The Port of Iloilo

by Demy Sonza

The story of the Port of Iloilo as a port of entry began on September 29, 1855 when Isabella II, Queen of Spain, declared it open to international trade.1 But the port had already been engaged in inter-island commerce within the Philippine archipelago and in trade with some Asian countries for centuries. Iloilo had also been a shipbuilding center.

When the Spanish colonizers came in the 16th century, they were pleasantly surprised to find that Arevalo (now a district of Iloilo City) had a shipyard for the building and repair of galleys and frigates.2 They also discovered that a fairly large number of Chinese lived there, married to native women. Governor-General Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa organized the community into a pueblo in 1581, naming it after his native town of Arevalo in Spain, and because the place was rich, he called it La Villa Rica de Arevalo.3

Ronquillo de Peñalosa also made Arevalo the capital of the Provincia de Oton that covered the whole of Panay, Romblon, Guimaras, and Western Negros. With food and other supplies plentiful at Arevalo, it was made the provisioning point and launching pad for Spanish expeditions to Mindanao, Sulu, and the Moluccas.

In 1587, Thomas Cavendish, a British privateer, intercepted and plundered the Spanish galleon "Sta. Ana" off California on its way to Acapulco, Mexico. After transferring the precious cargo to his ship "Desire," Cavendish sailed across the Pacific to the Philippines. He entered the Strait of San Bernardino between Samar and Sorsogon, crossed the Visayan Sea undetected, and attacked Arevalo where the galleon "Santiago" was being constructed. Cavendish destroyed the shipyard but failed to sack the town. Repulsed by the Spanish and Ilonggo defenders, he sailed back to England via the Indian Ocean to become the third circumnavigator of the world.4

The sneak visit of Cavendish meant that the port of Arevalo was already known to the British in 1587. And not only the British. The Dutch also knew the importance of Arevalo as a port and they attacked it a number of times, v.g., in 1609, 1614, and 1616.5 These attacks and the frequent raids by Muslim pirates from Mindanao and Sulu forced the Spanish authorities to transfer the provincial capital from Arevalo to the town of Iloilo, seven kilometers to the east, where they have built a fort at Punta, near the mouth of the Iloilo River.6

The original fort was erected in 1602 with wooden palisades. Later, the palisades were replaced with a 4-bastion stone wall. The fortification was officially named Fuerza de Nuestra Señora de Sto. Rosario but became popularly known as Cota de San Pedro. It provided protection to the harbor of Iloilo that was naturally formed by the deep Iloilo Strait and the winding, navigable Iloilo River. The harbor was protected from strong winds and high waves by the hilly island of Guimaras. On the Iloilo River, the port is capable of accommodating a good number of ships of mederate size.

Better located and protected, the port of Iloilo soon superseded the ancient port of Arevalo. Writing in 1850, Manuel Buzeta and Felipe Bravo said that the port "was the most notable in the Visayas and to it converged ships from all provinces of the colony in search for rice and other products."7

Due to Spain's monopolistic trade policy, Iloilo remained only an inter-island port for hundreds of years.

Port of Iloilo

Port of Iloilo today at dawn. Shown are Iloilo City Hall and the iconic Iloilo Customs House. Photo courtesy of Marie de la Rama.

As may be recalled, from 1565 to 1815, the only commercial intercourse between the Philippines and the western world was the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. Yet, although Iloilo was opened to foreign commerce only in 1855, its port was sometimes visited by merchant ships from Asian countries even before that time. For instance, on April 28, 1818, the Portuguese brigantine "Ulysis" landed at Iloilo and loaded 500 piculs of sibukaw" dyewood for export to Macao.8 Occasionally, Iloilo also received direct shipments of goods from Asian nations. For example, on December 6, 1819, the brigantine "San Vicente" came with merchandise from Moluccas.9

When the port was declared open to foreign commerce, most of what is now Iloilo City Proper was still a swampland. Although Iloilo was the capital of the province of the same name, it was the smallest town in population. It was just a "suburb" of Jaro, located across the river to the north, which was then the biggest town in the island of Panay and the commercial center of Iloilo Province. In 1856, the town of Iloilo had a population of only 7,500. It was, however, adjoined by four more populous municipalities - Jaro with 33,000; Molo with 15,000; Arevalo with 10,000; and Oton with 20,000.10 Moreover, the province of Iloilo with 527,000 was the most populous among the provinces.11

