By Amadís Ma. Guerrero
From a small town derided for being the capital of a feudal province with a big gap between rich and poor, Bacolod has grown through the decades to become a cosmopolitan city with malls, fast-food outlets, and convention centers. Alas, many historical landmarks of the past are gone, but there is still the Bacolod Cathedral and its two bells enshrined in the churchyard.
Bacolod is famous for its cuisine, notably the chicken inasal (barbecue) which makes for a great meal when eaten with rice and washed down with a little beer. Look for the row of eateries called Manukan, loved by domestic and foreign tourists who are not sosyal (uppity).
The leading hotels – like L’Fisher, Bacolod Convention Center and Goldenfield Garden (the latter near a lively district at night) – all have large-scale convention facilities. Standard and budget hotels include Sugarland, Sea Breeze, Pension Plaza, Bacolod Plaza and Cactus Inn. And once a year (late October) Bacolod forgets its troubles and stages its lively Masskara Festival, with its folk art and masked dancers.
Bustling, modern Cebu City is the gateway to the rest of the province, which is the No.1 tourist destination outside of Metro Manila. Leading hotels within the city are Shangri-la Mactan Resort Hotel, Crown Regency, Marco Polo Plaza, and Hilton Cebu Resort & Spa but there are standard and budget tourists hotels and inns too numerous to mention, like YMCA.
For the first-time visitor, the city has many interesting sites redolent of history. The most famous is the shrine of Magellan’s Cross (original parts are encased in the replica) right in downtown Cebu. Here devout old women (manangs) will dance and say a prayer for you, and, of course, ask for a little money. Also not to be missed are the Santo Niño Basilica and the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Taoist Temple, Fort San Pedro, the University of San Carlos Museum and Casa Gorordo, a heritage mansion transformed into a museum.
Cebu’s tribute to the Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus), the Sinulog. is in January.
Iloilo City has six districts, each with a church. For me the two most impressive are the Molo Church and the Jaro Cathedral. The church has twin red spires and is famous for its array of all-women saints (a touch of religious feminism!). National Hero Jose Rizal visited the church on his way to exile in Dapitan, Mindanao, in 1896. the Jaro Cathedral, built in 1864, is the home of Our Lady of the Candles (Nuestra Señora de Candeleria) whose limestone statue is said to be growing, and no longer fits into its original niche.
The phalanx of saints here, this time, is all-male. And Our Lady is the only “rose.”
While in Iloilo, check out, while they are still around, landmarks like the Kerr & Co. Building in Ortiz St., the Ledesma mansions in front of Museo Iloilo, the Lopez-Vito residence in Jaro, and the Lizares Mansion (now a school), which is spectacularly a – glow with lights come Christmastime.
The city is also known for its cuisine, like the popular batchoy and pancit molo, now served everywhere in the country but best to be tested in Iloilo. These are soup with noodles and lots of meat (with an egg as option), in the case of batchoy, and pork dumplings for the pancit molo.
Ilonggos like to bring their visitors to Tatoy’s Manokan & Seafoods, a seaside restaurant whose specialty is barbecued native chicken stuffed with pandan leaves and roasted over charcoal.
The main Iloilo festival, Dinagyang, is also held in January.
Tagbilaran is the capital city of Bohol, one of the most picturesque provinces in the Philippines. It is now commercialized, with many new buildings, but can still be enjoyed for its own sake for it is beside the sea. Places to stay here include Metro Centre, La Roca, Meridian, G. Gardens, and Sea Breeze. Right next to the city, connected by a bridge, is Panglao Island, where some of the best beach resorts – like Panglao Island Nature Resort – can be found.
Within the city limits is the seaside monument celebrating the Blood Compact between Rajah Sikatuna and the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. The best time to visit Tagbilaran is during July, when the Sandugo Festival is celebrated with much merrymaking, drums, dancing in the streets, and youthful contingents from all over Bohol and neighboring provinces like Leyte.
Tacloban is the capital city of Leyte and the regional center of Eastern Visayas. It is right beside Palo Beach, famous for being the landing area of US Gen. Douglas McArthur during his return to the Philippines in 1944, during World War II. The Landing Memorial is, in fact, near the McArthur Park Beach Resort.
Another place worth visiting is the Leyte Park Hotel, which has a scenic swimming pool along San Juanico Bay.
Once, in the company of friends, I undertook a taxi ride from Manila all the way to Tacloban, or 860 kms south. It was quite an experience, rewarded at the end by the sight of the mountains in Tacloban, coming from Samar, as we were crossing the San Juanico Bridge. Our mission was to document 38 charcoal drawings highlighting Philippine history by the late, great visual artist Amadeo Manalad, housed at the Santo Niño Shrine & Heritage Museum, another reason for visiting Tacloban.