times. Hence, the Ilonggo calendar was based on the various stages of rice cultivation: Ulalen corresponds to the month of November, when the Pleiades appear to signal the start of production; Dagan Kahuy, when trees are cut for the clearing of the field; Daganenan Bulan, when the fields are cleared of the debris from the fallen trees; Elkilin, when the fields are burned; Inabuyan, when the fair winds blow; Kabay, when the weeds are uprooted; Irarapun, when the harvesting of rice begins, and Manalulsul, when the harvest season ends. The last four months remained nameless because no work was done in the fields (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:159-160).

Weaving and shipbuilding were indigenous industries in Panay and Guimaras. Ship building in Iloilo centered on the ports and shipyards of Oton and later, during the early Spanish colonial period, Arevalo. The people of Guimaras were well-reputed to be master carpenters and were thus in great demand in the rest of the archipelago for their skill in woodwork (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:57; Morga [1609] 1907).

Weavers in Iloilo
Weavers in Iloilo, circa 1907 (Photo courtesy of Iloilo Provincial Library and Archives)

Practically every house in the southern towns in Iloilo had a tidal (wooden loom). Indigenous fibers that were used for weaving were cotton and pakol, which then became sinamay (woven cloth). The weaving of patadyong (barrel skirt) became a home industry. After the pineapple plant was introduced into the Philippines from Mexico (Alvina and Madulid 2009, 720), piña (pineapple) and jusi (pineapple and silk) fibers were used to make fine cloth called nipis.

The weaving industry continued well into the 19th century, with the various towns establishing reputations for their specialties: Tigbauan continued to make cotton cloth and Jaro continued to weave pakol cloth. Oton produced table linen and silk, besides the traditional abaca and cotton cloth; La Paz and Barotac Nuevo produced piña; Dumangas produced piña as well as the sadok (hats) of woven bamboo or rattan strips; Pototan and Molo produced woven textiles of piña, abaca, and cotton (Fernandez [1898] 2006, 128). Miag-ao manufactured all kinds of cloth, especially nipis; Janiuay made striped cloth, called rayadillo, handkerchiefs, bed covers, tablecloths, and napkins. There were 10 different mixtures of cotton, silk, pineapple, and hemp fibers woven in Iloilo, out of 52 varieties of Philippine textiles available.

When the Spaniards arrived, sugarcane cultivation was widespread, and the making of wine from the juice of sugarcane, coconut, nipa palm, and rice was already known. By the 19th century, the panaderias (bakeshops) of Molo had become popular for their delicacies: biscochos (biscuits), ojaldres (puff pastries), and ensaimadas (twisted cakes) (Fernandez [1898] 2006, 123).

Iloilo sugar farmers
Iloilo sugar farmers, circa 1910 (Photo courtesy of Leo Cloma Collection)

The systematic production of sugar as an export crop and of rice was further developed in the 19th century. In the 1850s, the British vice consul in Iloilo, Nicholas Loney, saw Iloilo’s potential for exporting sugar. Under Loney’s initiative and guidance, the production of sugar in Iloilo and Negros was greatly increased with the introduction of centrifugal iron mills, even as better sugarcane seeds were imported from Sumatra. With such production capability, the sugar barons, led by Agustin Montilla and Ives Gaston, competed favorably in the world market. In Negros, the production of sugar rose from 14,000 piculs in 1859 to 618,120 in 1880 and 1,800,000 in 1893 (Constantino 1975, 122-3).

But as Loney contributed to the growth of the sugar industry by encouraging the importation of mills from Britain, so was he partly responsible for the decline of the hand-weaving industry of Iloilo because he introduced cheaper machine-made cloth, also from Britain. With the growth of the sugar industry, Iloilo City prospered. The elite lived on their haciendas, the middle class earned their wages from the shops and banks that thrived in the city, and the dockworkers and dumaan (permanent plantation workers) formed the backbone of the economy. In the 1930s, these class relations were transferred to Negros Occidental with the decline of the sugar industry in Iloilo. At present, land tenancy prevails in the rice-producing areas in Iloilo; in the sugar plantations, the minimum wage system is followed. However, there is also small farming in the valleys and coastal plains. Copra and fish are plentiful. Iloilo’s coastal towns are the country’s best fishing centers, as the inland Guimaras Strait yields an abundance of fish.

Negros Occidental, also called the “Sugar Bowl of the Philippines,” accounted for 50% of the total sugarlands in the country. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, the sugar industry suffered a decline due to the absence of financing, nonpayment of sugar harvests, and the slump in the price of sugar in the world market. The hacenderos then resorted to crop diversification and inland fishing, particularly prawn culture.

In the hinterlands, barter economy exists side by side with cash economy. A place called tabuan is designated for the folk to converge regularly to buy and sell goods. The tabuan and permanent marketplaces, the tiangge, provide occasions for the singing of the composo (ballad) about folk heroes or about the goods being sold. In areas where mechanization is still uncommon, the cast-iron plow has replaced the more traditional wooden plow. The bolo is used for clearing the farm, chopping, and defense. For cane cutting, the espading (machete) is used.

Trade has existed between Iloilo and neighboring areas since the 19th century. The carriada trade, which flourished from the 1800s to the 1920s, operated between Miag-ao in Iloilo and Sibalom in Antique, with traders utilizing the mountain trails. On the other hand, the batel trade, which used the locally made passenger boat called batel, plied the route between Miag-ao, Iloilo and Hinigaran, Negros Occidental. This trade, which evolved from the 1930s to the 1950s, was responsible for the peopling of Hinigaran and has brought sacadas (seasonal sugarcane plantation workers) from Iloilo and Antique to Negros since the 1950s (Madrid 1995; Santarita 1995).

The development of Iloilo was sluggish after World War II. The destruction of sugar centrals, coupled with intense labor problems at its port, made rehabilitation efforts more difficult. Infrastructure projects became the centerpiece of development initiatives, such as the construction of the Iloilo Fish Port Complex, International Sea Port, and Diversion Road. From the 1980s to the 1990s, Iloilo’s sugar-based economy shifted to fishery and aquaculture, although palay and mango were still its major products. However, the shift in land use from agriculture to aquaculture and real estate posed a threat to rice production (Funtecha 1997). On the other hand, the mangrove forests of Panay shrank to a mere 7,276 hectares when these were overrun by prawn and fishponds, and salt beds. Technological disasters such as the oil spill in Guimaras in 2006 have exacerbated the ecological impact on the breeding grounds of fish and marine biodiversity. Consequently, fisherfolk have been compelled to migrate continually in search of fishing grounds (NEDA-RDC6 2011, 110).

Although Negros, Iloilo, and Guimaras have a tourist market, recent hopes of participation in the global marketplace have been confined largely to employment in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. However, BPO companies are concentrated primarily in the cosmopolitan cities of Iloilo and Bacolod which, as of 2009, have between them the following outsourcing establishments: nineteen call centers, two medical transcription services, and five others offering various BPO services (NEDA-RDC6 2011, 27, 50).

Negros Occidental is one of the country’s richest provinces, based on its overall income, which in 2013 was 2.2 billion pesos. However, the province also has the largest population of impoverished persons in proportion to its total population. Negros Occidental has one million impoverished persons, which is 33% of its total population. The disproportionaly high incidence of poverty prevails in the rural areas, where 54% of agricultural land is planted to sugarcane (COA 2014, NEDA-RDC6 2011, 13). Seasonal unemployment, from April to July, is characteristic of the sugar industry, when all work at the plantations and mills is finished, and the wait for the next planting cycle begins. This four-month period is called tiempos muertos (the dead season).

The end of martial law in 1986 restored old freedoms and created new ones that could respond to circumstances particular to the period. In Negros, crop diversification, expertise in peasant organizing, and land reform were the combined factors that created the Alter Trade Corporation (ATC) in 1987. Its primary export products are muscovado sugar and balangon (native Cavendish) banana. Following the principles of fair trade, ATC is an alternative enterprise that distributes its net sales as dividends among its farmers, typically land reform beneficiaries, and helps them to organize cooperatives and pursue various livelihood projects. Many rebel returnees are partner-associates of the ATC, foremost among them former chief of the Negros New People’s Army, Silvino Gallardo. In 1997, he established the Diversified Organic Enterprises, which is the branch of the ATC that recycles the crops’ wastes to produce organic fertilizer. Despite setbacks, such as typhoons and harassment from the New People’s Army of Negros, the ATC’s net income in 2011 to 2012 was 40 million pesos. However, starting in 2015, a prolonged drought, also known as the El Niño phenomenon, has wrought total destruction on at least 30% of ATC’s crop sources and has either shrunk or severely damaged the other 70%. The harvest of sugarcane, which is a hardier plant, will be delayed by several months and with a significant decline in volume (Espina 2002; Ombion 2007; Nicavera 2015; Lopez 2013; The Visayan Daily 2016).

There are still plantation owners who demand the unstinting loyalty of their workers on pain of sudden termination, regardless of whether they are sacada or dumaan. The off-season period can be used to advantage by plantation owners to terminate dumaan workers whose loyalty they deem wanting. In July 1996, during the off-season, Hortensia L. Starke, former congresswoman and owner of a 236-hectare sugar plantation in Barangay Orong, Kabankalan City, terminated 76 of her 220 workers. She made the reason clear in her Order of Notice: that the 76 workers had applied to be beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) instead of supporting the hacienda’s application to be reclassified from agricultural to industrial, commercial, and residential land. The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court ruled in the workers’ favor and ordered Starke to pay them their backwages and attorney’s fees totaling 550,000 pesos (Hacienda Bino 2005).

Even into the 21st century, plantation owners continue to intimidate workers who assert their rights even by legal means. In 2003, the owners of Hacienda Fatima terminated 36 workers who had joined the NFSW-FGT labor union. When the NLRC ruled in favor of the workers, the hacienda owners defied all their orders, refusing to meet with the union representatives for a collective bargaining agreement, using their private army to bar the union from the hacienda, and sending in scabs during the workers’ strike (Hacienda Fatima 2003).

Restored Eusebio Villanueva Building, a heritage structure in Iloilo City
Restored Eusebio Villanueva Building, a heritage structure in Iloilo City, 2014 (Ivan Man Dy)

Extreme weather changes from one year to the next have wrought havoc on the region’s economy, which is primarily dependent on agriculture, fishery, and forestry. On 21 and 22 June 2008, Western Visayas experienced the worst typhoon in recorded history. Typhoon Frank (international name Fen Shen) plunged Panay Island in almost total darkness as the winds of 200 kilometers an hour felled electric posts and lines, and caused the shutdown of the power plant in Dingle. More than 30,000 residents were stranded on rooftops and trees. Panay Island was commonly described as “one big sea,” as floodwaters reached rooftops of two-story residences. All 42 muncipalities and two cities of Iloilo were inundated, in whole or in part, particularly those toward the north of the province: Barotac Viejo, Sara, Maasin, Cabatuan, Pavia, and Santa. Barbara. In sum, at least 375,600 families suffered, 45,000 houses were destroyed, and 315 people were killed. It damaged 3.1 billion pesos worth of agriculture and 6.4 billion of infrastructures. However, in 2010 the climate drastically reversed itself, with El Niño compelling farmers to delay planting as they waited for the drought to end (NEDA-RDC6 2011, 31; Reliefweb 2008; Burgos Jr., 2008).

In November 2013, Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) swept through central and northern Iloilo, destroying 1,303 or 75% of its 1,721 barangays, wrecking 170,000 houses, and rendering 215,000 families homeless. Typhoon Yolanda was the worst calamity on record that hit Negros Occidental, particularly the northern cities of Cadiz, Sagay, and Escalante. Across the province, it destroyed 518 barangays, wrecked 63,000 houses, and rendered 100,000 families homeless (CESVI 2013; Bayoran 2013).

As of 2009, the region produced a surplus of rice, at least 30% more than its population needs. It supplied the country with at least 14% of its rice consumption, making it second to Central Luzon in production volume (NEDA-RDC6 2011). Hence, national government looks to the region to supply the country’s staple food. Aiming to increase its rate of production, the government passed a law in 1960 for the construction of the Jalaur Multipurpose Project (JRMP). This consists of a series of dams scheduled to be built along Jalaur River and other nearby rivers from 2016 to 2020. Preparations have been made toward the construction of a mega-dam in Barangay Agcalaga, Calinog and three smaller dams along Ulian, Tagbacan, and Jayubo Rivers in the municipality of Lambunao. The project aims to provide irrigation water for 32,000 hectares of farmlands to benefit the region’s 783,000 farmers; supplement the province’s electric supply with hydroelectric power; and increase the supply of water for personal consumption and industrial use. However, 13 barangays of tumandok (indigenous people) in the vicinity will be displaced: Of the four barangays that will be completely inundated, three have already received their Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs) to the land from which they must be forcibly evacuated. Their resistance to the project has brought in the military and a paramilitary group called the Kabayan Action Group (Jalaur 2012).

The region abounds in mineral reserves; metallic minerals are found mostly in its mountainous areas and non-metallic minerals are collected in coastline municipalities and caves. However, the mining industry has caused severe ecological imbalance, which has in turn created short- and long-term problems: heavy air pollution caused by dust particles emanating from open pit mining and quarrying; chemical poisoning of the rivers and coastal waters; exploitation of labor; and displacement of the communities from their farmsteads. The long and turbulent history of the Maricalum Mining Corporation (MMC) in Sipalay, southern Negros illustrates these problems. Tailings are the toxic wastes of a mineral processing plant, which dumps these in a storage facility called tailing ponds. Between 1982 and 1996, the three tailing ponds of MMC collapsed four times, each time flooding the nearby farms and spilling into the coastal waters. MMC’s tailings consisted of lead, cadmium, zinc and cyanide. At least 1,000 hectares of rice, corn, and vegetables were destroyed; and fish kills occurred in rivers and coastal seas. More than 1,200 families in peasant communities and fishing villages of Sipalay and Cauayan were displaced. In 1996, the effects of the toxics that had been ingested and inhaled by the human populace started to manifest themselves as skin diseases, allergies, and lung problems. Organized protests by the local communities and environmental organizations succeeded in calling a halt to MMC’s operations. In turn, the mining company resorted to mass layoffs, claiming a fall in the production. Nevertheless, MMC has renewed its mining permit for commercial operations covering the period from 1998 to 2023 (Ombion and Cadagat 2000; DENR 2015).

Mining permits, also known as Mineral Production Sharing Agreements, with expiry dates ranging from 2018 to 2035, have been granted to several other mining companies besides the MMC. These licenses allow either mining exploration or commercial operation. The mining companies are in the mineral-rich areas of southern Negros: Vulcan Industrial and Mining Corporation for copper and gold in Sipalay and Hinobaan; Philex Gold Phils Inc. for gold in Hinoba-an; Selenga Mining Corporation for gold, copper, silver, and molybdenum in Sipalay; San Dominico Minerals and Industrial Corporation for manganese and other mineral deposits in Kabankalan; Silicon Development Corporation in Babiera and Sagay for silica, sand, and quartz (DENR 2015).

The following mining companies are in Iloilo: Teresa Marble Corporation for copper and gold in Lemery, Sara, and Ajuy; Quarry Ventures Phils Inc. for copper and gold in Sara; Minimax Mineral Exploration Corporation for copper and gold in Concepcion and Ajuy; and I. C. Bertumen & Company Inc. for basalt and other such mineral deposits. In Guimaras, the Dorilag Cement Corporation has an exploration permit for limestone in Jordan and Buenavista (DENR 2015).

In the provinces of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat Mindanao, where the Ilonggo population is the majority, are the following mining companies: South Davao Development Company Inc. for gold, copper, and other such mineral deposits in Tampakan and Columbio; GRCO Isulan Mining Corporation for copper and gold in Bagumbayan; and TMC-Tribal Mining Corporation for copper and gold in Tboli (DENR 2015).

On the other hand, both the Western Visayas and Negros Island Regions have the abundant natural resources to produce biofuel in commercial quantities. Sugarcane can be processed into bio-ethanol, and land reform beneficiaries can diversify into the planting of tuba-tuba (Jatropha curcas), a plant that not only produces biodiesel but also increases soil fertility and decreases erosion. Power plants of renewable sources of energy in Negros Occidental are the San Carlos Bioenergy in San Carlos City; the Northern Negros Geothermal Project in Bago City and Murcia; and the Northern Negros BioFuel Corporation, which cultivates tuba-tuba on 5,000 hectares of land in Cadiz City. In Passi City, Iloilo, a sugar mill has been transformed into the Co-Generation Power Plant of the Central Azucarera de San Antonio in Passi City, Iloilo (NEDA-RDC6 2011, 88-9).

