The secret of Iloilo is its people

Published September 18, 2021, 8:00 AM

by Jules Vivas

This city’s visionaries, pioneers, and stalwarts paint a portrait of the capital and what makes it great

ILONGGO PILLARS Clockwise from top left: Elvert Bañares, Marjorie Florete, Tibong Jardeleza, Joemarie Layson, Allan Ryan Tan, Frannie Golez, Natalie Lim, Cristine Mansinares, Chiqui Blancaflor, Paul Tinsay. Cover design by Jules Vivas

Iloilo City is perceived as the next economic epicenter in the Philippines with so many things happening, developing, emerging in the city right now. Before the pandemic, tourists and Filipinos alike had been visiting the new hub to explore and experience what made it special.

Essentially, what makes a city is proximity. It is where residences, workplaces, marketplaces, cultural institutions, and travel destinations come together. Defined concisely, it is a large human settlement. A city is only as good as its people. To get a keen understanding of the place, we dive into the minds of Iloilo’s pioneers, visionaries, and stalwarts.

Potential capital

We have a strong labor force. You need not go to Manila or Cebu if you’re looking for people to run your business. We have them here. So, I think Iloilo has great potential, and it has a lot to do with the educated populace. University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) is a very good graduate school, Central Philippine University (CPU) has a law school, and so does the University of Iloilo (UI). Likened to Mapúa is the Western Institute of Technology. University of San Agustine boasts its Med Tech program. UPV is a very good business school in the city and has aquamarine, biology, and fisheries courses in Miagao. People should not only look at what Iloilo has in terms of education, but also the cost of land, which is relatively cheap, and investment opportunities. We have excess power supply, an excellent fishing industry, and good leaders. —Joemarie Layson, CEO of Layson Group of Companies.


Center for compassion

I’ve never seen people with so much pride and love for their city. They [Ilonggos] will do everything in their power to make sure that the city thrives and the local government succeeds. The community gives so easily, and by the millions. They would give a helping hand to anyone, especially if it’s for the betterment of the city. I’m not Ilongga but Iloilo has been my home since before Richmonde Hotel Iloilo opened in 2015, and I’ve observed that when I need a favor from anyone, all I need to do is make a phone call. —Natalie Lim, general manager of Richmonde Hotel Iloilo (and adopted Ilonggo).


The art of heritage keeping

Physical space is of no interest without warm bodies. A film or a story becomes interesting because of people. So, it is Ilonggos who make Iloilo very special. We value history and heritage and so we don’t just change or develop something just for the sake of making it modern. At the same time, since Iloilo has a rich art and cultural tradition, we get to be very imaginative in creating art (public art for that matter) and visualizing the stories of our people. And we make sure there’s a good balance between moving forward and respecting our past. These characteristics make Iloilo a beautiful place with so many stories waiting to be told. And this is why our food isn’t just very delicious. Our food leaves a memory on your palate. So you always want to come back for more. —Elvert “JV” Bañares, critically acclaimed filmmaker and multi-disciplinary artist.


Facing adversity head-on

What stands out is our resilience and preparedness.Iloilo is one of the lowest points in the Philippines, and whenever the rainy season meets the high tide season, parts of the city would be flooded. But we have adopted several measures not just to fight the flooding but also to bounce back immediately after any disaster. I recall we were hit hard by typhoon Hagupit in 2008. Since then, we have dedicated our lives to disaster preparedness. We study the movement of the clouds, the flow of the tide, and we have a very good risk-reduction management program.—Chiqui Biancaflor, head of Uswag Molecular Lab and special assistant to the mayor.


Build, build, build, and the roads that bind us

Iloilo is a developing city. The wider roads are among the drastic changes. The road from the airport going to the Diversion Road has become significantly bigger, and I would really appreciate it if the expansion of the international airport pushes through. The opening of the new circumferential roads links far-flung areas in the province. Construction is still booming, but more in the BPO industry. —Allan Ryan Tan, International Builder’s Corporation vice-president for real estate and land development.


Open minds, greener pastures

It’s a fast emerging and beautiful city. We have a mayor who’s very active with regards to projects around town. He’s in touch with his people. And there’s a lot of beautification efforts. The food scene is also bustling. And because of social media, the Ilonggos are now more open to trying new things, hence more restaurants and clothing brands are opening and making their mark here. I enjoy Iloilo’s growth because I am also seeing that a lot of people are becoming environmentally conscious. Their [Ilonggo’s] hearts have grown.—Frannie Golez, president and chief creative director of Obra Ilonggo.


The heart of an Ilonggo

I was born in Iloilo, and I have seen the transformation of the city. The local government is really commendable. The LGU, church, and private sectors work together. Here, we are of one mind and heart. We want improvement, so we work toward our goal. But what I want everyone to know more about the Ilonggos is how charming, affable, frugal, yet sophisticated we are. I want the rest of the Philippines to know our values, and our way of thinking and feeling. —Marjorie Florete, graduate gemologist, vice-president of sales and operations of F&C Jewelry, and president of Assumption Iloilo Educational Foundation (AIEF).


City by day, small town at night

What’s nice about Iloilo is it is a vibrant city during the day but it becomes a small town at night. It’s got the best of both worlds. It’s a city but everyone knows everyone. Meanwhile, the good thing about the market of Iloilo is there’s a very wide middle-class base. There’s high consumable income. This means there’s a lot of money going around. There’s a lot of private sector investments here. —Paul Benedict Tinsay, president and CEO of PlayTelecom.


Let others flourish

Even during the Spanish time, Iloilo has been a booming city, which led to the development and economic growth of other provinces surrounding it, including Antique, Aklan, Guimaras, Capiz, and Negros Occidental. It all started in Iloilo because trade is very active and it’s a center of commerce. It also has great infrastructure that supports tourism development. Also, it’s the creativity of the people. I am amazed with their Hablon, the cloth that creative communities weave in various municipalities. —Cristine Mansinares, DOT Western Visayas regional director.


Diverse resources

Iloilo has everything. We are blessed with the bounty of the sea, the crops of mountains, the produce of the farms and the fields, the rich forests. We can be an independent country if you ask me. All of those are given. But for me, what makes Iloilo unique is the people. I cannot fully explain it in words, but it’s the Ilonggos.—Chef Tibong Jardeleza, culture champion and proponent of Sabores de Visayas.