First Foreign Merchant

The opening of the port to world trade brought about the establishment of the first foreign business firm in Iloilo - Loney & Co. When Nicolas Loney, the first British vice consul and merchant, arrived in Iloilo in July 1856, he saw about 15 to 20 coasting vessels - brigs, brigantines, schooners, and lorchas moored on the Iloilo River. The river was navigable for several kilometers up to Molo.12

On his own and as an agent of a few foreign firms in Manila, Loney set up shop in the town. In March 1857, he was joined by John Higgin from Liverpool, and Loney & Co. was born. It was the first foreign firm to be organized in the Philippines outside of Manila.13 The company at once became a big success in bringing imported goods to Iloilo. In just over a year, its sales increased by twenty-fold, from $7,000 in 1857 to $140,000 in 1858.14

At that the time, the main commercial product of Iloilo was textile: abaca, cotton, piña, and silk fabrics. The cloths, plain or embroidered, were sold in pieces (piezas) or cut and sewn into sarongs, skirts, blankets, tablecloths, kerchiefs, etc. Iloilo was then known as the textile center of the Philippines, with some 40,000 to 50,000 weaving looms in the province. In 1854, around $400,000 worth of cloth was shipped from Iloilo to Manila. The other products sent to Manila were tobacco, rice, sugar, hemp (abaca), sapanwood (sibukaw), and hides.15

Despite its natural advantages, however, the port was primitive in its facilities. Nicolas Loney initiated some major improvements. He reclaimed the most advantageous part of the river bank, built a stone warehouse on the site, and constructed a road to it from the town. He named the road Calle Progreso (Progress Street). Other merchants followed him later by putting up their own business houses at the waterfront. Notable among these early firms were Ker & Co., and that of Frederick Luchinger, a Swiss businessman.16 Among the early Ilonggo businessmen to establish themselves on Calle Progreso were Isidro de la Rama and Cirilo Corteza. True to Loney's vision, the street he had laid became the business hub of Iloilo City by the 1890s. Calle Progreso is now Isidro de la Rama Street.

Development of the Sugar Industry

After a brief survey of Iloilo Province and Negros Occidental, Loney was convinced that the region, because of its soil and climate, could produce plenty of sugar, a commodity that was then in big demand in the world market. To promote sugar production, Loney procured better sugar cane varieties from Java, offered financing to planters, and sold farm and mill machineries on easy installment terms. He was able to give cash advances to sugar farmers because large trading firms in Manila, especially Ker & Co. (British) and Russell & Sturgis (American) appointed him their agent and backed him up with funds for lending.

Loney put up a model hacienda in Talisay, Negros Occidental, where he installed the biggest steam-powered sugar mill at the time.17 To have more efficient vessel for transporting sugar from negros, he remodelled the lorcha. He patterned the new version after the famous Brixham trawler of his native Devonshire, England. What came out was a light-drought, flat-bottomed, schooner-rigged boat, that was capable of loading from 40 to 100 tons of sugar.18 From the 1870s through the 1920s, hundreds of lorchas plied between Negros, as well as some coastal places in Panay, and the port of Iloilo. Several Ilonggo families who owned lorchas made fortunes in the sugar hauling and trading business.

Up to the time of Loney's arrival in Iloilo, there was not a single iron sugar mill in Panay and only one in Negros. What was being used then were wooden mills ran by carabao or oxen to extract the juice from the sugar cane. The juice was then boiled in Chinese-made vats (kawa) to produce dark brown muscovado sugar. Sugar production was small. In 1855, only 12,000 piculs were shipped to Manila from Iloilo. But with the introduction, mainly through British firms at Iloilo, of high-yielding sugar cane varieties, iron plows, iron mills, steam engines, and ample financing, production rose rapidly. On March 14, 1859, the first sugar exportation from Iloilo was shipped to Melbourne, Australia.19

The Ilonggo entrepreneurs, especially the Chinese mestizos of Jaro and Molo, were quickly attracted to the sugar industry. They shifted much of their capital and effort from the textile business to sugar production and trading. Among the early Ilonggo sugar planters and traders were Lucas Avanceña, Teodoro Benedicto, Cirilo Corteza, Julian Hernaez, Eugenio Lopez, Isidro de la Rama, and Teodoro Yulo.