The increasing demand for sustainable food sources, clean environment, traffic control, and relatively peaceful communities has encouraged the forging of alliances among local government units in Iloilo Province. The Metro Iloilo Development Council—composed of Iloilo City and the municipalities of Leganes, Pavia, Oton, and San Miguel as well as Guimaras province—is an alliance to address common needs of the Ilonggo population. Private and public sectors have become more active partners in project implementation. The restoration of heritage buildings, rehabilitation of Iloilo River, the construction of international airports in Iloilo City and Silay City, Negros Occidental, the construction of the Jaro Floodway and the circumferential road, and the resettlement of informal settlers are projects demonstrating the convergence of public and private efforts.

Political System of the Ilonggo People

A village, in precolonial times, consisted of several sakup or districts, each of which was headed by a datu. Thus, there could be several datus living in one village. The datu was the judge in matters of dispute, the protector and defender, and a feudal lord. His sinakpan (subjects) were of two classes: the timawa (freemen or warriors) and oripun (slaves). The timawa’s main function was to protect his datu, including doing such tasks as tasting his wine for poison. They rowed the datu’s boat on raiding forays, carried their datu’s weapons, and were on familiar terms with him. The oripun were obliged to provide economic and political support for the datu and timawa, since the latter two did not engage in agricultural or industrial activity (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:142-3).

According to their mythology, it was the goddess Lubluban who handed down their laws, which the datus had the exclusive responsibility to implement. Legislative decisions by the datu were done publicly and with the guidance of the ponu-an, a council of elders knowledgeable in matters of custom law. Although law was handed down by tradition, amendments could be made with the consensus of the other datus. The datu decided on a case after listening to the sworn testimony of the conflicting parties. All crimes, including murder and disobedience to the datu, were punishable by fines, which could be paid for with servitude. Graver crimes deserving punishment by slavery were murder, adultery, theft, and offenses against women of any rank, particularly when they were caused to disrobe, whether deliberately or accidentally. A datu was not exempted from being fined should he commit murder or adultery (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:136, 146).

The Ilonggo regularly went to war and thus had a set of laws ensuring that their wars were honorable. A village could rightly declare war on another for three reasons: if a village member was killed in another village without provocation; if a wife was abducted; and if a trader in another village was treated badly. Raids on enemy villages were regulated by a code of ethics for the victors. One could not kill a captive; otherwise, he either paid the value of the slain captive’s life or he would be enslaved. All the war booty was given to their datu, who handed a small fraction of it to his crew of timawa, who rowed his war boat. When several datus came together to conduct a raid, half of the booty was distributed evenly among them and the other half given to the mag-aanito, the baylan who held the ritual prayers to the ancestral spirits for a victorious war (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:144-145).

To keep a tight control over the colonized population, the Spanish regime resorted to the reduccion process, in which the local inhabitants living in far-flung hamlets and farmsteads were forced to live in colonized settlements. These were villages that had already existed when the Spaniards arrived, such as Oton and Himamaylan, or new towns founded by the Spaniards, such as Arevalo and Isabela. In religious terms, resettlement of the inhabitants also meant living debajo de las campanas (within hearing of the bells). From the year of its founding by Governor Gonzalo Ronquillo in 1581, the town of Arevalo became the seat of the provincial government of Iloilo. Here the government officials resided: the provincial governor, four municipal councilors, a sheriff, two municipal judges, one notary public, and another notary for the municipal council. The municipal councilors were elected for life, and the sheriff was coterminous with the governor (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:69).

A gobernadorcillo with his wife in Bais, Negros Occidental
A gobernadorcillo with his wife in Bais, Negros Occidental, circa 1898 (The Philippine Islands and Their People by Dean Worcester. The Macmillan Company, 1898.)

Like the rest of the pueblos in the country, the towns of Iloilo and Negros Occidental were ruled by gobernadorcillos (mayors). Elected by past officials, these mayors usually came from the landed or wealthy class. In governance, the gobernadorcillos were aided by lower barrio officials called cabezas de barangay in the collection of taxes and the implementation of orders from the provincial alcalde mayor or the gobernador-general. The local guardia civil enforced the laws. The whole political system was governed and controlled by the Spanish friar curate, whose ignorance, caprices, and abuses are satirized by reformist Lopez Jaena in his work “Fray Botod.”

The present system consists of the barangay captain, a vice chair, and kagawad (councilors), all of whom are elected every three years. A manughusay (arbiter) may be called upon to mediate between members of the community in conflict. Highly regarded by community members because of their age and distinction, the manughusay resolves conflicts based on custom law. The barangay captain, parangkutan, and manughusay may assist each other in settling cases on the barangay level. Such an authority system has been modified by the barrio political organization and more recently by barangay law. As a last resort, higher officials of the local government unit (LGU), under the jurisdiction of the municipality, may intervene when called upon by the conflicting parties (Jocano 1968; Muyco 2008, 45-50). An indigenous ideology still exists in the concept of gaba, a curse brought upon an individual for an offense committed, and gahum, an individual’s power and leadership ability deriving from the combination of a mystical force, personality, social position, and age.

National legislation provides for the organization of at least 16 barangay committees and councils, the aim of which is either to maintain peace and order or to generate development projects. Some of these committees have the following names: Barangay Anti-Drug Abuse Committee, Barangay Human Rights Protection, Barangay Ecological Solid Waste Management Committee, Senior Citizens Council, and Barangay Physical Fitness and Sports Development Council. However, the proliferation of committees has led to such concerns as overlapping of functions, inefficient utilization of resources, and the strain on the local government budget. On the other hand, barangays in Negros that are reportedly affected by the insurgency movement have increased from 18 to 106 within the two-year period of 2008-10 (NEDA-RDC6 2011, 103-104).

Ilonggo Culture, Social Organization, Customs and Traditions

Traditional Ilonggo social hierarchy consisted of five classes: datu, timawa, oripun, ati (negrito), and outsiders from across the seas. According to an Ilonggo origin myth, these five types of people made up all of humankind. The term “datu” referred to both the social class and the chieftain who belonged to this class. He had a retinue of personal vassals called timawa. Inheritance of a datu or timawa’s property, including his slaves, was divided evenly among his children. Illegitimate offspring inherited only what their legitimate siblings were willing to give them (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:147).

Ilonggo children
Ilonggo children, 1905 (Photo courtesy of John Tewell, colorized by Eduardo S. Sison/Kinulayang Kasaysayan)

The datu class was also referred to as manggaranon (rich), halangdon (held in high respect), and dungganon (honorable). Among the other halangdon and dungganon were the sabiosar (wise) and the babaylan. The datu was also the agalon (feudal lord and master) of the timawa and the oripun. Because the sugar-based agricultural system maintains feudal relations between landlord and tenant or worker, many of these terms are still in current use.

By the 17th century, the datu and timawa had been absorbed into the Spanish colonial structure, and the timawa, now subjugated by Spanish military might, had to seek a means of subsistence, such as farming and fabric weaving. The current meaning of “timawa” is “poor or destitute,” evidence of the effect that Spanish colonization had on indigenous society.

These two upper classes were economically supported by the commoners called oripun, who were further divided into three subclasses. The aywey were of the lowest status; they lived in their master’s house, serving him three days in every four. Higher in status were the the tumarampok, who had their own residence and either served one in every four days or paid their master six cavans of rice per year. Their wives served by spinning and weaving cotton for the master for half of every month. The property of both classes of slaves was inherited by their master when they died. The most respectable slaves were the tumataban, who either served only five days per month or gave three cavans of rice per year. They helped with the preparations when the master held a feast and in turn were invited to partake of the drinks. At death, their property was to be divided evenly among their children and their master (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:138-139).

In times of hardship, a person or family could go into voluntary servitude for food, usually under a relative who had the greater means. Slaves could become free after paying off their debt, which might have been the cause of their slavery, or as payment given in gratitude by a master. Thus, vertical mobility was possible within this structure. The datu, on the other hand, kept the noble line unbroken by marrying only a binukot, literally “woman who is in the room,” from bukot (a room), meaning “well-kept maiden,” or the daughter of a leading family of other sakup, whether by proper arrangement or abduction. Inscribed in the historical memory of the Halawodnon are the panambian (wars) waged against the Pan-ayanon because of the abduction of a binukot. The Halawodnon call such acts of roguery gapamuyong, from the word buyong (rogue) or gapang-ati (robbery) (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:110, 114; Bobadilla [1640] 1903, 29:291-292; Magos 1996, 122-123).

The binukot was so called because she was carefully hidden in her room from men until she was appropriately married at 11 or 12. As a result, she was very fair-skinned and commanded a very high bride-price or dowry. Even after marriage, she confined herself largely to her room, and when she went outside, she was borne on the shoulders of favored slaves or carried on a hammock. However, some binukot had the rights and privileges of a chief and could wield authority in their own right. Present-day binukot are still to be found among the Panay Bukidnon (Bobadilla [1640] 1903, 29:291-2; Alcina 1668; Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:110; Magos 1996, 122-123).

Despite what might seem to be a highly restricted life for the binukot, there was no concept of virginity or of female adultery in precolonial society. Adultery was never blamed on a married woman but only on her male lover. In effect, therefore, there was no concept of the adulteress but only of the adulterer, who was made to pay a fine when caught. To heighten the pleasure of sexual intercourse, husbands wore penis rings, of which there were 20 kinds to choose from (Loarca [1582] 1904, 112-114).

The Ilonggo kinship system follows the general Philippine pattern, relationship being traced along both paternal and maternal lines, with terms of address indicating the relative position of each member of the family.

Marriage arrangements follow the traditional way: Parental approval and arrangement are requisites, made possible through a ceremony called pamalaye or pabalayon. The ceremony has three stages. The first meeting, in which the two families formally acknowledge that the woman has not been promised to anyone else, is called the pabagti, sometimes also called the padul-ong or kagon. The second meeting, called the pahimpit, involves negotiations between the two sets of parents, which end when the woman’s parents confirm their agreement to the engagement. A manogpatigayon serves as arbiter or spokesperson for both parties in the talks. The third meeting is the padul-ong, a formal ceremony in which the engagement is announced. During the engagement period, the woman’s family is served by the man in a practice called panghagad.

An illustration of the close ties between Cuyo and Panay is the wedding of the son of the datu of Cuyo (Palawan) and the daughter of the datu of Oton in early 1600s, where the Cuyonon datu paid a very high bride-price and distributed gifts of great value not only to the bride’s immediate family and distant relatives but also to her family’s many slaves (Chirino [1604] 1903, 12:89).

The marriage celebration itself is festive and costly. In the past, a bolo dance called sinulog or sayaw followed behind the bride and groom as they walked from the church. This has now been replaced by the practice of the newlyweds posing for photographs with their families. At the wedding reception, the host families may be able to keep within the food budget by secretly placing huya-huya (mimosa leaves) under the tables. This is believed to make the guests too shy to eat too heartily. The day after the wedding, the groom formally presents his bride to his family in a ceremony called the pasaka ka umagad, literally “to welcome the in-law.”

The newlyweds may initially stay with the bride’s family for a few days then move in with the groom’s family for a longer period, until the couple sets up residence, usually as decided on by the husband, with his wife’s concurrence. In the past, the groom was expected to serve the bride’s family for the first few months. The father is the head of the family, though household matters (e.g., preparing the meals, buying clothing for the family, entertaining visitors and relatives, attending to the children’s needs) are the mother’s responsibilities. Grandparents are respected and cared for, their opinions sought, and their advice followed. They may be part of the household and in their terminal years are attended to by the favorite daughter or son. Equal inheritance for the children is observed.

When a woman is about to give birth, several practices are meant to drive away evil spirits. She is provided with a pangalap, a kind of talisman passed on from grandmother to granddaughter, to protect her from evil spirits. The house is shut tight, all openings covered with old clothes, because the smell of birthing blood attracts the evil spirits. The luy-ahan ritual is held, in which seven slices of ginger are pounded and rubbed on the woman’s body.

Visitors who come to see the infant must utter the words, “purya usog” to ward off usog, a power that causes stomachache, or “purya abay,” meant to ward off abay, a power that causes lifelong illness or ill luck.

A boy’s coming of age is not marked by any special ceremonies, except for circumcision. Adulthood is simply measured by the ability to help ease the family’s economic burden, no matter what the person’s age. However, there are certain rituals for the girl during her first menstrual period. She descends the ladder and jumps to the ground from the third-to-the-last step. Then she bathes with a piece of cloth or towel. This will ensure that in subsequent menstrual periods she will not have pasmu, characterized by bodily pain and a foul odor.

Courtship is also marked by certain talismans and customs. When a girl begins to attract male attention, the parents may protect her from the boy’s sexual advances by attaching a talisman consisting of huya-huya, scrapings from the mortar, and pieces of a land snail’s shell. The mimosa will make the boy shy, the scrapings will make him stay put, and the shell will make him move slowly. This talisman also renders him temporarily impotent. On the other hand, there are also talismans to make the girl fall for the boy. Hiwit is the boy’s act of boiling the girl’s clothes until she comes to him. Tiw-tiw is made of plant roots prescribed by a babaylan. This is dipped into the water that she will bathe in. When she pours the water over her body, she becomes entranced by him. Lumay consists of leaves, roots, and other plants known to the babaylan. This is mixed with coconut oil and rubbed on the girl’s hair to make her fall under the boy’s spell.

Funeral rituals occur nine days before and nine days after the burial. The latter is called bilasyon. When a person dies, the family members light bonfires all around their house and guard the coffin to keep malevolent spirits away. During the period before the burial, the family members cannot bathe, comb their hair, or sweep the floor. To do so would result in another death or a series of deaths. As the corpse is carried from the house, water is poured over the threshold and the ladder is swept with the adgaw plant. After the funeral, the mourners, at the entrance of the house, wash their hands and feet with water that has been boiled with pomelo leaves. On the third night of the bilasyon, the mourners hold the tagapamuling ritual, in which they are covered with soot, which they wash off early the next morning in a ritual called pagtabog sang dagaw (to drive away evil spirits). A mourner pounds the floor three times with a bamboo pole and is answered by another mourner who beats two sides of the mortar with a stick. At midnight, the mourners formally bid farewell to the spirit of the deceased. A mortar and a kalalaw (winnowing basket) are beaten while the old clothes of the deceased are gathered in a bundle and thrown out of the window.

Other ritual practices are held for special events, such as building and moving houses and various phases of agriculture. The Almanaque, a small pamphlet containing dates, lunar cycles, tides, and so forth, is still consulted when significant activities are to be held. It is believed that a house must be built during certain phases of the year when the builder can hit the belly of the bakunawa, a mythological snake.

Ilonggo Religious Beliefs and Practices

Although the early Ilonggo believed in many gods, the most powerful was Makaako, the creator. Kaptan was the god of the earth, and Magyawan was the god of the sea. Manunubo was also the good spirit of the sea. Bululakaw and Sidapa lived in the island’s sacred mountain called Madya-as. The chief goddess, Laon, was believed to reside in Mount Kanlaon of Negros Occidental. However, another myth identifies Laon as the creator god, who is female. The people pray to her for a good harvest or when pestilence, like a plague of locusts, strikes.

A babaylan ritual in Miag-ao, Iloilo,
A babaylan ritual in Miag-ao, Iloilo, 1979 (CCP Collections)

The Ilonggo and the Karay-a have different gods and destinations for the afterlife. The Ilonggo believe that their soul is first taken by the god Maguayen. The god Sumpoy then guides the soul toward a very high mountain in Borneo, which is ruled by the god Sisiburanen. The Karay-a believe that the afterlife is on Mount Madya-as, where the god Sidapa resides. He determines the day of a person’s death by marking every newborn’s lifespan on a very tall tree that stands on Mount Madya-as. When a person dies, the baylan must hold a maganito, which is a ritual offering to the god Pandaque, so that the soul of the deceased is not taken by the gods Simuran and Siginarugan to an afterlife of torment (Loarca [1582] 1904, vol. 5).

The destination of the soul depends on the manner in which death occurs. A violent death is an honorable one, and the soul goes to the afterworld by way of the rainbow and becomes a god. The soul of a person who has drowned remains in the sea and is memorialized by a garment of the deceased person attached to a bamboo pole that is erected on the beach. When the relative of a drowned person falls ill, the baylan and the family board a biniday or boat with a chest full of gifts for the deceased, and they throw this into a spot in the sea designated by the baylan. Mangalos, spirits eating the insides of children, cause their death, whereas it is the hangin (the death wind) that takes the life of the elderly. The deceased is buried in a wooden coffin that must be filled with precious items such as gold and fine clothing. If they die impoverished and thus without these valuables to accompany them to the afterlife, they will remain in the netherworld, where the gods will devour them (Loarca [1582] 1904, vol. 5).

