This is my debut as a columnist in this esteemed publication. I am grateful to our section editor for giving me this weekly platform to give voice to my life-long passion for culture and the arts.
In my columns, I will be talking about our country’s towns, cities and provinces, spotlighting the cultural aspects that make them distinctive and worth visiting.
Let me start with the letter A for Antique.
Last year, through the auspices of former Senator Loren Legarda, now representing Antique in the current congress as well as the local government executives of province, the world-renowned Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra gave free public concerts in Anini-y, San Jose, and Tibiao, an initiative of the Office of the President of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. People from all walks of life packed the venues, and it was a gratifying moment for me to see them enjoying the kind of orchestral music that could only previously be enjoyed by the privileged class inside the CCP.
During our stay, I learned much about Antique. For instance, when you say Rice Terraces, people will immediately think of Banaue Rice terraces. But you’ll be surprised that there’s another equally awesome version called Antique Rice Terraces, hand carved and crafted by the indigenous Iraynun-Bukidnon. It was discovered only in 2014, by a team of scientists and locals and via satellite imagery. The heritage site is believed to be at least 200 years old.
There are actually three terraced fields, namely, Lublub rice terraces, Baking rice terraces, and San Agustin rice terraces. These have been researched by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and various scholars from the University of the Philippines. There have been campaigns to nominate the Antique Rice Terraces, along with the Central Panay Mountain Range, into the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Antique is a province in the Philippines located in the Western Visayas region. Its capital is San Jose de Buenavista, the most populous town in Antique. Situated in the western section of Panay Island, Antique boasts of pristine beaches. For diving enthusiasts, the whole stretch of coastal areas in Antique is suited for scuba diving. Despite its close location from Boracay Island, Antique is often overlooked by mainstream tourists and travelers, a good thing because it has been spared from crass commercialism so far.
I was also delighted to discover that Antique did not get its name from the word antique, meaning old or vintage, but rather from Hantík-hantik, the local name for the large black ants found on the island. It used to be spelled Hantique with a French twang and silent H by Spanish chroniclers. In the Kinaray-a dialect, it is pronounced as “Antique” (än-ti-ké).
Oral history has it that Antique was one of the three sakups or districts of Panay before Spanish colonizers arrived on the islands, namely Hantik, Akean, and Irong-Irong. Irong-Irong became Iloilo, Akean became the present-day Aklan and Capiz, and Hantik became Antique.
I was also delighted to discover that Antique did not get its name from the word antique, meaning old or vintage, but rather from Hantík-hantik, the local name for the large black ants found on the island.
Remember “Maragtas” from our elementary history classes? The story goes that 10 “datus” or minor tribal Malay chieftains escaped persecution from a city called Odtohan from Borneo due to a tyrant ruler called Makatunaw. The 10 datus, led by Datu Puti, sailed northward with their families and communities, landing on Panay after departing Borneo sometime in the 1200s. There is no written evidence about this, nor are there any existing claims that link the datus to Borneo. Nevertheless, the Maragtas narrative is to be considered as part of the local history of the people.
Historians believe that the earliest people who settled on the island of Panay were tribal Negritos or Atis. As mentioned, it is also the home of indigenous the Iraynun-Bukidnon tribe who speak the dialect of the Kinaray-a language, which is said to be one of the oldest tongues in Panay Island. There are also language experts who say it was the first native language to be used on the island, even before Hiligaynon.
You will also be interested to learn that Antique is the native province of former Senator and now Rep. Legarda, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, National Artist Jerry Navarro Elizalde, Miss World Megan Young, just to mention a few known personalities who trace their roots here.
What are some of the cultural things to see in Antique? There’s the “Old Watchtower” in Libertad and Estaca Hill in Bugasong, one of the many watch towers which were built under the supervision of Spanish friars during the Spanish colonial period to alert the coastal communities against marauding Moro raiders.
In the town of Anini-y, you will find San Juan Nepomuceno Church, the last standing colonial church in the province of Antique. Built in the 1600s, this towering structure was made from coral stones and is considered “revivalist,” with baroque elements like the triangular pediments and rosetted walls. The belfry is attached to the church and underneath it is the baptistry.
Near the town of Anini-y, you can visit the Malandog Historical Marker and the General Fullon Shrine in the town of Hamtic. The Malandog Marker is believed to be the original Landing site of the first Malayan settlers in 1200. The General Fullon Shrine is located in front of the municipal hall of Hamtic and was built to honor the commander who liberated the town during the revolution against Spanish colonial rule, leading a troop of less than 500. He was appointed as the overall commanding officer for all Visayan forces and struggled for independence well into the Filipino-American War. He later surrendered to the Americans and was appointed governor of Antique in 1901. He held this post until his death on Oct. 16, 1904.
In the town of Patnongon you can take a look at the ruins of Patnongon Church built by Augustinians out of stone and mortar. It was destroyed during World War II. Today, only the walls and the first level of the facade stand along the town’s main thoroughfare, giving visitors hints of neoclassical architecture from its flat walls adorned with arched windows. The National Historical Commission (NHC) is said to have plans to revive the ruins.
If you want to experience festivals in Antiqueño style, take part in the Binirayan festival, which was started in San Jose in 1974 by Gov. Evelio Javier, the famous opposition leader who was assassinated during Martial Law. This is a week-long festival that includes colorful street parades, beach shows, plaza concerts, a beauty contest, and trade fair. “Binirayan” comes from biray, or “sailboat,” which hearkens back to the Pre-Hispanic legend of the Bornean datus.
I am glad that native daughter Rep. Legarda is now championing the progress of Antique, envisioning her home province to become one of the premier ecotourism destinations, showcasing its vibrant cultural history, and giving pride to its identity. Conferred the Dangal ng Haraya by the NCCA, Rep. Legarda has also been collaborating with the NCCA on several projects, one of which was for Antique to host the 2019 Pista ng Komedya after she discovered that her home province upholds the important komedya tradition. This, in fact, is made evident by the presence of several komedya troupes in the different municipalities of Antique, such as San Jose, Barbaza, Laua-an, Bugasong and Sibalom.
After many years of being a destination less traveled to, Antique is now showing remarkable progress. To our kasimanwa, we support you wholeheartedly. Sumulong, Antiqueños!
Arsenio “Nick” J. Lizaso is the chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).