Once direct exportation was started, sugar production in Panay and Negros increased tremendously and by 1863 no less than 26 foreign ships came to the port of Iloilo for sugar destined to ports in China, Europe, and the United States. In 1863, the first direct importation of merchandise to Iloilo (from England) was also commenced.20

Aside from Great Britain, other countries recognized the growing importance of Iloilo as a trading center. For example, in 1862, American Consul Jonathan Russel wrote to Washington, D.C. from Manila recommending that a U.S. vice consulate be opened in Iloilo in as much as several American ships had already been calling there. Consequently, in 1864, the U.S. vice consulate was established, with Wright Brooke Loring, the only American resident in Iloilo at the time, as vice consul.21 Other mercantile nations followed the example of Great Britain and the United States, and by the 1890s, Iloilo had vice consulates also for France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland.22

As early as the 1860s, the number of foreigners visiting or residing in Iloilo was already considerable, so that the Governor-General ordered the establishment of a Protestant cemetery in the port town in 1866. This cemetery antedated the first Protestant church in Iloilo by 35 years. The Jaro Evangelical Church was founded only in 1901 when the Philippines was no longer under Spain and freedom of worship and the principle of the separation of church and state had been recognized in the country.

Large-Scale Migration to Negros

One important effect of the opening of the port of Iloilo to world trade was the large-scale migration of people from Panay to Negros. At that time Iloilo was the biggest province in population, while Negros, especially the western part, was sparsely inhabited. In 1858 Iloilo had 527,970 people while the whole island of Negros had only 113,370.23 Twelve years later, the population of Iloilo dropped to 368,371. What happened? There was no plague, famine, or some other catastrophe. The answer to the question is that a very large number of people had moved from Iloilo to Negros. People migrated by clans, even by villages, to work in the plantations and sugar mills in Negros. The following statistical figures show the tremendous growth of population in Negros Occidental: 1850 - 30,000; 1880 - 200,000; 1893 - 320,000. 24The massive migration lessened the population pressure in Iloilo and hastened the development of agriculture and industry in Negros. To a lesser degree, people also migrated to Negros from Antique, Capiz and Cebu.

With improved cultivation and milling, financing, and marketing, the sugar industry grew by leaps and bounds. By the mid 1880s, Western Visayas had become the premier sugar-producing region and Iloilo had surpassed Manila in the exportation of the product. In 1885 Iloilo's sugar export was 109,609 tons against Manila's 65,678 tons. Five years later, the difference between the volumes of sugar shipped out of the two ports was over half a million piculs. Iloilo exported 1,431,054 piculs while Manila shipped out only 874,088 piculs.25 Aside from sugar, the port of Iloilo also exported sapanwood and abaca. The port also handled a large volume of cargo in the coastwide trade.

As the trading center of the sugar industry, the port of iloilo was a virtual beehive of activities. Around 10,000 stevedores worked at the port, moving bags of sugar from the lorchas to the waterfront bodegas, and from bodegas to the ocean-going bottoms. Paid daily in cash and with a large number unmarried, the stevedores were great spenders. After getting their wages they spent the money on food, drinks, clothes, entertainment, and women. The dockworkers did not accumulate much savings, but they certainly injected a lot of money into the business of the city.26

Iloilo and Jaro Became Cities

The brisk trade induced the construction of support infrastructures. Port facilities were improved, roads were built, the means of communication were modernized. Financial institutions were attracted to Iloilo. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation; the Chartered Bank of China, India and Australia, (now Standard Chartered Bank); and the Banco Español Filipino de Isabel II (now Bank of the Philippine Islands) opened their first provincial branches in Iloilo. What was a sleepy town in 1850 had become, by the 1880s, an urban center where buildings assessed at over P10,000 were numerous.27

It was no wonder then that on June 7, 1889, the Queen Regent of Spain raised Iloilo to the status of a city. Its ayuntamiento was inaugurated by Governor-General Valeriano Weyler on February 7, 1890 with Tirso Lizarraga as city mayor.28 On March 7, 1891, the neighboring town of Jaro was also elevated to a city.29 Largely because of its port, Iloilo was the only province in the Philippines that had two cities during the Spanish regime when there were only eight cities in the archipelago.30 And relative prosperity was not only confined to Iloilo. It spread throughout much Panay and Negros. A report of the Schurman Commission in 1900 stated: "The general aspect of Iloilo province is that of a well cultivated and planted park, dotted with well-built and commodious houses, which are shaded by beautiful fruit trees. The towns are almost all large, clean and well-built. In no other province or district are there so many churches, they are all of stone, their architecture being pleasing. No other province is crossed by as many well-built roads and by-ways."31

When Iloilo became a city in 1890, it had already many foreign firms engaged in the import-export business. There were six British, one French, one German, and one Swiss companies. There were also several Spanish firms and numerous Filipino establishments engaged in various lines of trades and industry. In the field of pharmacy alone, there were five drugstores.32 By then, Iloilo already had regular shipping routes to Hongkong, Singapore, Australia, England, Mainland Europe, and the United States. For example, there was s ship named "SS Panay" owned by a Salem, Massachussetts firm that brough kerosene directly from Boston to Iloilo and on the return trip took sugar to Boston.33