Persons who are ill are said to be inaswang (bewitched) or sininda (hit by the spell of environmental spirits). Sinda comes to the person through the bululakaw, a malevolent god in the form of a bird with a flaming tail. Sa-ub or possession by spirits called tamawo that reside in trees and springs also causes illness.

Today, Ilonggo religious beliefs are a mixture of indigenous and Christian elements. The kalibutan (universe) consists of three parts: the udtohan (upper world), inhabited by God and his virtuous angels; the katung-anan (middle world), inhabited by tamawo, tubignon, and tabuknon (spirits of trees, rivers, and seas), who were once Lucifer and his followers and can assume the form of a kataw (mermaid) or a siokoy (merman); and the idadalman or idadalmun (underworld), inhabited by the engkanto or tamawo (evil spirits) (de Castro 1987).

Stone image of Nuestra Señora de Candelaria in Jaro Cathedral, Iloilo,
Stone image of Nuestra Señora de Candelaria in Jaro Cathedral, Iloilo, 2011 (Kendrick Dominic T. Yu)

God and his angels keep themselves remote from the people. The spirits of the underworld actively engage in human affairs. The tamawo can be either friendly or evil. They live in resplendent palaces that look like mere boulders to the human eye. When a person attracts them, they entice the person to join them in eating human flesh.

The engkanto are believed to reside in places called palhi or mari-it (e.g., cliffs, bamboo groves, boulders, earth mounds, and large trees like the acacia and balete). Animal sounds such as horses neighing, roosters crowing, birds tweeting, and frogs croaking, as well as mysterious kitchen noises, indicate the presence of engkantos (de Castro 1987, 90-109).

Aswang come in different forms. The tiktik is a bird that eats human liver. The bagat, usually in the form of a huge dog or some grotesque creature, preys on lone travelers. The sigbin, also a dog, preys on people at noontime. The baua looks like a big hen, but it can easily snap its victim’s neck. The kama-kama are dwarfs living in earth mounds; they are lazy and fun loving. The santirmu is a dancing ball of fire believed to be carried by wandering souls of the dead. The marmanhig, also maranhig, is a living dead as strong as 10 persons. The mantyo (mantiw) is a tall, thin giant who is usually seen at night leaning on a kapok tree. The kapre is a black, hairy giant smoking a large cigar and sitting on the branch of a big tree. The ukoy is a sea monster with a human face with gills and a froglike body.

Respect for the priest has not completely replaced the belief in the power of the babaylan, although the latter’s number has dwindled. The first Bornean datus who came to Panay brought their religion called Bangotbanwa. Their diwata (god) was called Sitaho, also known as Sibo Malabag. The genealogy of their baylan began with Cabus-Cabus, followed by Dangse, and so on down through the generations. In the mid-19th century, the chief baylan was Estrella Bangotbanwa, who was believed to have great supernatural powers (Fernandez [1898] 2006, 136). The babaylan held an important political, social, religious, and cultural role. They were advisers to the datu and spiritual and physical healers of the community.

The baylan presides over ritual offerings for the following occasions: when a person falls ill, at a person’s wake and funeral, at the start of planting season, and at the onset of war. The ritual offerings consist of a live pig, jars of rice wine, rice, bananas, and a variety of other dishes. Gongs and metal drums are played as the baylan chants her prayers and invokes the diwata, who responds by speaking through her. The baylan pierces the pig’s heart with a spear and invokes the spirits appropriate to the occasion: the ancestral spirits for a wake or funeral, or the gods of war, Balangaw, Inaginid, and Makanduk (Loarca [1582] 1903, vol. 5).

Among the fisherfolk, the baylan holds the daga, which is the ritual sacrifice of a chicken or black pig, whose blood is poured over a new boat, fishpen, or fishpond. The sacrificial animal is cooked and laid on a small bamboo raft alongside other ritual food such as suman or ibus (sticky rice cakes wrapped in palm leaves) and some money that should add up to an odd number. As the baylan chants, the raft is gently pushed toward the fishpond or pen. The tu-ob (smoke) ceremony, held during the Holy Week, aims to rid a fishing boat of evil spirits and to obtain a large haul of fish. Ritual objects of Holy Week are mixed with flammable materials, burned, and the ashes rubbed on the fishing boat and equipment (de Castro 1987).

Under colonialism, the babaylan often led popular revolts, such as that of Tapar in 1633 in a mountainous barrio of Dueñas town. He commanded a large following, ranging from Jaro in the south to Passi in the north, by preserving the people’s indigenous belief in their nuno (Tag. ninuno; ancestral spirits) and their ancient ritual practices, such as the halad (food offering of chicken, pig, and palm wine) while wearing the appropriate ritual garment of the patadyong. However, he also appropriated certain elements of the Catholic religion, and he named the leaders of his movement after those of its deity, saints, apostles, and church officials. In the town of Danao, circa 1762 to 1764, during the British occupation of Manila, the baylan poisoned the parish priest, who survived but lost his mind. He was sent to Manila, where a British sentry shot him after he escaped from the convent and wandered the streets in a daze late at night. In 1874 in the mountainous area of Tubungan, another priest was speared to death when he attempted to force the people to cease their baylan practices (Diaz [1698] 38:215-223; Fernandez [1898] 2006, 137, 148).

A turn-of-the-20th-century babaylan in Negros Occidental was Papa Isio (Dionisio Sigbuela), who led a revolt from 1896 to 1907 against oppressive labor conditions in the sugar plantations, Spanish rule, and finally American rule. After his capture in 1907, and with the spread of American Protestantism, babaylan followers turned to the fundamental Baptist sect as a substitute (Bauzon 1998, 42).

Church reforms begun by the Second Vatican Council in 1965 were slow to take hold in Negros because of the local church’s dependence on the hacenderos’ largesse. When Rev Antonio Fortich became bishop in 1967, the local church programs were still focused on pietism through organizations like the Barangay sang Birhen, which appealed to the poor and lower middle class, and the Cursillo movement, which was very popular with the hacendero class (Moreno 2004, 230).

The martial law years, however, coincided with the growing influence of the Second Vatican Council’s emphasis on social justice and the collapse of the sugar industry, largely caused by the machinations of the Marcos regime. The church in Negros, under the leadership of Bp Fortich, institutionalized its solidarity with the poor by organizing and establishing the following: the Social Action Center under Father Luis Jalandoni; cooperatives for sugar, rice, corn, and other farming communities; credit unions; the labor union, National Federation of Sugar Workers; the Legal Aid Office; and the Basic Christian Communities (Moreno 2004, 230-231). At present, 75% of the Ilonggo population is Catholic and the remaining 25% is Protestant, specifically Baptist, Filipinas Independiente (Aglipayan), or Jehovah’s Witness.

The Ilonggo Community

The traditional Ilonggo house is made of bamboo and nipa or cogon leaves. It is square, with one or two rooms. The roof, palaya (pyramid-shaped) or binalay (hip-shaped), is made of either cogon or nipa. A roof that extends over two levels of the house is called palusod. The main posts are made of agoho timber. The smaller posts, roof beams, and rafters are of dried bamboo. Rope and vine are used to join parts together, such as beams and rafters. Instead of nails that may split the bamboo, wooden pegs and mortise-and-tenon are used. The walls are of amakan or woven bamboo slats. The floor, about 150 centimeters above the ground, is of bamboo slats that may be laid in such a way that the nodes form a design.

Fisherman’s house near San Lorenzo, Guimaras,
Fisherman’s house near San Lorenzo, Guimaras, 2013 (Jim Mountford)

The space under the floor is generally open, but sometimes it is used as a shelter for livestock—pigs or chickens—or as a rice granary. If so, it is enclosed with woven bamboo slats or bamboo tops and twigs. Sulay or props, made of sturdy bamboo, are sometimes used to support the sides of the house. One end is pegged or tied to a section under the eaves while the opposite end is buried into or pegged to the ground and reinforced by large stones.

Interior partitions such as those between the living room and kitchen are made of woven amakan. The kitchen contains the stove and the tarap-anan, a bamboo platform standing on stilts above the stove. Placed here are leftover food and kitchen utensils, such as the bayung (bamboo water container), banga (clay water jar), kerosin (kerosene cans), and kabu (coconut shells used as drinking glasses).

There must be at least one window facing the east, for good luck. For the same reason, the owner marks the number of steps of the stairs or ladder by reciting the words “oro, plata, mata” (gold, silver, death), and the builder must make sure that the steps do not end on the word “death.” Outside is the silung (front yard), where household chores are done, such as woodcutting, weaving, and rice pounding. Water jars are placed on either side of the door so that one washes one’s hands and feet before entering the house.

The basic house materials are put together to fulfill both functional and aesthetic ends. The nipa shingles on the roof are left untrimmed so that the effect is a shaggy and informal look. Window latticework designs may be so ornate that they look like an explosion of the owner-builder’s spontaneous creativity. Bamboo strips of various lengths are placed end to end in different positions or laid over other strips to effect intricate geometric designs such as diagonals on squares, zigzags on horizontal stripes, diamonds within diamonds, sprinkles of asterisks, flowers, crosses, and stars. The Ilonggo weaving and embroidery culture is reflected in some windows, which can resemble barong tagalog embroidery or the solihiya (caned) design of living room furniture.

In the rural areas, the bamboo or nipa house stands squarely in the middle of the field, which it overlooks in the various stages of the agricultural cycle. Similarly, the hacendero’s manor house, made of stone, overlooks the vast hacienda. In the barrios, relatives live in the same neighborhood. City or town planning, on the other hand, reveals traces of Spanish influence. The town center—the plaza—is a huge, open square from which streets and houses radiate. This plaza is surrounded by the cathedral, the government building, the stone houses of the traditionally affluent, the market, and the school.

San Sebastian Cathedral exterior in Bacolod City
San Sebastian Cathedral exterior in Bacolod City (Stacey Ann de Leon,

Interior of San Sebastian Cathedral
Interior of San Sebastian Cathedral, 2011 (Roy de Guzman)

Two of the many magnificent churches of Iloilo built during the Spanish times are examples of the Ilonggo’s ability to combine indigenous and European designs on the facades. On the facades of the churches of San Joaquin and Miag-ao are murals in Filipino baroque style. The facade of the Parish Church of San Joaquin, 1869, bears a very detailed depiction, in bas relief, of the Battle of Tetuan, from which Spain emerged victorious over the Moors. The church has been declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Historical Institute.

In Miag-ao, the facade of the Parish Church of Saint Thomas of Villanova, 1797, bears the relief sculpture of Saint Christopher carrying the Christ Child on one shoulder. Instead of his wooden staff, he is holding on to a coconut tree that is firmly rooted to the ground. On either side of him is a row of tropical trees and plants such as the banana, papaya, and vines, all growing from giant vessels. Lush foliage curves over a pair of circular windows that flank the centerpiece. It has been remarked that certain details in this scene deviate significantly from those in the legend of Saint Christopher. This may be because the scene may also be a graphic interpretation of a pre-Christian folk belief: “When planting a coconut tree, it would be well to plant it while carrying a child on one’s shoulder. The tree will yield twice as many nuts if planted in this manner” (NHI 1991, 17-18; Echauz [1894] 1978, 37). In 1993, this church was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Other notable churches are those of Jaro, Tigbauan, Molo, and the Bacolod Cathedral.

In Negros Occidental, three contemporary churches exemplify the attempt to reflect indigenous folk culture. In the compound of the Victoria’s Sugar Milling Company (Vicmico) is the Church of Saint Joseph the Worker, more popularly known as the Church of the Angry Christ because of the mural inside the church depicting a craggy-faced Christ against a backdrop of angry colors and shapes. The statues of saints are all brown-skinned and carved with Filipino features. The characters in the Stations of the Cross are represented by guardias civiles (constables) and Filipinos. In 2015, this chapel was declared an Important Cultural Property because of its “exceptional cultural, artistic and/or historical significance” (National Museum 2015).

At the Santa Clara Subdivision in Bacolod City is the Birhen sang Barangay Chapel or Chapel of Shells, constructed in the early 1980s. The massive columns supporting the structure are covered with kagaykay shells. Inside, capiz shells hang from four horizontal beams forming a square below the ceiling. These shells surround an almost three-meter high chandelier of 14,000 carefully matched cup shells in concentric circles, the biggest having a diameter of three meters. The three sides of the chapel consist of sliding doors of capiz shells. A mural dominated by the Birhen sang Barangay makes up the fourth side. In this mural, the Virgin, carrying a disproportionately small Infant Christ, towers gigantically over an aerial view of the Negros coastline. This mural, plus the statue of Christ hanging on the wooden crucifix, is made up entirely of 95,000 pieces of locally available shells. Mary’s veil is in mother-of-pearl, which shimmers in the dark. Her eyes and hair are done in black oyster; her white dress is of Japanese scallop; her rosary is of snail’s shells. All the shells are in their natural color. For the human faces, flesh-colored shells are nipped and crushed into slivers as tiny as fingernail cuttings to achieve the naturalness of the human complexion. For the mosaic effect, the shells are cut into squares.

Chapel of Cartwheels in Manapla,
Chapel of Cartwheels in Manapla, 2022 (Photo by Elmer Gatchalian)

Sidewall of Chapel of Cartwheels in Manapla
Sidewall of Chapel of Cartwheels in Manapla, 2022 (Photo by Elmer Gatchalian)

Interior of Chapel of Cartwheels in Manapla
Interior of Chapel of Cartwheels in Manapla, 2022 (Photo by Elmer Gatchalian)

The Chapel of San Isidro or the Chapel of Cartwheels at Manapla constructed in the late 1960s, has walls consisting of old carabao cartwheels contributed by the sugar workers and small farmers living in the vicinity; it is therefore a good example of collective ownership by the ordinary folk. The altar and the seats of the priest and altar boys are massive sculptures cut out of slabs of rock. Behind the altar is a pair of cartwheels that function as rose windows. A pestle mounted on an iron post is the baptist fount; a pair of mortars function as candleholders. The image of Mary is in high relief, roughly cut out of a wooden block. Christ hangs above, attached to a wheel that signifies the crucifix. The roof soars to a peak and is topped by a cross so slim it is almost invisible.

The Spanish period residential wood-and-stone houses, some of which still stand today, derive their basic structure from the bahay kubo. Stone is used for the zaguan or lower story, which is used as an office, storage space, stable, or garage. The portal of the zaguan is large enough for a carroza (float) with a saint’s statue on it to pass through. However, a smaller door may be cut through the door for those entering on foot. Building blocks are made of coral and fine shells, obtained from the reefs of Iloilo, and unique only to the houses of the affluent. This building material is called coquina in European and American terms, and locally known as tablilla or tabriya. The steep roof is hip-shaped, originally of nipa but now replaced by galvanized iron. Wood is used for the upper story where the living quarters are. The windows are long and wide. An azotea, an open veranda on the second floor and overlooking the courtyard, may itself be a hanging garden of sorts. On the upper floor are a vestibule, living room, bedrooms, dining room, kitchen, toilet, and bathroom. The wood-and-stone houses built during the mid-19th century and after reveal the influence of revivals of European styles, combined with baroque style designs of local flora. Unique to Iloilo houses are massive molave balusters in corners, which are filled with floral carvings. In recent times, balusters have become lighter and smaller although still delicately carved. At the turn of the 20th century, the hacenderos preferred decorative carved panels covering the spaces between staircase balusters inside the house. Massive newel posts contrasted with delicately carved balusters. Other carvings in between staircase balusters may be used, such as stylized dragons seeming to creep up the stairs. The house of Joaquin Ledesma in Jaro has panels whose adjoining sides are emphasized by delicately small leaves and flowers resembling zinnias. In the Ynchausti and Co. house of Iloilo (later known as Elizalde and Co.), inner partitions depart from the typical solid walls of store-houses. Instead, arches and posts suggest demarcation lines between rooms.

The architectural development of the Ilonggo wood-and-stone house may be best exemplified by that in Silay, Negros Occidental. There are two styles of this type of house. The first style, dating from 1889 to the 1930s and represented by the Jose Ledesma and Juan Valencia houses, can be described as geometric. It features shell window panels and animal exterior decoration. Later, the style became increasingly ornate: Glass, frosted and colored, tended to replace shell in the windowpanes; spandrels, corbels, and exterior panels were incised with exuberant vegetal forms. This later style may be called floral, examples of which are the houses of Victor Gaston, Fernando Gaston, and Jalandoni. Porches over entrances and pedimented fronts provide variety to the houses’ boxy silhouettes.

