History of Iloilo City

In 1566, as the Spanish conquest of the Philippines was underway and moving north toward Manila, the Spaniards under Miguel López de Legazpi came to Panay and established a settlement in Ogtong (now Oton). He appointed Gonzalo Ronquillo as deputy encomiendero, a position which would later become governor in later years.

In 1581 Ronquillo moved the town center approximately 12 km east due to recurrent raids by Moro pirates and Dutch and English privateers, and renamed the area La Villa de Arevalo in honor of his hometown in Ávila, Spain.

In 1700, due to ever-increasing raids especially from the Dutch and the Moros, the Spaniards again moved their seat of power some 25 km eastward to the village of Irong-Irong, which had a natural and strategic defense against raids and where, at the mouth of the river that snakes through Panay, they built Fort San Pedro to better guard against the raids which were now the only threat to the Spaniards' hold on the islands. Irong-Irong or Ilong-Ilong was shortened to Iloilo and with its natural port quickly became the capital of the province.

In the late 18th century, the development of large-scale weaving industry started the movement of Iloilo's surge in trade and economy in the Visayas. Sometimes referred to as the "Textile Capital of the Philippines", the products were exported to Manila and other foreign places. Sinamay, piña and jusi are examples of the products produced by the looms of Iloilo. Because of the rise of textile industry, there was also a rise of the upper middle class. However, the introduction of cheap textile from UK and the emergence of the sugar economy, the industry waned in the mid-19th century. Museo Iloilo is the repository of Iloilo's past.

The waning textile industry was replaced however by the opening of Iloilo's port to world market in 1855. Because of this, Iloilo's industry and agriculture was put on direct access to foreign markets. But what triggered the economic boom of Iloilo in the 19th century was the development of sugar industry in Iloilo and its neighboring island of Negros. Sugar during the 19th century was of high demand. Nicholas Loney, the British vice-consul in Iloilo developed the industry by giving loans, constructing warehouses in the port and introduced new technologies in sugar farming. The rich families of Iloilo developed large areas of Negros, which later called haciendas because of the sugar's high demand in the world market. Because of the increase in commercial activity, infrastructures, recreational facilities, educational institutions, banks, foreign consulates, commercial firms and much more sprouted in Iloilo. Due to the economic development that was happening in Iloilo, the Queen Regent of Spain raised the status of the town into a city, honored it with the title "La muy leal y noble ciudad de Iloilo", and in 1890, the city government was established.

In 1896, the initial reaction of Ilonggos in the outbreak of the Revolution in Manila was hesitant. Yet because of the Spanish colonizers blow by blow defeat by at first with the Katipunan and later by the Americans, Ilonggos later on got involved with the fight for independence. On the other hand, after surrendering Manila to the Americans, the Spanish colonial government moved their seat of power to Iloilo.

In October 1898, the Ilonggo leaders agreed to revolt against the Spaniards. By December 25, 1898, the Spanish government surrendered to the Ilonggo revoltionaries in Plaza Alfonso XII (Plaza Libertad today). Although the Ilonggos were victorious, the American forces arrived in Iloilo in late December 1898 and started to mobilize for colonization by February 1899. Resistance was the reaction of Ilonggos upon the invasion which went up until 1901.

In 1900, the Americans reverted the city's status into a township again, yet because of the continuous commercial activities and because it was an important port of call in the Visayas-Mindanao area, it gained cityhood status once more in July 16, 1937 incorporating the towns of Molo, Jaro, Mandurriao, La Paz and Villa de Arevalo.

However, prosperity did not continue as the sugar's demand was declining, labor unrests were happening in the port area that scared the investors away and the opening of the sub-port of Pulupandan in Negros Occidental, has moved the sugar importation closer to the sugar farms. By 1942, the Japanese invaded Panay and the economy moved into a standstill. During the Commonwealth era, Iloilo was prosperous and was popularly known as "The Queen City of the South".

During World War II, Iloilo was controlled by several Japanese Battalions, Japan's ultimate goal was to entrench itself deeply into the Philippines so that at the close of the war they could occupy it just as the Spanish and the Americans had years before. However, when Filipino & American forces liberated Iloilo from Japanese military occupation on March 25, 1945 the remnants of these battalions were held in Jaro Plaza as a make-shift detention facility.

By the end of the war, Iloilo's economy, life and infrastructure were damaged. However, the continuing conflict between the labor unions in the port area, declining sugar economy and the deteriorating peace and order situation in the countryside and the exodus of Ilonggos to other cities and islands that offered better opportunities and businessmen moved to other cities such as Bacolod and Cebu led to Iloilo's demise in economic importance in southern Philippines.

By the 1960s towards 1990s, Iloilo's economy progressed in a moderate pace. The construction of the fish port, international seaport and other commercial firms that invested in Iloilo marked the movement of the city making it as the regional center of Western Visayas.



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