Indeed, one indication of the rapid growth of Iloilo and its importance as a commercial center was the number of ships calling at its port. In the early decade of 1862 to 1871, the number of ships from Philippine ports that entered Iloilo's safe harbor yearly increased by more than a factor of four, from 154 in 1862 to 1,122 in 1871.34 As means of navigation improved, steamers soon joined sailboats in the coastwise shipping. Among the inter-island steamers that called at Iloilo port in 1880s and 1890s were the "Victoria," "Churuca," "Ormoc," "Pasig," "El Cano," "Butuan," "and Eliza." The large sailing vessels were the "Sorsogon," "Ley," "Gravitana," "Mariveles," "Soledad," "Cavitena," "Registro," and "Cabanbanan."

John Foreman reported in 1889, "Between Iloilo and Antique, Concepcion, Negros, and Cebu, there were half dozen small steamers, belonging to Filipinos and Spaniards, running regularly with passengers and merchandise, while in the sugar-producing months - January to May - they were freighted with sugar."35 Concepcion was the port for the then Military District of Concepcion in Northeastern Panay. Concepcion District was made a part of Iloilo Province in 1901.

To make navigation to the port of Iloilo safe, the Spanish government, as early as the 1860s, assigned two steam gunboats to the naval station at Fort San Pedro to suppress piracy. Then the government put up lighthouses on several strategic islands leading to the port, namely, Islas Siete Pecados, Manigo-nigo Island, Luzaran Point in Guimaras, Calabasas Island, and Gigantes Island.36

Besides its business establishments, Iloilo possessed other facilities and conveniences of a modern city. It had electricity by 1890. It was connected by telegraph to Capiz and Antique with stations in several towns in 1892, and shortly later to Manila, Negros and Cebu.37 In 1894, a telephone system was installed covering the city and extending to La Paz, Jaro, Molo, Arevalo, and Mandurriao. Finally, in 1897, Iloilo was connected to major cities of the world by an extension through Manila and Hongkong of the Australia and China Telegraph Company.38

Educational and Cultural Development

Iloilo boasted of having the first department store in the Philippines, Hoskyn & Co., which was established in 1877. But the development generated by the busy port was not limited to commerce, finance, transportation, and communication. The influence was likewise felt in the fields of education, religion, art, letters, and sports.

With increased earnings, many Western Visayan families were able to send their children to college in Manila and some of them to Europe. Better still, the Ilonggos founded schools and colleges which drew students from all over Panay and Negros. Of these several schools, two have survived to this day. One is the Colegio de San Jose, founded in 1872, and the Seminario de San Vicente Ferrer which was put up by the Diocese of Jaro in 1865. The colonial government also established the Escuela de Artes y Oficios in 1890.39

The presence of these educational institutions enabled Iloilo to produce many professionals and intellectuals. Molo, for instance, had so many outstanding minds that it was dubbed "the Athens of the Philippines." Proof of this is that in 1898 Molo had seven doctors, thirteen lawyers, two pharmacists, and numerous teachers and commerce graduates.40 Of the lawyers, three became justices of the Supreme Court during the early part of the American Period and one of them, Ramon Avanceña, became Chief Justice.41

The first bookstore in the Visayas and Mindanao was established in Iloilo in 1877. The first newspaper, El Porvenir de Bisayas, was established in 1884.42 By 1889, there were nine periodicals in Iloilo and one yearly almanac. A number of theaters were established and the zarzuela bloomed under the auspices of the Sociedad Lirico Dramatica and the Sociedad Artistica Literaria. Since Iloilo had theatrical facilities, some European actors who arrived in Manila often made side trips to perform in Iloilo. Ilonggos also enjoyed good sporting and recreational conveniences. There were the Iloilo Jockey Club in Balantang, Jaro, that was organized in 1893; and the Casino Español, Club Ingles, and Club Suizo in the city.43

The Philippine Revolution

Iloilo did not participate in the Philippine Revolution of 1896. But when the second phase of the Revolution broke out in 1898, the Ilonggos joined the libertarian movement. When Manila fell to the Americans in August 1898, Iloilo became the capital of the Spanish colonial government. Governor-General Diego de los Rios ordered most of the Spanish forces in the Visayas and Mindanao to converge in Iloilo. But the Ilonggo revolutionary army, augmented by expeditionary battalions from Luzon, easily captured town after town in Panay. De los Rios sued for peace and on December 24, 1898, he evacuated his forces to Zamboanga en route to Spain. The following Christmas morning, the Ejercito Libertador (Liberating Army) under Martin Delgado occupied Iloilo City and its port.44