From the 1920s onward, clapboard houses became common. The wood was laid out as overlapping horizontal strips. Prominent porches over main entrances are often found in this style, as in the Germain Gaston house.

Silay houses, like most Philippine houses of this type, are airy because of their high windows, high ceilings, and calados (traceried panels). Windows on the ground floor have protective grills with fanciful fleurette designs, and the houses are surrounded by large gardens.

Alunan-Lizares Ancestral House or Balay Tana Dicang in Talisay
Alunan-Lizares Ancestral House or Balay Tana Dicang in Talisay, 2022 (Photo by Elmer Gatchalian)

Anteroom of Alunan-Lizares Ancestral House in Talisay, showing the calados and traceried rose windows
Anteroom of Alunan-Lizares Ancestral House in Talisay, showing the calados and traceried rose windows, 2022 (Photo by Elmer Gatchalian)

The interiors have calados, such as those on the surface of some walls, generally those by the stairs, to allow light and air to flow from room to room. During parties, the orchestra sits behind a wall by the stairs and the music enters the ballroom through the tracery. In the Jison-Gamboa house in Silay, this wall is fretted, whereas in the Lizares house or Balay Tana Dicang in Talisay, the music enters through the traceried rose window.

According to oldtimers, some of the best calados were done by Chinese artisans. In the Jose Gamboa house, the vines, leaves, and flowers are not merely cut out; they are sculpted in low relief. The Vicente Montelibano house has even more exuberant styles of tracery. The stair balusters and wall strips are carved into coiling vines and leaves. Part of one wall has cutout forms that resemble stylized tulips and lyres. Cutouts above the windows are snowflakes of different patterns. The Victor Gaston house, dated early 20th century, has embossed stars on the window frames of its concrete ground walls to express patriotism.

Two unusual buildings in the commercial district are the Felix Golez and Lino-Lope Severino buildings. Both use concrete for both stories and lavishly use columns and cusped arches. Building corners are oblique rather than right-angled. In the Lino-Lope Severino building, a half-circular pediment with a bull’s eye dominates the corner.

During World War II, the resistance movement and their families in the mountainous hideout of Silay Patag consisted of six communities: Casamañana, Casablanca, Casaverde, Argonne, Casamoro, and Casanova. The last is a play on the name of the river Nasacub, a tributary of the Malago River, which is one of the six major rivers of the province. The official name of Casanova was the Third Administrative Government District of the Resistance Movement, headed by Deputy Governor Aurelio L. Locsin Sr. This community formed a cluster of huts on different shelves of the cliff that rose above the Nasacub River. On the lowest level were two huts, where the health officers of the “Free Negros” area lived. On the second level were government offices and guest huts. On the third level were the guards and other workers. At the very top were seven huts where the officials lived with their families (Uriarte 1962, 141-142).

All the huts were of similar structure and size: each was supported by log posts, the floor consisted of split logs, the walls were made of beaten tree bark, and the roof was thatched cogon. The hut was divided into a living room that doubled as the sleeping area at night; a clay stove that was set off by a small divider; and a loft between the floor and the roof, for the sleeping quarters of the women and children. A spring flowed into all the huts through bamboo pipes. Immediately below this community, the Nasacub River curved to form a pool 60 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 6 feet deep, and thus served as their swimming pool (Uriarte 1962, 141-142).

The office huts on the second level bustled with daily activity. The employees, all male, typed out coded messages and decoded incoming ones. They wrote propaganda materials, transcribed radio news, and typed their officers’ instructions to field workers. The women gave lessons to the children, did household work, and sewed. Members of the resistance, such as army officers and civil officials, streamed in and out, sometimes staying the night at a guest hut. Once in late 1944, Casanova was host to stranded American pilots. After the war, Aurelio Locsin’s wife, Soledad Lacson Locsin, established a girls’ school named Casanova in memory of the anti-Japanese resistance movement (Uriarte 1962, 141-143).

Western Visayas boasts of a number of heritage houses and structures that have been declared Important Cultural Properties and National Cultural Treasures. Declared Important Cultural Properties in 2015 for their “exceptional cultural, artistic and/or historical significance” were the Avanceña House (Camiña Balay na Bato) in Arevalo, Iloilo; the Lizares-Gamboa Mansion (now Angelicum School) in Jaro, Iloilo; and the Sortino House in Santa Barbara, Iloilo (National Museum 2015).

The adaptive reuse of heritage houses is being implemented by the Iloilo City government through the Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council together with the Iloilo Cultural Heritage Foundation. It documents heritage houses and buildings as well as gives recommendations to developers who purchase the same for restoration. There are plans to turn the Yusay-Consing Mansion in Molo, Iloilo City, into a mini-shop. Restoration of heritage structures along Calle Real Street began in 2011, when the National Historical Commission of the Philippines declared it a heritage zone (Yap 2014).

The increasingly fast-paced life in cities like Iloilo and Bacolod has required a cityscape consisting of self-sufficient satellites, each offering its residents convenience and flexibility in responding to their personal and professional needs. This is achieved through mixed-use real estate projects with structures and spaces following the most recent architectural styles.

Balay Negrense Museum in Silay City
Balay Negrense Museum in Silay City, 2017 (Jennifer Flores Calica-Leonardo)

The commercial district of downtown Iloilo has been relocated to the 72-hectare Iloilo Business Park, on the former site of Mandurriao airport. It is a mixed-use area for business, lifestyle, and tourism. The emergence of the business process outsourcing (BPO) outside of Metro Manila has also brought new architectural styles to Iloilo. Mid-rises encased in metal and glass, along with a new esplanade and walkway by the river, have slowly transformed the cityscape of Iloilo into a new “lifestyle city,” which will include what is envisioned to be the largest convention center in West Visayas, surrounded by a number of office towers, luxury condominiums, and malls (Gonzales 2015).

In Bacolod City, an area is being developed into an upscale subdivision similar to the exclusive Forbes Village in the same city. Two townships that will be called The Upper East and North Hill will be developed into mixed-use projects featuring condominiums, malls, commercial centers, BPO office towers, tourism and leisure facilities, recreational parks, and open spaces (Abadilla 2015).

Ilonggo Visual Arts and Crafts

Archaeological excavations reveal that the early Ilonggo fashioned ornaments out of gold, such as leaf-shaped death masks for the eyes and leaf-shaped coverings for the nose excavated from a gravesite in Barangay San Antonio in Oton, Iloilo. In the south of Negros, such as Kabankalan and Ilog, gold pendants, braided gold chains ranging in complexity from four-cornered to the simpler round designs, have been dug. Other gold ornaments discovered all over Negros are disc-shaped masks with decorative incisions, studs, cone-shaped and cylindrical items, and filigreed earrings (National Museum 2014; Lopez-Gonzaga 1994, 13). The Ilonggo also knew the art of carving on dagger and bolo handles, and on boats and shields.

Golden funerary mask in Oton, Iloilo,
Golden funerary mask in Oton, Iloilo, late 14th to early 15th century (National Museum of the Philippines Collection)

In 1564, when the Spanish colonizers with Legazpi laid eyes on the Visayans, they saw bodies that were “very gorgeously tattooed” (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:78). These tattoos were drawn on the skin with an iron stylus that had been dipped in black ink made from soot. The stylus pricked the skin and mixed with the blood to make indelible “beautiful figures.” The Visayans all had long hair, whether male or female, and wound it artfully into a bun on top of the head. They wore gold earrings, necklaces, and armlets. Their garments were of pakol, cotton, and Chinese silk (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:110-111).

The Boxer Codex, circa 1595, depicts the early Bisayans as clothed only by a bahag, a cotton cloth at least 4 meters long and 1.5 meters wide, wound around the lower part of their body from the waist to the thighs. The rest of the body was covered all over with tattoos symmetrically arranged so that “the paintings look as well as if they were dressed very elegantly.” Their long hair was covered with a long piece of cloth called putong, wound around the top of their head and knotted at the nape.

Contemporary folk handicraft includes shell craft, cloth weaving, basket weaving, and mat weaving. Sigay, the most commonly used shells, are strung together in coastal towns to make flower and animal patterns such as turtles and fish, on curtains, mats, and necklaces. Arevalo town in Iloilo has maintained its cloth-weaving tradition from pre-Spanish times. Nipis, very fine and transparent cloth made from piña, jusi, and sinamay, are woven with flower designs such as the sampaguita or vine tendrils with tiny leaves and flowers. The patadyong is woven in several towns, especially Miag-ao. Typical designs are checks in red, black, yellow, and white. Baskets are woven out of coconut midrib. Sleeping mats are woven with simple designs such as colored strips forming inner borders. In Negros, a by-product of the sugarcane is the stalk of the sugarcane flower. The stalks are sliced open, flattened, and used to decorate furniture and make pictures. The strips are laid side by side and some parts shaded by varying degrees of heat in order to produce a mosaic effect. The result is a picture consisting of geometric patterns, although the total effect is a picture with gently curving outlines. Examples of its subject matter are the Philippine landscape, sailboats in the sunset, the Last Supper, and animals.

Conventional Ilonggo painting may be classified according to the following types: church and house murals, telon (theater backdrop) and fondo (painted backdrop), and easel painting. Known master of all these genres is Vicente de San Miguel who continued painting in a distinct style until his death in 1954. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the churches of Molo, San Joaquin, Oton, Leon, and Jaro contained wall and ceiling paintings that were almost exact copies of European church paintings. Most of these paintings have been destroyed during World War II and by the elements.

Painting inside Miag-ao Church, Iloilo
Painting inside Miag-ao Church, Iloilo (Photo from CCP Collections)

Marcelo Mabunay, who painted in the late 19th century, was a significant church artist whose only surviving painting, the Pentecost in Molo Church, reveals his ability to render the illusion of flat and well-proportioned figures on concave spaces. Contemporary artist Jesus Hervas has two paintings, The Samaritan Lady at the Well of Jacob and Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem, at the main entrance of the Molo Church. Created in 1981 and 1982, the paintings show a combination of Renaissance and modern styles.

In 1900 to 1930, the popularity of the sarsuwela created the genre of telon painting, which was done on a large piece of coco-crudo (canvas cloth). Although backdrop painting was already being done for komedya during the Spanish period, the sarsuwela telon demanded a highly realistic rendering of scenery. The sarsuwela’s setting generally required one telon representing the interior of a rich man’s house; another, the interior of a poor man’s house; and another, an exterior scene. A sarsuwela with an exotic setting, such as Jose Maria Ingalla’s Dumut cag Huya (Hatred and Shame), required a lush and elaborate exterior scene.

The houses of the affluent also had paintings of Philippine sceneries on their walls and ceilings. On a dining room wall, for instance, may be a still life of fruits and game, while a living room may be decorated with rustic scenes. A trompe 1’oeil of a curtain painted on a wall still survives in the Villanueva residence in Iloilo City. One of the known artists of this genre was Miguel Zaragoza, a contemporary of Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo and Juan Luna.

With the sarsuwela’s decline in the 1930s, the artists shifted to painting fondos for photography studios, plaza stages during the coronation of a fiesta queen, and churches. There was not much difference between a telon and a fondo, except that the fondo was smaller and characterized by more realistic details with three-dimensional effect.

At about the same time, easel painting was being influenced by European impressionism and by the romantic rustic paintings of Fernando Amorsolo and Fabian dela Rosa. Felipe Zaldivar, who had studied painting under Amorsolo at the University of the Philippines, painted Amorsolo reproductions and rural scenes in the Amorsolo style. He founded the Guild of Iloilo Artists, which in the 1950s had 50 commercial artists, signboard painters, portraitists, church painters, and landscape painters as members. The guild included Pepito Yulores, Leon Mombay, Eutiquio Marañon, Felix de la Paz, Patricio Antolo, Artango, Jesus Hervas, Ravana, and Avelino.

Video: Ang kuwento sa likod ng MassKara Festival ng Bacolod, alamin!

In Negros Occidental, the artists were organized into the Art Association of Bacolod (AAB) on 4 July 1975 by Edgardo Lizares. In October 1982, it initiated the annual Masskara Festival, in which the people of Bacolod wear smiling masks made out of papier-mache as they celebrate the city’s charter day with street dancing and general revelry. Negros artworks were exhibited in the AAB Gallery, situated at the city center and leased by the city government for a peso a year. Its “art caravan” also made possible the holding of exhibits from town to town. Officers and members included Achilles Palma, Rafael Paterna, Edgar Dionela, Rodney Martinez, and George Macainan. Other members were Lorenzo Sumagaysay, a leading portraitist; the late Ely Santiago, a cartoonist for national publications; Marcial Vuelva, who painted romanticized interpretations of the sugar industry; and Jecky Alano, who produced classical sculptures in terra-cotta. Their styles range from the classical to the modern.

Nunelucio Alvarado, Tunok sa Dahon Painting
Nunelucio Alvarado, Tunok sa Dahon, 1986 (Photo from the artist)

Better known for their styles of realism and social realism are the Black Artists in Asia (BAA), which include Charlie Co, who paints distorted figures against surrealistic landscapes and shapes terracotta figures called tao-tao with political statements; Norberto Roldan who creates assemblages of indigenous materials and found objects to make social statements; and Nunelucio Alvarado who uses massive figures of sacadas to depict contemporary social history. All three are CCP Thirteen Artists awardees.

Artists’ groups such as the Negros Cultural Foundation Inc., together with local museums such as the Negros Museum and Balay Negrense, initiated the Al Cinco de Noviembre Arts Festival in 2007 to promote the talent of local artists and encourage them to produce more works. The festival commemorates the revolt of the Negrense against the Spaniards on 5 November 1898. In 2011, the arts festival launched the Gibwang Group Exhibition, which featured Negrense entries that would be submitted to the Philippine Art Awards Competition. The exhibit gathered about 64 West Visayan artists from Panay and Negros (NCCA 2011, 1).

Norberto Roldan, The Matriarch and The Wedding in Negros (diptych)
Norberto Roldan, The Matriarch and The Wedding in Negros (diptych), 1989, National Gallery Singapore Collection (Photo from the artist)

Many contemporary Ilonggo artists derive their themes from the political and social history of Negros. Since the martial law era in the 1970s, social realism has been the central theme of contemporary Negros art, depicting the lives of sugar plantation workers, fisherfolk, and OFWs. Aside from the usual oil and canvas, natural materials found in the immediate surroundings are used, such as terra-cotta, which is used by the artists of Barangay Jibao-an, San Miguel; pakol fiber, by those of the Municipalities of San Joaquin and Oton; and ceramic clay, by those of San Dionisio and Carles (Hernandez 1998, 5).

A media artist affiliated with Visayan Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference (VIVA ExCon) and Negros Cultural Foundation Inc. is Manny Montelibano, who has continued the tradition of depicting the social, political, economic, and religious aspect of Negrense society. His work, Escabeche: Filipino Sweet and Sour, 2009, is a documentary of video-and-sound installation artwork that presents the diversity of Filipino culture (Center for Art 2014).

The Arts Council of Iloilo Foundation Inc, created in the late 1980s, ran the annual Hublag Ilonggo Arts Festival for a number of years. Works of Ilonggo painters, sculptors, and installation artists were exhibited at the lobby of the Philippine National Bank (PNB) at General Luna Street in Iloilo City. The Hubon Madya-as, a group of Ilonggo artists founded by Edward Defensor, Fred Orig, Joe Amora, and Benjie Beljica, displayed landscapes, portraits, and terra-cota sculptures in dominant browns. Some experimentation with fluorescent colors using transparent cubism similar to Vicente Manansala’s was observed in Belgica and Orig’s paintings. Contrasting styles of art installation were shown by Momo Dalisay, who uses indigenous materials such as driftwood, and Erwin Chiongson, who uses plastic materials.

Founded in 1987, Artista kag Manunulat nga Makibanwahanon (AMBON) is a community-based cultural federation in Panay with member organizations coming from different disciplines. AMBON’s visual arts group is the Bagong Sining ng Lahing Kayumanggi (BUSILAK).

The Ilonggo tradition of depicting social issues in the visual arts continues. PG Zoluaga of Iloilo and winner of the 1998 Philippine Art Awards Jurors’ Choice, depicts the present generation’s dependence on and obsession with technology. John Paul Castillo, Metrobank Art Design Excellence Awardee, produced an oil-on-canvas painting depicting drug addiction, abortion, and prostitution. Joey Amacio, a three-time Metrobank Young Painters winner, focuses on the subject matter of sexuality (Busil 2006).

