Irong-irong is the nose-shaped patch of land by the south side of the Iloilo River. This patch of land was the site of an important settlement that gave its name to the province of Iloilo. According to legend, the ten Bornean Datus landed near the Siwaragan River in San Joaquin and negotiated the sale of the lowlands of Panay Island from the Negrito Chief Marikudo. Datu Paiburong occupied the territory where Iloilo is today.

The navel of the Philippine archipelago, Iloilo is the gateway to the flourishing region with two cities and 43 municipalities. It covers 4,647 square kilometers of land and is the cultural, educational, religious, economic, and administrative capital of the region. Iloilo is home to the Hiligaynon-speaking Ilonggos – Hiligaynon is known for its lethargic and seductive rhythm; the other half of the population speaks Kinaray-a which is also spoken in Antique.

Iloilo is one of the cradles of the Philippines’ rich cultural heritage. The old churches, ancestral homes, handicrafts, and colorful festivals reflect the bounty with which the Almighty has blessed this province.

In Jaro district, one cannot but be stupefied at the majestic yet still regal colonial houses built by the sugar barons of the bygone era. The province also boasts of the traditional loom weaving and hand embroidery of piña and jusi fabrics. These intricately and delicately designed fabrics have found their way into the national scene as used in barong tagalogs, shirts, shawls, tablecloths, and place mats. 

As one of the earliest seats of Catholicism, the province takes pride in the magnificent centuries-old churches. One of the most notable churches in the province is the San Joaquin Church. It is famous for its unusual façade which depicts the Battle of Tetuan. The Miag-ao Fortress Church, an example of a mediaeval bastion, is also a sight to behold. It has been declared a national shrine through P.D. No.260 in 1973. On December 1993, it was included in the World Heritage List by the UNESCO.

The Ilonggos’ deeply-rooted sense of religiosity is evident in the feasts and festivals in honor of the Blessed Mother and her Most Holy Infant. The feast of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, the patroness of the region, is observed every February 2nd. Those who pledge the “panata” religiously find time to fly home this time of the year. Dinagyang, the local mardi gras, is a major tourist drawer. During this time, Iloilo City’s streets are filled with merrymakers and warriors whose bodies are painted coal-black. This is a weeklong celebration which culminates with the ati-atihan competition.

In order to make one’s impression of Iloilo more concrete, one need not only to enjoy the intangible sights and sounds of the province, but more so, embrace the province through the different flavors it offers. For starters, La Paz Batchoy is the food to try. This is a broth of pork liver, cracklings, and fresh noodles served with steamy soup. Next, one must try the equally-delicious Pancit Molo, wanton noodles in chicken soup spiced with garlic. Both are mouth-watering sensations. Thanks to the secret recipe behind them. Among Iloilo’s pastries and confectionerie s, the barquillos, hojaldres, pinasugbo, biscocho, and the squid rings are most famous among tourists and balikbayans.

Iloilo is the is considered the Food Basket and Rice Granary of the Philippines because it is a leading producer of palay and legumes, root crops, and fruits like mangoes, pineapple, and citrus. Its fishing grounds are abundant with grouper, sea bass, tuna, blue marlin, prawn, milkfish, and shrimps. This is enough reason for two research institutes to establish their bases in the province. In Tigbauan lies the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center and the University of the Philippines in the Visayas in Miag-ao. Aside from these, the province is rich in metallic and non-metallic minerals.

If there is one place in the Philippines where one can find the mixture of rich and glorious past and the thriving developments of the future, Iloilo is the place to be.

(from The Files Magazine – Panay News online By John Paul Cadiz)