For fear that their interests might be adversely affected if the revolucionarios attacked Iloilo City, foreign businessmen petitioned General Elwell Otis in Manila to send American troops to Iloilo.45 Otis obliged and sent an expeditionary force on board four warships to Iloilo. However, when General Marcus Miller arrived at the Iloilo harbor on December 28, he found that the Philippine flag was already flying over the city. Miller requested permission from the Ilonggo leaders to land his troops, saying that the Americans had come as friends. Roque Lopez, president of the Federal State of the Bisayas, refused to grant Miller's request without written permission from General Emilio Aquinaldo, president of the Philippine Revolutionary Government. Miller blockaded the port, but was constrained to keep his troops aboard their ships for 44 long days because President William McKinley had issued an order to avoid any armed conflict with the Filipinos while the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War was pending ratification by the U.S. Senate. This incident was referred to by some American writers as "The Iloilo Fiasco." Meanwhile, business came to a stand still. In fact, a number of Iloilo-bound ships from Europe had to return or were rerouted. Finally, when the Filipino-American War broke out, Miller took Iloilo by storm on February 11, 1899.46

For three years, 1899-1901, the business at the port of Iloilo declined. Sugar exports, for instance, decreased from 2,659,661 piculs in 1898 to 1,488,856 piculs in 1899, to only 540,436 piculs in 1900.47 From 1902, however, business started to recover. The first major improvement in the port under the American regime was made in 1904 when the Philippine Commission contracted J.C. White & Co. to dredge the heavily silted Iloilo River from its mouth to the customhouse to a depth of 15 feet at low tide and to rebuild the retaining wall on the river banks. The dredged material was used to fill up the low area between the river and Fort San Pedro. Another big project was the construction (1906-1909) of a railway to connect Iloilo and Capiz in order to facilitate the transportation of agricultural products, especially sugar, to the port.

Again, in 1909, the government ordered the dredging of the Iloilo River up to the site of the provincial capitol and the construction of a concrete retaining wall on the river bank up to that point. This expanded the berthing space for ships as well as the area for warehousing facilities. The project was the largest ever done in the port up to that time. It cost Php1,500,000.48

The port continued to prosper and by 1916 it was clearing more ships than the port of Manila. That year Iloilo cleared 6,041 vessels with cargo of 398,130 tons, compared to Manila's 2,831 ships and 343,600 tons.49 Iloilo also got a new customhouse (aduana) 1916 and, as if to proclaim to the whole world that the port was the heart of the city, the new customhouse of Iloilo was made the tallest building in the place.

In those days Iloilo was known as the "Queen City of the South." The annual Iloilo Carnival and Agro-Industrial Fair and the fiesta of Jaro drew large crowds of people from all over the Western Visayas and as far away as Manila. Commerce and industry continued to grow in the region. One proof of this is the fact that the Iloilo branch of the Philippine National Bank was opened on the same day - July 22, 1916 - as the main office in Manila. Senator Jose. Ma. Arroyo even had the audacity to declare on the floor of the Philippine Senate that "half of the money in the country was circulating in Iloilo." To raise more rice on the plains of the province, two irrigation systems were constructed in the 1920s, the first such infrastructure outside of Luzon. More farm to market roads were also built.50

Before World War II, Iloilo was the homeport of luxurious vessels, namely, "Don Esteban," built by the Krupp Shipyards in Germany at the cost of Php1 million, "Mayon," and "Corregidor." Ilonggos traveled in style by sea even as they did by air on the country's first airline, the Iloilo-Negros Air Express Co. (INAEC) which was based at the airfield located on the reclaimed area of the port.51 Even before INAEC inaugurated its Iloilo-Manila flight in 1932, Captain Jose Tinsay already operated an air passenger service between Iloilo and Negros on a Curtis Oriole biplane beginning 1925.52

Decline of the Port and the City

The Port of Iloilo began to slowly decline with the establishment of big sugar centrals from 1916 to 1928. By 1930, the estimated 770 muscovado sugar mills in Negros Occidental had been consolidated into 17 centrals.53 Except in Antique, most of the muscovado mills in Panay were also absorbed by six sugar centrals, four in Iloilo and two in Capiz. The owners of the Negros centrals found it more economical and efficient to put up their own private wharves in Negros than to send their sugar to Iloilo. About this time the Visayan Transportation Co. (Vistranco) introduced tugboats and barges which enabled loading of sugar on ships anchored off the shores of Negros Island. This drastically reduced the stevedoring and warehousing activities in the port of Iloilo.