Since the 1990s, UPV Art Gallery has served as the venue for exhibitions of Ilonggo artists. In one of the exhibitions, younger painter Jomari Moleta’s Faceless Warriors, 2007, showing an amazon-rebel holding an AK47 with an American flag near her crotch, stood out for its explicitness. Sculpture Martin Genodepa, who also uses woman as his subject in his corral stone sculptures, expresses in contrast of wavy and jagged lines a woman’s oppression, such as in his sculptures Magdalena and Maningning, 2006. Painter Alan Cabalfin’s portraits of Panay-Bukidnon women in the paintings Wind, Earth, and Fire, 2011, make use of bright indigenous colors, heavy lines, and geometric patterns for their clothing, against the background of typhoon, industrialization, and forest fire (Barrios 2006; 2007; 2011).

Raymond Legaspi, a native of Silay and Jurors’ Choice Awardee of Philippine Art Awards in 2008, uses bright and colorful elements in his artworks to depict popular culture and social issues. His Global Warming Water Rising, 2007, shows an oversized woman covering her face as half of her body is submerged in blue water (Chuaunsu 2011, 23).

Crispin Villanueva Jr. of Iloilo has incorporated bubble wrap in his artwork, such as wrapping an oil painting with it. As a result, half of the painting is concealed. Villanueva’s exhibit titled Compared to What… using the bubble wrap theme featured works that depict the contemporary art industry (Busil, 2006).

Allain Hablo of Estancia, Iloilo is a realist painter who has received distinctions from Philippine Arts Awards, Shell National Arts Competition, and Arts Association of the Philippines. His work NOW! is “a portrait of a woman, a mother, and a wife—the woman with whom he shares all his dreams and frustrations” (Torreno, 2012).

Gallery Orange in Bacolod, run by visual artist Charlie Co, has become not only an art gallery but also a venue for exhibitions, performance art, art workshops, and film screenings. The gallery frequently features contemporary artists: Junjun Montelibano’s paintings convey comical yet politically charged images; Roderick Tijing’s works lean toward the surreal and absurd, and feature trademark images such as alien-like forms along with oversized and grotesque figures rendered in vibrant and pastel hues; Hilario Campos’s paintings depict scenes of folklore and the underworld–tikbalang, men draped in black cloth, and other figureless creatures abound in dark monochromatic backdrops; Jay-R Delleva’s paintings are in surrealist style, such as the painting of a young boy burdened by the head of a dog atop his oversized head; Cindy Ballesteros’s works offer vivid images that seem light and whimsical at first glance but depict the grim realities of Negros, such as the oppression of the sacadas by sugar barons (Gonzales, 2014).

Literary Arts of the Ilonggo People

Early Ilonggo oral literature was both didactic and entertaining. Paktakon are Ilonggo riddles, which may contain images drawn from nature:

Ano nga tuboran masulog sa tag-ilinit

Ginahubsan kong tag-ulan? (Balhas)

(What spring flows in summer

And runs dry on rainy days? [Sweat])

Bukid nga manayok-nayok,

Indi malambotsang panulok. (Agtang/dahi)

(A tall mountain

No eyes can scan. [Forehead])

The following are riddles from the Ilonggo fisherfolk (de Castro 1987, 107-8):

Isda nga daguldulan, kaya kon dumalagan. (Baroto)

(The slipmouth runs on a backstroke. [Boat])

Sumalom si Potot, may dala nga gin-urot.

(Bunit kag paon)

(Shorty dived and surfaced with a chunk of meat.

[Hook and bait])

Riddles with puns, the answers to which are entirely dependent on the sound of the original words, generally elude literal translation. The first syllable of the answer to the riddle below refers to the sound of an explosion, “bang,” but the whole word itself refers to a kind of fish:

Paglupok, “bang,” gumuwa bulak. (Bangros)

When it exploded, “bang,” what came out was a

flower. [Milkfish])

The metaphor of the food chain is a comment on power relations (de Castro 1987, 105):

Gamay nga isda gakaon lutak

Daku nga isda, gakaon sang mga gamay.

(Small fish eat mud

Big fish eat small ones.)

There are paktakon full of sexual innuendoes but actually requiring innocent answers. Such riddles naturally provoke much mischievous laughter among the players.

Ano nga buho ugat nga buhi ginaguro? (Singsing)

(Which hole has a live vein inserted into it? [Ring])

Indi ta katilaw sa imo

Kon imo bayo indi anay mauba. (Saging)

(I cannot taste you

unless you take off your dress. [Banana])

Nagkita-ay duha ka bulbulon

Nagdulom ang kalibutan. (Mata)

(Two hairy ones met

and the world darkened. [Eyes])

Hurubaton (proverbs) are said to be vestiges of didactic sugilanon (folktales). The moral tacked onto the narrative was the hurubaton, which used to be chanted. For example:

Mauntay ang sanga nga linghod,

Ang gulang na, mautod.

(A young sapling is easily straightened

But an old branch is brittle.)

Ang tawo nga malikaya,

Sa katilingban gina-amuma.

(The good-natured fellow

Is welcomed by everybody.)

Iya kalag iya kulo,

Iya lawas iya baquero.

(Man is the captain of his fate,

The master of his soul.)

The bordon is a lively game played during the bilasyon or vigil for the dead. The men and women hold hands to form a circle around the “it” and the “king” or “queen.” The object of the game is for the “it” to locate a ring that is secretly passed from hand to hand. If the “it” fails, he or she must take part in the loa, also called luwa or luwa-luwa, a poetic joust either chanted or declaimed. Similar to the balitaw of Aklan, it is a flirtatious impromptu debate between a man and a woman. Hyperbolic metaphors are used to heap praises on each other. The woman is referred to as mahamot nga rosal (the fragrant rosal), and the man is a pispis nga nagalupad-lupad (flying bird) or lusong (mortar). The debate ends when one participant can no longer continue. The highlight of the last night of the bilasyon is the torneo, an impromptu poetical joust between two men who recite lavish praises to a lady. A mock sword battle follows, with the victor winning the hand of the lady.

The siday sa pamalaye is a poetic joust when marriage negotiations take place between the two families of an engaged couple. Each family has a bard who speaks for the interests of the respective parents. The binalaybay is another impromptu poetic composition recited during fiesta coronation nights, political rallies, religious celebrations, and other such special occasions.

Sugilanon include creation myths, legends, folktales, fables, and trickster tales. Early Spanish chroniclers marveled over the Ilonggo’s practice of singing about their ancestors’ heroic exploits, so that everyone had a thorough knowledge of their history (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:116).

Sikalak and Sikabay from the Ilonggo creation myth Illustration
Sikalak and Sikabay from the Ilonggo creation myth (Illustration by Rommel Joson)

The Ilonggo creation myth includes the multiethnic nature of the human race and the origins of death, technological invention, death and its irreversibility, a strict code of conduct toward animals, theft, polygamy, and war. This is how the myth goes: There were two gods– Kaptan, god of the land, and Magyawan, god of the sea. The land breeze and sea breeze married. Magyawan gave birth to a reed, which Kaptan planted. It broke in two, and out of these two sections came the man, Sikalak, and the woman, Sikabay. After winning the approval of the fish, the birds, and the earthquake, they married. They had a son whom they named Cebu and a daughter, Samar. These siblings had a daughter, Lubluban, who in turn married Pandaguan, another son of the first couple. Lubluban and Pandaguan had a son, Anoranor. Pandaguan invented the fish net, caught a shark with it, and was horrified when it died. Grieving, he complained to the gods. Kaptan sent the flies and then the weevil to confirm the shark’s death. But, because of Pandaguan’s improper behavior toward an animal, the gods killed him with a thunderbolt and sent him to the afterlife for 30 days. But Lubluban lived with another man, Maracoyrun. When Pandaguan returned home, Lubluban was attending a feast in which a stolen pig was being served. Pandaguan sent Anoranor to fetch her but she refused, disbelieving that the dead could return to life. Pandaguan angrily returned to the afterworld, thus condemning the human race to eternal death. Later, Anoranord’s son, Panas, fashioned the first weapons and declared war against Manggaran over an inheritance (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:118-119).

A variation to the creation story is that it was a flying kite that pecked the reed open and brought forth the first man and woman. The woman, Kabahi, gave birth to an enormous number of babies all at the same time. One day their father came home in a terrible temper, which so frightened the children that they scattered in several directions: Those who hid inside the house became the datus; those who hid in the yard outside the house became the timagua; those who hid within the bamboo walls became the oripun; those who hid in hearth became the ati or negritos; and those who crossed the seas became the foreigners (Loarca [1582] 1903, 5:122).

Another creation myth identifies the god Laon as the source of all living things. One day his pet bird Manaul, the only living creature at the time, displeased him, and so its feathers were transformed into all other living creatures, who ironically became Manaul’s predators. When Manaul saw the first man and woman emerging from a rattan tree, he died in despair.

A magical tale is that of Magboloto who falls in love with a goddess named Macaya, who has come down to earth to bathe in the river. He hides her wings so she cannot fly away, and so he woos and wins her. One day, while he is out, Macaya finds her wings, so she flies back to her celestial home. An eagle obligingly flies Magboloto to her home, but he has to go through a series of trials given by Macaya’s grandmother before he can win his wife back. When the grandmother wearies of thinking of more trials, she finally consents to give Macaya back to Magboloto.

An illustration of an Ilonggo tale about an ugly wife abandoned by her husband and transformed into a beautiful woman by a witch
An illustration of an Ilonggo tale about an ugly wife abandoned by her husband and transformed into a beautiful woman by a witch (Illustration by Rommel Joson)

Another magical tale tells of a man who leaves his ugly wife for a pretty woman. The wife weeps by the well when a witch comes and, upon being told of the problem, transforms her into a beautiful woman. Many men come to court her, including her husband who is smitten by her when he returns to his wife one day. His mistress goes to the well to try to match the first wife’s beauty, but the witch transforms her into an ugly woman instead. She is so angry that she dies shortly afterward.

An animal tale about the swift deer and the slow snail is a combination of the fable and the trickster tale. The snail, tired of the deer’s ridicule, challenges the deer to a race. He secretly recruits his many cousins’ help by asking them to place themselves at certain spots along the way to the finish line. Hence, every time the deer stops to rest and he calls out to the snail, there is always a snail to answer back, “Here I am!”

The composo is a ballad often based on an actual historical event or some village incident. However, it may also be fictional. One composo from Guimaras Island is about three sisters discussing their marriage prospects. Because the youngest is the prettiest, the two older ones express their anxiety over the possibility of her marrying first. The youngest, in turn, assures them that tradition requires that they must marry first before she does. The older sisters then advise her to be patient, and she assents.

The forerunner to the composo is the tale whose climax is chanted. An example is the 18th-century tale of the jealous Pedro Mendez, who hacks his innocent wife and leaves her corpse in a clump of cogon grass. Her ghost exclaims:

Ay abaw Pedro kong Mendez

Tan-awa ang cogon


Tungod sang hilaw kong kamatayon.

(O Pedro, my Pedro Mendez

Look at the cogon plants

They are all turning dry

Because of my untimely death.)

Then there is the satirical composo. An excerpt shows one criticizing youthful lust:

May duhang pamatan-on, soltero, dalaga

Inabot sang kaluyag, nangawat sang gugma

A las sais sang hapon sang sila mag-umpisa

abutan sang nwnghod nga si Magdalena.

Maayo lang na iya ang nagapangawat

Pero ang ginkawatan dakong katalagman

Hinali madimat kag malilwanliwan

Wala gid mahimo, si Inday gabuy-unan.

(There were two youths, a boy and a girl

Gripped with desire, they stole their love

It was six in the evening when they started

But were caught by the younger sister, Magdalena.

The only advantage goes to the thief

But the one who is robbed is in great danger

If they grow to like it and do it again

It cannot be helped, Inday will grow a belly.)

Contemporary literature reflects the Ilonggo’s resistance to colonization and social oppression while at the same time expressing a strong moral consciousness. Thus, it is marked by two trends: didacticism and social criticism. A great source of patriotic pride for the Ilonggo is Graciano Lopez Jaena, whose writings, albeit in Spanish, exemplify the strong tradition of social consciousness in Ilonggo literature. The satirical Fray Botod (Friar Potbelly), 1891, is his best-known work. Resistance to American colonization from 1900 to 1930, also called the “Golden Age of Hiligaynon Literature,” was evident in literary works. Patriotic poems recalling the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish colonial government exhorted the Filipino to resist the new invaders, as in this poem, “Magbangon Ka” (Arise), 1913, by Flavio Cano Zaragoza:

Dili ka magpasupil nga maboong

Ang dungug mo sang tao’ng dumulu-ong,

Nga nagkari sa hamili tang duta …

Nanubli ka sang pagkadalagangan

Sang mga masidlang katigulangan

Nga nagbalato sang unang panag-on

Batok sa mga tao’ng tampalasan …

(Do not allow your honor

To be ruined by these people

Who have come to our hallowed shores …

You inherited the heroism

Of our vigilant ancestors

Who in times past fought back

Against treacherous men …)

In 1877, Mariano Perfecto established the Libreria La Panayana, which published korido, short stories, poems, sarsuwela, drama, and novels. In 1907, Pedro Monteclaro published in the newspaper El Tiempo the historico-legendary chronicle Maragtas, based on the oral tradition of the Panayanon and which in turn has become the basis for the folk history of Panay. Makinaugalingon, a newspaper founded by Rosendo Mejica in 1913, carried literary pieces and theater reviews. By 1920, it was putting out a literary supplement. Themes expressed in the poems and the sarsuwela were corruption in the capitalist system, the deterioration of morals brought on by American-style materialism, workers’ oppression by landlords or capitalists, the need for a workers’ guild, and oppression of women. On the other hand, didacticism characterizes the first novel, Angel Magahum’s Benjamin, 1918.

A forerunner of the historical metafictionist with an anti-American postcolonial agenda was Jose E. Marco of Pontevedra, Negros Occidental. His first published work, Reseña Historica de la Isla de Negros des de los Tiempos Mas Remotos hasta Nuestros Dias (Historical Review of Negros Island since the Ancient Times until Our Days), 1912-23, was serialized in a supplement of the Spanish-language Renacimiento Filipino (Filipino Renaissance). Marco also submitted to the Philippine Library various types of documents, such as sheets of tree bark, on which poems were written in the alibata script but in Spanish orthography and in “cuttlefish ink,” and a map of Negros drawn on goat parchment. Two of the fictional texts that he gave to the library were the compilations, “Historia de la Isla de Negros by the Encomendero Diego Lope Povedano, 1572” (History of the Island of Negros) and “Las Antiguas Leyendas de la Isla de Negros” (Ancient Legends of the Island of Negros), which included the “Code of Calantiao” (1433). Marco’s accounts of the manner in which he acquired these documents were as fabulous as their contents. James Alexander Robertson, the library director, welcomed Marco’s materials with great credulity, after brushing aside his own initial misgivings, and delivered a paper on these for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition at San Francisco in 1915. This paper was published in The Pacific in History, 1917, by the Macmillan Company. Marco also authored a novel, La Loba Negra by Fr. Jose Burgos (The Black She Wolf by Fr. Jose Burgos), 1938, published by Augusto R. de Luzurriaga in Bacolod. Marco’s supreme achievement is that he merited enough scholarly attention from William Henry Scott to have been made a subject of Scott’s dissertation, which was published under the title Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History, 1968 (105-135).

Magdalena Jalandoni is the best-known novelist, poet, and dramatist, who was given the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1968. The Trinidad Poetica Ilongga (Triumvirate of Ilonggo Poets), was composed of Flavio Zaragoza Cano, Serapion Torre, and Delfin Gumban. Hiligaynon poetry, in the tradition of the binalaybay, describes details of Hiligaynon life and expresses sentiments like one’s appreciation for a selfless mother’s love or grief over unrequited love.

Hiligaynon Magazine
Hiligaynon, 14 April 1954 (Photo courtesy of Simon Santos/Video 48)

Class consciousness and social realities are combined with romantic-escapist elements in the novel and the short story. In 1934, the weekly magazine Bisaya sa Hiligaynon, later shortened to Hiligaynon, was put out by the Roces Publishing Co. and ran until 1974 without interruption. It encouraged the proliferation of short stories, serialized novels, and poems. Ramon Muzones, the most prolific novelist of his generation, started as a translator for this magazine and eventually wrote his own works. A favorite novelist is Conrado Norada, Iloilo governor from 1969 to 1986. A monthly short story contest sponsored by the magazine in 1938 was especially significant because it required that the theme be about “social justice.” All the winning entries were published; hence, the magazine ran stories with a social and political consciousness for about a year.