The Iloilo stevedores reacted by unionizing and launching labor strikes. The Federacion Obrero de Filipinas, which had become the largest labor union in the country, staged two major strikes. The first was against Vistranco and the second against the waterfronts of seven Negros centrals, namely, Manapla, Victorias, Hawaiian-Philippines, La Carlota, Binalbagan Estate, Bacolod-Murcia, and Maao. Vistranco and the centrals broke the strikes by using rival unions and elements of the Iloilo underworld. That did not solve the problem. Instead, the Iloilo waterfront became a dangerous place even for innocent boat passengers. In the face of labor problems at the docks, many business firms began to move their operations to Bacolod or Cebu.

In 1930, the port of Pulupandan was opened and practically no more sugar from Negros was brought to Iloilo. With much of the regional product taken away from its port, Iloilo's trade went down. World War II destroyed the port facilities and their rehabilitation after the war was neglected. In 1949 Iloilo handled only 757,810 tons of shipping while Cebu handled 2,096,753, and Manila 1,272,274 tons.54 By then, Cebu was already contesting Iloilo's title as the "Queen City of the South."

The Queen Awakens

But the Port of Iloilo was not to lie low for long. The Queen City of the South did not sleep for decades. The government and the local business and industrial community joined hands to regain its former status. Port facilities were rehabilitated and the peace and order situation at the waterfront was improved. In 1959, modern installations of the Guimaras Bulk and Molasses Plant located in Jordan across the narrow strait from Iloilo City became operational. Its huge warehouses built on the rocky hillside of Guimaras Island were capable of storing 60,000 long tons of sugar and 52,800 long tons of molasses. Equipped with machineries for the inloading and outloading of bulk sugar in all weather conditions, the Guimaras Bulk Sugar and Molasses Plant became the exporting center for as much as 85% of all export sugar of the Philippines. Bulk sugar was barged from Luzon, Leyte, Cebu, Negros and Panay to Guimaras for storage and shipment on ocean-going bottoms. The plant's outloading capacity was 10,000 tons per 24-hour day.55

Beginning in 1960 the port of Iloilo slowly climbed up in volume of shipping, especially in export cargo. In 1975 Iloilo observed the 120th anniversary of its port with a grand celebration. There was a good reason for doing so. That year, the port registered an impressive export record - $533,821,410 as against $384,095,232 for the port of Manila which got second place.56 Iloilo had become once again the premier port of the Philippines.

In 1975, the port occupied an area of about six square miles and could accommodate fifteen large ships and twenty smaller ones at its berthing places at one time. There were twenty-eight warehouses with the combined floor area of 39,442 square meters.57 In 1973, the country's biggest container barge, the Lumberjack of Luzon Stevedoring Co., was constructed and launched from Iloilo dockyards by the Iloilo Dock and Engineering Co. On the Guimaras side of the port was another boatbuilding firm, the Buenavista Dock and Shipbuilding Co.

The resurgence of business in the port of Iloilo was short-lived, however. The sugar industry was made a milking cow of the Martial Law administration. Then, when the price of sugar crashed in the world market in the 1980s, the port of Iloilo once more slid down. The Iloilo Dock and Engineering Co., the Buenavista Dock and Shipbuilding Co., and the Panay Railway Co. soon closed down.

Yet, recognizing the importance of the port of Iloilo, the government undertook two major projects starting in the latter part of 1980s. The first of these multi-million-peso projects is the Iloilo Fist Port located on a reclaimed area in the District of Molo. This bolstered the fishery industry in the country. The second project is the Iloilo Commercial Port Complex located in Loboc, La Paz, some three kilometers from downtown Iloilo City, for both domestic and foreign containerized and conventional cargoes.

Recently, Iloilo's favorite son, Senate President Franklin M. Drilon, initiated improvements of the port by building a modern passenger terminal, beautifying the river banks along Muelle Loney, and building two additional bridges across the Iloilo River. The latest boost to the importance of the port was the establishment of the National Nautical Highway that introduced the roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) trucking and shipping service from Luzon to Mindanao. Iloilo is at the mid-point of this nautical highway that connects the ports of Batangas, Calapan, Roxas (in Mindoro), Caticlan, Iloilo, Bacolod, Dumaguete, and Dapitan.

On its 150th anniversary as an international port of entry, Iloilo could be proud of its immense contribution to the development of the Western Visayas region and of the nation.

(From the book Bisaya is Beautiful by Demy P. Sonza; revised version of a paper presented at the National Conference on Local-National History, Philippine Social Science Center, Diliman, Quezon City, December 11-14, 1984. Originally published in Journal of History, Vols.30-31 Nos. 1 & 2 (1985-86).


1. Manuel Azcarraga y Palermo, La Libertad del Comercio en las Islas Filipinas. Madrid: Imprenta. De Jose Noguera, 1872 p.164

2. Manuel de Loarca. "Trata de la Isla de Panay y su Jurisdiccion." In Emma H. Blair and James A. Robertson, The Philippine Islands, 1498-1898. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co. 1903-1909, v. 5, p.57.

3. Ibid., p.56; Juan Fernandez, "Memorias de los Pueblos de la Isla de Panay en las Bisayas." Archivo Historico Hispano-Agustiniano y Boletin Oficial. Enero-Junio de 1921. pp.192-195.

4. Robert Dudley. Dell Arcano del Mare,, Florence, 1646. Cited by Carlos Quirino, Philippine Cartography, 1320-1899. amsterdam: N. Israel, 1962, p.64.

5. Joaquin Martinez de Zuniega, "Estado de las Filipinas." Madrid. Viuda de Minuesa de los Rios, 1895. v.2, p.91.

6. The original fort made of earthwork and wooden palisades built by Pedro Bravo in 1602 was placed too close to the sea. This was later replaced with a 4-bastion square stone fort, measuring thirty meters on each side. The provincial government of Iloilo requested the repair of the fort in 1862. See "Expediente relativo para las obras de defensa de la costa de Iloilo en las partes en que se encuentra establisada de Real Fuerza Llmada Cota." National Archives Manila. 107 pp.

7. Manuel Buzeta and Felipe Bravo. Diccionario Geografico, Estadistico, Historico de las Islas Filipinas. Madrid: J.C. de la Peña, 1850-1851. p.106.

8. Erreciones del Pueblo, legajo 86, v. 2, no. 56, p. 7. National Archives, Manila.

9. Ibid.

10. Nicolas Loney. Letter to John Farren. Iloilo, April 12, 1857. London. Public Records Office, Foreign Office, 72/927.

11. Guia de Forasteros. Manila, 1881; John Bowring, A Visit to the Philippine Islands. London: Elder, Smith & Co., 1859, p.67.

12. Nicolas Loney. Letter to his sister Nanny. Jaro, Iloilo, August 15, 1856. Included in A Britisher in the Philippines: Letters of Nicolas Loney. Manila: The National Library, 1964, p.45.

13. Loney to Nanny. Iloilo, September 20, 1857. In A Britisher, p.84.

14. Report of Vice Consul Nicolas Loney for 1858. Quoted by Bowring, op. cit., p.259.

15. Nicolas Loney. Report to Consul John William Farren. Iloilo, April 12, 1857. PROFO 72/927.

16. Miguel Rodriguez Berriz., Diccionario de la Administracion de Filipinas, Annuario de 1891. Manila: Establicimento Tipografico de L. Marty, 1892. v. 9, p.116.

17. This plantation was the Hacienda Matabang. Since Loney did not have enough capital to develop the 428-hectare hacienda, he invited three friends to join him in the venture. These friends were Jose Coscoluela, Ramon Mascuñana, and Frederick Luchinger.

18. Some people have attributed the invention of the lorcha to Loney. It is not true. When Loney arrived in Iloilo in 1856, he wrote that among the vessels in the port were brigs, brigantines, schooners, and lorchas.

19. Loney to Farren, Iloilo, July 10, 1859. PROFO 72/1017.

20. Nicolas Loney to General Jose Lemery. London. April 15, 1863. PROFO 72/1070.

21. Vilma Hastings Cassidy, "An American Consular Representation in Iloilo," 120th Port of Iloilo Souvenir Book, Iloilo City, 1975, p.29.

22. Guia Official de las Islas Filipinas. Manila: Secretario del Gobierno, 1894, p.153.

23. Guia de Forasteros, 1858. Quoted by John Bowring, op. cit., p 67.

24. G.E. Neson and Herbert E. Walker. Manual de la Industria Azucarera de las Islas Filipinas. Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1911, pt.2, p.14.

25. El Comercio, Enero 19, 1891.

26. Alfred McCoy, "A Queen Dies Slowly: The Decline of Iloilo as the Entrepot of the West Visayas Sugar Trad." A paper read at the National Conference of Historians, Iloilo City, September 27-28, 1975.