In 1970, an anthology titled Bahandi I contained 46 sample stories of the 1960s chosen from Hiligaynon in order to exhibit the craft and concerns of favorite Ilonggo fictionists, many of whom have also published novels: Juanito Marcella, Ray Gra Gesulgon, Isabelo Sobrevega, Ismaelita Floro-Luza, Lino Moles, Jose Yap, Epifanio Tuclaud, Antonio Joquiño, and Nenita Magallanes.

Essays on the Hiligaynon language and culture are also being written by poets Santiago Alv. Mulato, Loreto Angayen, and Lucila Hosillos; and fictionists Nilo Pamonag, Tiburcio Tumbagahan, and Demy P. Sonza.

During the martial law years and even after, the New People’s Army produced poetry collections in various ways: by hand, in ruled composition notebooks and on pad paper; and in typescript and then reproduced by carbon paper on onionskin. Considered their poet laureate is Servando Magbanua, also known as Jose Percival Estocado Jr., who began writing poetry in English but by 1986 was writing in Hiligaynon. His typescript collection, War Poems from Panay: 1978-80, begins with “Tomloy: October 2, 1978,” an exuberant poem on the aftermath of battle near the village of Tomloy on the banks of Pan-ay River, Tapaz, Capiz. Thirteen Red warriors ambush a squad of the Philippine Army collecting palay from the villagers. The poem merges the theme of the persona’s rite of passage—“A threshold has been crossed”—and the Red warriors’ victory over the government troops. Other poems sweep over the different periods of Philippine history by focusing on one person’s point-of-view: “The Legacy” tells of the history of peasant oppression perpetrated by turns by the guardia civil, tulisanes, constabulary, and finally present-day hacenderos. “Poem Beside a Peasant Comrade’s Grave on the First Anniversary of His Death” recounts a similar history but ends with the peasants’ reversal of fortune after the arrival of the Red fighters. “Flowers” is the persona’s own celebration of his 10th anniversary as a Red guerrilla fighter.

Collection of contemporary Ilonggo songs
Collection of contemporary Ilonggo songs, 2015 (Photo courtesy of Kasingkasing Press)

Pila ka Binalaybay (Selected Poems), 1984, is a collection of poems handwritten by Bayani Obrero (pseud) on lined paper. Some of the most poignant poems in this collection are “Mensahe sa Anak,” (Message to My Child), “Alimpuros” (Hair Whorl), and “May Bagong Duag ang Kabukiran” (The Countryside Has a New Color).

The typescript collection Ilahas nga Orkidyas kag Gerilyero, Nahardi’ng Rosas kag Insurekto (Wild Orchids and Guerilla, Roses from the Garden and Rebel) by Rojo Sangre (pseud) includes “Tiangge nga Karosa” (Cart Store), a humorous poem about a young, urbane guerilla who realizes that there is much to learn in the mountains that his school and textbooks never prepared him for. “Eastward the Staccato of Gunfire” is his reply to Magbanua’s “Eastward the Winds of Song.” A paean to revolutionary writers is “Sa Artista ng Armas Lapis” (To the Artist of the Armed Pencil). “Remembering” is an elegy on the occasion of a Red squad’s visit to the “cold tombs” of fallen comrades, as is “Evelio Javier,” to commemorate his assassination. Another collection of Rojo Sangre’s, untitled, contains 76 poems.

Other typescript collections are Pila ka Binalaybay nga Ginsulat ni Kaupod Edward Oliver L. de la Fuente (Some Poems Written by Comrade Edward Oliver L. de la Fuente), War and Peace and Beyond by Rio Roja, and Poems by Jaime Kasanag.

A multiauthored anthology includes poems by Ka Luis, Krishna Mendiola, Fierro Prayre, Ka Escudo, Ria Sidla, and Ka Selda, all of which are pseudonyms. Some poems are products of the Red poet’s erudition, such as “Pipa Paces” (from “Pippa Passes” by Rudyard Kipling), which uses the source poem’s structure as its model. Others create an impact through their imagery: “Ngaa Repyudyi si Bao (June 1986)” (Why Turtle Is a Refugee) by Rio Roja uses the image of the turtle and the torch-carrying aninipot (firefly) to allude to the massive evacuations of hill peasants; “8:00” by Chris Magbanua recounts the sight of an espading (bolo for cutting sugarcane) that someone has stuck into a tree trunk, its uselessness indicating the owner’s unemployment in the sugar plantation. The poem ends with the assurance that the espading will be put to better use, “sa pag-alsa sg pinigos, sa pag-abot sg panahon” (when the oppressed shall rise, when the time comes). Since the advent of the Internet, the literature of the New People’s Army has been published in its own website.

The Sumakwelan of Vernacular Writers in Western Visayas, whose members regularly submit poetry and short stories to Hiligaynon magazine, keeps Hiligaynon literature alive. The organization received the Gawad Pedro Bucaneg for outstanding literary organization from the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas in 2014. Sumakwelan poet Nilo Pamonag was awarded the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas in 2014; Ressureccion Hidalgo, in 2016. Other Hiligaynon writers who emerged around this time are Mario L. Villaret, Romeo Garganera, Ner E. Jedeliz, Jr., Quin Baterna, Jose Ali Bedaño also known as Julius Flores, Ismaelita Floro-Luza, and Ma. Luisa Defante-Gibraltar (Deriada 2015).

In the 1990s grants, prizes, and awards from cultural institutions such as the Cultural Center of the Philippine (CCP) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) contributed to the great upsurge in Hiligaynon writing among the younger generation. The Iloilo Arts Council was established; workshops and publication outlets were generously supported. In 1997, the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature opened a Hiligaynon category for the short story (Deriada 2015).

Hiligaynon edition of Ani Magazine
Hiligaynon edition of Ani, Leoncio P. Deriada, chief editor, 1989 (CCP Collections)

Many of the literary works that are anthologized in Ani 10, 1989; Patubas: An Anthology of West Visayan Poetry, 1995; and Mantala: West Visayan Literature, 2000, were the fruit of Leoncio Deriada’s workshops at the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV). A prolific trilingual writer in all the literary genres, Deriada was elevated to the Palanca Hall of Fame in 2001 for having won the Palanca first prize at least five times, and in 2015 was awarded the Gawad CCP para sa Sining. Alicia Tan-Gonzales, whom he had mentored, has received three writing grants from the CCP, the Writer’s Prize from the NCCA, and the Palanca Hall of Fame award in 2014 for her Hiligaynon short stories. Tan-Gonzales has continued the sarsuwela tradition with Pinustahan nga Gugma (Love at Stake), which is a comedy of errors. Elsa M. Coscolluela, Negrense poet and playwright in English, preceded Deriada and Tan-Gonzales to the Palanca Hall of Fame in 1999.

Other Hiligaynon writers of this period are Felino S. Garcia, Isabel D. Sebullen, Melecio F. Turao, Isidoro M. Cruz, Alain Russ Dimzon, Agnes Españo, Ma. Zenaida B. French, and Tomasito T. Talledo. The decade that followed saw the emergence of new writers like Marcel Milliam, Bryan Mari Argos, Norman Darap, Jesus Insilada, Noel De Leon, Gil Montinola, and Early Sol Gadong. Hubon Manunulat is an Ilonggo writers’ group, which holds regular creative writing workshops, occasional poetry readings, lecture-fora, and conferences on literature. In 2015, the Kasingkasing Press published the poetry and short story collections of its members, namely, Melecio Turao’s The Interior of Sleep: House Stories; Early Sol Gadong’s short story collection Nasá sa Dulo ng Dila (Lust at the Tip of the Tongue); Norman Darap’s Pagpauli sa Tamarora kag iban pa nga mga Sugilanon (Coming Home to Tamarora and other Stories); Jesus Insilada’s Waling-waling kag iban pa nga mga Sugilanon (Waling-waling and other Stories); Gil S. Montinola’s Kasubong sang Hangin: Mga Binalaybay (Like the Wind: Poems); and Elsed Togonon’s Saringsing: Mga Binalaybay (Bamboo branches: Poems).

Since 2000, the San Agustin Writers’ Workshop has been held every summer in Iloilo. John Iremil Teodoro is the workshop director, and the regular panelists are Leoncio Deriada, Alicia Tan-Gonzales, Isidoro M. Cruz, Genevieve Asenjo, Alex Delos Santos, Ma. Zenaida B. French, Melchor F. Cichon, and John Barrios. The works of the workshop fellows are published in SanAg: The Literary Journal of the University of San Agustin.

Critic Isidoro M. Cruz has received two National Book Awards from the Manila Critics Circle-NBDB for Cultural Fictions: Narratives on Philippine Popular Culture, Politics, and Literature, 2004, and Pungsod: Damming The Nation, 2009, in which he locates and problematizes the West Visayan writer’s position in regional/national and global discourses. Corazon Villareal’s Translating the Sugilanon: Re-framing the Sign, 1994, proposes a “Hiliganized” translation of Hiligaynon short stories into Filipino and English, similar to Deriada’s “Visayan-laced” Filipino.

AMBON has published a collection of poems in mimeographed form. The group’s literary folio, Bugkos, came out with two issues, which were in print. AMBON is also a founding member of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Panay.

The longest running publication with a literary section is the Almanaque Panayanhon, 1877-present. The 10-page literary section of the 40-page 2016 issue includes poems by Sumakwelan president Cris B. Balairos; Palanca Hall of Fame awardee Alice Tan-Gonzalez (pseud. algon); former director of the Center for West Visayan Studies Henry F. Funtecha and Sumakwelan members Policarpio Borra Sueño, Rolando G. Gibralta, and Ernesto C. Nerosa.

Print media’s significance as a popular medium in Iloilo started during the late 1800s. Iloilo Province had the most number of newspapers during the Spanish colonial period. The first printing press in Iloilo, Imprenta Enriqueta, opened in 1875. This was followed by Mariano Perfecto’s Libreria La Panayana in 1877, which circulated the Almanaque Panayanhon, an astrological almanac that is available up until today. El Porvenir de Visayas, the first provincial newspaper, was established in January 1884, followed by publications such as El Eco de Panay, El Heraldo de Iloilo, El Anunciador de Iloilo, La Revolucion, and El Elonguillo (Funtecha 1997, 60-61). During the American period, newspapers had clear political bents. El Tiempo represented the Federal party that promoted American cooperation, while El Adalid and Ang Baganihan championed nationalist and patriotic sentiments. Following the nationalist tone, Rosendo Mejica established Ang Makinaugalingon in 1914, and Jose Ma. Nava founded Libre in 1919, which served as organs for the labor unions. Meanwhile, El Centinela and Ang Manugbantay reflected the principles of the Democrata Party (61-62).

Newspapers in English proliferated in the 1930s, along with fairly the same number of readers for Hiligaynon papers. El Tiempo published its Hiligaynon edition, Ang Panahon, and its English edition, The Times. Spanish and English sections were published through El Sol of the Filipino Publishing Company in 1939. Its Sunday supplement was called The Sunday Sun. New Hiligaynon papers started circulation at this time such as Kasanag, Sidlak, and Aton .The Iloilo Press Club was organized in 1937 by 20 newspapermen, with Ezeqiel Villalobos as president and Jose Magalona as vice president. Resistance broadsheets during the Japanese period existed—namely, Ang Tigbatas, The Liberator, and Mt. Baloy Watchman, where most editors are members of the Iloilo Press Club (Funtecha 1997, 62-63). After World War II, the newpapers that went on circulation were The Times, The Liberator, Kirab, Kasanag, Yuhum, and Hiligaynon. However, the entry of national newspapers eventually led to the closure of Tigbatas, Liberator, El Tiempo, and The Times .

During the 1980s and 1990s, advertisements helped the local presses like Panay News, Times Herald, Daily Times, News Express, Daily Informer, The Sentinel, and Visayan Progress Recorder flourish. Local magazines included Yuhum, Cream Magazine, and the Hiligaynon (Funtecha 1997, 132-134). Established in 1981, Panay News was awarded Best Regional Newspapers by the Publishers’ Association of the Philippines in 2011 despite it having the most libel cases—a total of 67, with its editor Danny Fajardo convicted in at least seven of these cases. One of the newspaper’s columns, “Lapsus Calami,” featured blind items about politicians and businessmen in Iloilo. Columnists and editors such as Manuel Mejorada and Junep Ocampo of The News Today have been accused of libel by Jed Patrick Mabilog, mayor of Iloilo City, for their columns. Meanwhile, Josef Aldeguer Nava, publisher/editor of Visayan Life, was murdered in October 1988 and Lemuel Fernandez, publisher-editor of The Daily Guardian, was attacked by an assailant in January 2011.

Today, Iloilo has nine local newspapers: Panay News, Hublas nga Kamatuoran (Naked Truth), Journal Visayas, Panay Bulletin, The Daily Guardian, The News Express, The News Today, The New Visayan Tribune, and Visayan Daily Headlines.

The Ilonggo Performing Arts

The Ilonggo have several wind instruments. The toltog palanog, a clay flute, was the earliest musical instrument in Panay. It had three holes at one end and two at the sides. There were several kinds of tulali or bamboo flutes. The pasyok was a child’s flute made of stiff rice straw. The dios sios was a set of reeds of different lengths, tied side to side. The budiong was a shell with the pointed tip cut off. It sounded like the cornet.

The tan-ag, made of two pieces of lightwood, was the earliest percussion instrument. A set of these was called the dalutang. The bunkaka or takup was a section of bamboo with a split end. It was held in the right hand and struck against a pole using the left hand. Different ways of striking it created variations in rhythm. The bulibaw was a drum made of hollowed-out wood topped by animal skin. The ludang was a smaller drum that was held on the lap. The lipakpak was a clapper made of a narrow section of bamboo two nodes long. It was split in two down to one node. The lower half was the handle. It was also used as a matraca or noisemaker during Holy Week.

The native guitar was variously called the pasing, “to strike,” or boktot, “hunchback,” because it was made of culating (coconut shell). The strings were made of fibers or any twine. This was used to accompany the singing of the balitao, the panawagon or the composo. There was a guitar with six strings made of hemp, lukmo, or banana fiber. It is now called the sista, from the Spanish sexta, meaning “six.” The buting was a thin bamboo tube, whose two ends were strung with hemp or any fiber so that it bent like a bow. The kudyapi was a violin made of thin, light wood and strung with hemp or banana fibers. The subing or mouth harp was made of a thin strip of seasoned bamboo with a tongue cut in the middle. One made this tongue vibrate by gripping the solid end with the mouth, holding the middle with one hand, and striking the other end with a finger of the other hand.

Songs are used for various occasions, either to accompany the Ilonggo’s everyday activities or to entertain during social gatherings. The copla is a light song such as the lullaby, “Ili-ili Tulog Anay” (Ili-ili Sleep Now); the game song, also used in courtship “Dondonay alimango” (Dondonay crab); and fishing songs like “Ako Ining Namunit” (I am fisher) and “Ang Bilong-bilong” (The Bilong-bilong, a kind of delectable flat fish). A nursery song contemporized to satirize military harassment on the rural folk is this 1987 version of a cheerful tune that belies its bitter political comment:

Didto sa amon sa Negros

May mga halimaw

Kung sila mag operasyon

Gina kawat manok kag karbaw.

(In our home of Negros

There are monsters;

When they conduct an operation

They steal our chicken and carabao.)

A popular drinking song is the “Dandansoy,” which ironically rejects drink because of its implied consequences. Sung to a quick waltzing rhythm, it has a cheerful lilt to it:

Dandansoy, inom tuba laloy

Indi ako inom, tuba pait, aslum

(Dandansoy, let’s drink tuba wine

I don’t want to drink, tuba is bitter and sour.)

The panawagon is a plaintive love song, usually about unrequited love. It is sung at a harana, that is, when the man serenades his ladylove beneath her window:

Akon pinalangga

Gawaha man anay

Ining tawo nga may kagha

Sang tun-og nagabatas

(My beloved,

Please look out on

This man pining for you

Braving the evening chill.)

Another song about unrequited love is the popular “Ay Kalisud” (Ah, Misery):

Ahay kalisud

Kalisud sang binayaan

Adlaw gab-i

Pirmi ta ikaw ginatangisan.

(Ah misery

How miserable it is to be abandoned

Day and night

I keep weeping for you.)