27. Fincas Urbanicas, Iloilo. National Archives, Manila.

28. Wenceslao E. Retana, Mando de General Weyler en Filipinas. Madrid: Vda. de M. M. de los Rios, 1896, p. 27. The royal decree creating the city of Iloilo was issued on June 7, 1889, but the city government was inaugurated by General Valeriano Weyler on February 7, 1890.

29. Decreto del Gobierno General dated March 7, 1897. In Rodriguez Berriz, op. cit., v. 9, p.152. Also Gaceta de Manila, March 23, 1891.

30. The other Philippine cities were Vigan, Manila, Taal, Nueva Caceres (Naga), Albay and Cebu.

31. Report of the Philippine Commission to the President. Washington D.C. Government Printing Office, 1900 v. 3, p.87

32. Jose Ma. Igpura, "Ang Siudad sang Ilong-Ilong," Makinaugalingon, June 9, 12, 13, 1937.

33. The ship was wrecked near Mindoro on its last voyage. George Granville Puttnam, Salem Vessels and Voyages. The Esserx Institute, 1920-1930, v. III, pp.62-65.

34. Alfred W. McCoy, Iloilo: Factional Conflict in a Colonial Economy, Iloilo Province, Philippines, 1937-1955. Doctoral Dissertation, Yala University, 1977, p.39.

35. John Foreman, The Philippine Islands: A Political, Geographical, Ethnographic, Social, and Commercial History of the Philippine Archipelago and Its Political Dependencies Embracing the Whole Period of Spanish Rule, New York: Charles Scribner, 1899, p.299.

36.Guia Official de las Islas Filipinas, Manila: Secretario del Gobierno, 1894, p.241.

37. Royal Order, July 7, 1892. In Rodriguez Berriz, op. cit., p.181.

38. "Report of the Lieutenant General Commanding the Army," Annual Report of the War Department. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1900., pt. 5, p.153.

39. The Escuela de Oficios y Artes was established by a royal decree of the Queen Regent of Spain dated May 9, 1890. See Rodriguez Berriz, Diccionario de la Administracion de Filipinas, Manila: Imprinta Litografia de M. Perez, 1890, p.23.

40. Rosendo Mejica, Ang Mga Professionales sang Molo tubtub sang 1898. n.d., a 4-page pamphlet.

41. The justices were Raymundo Melliza, Gregorio Araneta, and Ramon Avanceña. Avanceña became Chief Justice from 1926 to 1947.

42. Jesus Z. Valenzuela, History of Journalism in the Philippines, Manila: The Author, 1938, pp.79-80.

43. The organizers of the Jockey Club were Angel Gilardon, George Shelmardine, Charles Morgan Chiene, Enriquel Castillo, Daniel Miller Fleming, Eduardo Perdun, Benito Jalbuena, Francisco Zureta Goyena, and Juan Juelle. The club was located on land leased from Apolonio Valeria y Lopez. Protocolos de Instrumentos Publicos de 1893, Iloilo. No. 30, February 4, 1893.

44. "Minutes of the Session of the Council of State of the Bisayas, December 22, 1898." In John R.M. Taylor. The Philippine Insurrecion Against the United States, Pasay City. Eugenio Lopez Foundation, 1972, v.5, pp.430-431; Epifanio Concepcion, Memorias de Un Revolucionario, Iloilo City: National Press, 1949, pp.18-20.

45. "Report of the Major General Commanding the Army," in Annual Report of the War Department. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1899, pt.2, p.55.

46. James H. Blount, American Occupation of the Philippines. New York and London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1912, p.156.

47. Census of the Philippine Islands. Washington, D.C. Office of the Census, 1905, p.33.

48. Zoilo M. Galang, Encyclopedia of the Philippines. Manila: Ezequiel Floro, 1953, v. XVII; p.275, "The Sugar Province Governors: Ruperto Montinola." Sugar News, January, 1923, p.1.

49. Annual Report of the Governor General for 1924. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1924, p. 211.

50. Ibid.

51. Enrique Santos, "Iloilo - Cradle of Commercial Aviation," Iloilo: A Heritage of Greatness. Iloilo City: Board of Travel and Tourist Industry, 1972, pp.2-5.

52. Ibid.

53. McCoy, loc. cit.

54. Annual Report of the Bureau of Customs, 1949.

55. "The Guimaras Bulk and Molasses Plant," Bureau of Customs, Western Visayas Collection District IV - A Profile, 1974, pp. 13-14.

56. Bulletin Today, July 1975, p.24.

57. Iloilo City Socio-Economic Profile, Iloilo City: City Government of Iloilo, 1974, pp.30-31.

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