A variation of the love song and less sad is the balitao, which expresses varying sentiments about love and courtship. It used to be sung to the accompaniment of the native guitar and like the panawagon is used to serenade the maiden at night. During Spanish times, balitao singers performed at the town plaza, where the audience would throw coins on the floor to express their pleasure over their performance. It is not to be confused with the balitao in Aklan, which is a poetical joust similar to the Ilonggo loa or luwa-luwa.

The composo is sung to a preset melody that has become part of the traditional repertoire of the singer. A rich source of composo is the wandering blind beggars of the cities. It is most popular among the working classes such as the sacadas and market vendors. The hurubaton, which was originally part of a prose narrative, was chanted in verse.

The hibai or ibayi were tribal songs performed with shouts, handclapping, and dance, to the accompaniment of the toltog palanog, subing, budiong, and boktot. Epic songs, which told of the lives of great warriors and their ancestors, were variously called lintoy, kolintoy, kurintoy, or karbay.

In the field of Western classical music, the acclaimed artists include opera singer Conchita Gaston and concert pianist Nena Del Rosario-Villanueva.

A number of songs were created together with a dance or ritual. In Tanza and some other towns of Iloilo, the daygon, which is sung by Christmas carolers as they go from house to house, is followed by dances called las panderetas .

Many indigenous folkdances are mimetic, such as the tinikling, which imitates the movement of birds. “Ohoy! Alibangbang” (Ohoy! Butterfly), a popular song that accompanies a dance that originated in Bago, Negros Occidental, imitates the movements of butterflies.

One of the earliest dances still affectionately remembered by the old folk of Negros Occidental and Iloilo is the kamantugol. It is accompanied by a song and still bears traces of the kumintang, a warrior dance. The town of Alimodian is the origin of a revolutionary dance called boluntaryo. A boluntaryo was a Filipino guerrilla fighter during the Spanish times who fought to overthrow Spanish sovereignty. The dance shows how these brave warriors woo the fair country maidens during a lull in the fighting. Binadyong is a lively dance that imitates the unsteady swaying of the drunkard. The dancer sways forward and backward during the cut step. Tigbauan has a dance called lagundi that imitates the movements of one stricken with rheumatism; hence, the dancer moves with a stiff knee and a dragging foot. Lagundi is a medicinal plant used to cure illnesses such as stomach ache, rheumatism, arthritis, and headaches.

Dandansoy is a courtship dance of Negros. It is danced to the accompaniment of a balitao song about a girl who bids her sweetheart to follow her home to Payao if he misses her. This is not to be confused with the rousing drinking song also called “Dandansoy.” Alegrito is a courtship dance from Janipaan, Iloilo, performed during social gatherings. The name is probably derived from the word alegretto, a musical tempo that is quicker than andante but slower than allegro. The first part of this dance is lively and the second is slow and stately. Lauderes is a courtship and marriage dance native to Janiuay. It is the custom among the Ilonggo for the two families of an engaged couple to make the marriage arrangements. After the agreement, there is merrymaking and the dance is dedicated to the bride and groom. Kuradang is a lively dance from Tuburan, Pototan, Iloilo, which is usually performed during fiestas or celebrations. The name of the dance may have been derived from the word kudangdang, which means “showy and overdressed.” Kasadyahan is a festival dance from Negros where women offer leis or flowers.

Manog-tapas is a Negros dance which imitates the movements of sacadas as they cut cane with their machetes and load them on the train. It also shows the common practices of the sacada after work. Another occupational dance is the manog-isda, which shows fisherfolk at work.

Other early indigenous dances were the harito, biro-biro, balitao, media, lalong-lalong, iray, imbong, and inay-inay .

Spanish-influenced dances are ballroom dances, which are choreographed with a set number of steps, turns, and curtsies. The mazurka valse of Kabankalan, Negros originated in Poland and came to the Philippines through Spain in the mid-19th century. Molinete, a ballroom dance of Negros, is a waltz. Polkabal from Negros is a gay and spirited dance, which blends the polka and waltz. Lanceros de Negros of Silay is different from the lanceros of other regions because of its longways formation. It is a popular quadrille dance, which formally opens a big ball. The valse de Negros is a square dance in social gatherings. The limprado is a dance from Tuburan, Pototan, Iloilo. The laota is a lively jota with the women wearing the maria clara, a female ensemble composed of bell-sleeved blouse, kerchief, and long-paneled skirt; and the men wearing a barong tagalog and black trousers. The kuratsa is another popular dance in social gatherings. The women wear the patadyong or barrel skirt and camisa or native blouse, while the men wear the barong tagalog or camisa de chino, a Chinese-inspired collarless long-sleeved shirt and trousers.

Limprado dancers in Tuburan, Pototan, Iloilo,
Limprado dancers in Tuburan, Pototan, Iloilo, 1961 (Francisca Reyes-Aquino Collection)

A hodgepodge of Catholic ritual, folk dancing, social activity, and a tourist attraction is the Dinagyang Festival cum mardi gras held in Iloilo City every fourth week of January since 1967, when a replica of the image of the Santo Niño or Holy Child was brought from Cebu to the San Jose Parish Church in Iloilo City. This was celebrated with a fluvial procession dedicated to the Santo Niño. In 1969, the ati-atihan, adapted from the Aklanon traditional festival, was incorporated into the festivities. Until 1976, people merely watched the ati-atihan as a contest between different groups colorfully garbed and blackened with soot to represent the Aeta. However, street revelry and audience participation now characterize the ati-atihan. Costumes of contest participants are made of peas, pakol, cogon, cypress leaves, carton, spikes of plants, corn grains, sandpaper, styrofoam, and any other articles on hand.

Kuratsa dancers in Alimodian, Iloilo,
Kuratsa dancers in Alimodian, Iloilo, 1961 (Francisca Reyes-Aquino Collection)

The mardi gras component of the festival is a parade of floats and people wearing traditional attire like the patadyong, saya, camisa, and barong tagalog. There is a program consisting of various Ilonggo folk dances, the reenactment of legends, a flores de Mayo, and the celebration of a barrio fiesta.

Masskara Festival
Masskara Festival, 2009 (Totomai Martinez)

The Masskara Festival is held in Negros on the third week of every October to celebrate the city’s charter day anniversary. The term is a combination of mass, meaning “crowd,” and kara, meaning “face.” It is also a pun on maskara, meaning “mask.” Participants wear smiling masks to emphasize the tourism industry’s reference to Bacolod City as the “City of Smiles.” This was to counteract the province’s growing reputation worldwide as a place of hunger and suffering. Having started only in 1982 and having no religious or historical significance, Masskara street dancing is done to modern and disco tunes, and costumes have no traditional features.

Individuals who gave significant contribution in dance include dance researcher/educator Libertad V. Fajardo who authored Visayan Folk Dances; dancer/choreographer/teacher Inday Gaston-Mañosa who was founding member and former artistic director of Philippine Ballet Theater; choreographer/scholar/critic/teacher Basilio Esteban Villaruz who created two major works from the Visayas such as Ang Babaylan (The Shaman), 1988, and Tinagong Dagat (Hidden Lake), 1994, on a Hiligaynon legend; and dancer/choreographer Dwight Rodrigazo who established Dance Pull Project in Bacolod City.

The roots of Ilonggo drama are in the oral tradition: first, in ritual, such as the babaylan rites for appeasing spirits and curing the sick, which include mimetic elements and chant; and second, in the verbal games played at wakes. In the rituals, sacrifices are offered, prayers chanted, and symbolic and/or dance motions made. In the verbal games like kulasising hari, ang pato nagalupad, ate-ate sa bukid, and panyo palaran, a semidramatic situation pits men against women, and has them engage in poetic jousting.

In the panyo palaran, for example, held nightly after the prayers during a wake, a leader distributes five white handkerchiefs to five men and five pink handkerchiefs to five women. The group then sings a song ending: “Lupad ka na panyo palaran kay Inday/Nonoy nga naluyagan” (Fly, lucky handkerchief to Inday/Nonoy who is loved). The players then distribute their handkerchiefs to women and men they choose, who must then sing, dance, or recite a luwa for the donor. The men may refuse to accept the songs or poems, wishing instead to make friends with the ladies, especially those from out of town. This is expressed and answered in verse by the lady or by a defensor or vencidor. In verse are the gentlemen’s compliments and boasts about bravery, distance traveled, hardships undergone, and the ladies’ coy answers (e.g., no plans to marry until she is 300 years old). And thus the night passes, verses are exchanged, and some flirtation and courting accomplished.

Religious drama and dramatizations in the Western Visayas include the forms found in other regions: the soledad on Easter morning, in which the black-veiled Mater Dolorosa wanders through the town in a lonely vigil, then meets up with the carro of the risen Christ; the taltal or passion play on Good Friday; the Easter procession of the Resurrection, in which a boy and a girl dressed as angels recite poems to the Christ and the Virgin; the constantino in May, about the finding of the Holy Cross; and the pastores or daigon, at Christmas time, in which songs are sung by the “shepherds” worshipping the Christ Child.

Taltal in Balaan Bukid, Guimaras,
Taltal in Balaan Bukid, Guimaras, 2015 (Brigs Maravillo)

Staged drama in Iloilo and Negros from the Spanish times to 1935 was the komedya or moro-moro, the drama or prose play, the Spanish zarzuela, and the Ilonggo sarsuwela. The komedya, which were long, colorful stories about Moors and Christians, seem to have been the earliest form of staged drama that the Ilonggo knew. The Moors were pulahan (in red) and the Christians ituman (in black), making love and war in verse, and at great length. These were staged in makeshift open-air stages at fiestas, in plazas and cockpits, in theaters when available, markets, carnival auditoriums, and even private houses. A prominent Iloilo resident, for instance, is said to have celebrated her 100th birthday with three days of moro-moro. Among the writers of the genre were Eriberto Gumban, who wrote Carmelina, 1889, Felipo, 1890, and Clodoveo, 1892; and Basilisa Pecson, who is believed to have written one play, Jerusalem Libertada.

Famous, too, was Don Juan Teñoso. Early in the 20th century, however, debates raged in the papers between defenders and critics, who felt that the komedya was a theater form that showed no truth, was ignorant, and did no good for the public. Although this did not kill the komedya, it showed that the Ilonggo public was ready for drama of greater verisimilitude, and this was provided by the drama and the sarsuwela. The earliest drama recorded as being written and published in a Philippine vernacular was in Ilonggo: Cornelio Hilado’s Ang Babai nga Huwaran (The Ideal Woman), 1889. Its six characters represent contrasting types: a father who teaches his daughter obedience and modesty versus an overindulgent parent and his spoiled daughter; a man who chooses a wife for her virtue; and another who chooses one for her beauty. The plot unfolds toward the expected didactic ending, setting the pattern for later dramas: instructive and teaching a moral. Many journalists, poets, and political figures of the first decades of the 20th century wrote dramas, among the more often mentioned being Angel Magahum’s Gugma sang Maluib (Love of a Traitor), 1904; Serapion Torre’s Tanikala (Chains), 1916; Valente Cristobal’s Malaot nga Capalaran (Wicked Fate), 1903, and Magdalena, 1904; Magdalena Jalandoni’s Ang Anak nga Malalison (Disobedient Child), 1932, and Labi sa Bulawan (Greater than Gold), 1936.

The most popular drama form of the early 20th century, however, was the sarsuwela. Spanish zarzuelas were staged in Iloilo in the 19th century, for at this time the city, called the “Queen City of the South,” was at the height of its prosperity; troupes that performed in Manila usually made Iloilo their next stop. The popular musical form was soon wedded to the native language to produce the Ilonggo sarsuwela. Salvador Ciocon’s Ang Nagahigugma sa Iya Duta (Those Who Love Their Native Land), written in 1899 and staged in 1906, was the first Ilonggo sarsuwela to be written. The first to be staged, however, was Valente Cristobal’s one-act Ang Capitan (The Captain), 1903. For some 30 years after, the sarsuwela reigned as the entertainment form, with about 100 works in Iloilo alone and many taken across the strait to Negros Occidental. A whole world grew around it: some painters and their assistants, actors who were the early stars of the entertainment world, musicians, composers, and writers.

There are eight major sarsuwela writers: Valente Cristobal, author of 32 plays, one of which was the most popular of its time, titled Nating, 1908; Jimeno Damaso, who kept a small store; Angel Magahum, a journalist, novelist, and musician; Jose Maria Ingalla, a bookkeeper who started as an actor and then wrote his own plays, including some he called operas, which had no prose dialogue; Miguela Montelibano, a housewife and mother; Serapion Torre, poet and presidente municipal (mayor) of Iloilo for three terms; and Jose Ma. Nava, actor, journalist, and labor leader. Altogether, they wrote more than 50 sarsuwela.

Some 40 of these have survived and reflect the concerns of the time and place: jealous fathers, long-suffering mothers, patient suitors, virtuous maidens, obedient and disobedient daughters, gamblers and drinkers, wastrel students, love requited and unrequited in the setting of the sugar industry, Iloilo commercial life, and Ilonggo lifeways.

When the sugar industry, the source of income for the mass viewers and elite patrons of the sarsuwela, declined in Iloilo and shifted center to Negros Occidental, the entertainment budget for the sarsuwela, which had to compete with new entertainment forms like bodabil and the movies, dropped. The era of traditional folk drama passed, as did the economy that supported it. Except for occasional revivals, few and far between, and school productions, Ilonggo theater was dormant from 1935 until about the late 1960s.

During the Japanese occupation in Bacolod City, stage shows replaced film showings in the cinemas. Moments Musicale by Edith Lopez performed in Cine Arco and Pancho’s Troupe of Pancho Uytiepo performed at Cine Iris (Guanzon 2002, 188).

In the early 1970s, labor and student militancy gave birth to people’s theater in Negros Occidental. In 1977, Teatro Pangkatilingban, a community theater group attached to Basic Christian Communities (BCC) and the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), established 55 chapters throughout the province. Although this theater group is now gone, it spawned other theater groups like the Teatro Obrero, a youth group composed of sugar workers and workers’ children, and the Negros Theater League, an urban-based theater group that performs in the streets, in the plaza, or in informal settlers’ areas, during strikes, pickets or rallies, and during occasions special to the working class. In 1987, it staged the play Tiempos Muertos (The Dead Season), which satirizes the Masskara as a false portrait of the conditions of the Negros masses. At the time that the Masskara Festival was conceived, Negros sugar workers and other people dependent on the sugar industry were suffering from massive unemployment and hunger because of the slump in the world price of sugar and the mishandling of finances by the Marcos administration. In Tiempos Muertos, the performers, using the very same props and costumes at the Masskara, unmask the sectors responsible for the exploitation and harassment of the Negros working class and landless farmers.

A theater group composed of dumaan or permanent sugar workers was the Hacienda Adela Community Organization in Silay. Founded in 1973, it staged sarsuwela about life on the hacienda, such as Matam-is Man Gali Ang Kalamay (Sugar Is Also Sweet), 1991.

In the 1980s, theater in Iloilo was academe-based. The Theater Arts Guild UP College Iloilo (TAGUPCI), founded by Ma. Nuria Castells, produces plays for students and Iloilo communities. Plays that it produced are Leoncio Deriada’s Abbattoir, 1990; Rhodora Espinosa’s Patas (Equal), 1988; and Alice Tan-Gonzales’s poetry in Ilongga: Madamu nga Guya (Ilongga: Many Faces), 1992, all directed by its member, Kevin Piamonte. He also did directorial work for other schools such as West Visayas State University’s production of Gonzales’s Daba-daba sa Sidlangan (Fire in the East), 1998, about the massacre of Karol-an natives in Negros by the Spaniards; University of San Agustin’s Panayanon, 2000, by Deriada, based on Alicia Magos’s research on the epics of Panay, and that of Colegio del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, Juanita Cruz, 2004, Tan Gonzales’s adaptation of Magdalena Jalandoni’s novel about a woman who participates in the revolution against Spain.

Teatro Amakan, founded by Edward Defensor of UPV in 1979, is the University Performing Group, and produced dance dramas set in precolonial Panay that incorporate Visayan humor like in Baloy, 1988 and 2008, and political satire like in Kanlaon!, 2014. Amakan’s more serious production, Ang Babaylan, 1988, about the Spanish suppression of Panayanon precolonial belief systems and practices, was choreographed by Basilio Esteban Villaruz. With Basilio’s choreography, Ang Babaylan got a National Performance Tour from CCP and became the Philippine representative to international theater festivals in Malaysia, 1990, and in Australia, 1995. The group became inactive starting in 1999 but was revived in 2008 (UP Teatro Amakan 2014).

Hinilawod performed by the Dagyaw Theater and Dance Company
Hinilawod performed by the Dagyaw Theater and Dance Company, 1992 (National Commission for Culture and the Arts dance calendar 1998)

The Dagyaw Theater and Dance Company of the Iloilo National High School, organized in 1990 by Ria Blanco-Española, premiered Hinilawod: Tales from the Mouth of the Jalawod River, directed by Edwin Duero and choreographed by Agnes Locsin, at the 1992 National Theater Festival in Manila. The storyline is based on the Panayanon epic Hinilawod. The play is a fusion of indigenous dance, music, costume, and chants (Liu 2016, 387). Dagyaw has since gone on performance tours of Japan and the United States, and in the cities of Bangkok, Seville, Cairo, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, Rome, and Lisbon (Dagyaw Theater 2016).

The West Visayas Regional Theater Network (Teatrokon) held the West Visayas Theater Festival and Conference. Eleven plays from the different provinces of the region were staged. Three of these plays were in Hiligaynon: Belasyon (Wake) by the University of San Agustin Performing Arts, script by John Iremil Teodoro, direction by Eric Divinagracia, about a widow mourning her OFW husband; Rody Reveche’s Karul-an by the Kasadyahan Dance Theater, about the massacre of the Karol-an tribe in Negros during the Spanish colonial period; and Igun Itom (Igun the Black) by Dagway Sigmahanon Inc., written by Edna Mae Landicho, directed by Al Tesoro, about an Aeta who falls in love with a fair-skinned girl.

In 2008, the centennial of the University of the Philippines Visayas in Iloilo, its faculty, together with the alumni of Tagupci and Teatro Amakan, mounted Ilonggo Sarswela: Padayon ang Istorya (Ilonggo Sarswela: The Story Continues), directed by Alfredo B. Diaz, a production of excerpts from the Hiligaynon sarsuwela of the 1920s and 1930s: Jose Ma. Ingalla’s Dumut kag Huya (Hatred and Shame), Serapion Torre’s Mga Anak ni Sisa (Sisa’s Children), Valente Cristobal’s Ma-Pa-Ta and Sa Tiangge ni Takay (In Takay’s Store), and Salvador Magno’s Noticia Lang Imo (Notice Is All You Get). The revue includes an excerpt from Alice Tan-Gonzales’s contemporary sarsuwela, Pinustahan nga Gugma (Love at Stake). Ilongga Sarswela performed in the towns of Tigbauan, Miag-ao, and Lambunao in Iloilo province; and in Roxas City in Capiz. The following year, it performed at the National Sarsuwela Festival, UP Diliman (French 2008).

AMBON’s member organizations in the performing arts are the community theater group Teatro Sulong Bayan (SUBA), the dance group Alampay, and the music groups Tingug ni Nanay and Tribu ni Mali. Among the theater productions of AMBON are the rock opera Sentenaryo sa Mata ng Proletaryo (1997-1998), the street play Reenactment ng Liberasyon ng Panay, and four music albums Ulan ni Saro, 1993, with Hiligaynon Records; Ti Man, 1996, with Heber Bartolome; Sentenaryo, 1997, with the Ecumenical Council for Development; and Ili-ili sa Kalibutan: Mga Awit ng Bayan at Kalikasan, 2009, with the Center for Environmental Concerns (Leo Lasaga, pers comm 2016).

In Mindanao’s Sultan Kudarat province, where the 240,839 Ilonggo comprise 41.12% of its multiethnic population, grand festivals reflect Ilonggo migrant history and roots. In Esperanza town, the Hinabyog Festival celebrates weaving, their main industry. The root word habyog (swing) recalls the image of the hammock, which they weave out of split bamboo or rattan. Their other woven products are mats, bags, baskets such as kaing, and bilao (winnowing tray), with grass, palm, or plant leaves such as anahaw, buri, pandan, tikog, nito, bamboo, and rattan. The Bansadayaw Festival of Bagumbayan is a celebration of the people’s harvest as well as the multicultural composition of their community. The name of the festival is a portmanteau of the word bansa, Ilonggo for “in full view,” and sayaw, hinugway, or dayaw, meaning “merrymaking.” In Lebak town, the Hinugyaw Festival, which is a thanksgiving celebration for an abundant harvest, was originally called “ati-atihan” when it was organized in the 1970s (Province of Sultan Kudarat 2012, 221-7).

Media Arts

Iloilo has many radio stations. There are 14 AM and 19 FM stations, including two university-based stations. Its leading six AM stations are dyRI Radio Mindanao Network (RMN), dyLL Radyo ng Bayan, dyFM Bombo Radyo, dy OK, dySI (GMA), and dyBQ (IBC).

Visayas Broadcasting Company’s dyRI, launched in 1949, was the first radio station in Iloilo, followed by the government radio station, Radyo ng Bayan’s dyLL, 1959. During the 1960s, radio stations featured the government’s developmental programs such as Si Uwa Mangunguma of DYRI and Pamukaw sa Panguma of dyLL. Bombo Radyo or dyFM was put up by the Northern Broadcasting Company of Don Marcelino Florete Sr. in 1966 (Funtecha 1997, 134-135).

Bombo Radyo gained renown during the time of radio anchor Rino Arcones, who started the culture of confrontational commentaries against corrupt politicians and the New Peoples’ Army (NPA). Commentaries were often followed by the beat of a big bass drum. Today’s expression of “Ipa-Bombo ta ka!” (I will report you to Bombo Radyo) was carried over from the reputation of exposés in radio. Several of its well-known radio drama programs still running until today are Dear Tiyay Evelyn and Toyang Ermitanya. Tiyay Evelyn features real-life stories from Hiligaynon letter-senders and offers advice through Tiyay Evelyn, the host of the program, while Toyang narrates comical stories from caricatures of daily life. The station received awards such as Best News and Public Affairs Program in 2016 from the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP) and Best Commentary for its “Bombohanay Bigtime” from the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2011.

Threats are not uncommon to radio broadcasters in Iloilo City because of their “confrontational,” “hard-hitting,” and “no holds-barred and fearless” style of commentaries. To date, three of Bombo Radyo’s anchormen have been killed: Eddie Suede and Noel Teneso in July 1985, and Severino “Rino” Arcones in October 1989. Fernando Gabio, a radio blocktime host of another station, was also shot and wounded by an unidentified gunman in March 2012.

The first FM station established in Iloilo City was dySA-FM in 1972. FM stations were briefly banned when martial law was declared in the country. Eight FM stations resumed airing in Iloilo in 1975. The boom in business and increase in student population in Iloilo City in the 1990s led to the increase in the number of FM stations in the city (Funtecha 1997, 135-6). Popular FM stations were ABS-CBN’s dyMC 91.1 MOR for Life!, MBC’s dyST 92.3 Yes FM, GMA’s dyMK 93.5 Campus Radio, RMN’s dyIC 95.1 iFM, PBC’s dyMB 97.5 Love Radio, and Bombo Radyo’s dyRF 99.5 Star FM. Radio stations that offered alternative music such as rock, jazz, and classical were DYNY’s 107.9 NU 107 and RJFM’s dyNY 98.3.

Television broadcasting started in Iloilo City in 1975 through the creation of the local link of the Intercontinental Broadcasting Company IBC 12. It was followed by ABS-CBN 4, which opened in 1989, and GMA TV-6, 1999. Most recent was UNTV 42 which started in 2010. Other television networks in Iloilo are the People’s Television Network’s TV 2, Rajah Broadcasting Network and Solar Entertainment’s TV 24 2nd Avenue, Radio Mindanao Network’s TV 26, and Associated Broadcasting Company’s TV 5.

Television was not a popular source of local news and commentaries for the Ilonggo—it was always the AM radios. However, one weekly news program on television that became popular was GMA’s Ratsada, 5:00-5:45 pm, hosted by Jobert Peñaflorida and Gerthrode Charlotte Tan. It started airing in October 1999, and it was a mix of local news, fast-paced features, and video footages that were candid and raw, shown in segments such as “Tsapa Reports,” “Kapuso Barangayan,” and “Ratsada MoJo,” a portmanteau for “mobile journalist.” Ratsada was rebranded as 24 Oras Western Visayas in November 2014 then Ratsada 24 Oras in July 2015, but it stopped airing in November of the same year when GMA closed its news program in Iloilo.

Scene from Peque Gallaga’s Oro Plata Mata
Scene from Peque Gallaga’s Oro Plata Mata, 1982 (Photo courtesy of Peque Gallaga)

The first full-length Hiligaynon film, Quin Baterna and Leonardo Belen’s Ginauhaw Ako, Ginagutom Ako (I am Thirsty, I am Hungry), premiered in 1977 (NFAP 2016). But even before Ginauhaw, Ilonggo filmmakers had made significant contributions to the development of Philippine cinema. In 1972, renowned director and one of the principal figures of Ilonggo filmmaking Peque Gallaga produced the landmark film Oro Plata Mata (Gold, Silver, Death), which follows the lives of two landed families of Negros Occidental amid the strife and violence of World War II.

Gallaga would continue to be instrumental in the development of film and filmmaking practices in the region in the years to follow. In 1991, Gallaga spearheaded the Negros Summer Workshop, in which veteran filmmakers, theater artists, and advertising practitioners came together to teach budding artists the craft of the audiovisual medium. The workshop has become an annual event since then and has produced such talents as Erik Matti, Jay Abello, Lawrence Fajardo, and Vicente Groyon III. Many workshop participants have returned to Negros as established filmmakers to teach subsequent batches. Because of the sustained cycles of mentorship, the influence of the Negros Summer Workshops manifests in the distinct films that emerged from its participants (Groyon 2014, 179, 181-182).

In 2013, Gallaga and Lore Reyes released Sonata for the Film Development Council of the Philippines’ Sineng Pambansa. It is the story of a disillusioned opera singer who retreats to the province and is rejuvenated through an unlikely friendship with a young boy. The film is allegedly Gallaga’s “love letter/poem to Negros,” with scenes shot in the same iconic house used in Oro Plata Mata, with Oro actor Cherie Gil again leading the cast, and an almost all-Negrense crew, many of whom were graduates of the Negros Summer Workshops (San Diego 2013; Gallaga 2013).

Another Ilonggo prominent in Philippine cinema is the eminent film historian and filmmaker Nick Deocampo, whose active efforts to collect, chronicle, and archive Philippine films included campaigning for the preservation of such films as Badlis sa Kinabuhi, a 1969 Cebuano film (San Andres 2013), and the development of a Film Literacy Program for schools and universities through the Center for New Cinema. The Program was launched in Iloilo in 2013, where he also worked to set up a film literacy center in his alma mater, the West Visayas State University. His oeuvre of books on the history of film cinema includes the first writing on Cebuano film history, Films from a “Lost” Cinema: A Brief History of Cebuano Films, 2005 (San Andres 2013; CNC 2016).

Jay Abello’s Namets, 2008, coined from the Hiligaynon namit (yummy), is an ode to Negrense cuisine. Shot entirely in Negros Occidental, it follows the rekindled romance between two ex-lovers and fiercely competitive chefs, Jacko and Cassie, who, by a serendipitous twist of fate, are forced to embark together on a gustatory expedition around Bacolod, rediscovering the delights of local cuisines and their feelings for one another. Abello has also produced Pureza: The Story of Negros Sugar, 2012, through the Bacollywood Workshop, another Ilonggo filmmaking initiative geared toward developing and empowering underprivileged Ilonggo artists. Pureza is a documentary on the sugar industry of Negros and the lives of sugarcane workers.

Richard Somes’s horror drama Yanggaw, 2008, is an audiovisual articulation of the mythical aswang or malignant spirit, a metaphor for deep-seated social ills. A girl returns to her hometown from the city sick with an incurable illness that turns her into a feral, bloodthirsty monster (Vera 2014; Valiente 2016).

After the romantic comedy/teenage films Jologs, 2002, which he wrote, and My Fake American Accent, 2008, which he directed, Ned Trespeces directed Local Girls, 2011, a film about two Ilonggo girls—one a struggling law student, the other a juvenile delinquent—who get tired of their everyday lives as minimum wage earners at a seaside resort and decide to live a life of utter abandon for a weekend, upending their ordinary lives in the process.

A product of the Negros Summer Workshop, Lawrence Fajardo has produced films examining conditions of crime and poverty in the country. In his Urian award-winning short film Kultado, 2005, which was shot in a marketplace in Negros, a young vegetable seller plots vengeance against an abusive butcher and gang leader. Posas, 2012, is an examination of corruption in the police force as it follows the investigation of a detained snatcher from Quiapo. Erik Matti, also a Negros Summer Workshop graduate, is one of the most commercially successful Bacolod filmmakers, producing a wide range of films, from the steamy sequences of Scorpio Nights 2, 1999, and Ekis: Walang Tatakas, 1999, to the fantastic worlds of Pedro Penduko II: The Return of the Comeback, 2000, Gagamboy, 2004, and Tiktik: Aswang Chronicles, 2012, to the action-pumped noir of On the Job, 2013, and Honor Thy Father, 2015.

In Tara Illenberger’s Brutus: Ang Paglalakbay, 2008, the coming-of-age story of two Mangyan children allows for the exploration of the multifaceted plight of the indigenous peoples of Mindoro: the exploitation and displacement of indigenous communities because of illegal logging operations, the rampant environmental degradation in their ancestral domains, and the complexities of the armed conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.

Filmmakers from Iloilo, who remained relatively isolated from the Negrense filmmaking scene, have produced a number of films more experimental in form. For instance, Joy to the World ang Prosesyon, 2008, the work of four directors, draws from fiction, documentary, reportage, and amateur home videos to create a poetic collage of Iloilo and all its many facets, concerns, and energetic pulsations. Ray Gibraltar’s When Timawa Meets Delgado, 2007, albeit more conventional in structure, nevertheless exhibits distinct unconventionality in its plot and filming techniques: A filmmaker wannabe named Delgado and a gay literature teacher-cum-writer Timawa meet as nursing students aspiring to go to America; the former had enrolled in the hope of rejoining his parents after breaking up with his girlfriend, the latter to pursue a beloved who had gone to the United States. Gibraltar also directed the nonlinear psychological horror film Wanted: Border, 2009, the story of landlady and eatery owner Mama Saleng, who murders her boarders and serves them as food to her oblivious customers, a morbid penchant developed from years of violent trauma and delusions rooted in a perverted religiosity.

Vibrancy and chaos describe Joenar Pueblo’s Dagyang: An Ilonggo Story, 2007, which attempts to capture the history, culture, and contemporary scape of Iloilo and the island of Panay in an offbeat narrative that draws together various elements of Ilonggo urban and traditional lore, among them a binukot seeking a husband, a reporter haunted by the ghost of an Ilonggo novelist, a witch falling in love with a lawyer, and an unknown street bum shown in various interludes, once seen dancing in the middle of the Dinagyang (Groyon 2014, 190).

AMBON’s video documentaries and short films showing the various struggles of the people of Panay are uploaded on YouTube. Their poems are read as commentaries on societal issues on the radio program Aksyon Radyo Iloilo. An anchorperson reads these poems in paid broadcasts of MAKABAYAN and BAYAN every Saturday at 2:00 pm.

With the emergence and flourishing of Ilonggo cinema, a number of film festivals have been established to showcase works of Ilonggo filmmakers, like CineKasimanwa: The Western Visayas Film Festival and the Iloilo International Film Festival. Also, an important movement in the development of Ilonggo cinema is the rise of Bacollywood, which aims to bring quality accessible film education to young filmmakers who do not have the resources to go to Manila. In its commitment to empowering regional filmmakers, apart from offering scholarships to their workshops for underprivileged aspirants, Bacollywood also has a festival component that exhibits the works of its workshop participants and other regional filmmakers. A major component of the Bacollywood Visayan Film Festival is Cine de Barrio, or Barangay Bacollywood, which holds free screenings of films in the Bacollywood showcase in alternative cinematic venues such as small barangays and local galleries around the region (Villavecer 2014; Bacollywood 2016).


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This article is from the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Digital Edition.

Title: Ilonggo

Author/s: Doreen G. Fernandez and Rosario Cruz-Lucero, with contributions from E. Arsenio Manuel, Ramon A. Obusan, and Fernando N. Zialcita (1994) / Updated by Rosario Cruz-Lucero, John E. Barrios, and Jeffrey Yap, with additional notes from Rene Trance (2018)


Publication Date: November 18, 2020

Access Date: September 01, 2022

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