Rush Hour and A Question of Iloilo City Proper's Post-Transshipment Era

Maayong aga sa tanan nga nagapangape pa!

In the context of Metro Iloilo, it’s rapidly becoming metropolitan when it comes to rush hours. Although City Proper is still relaxed by this time, people from the arrabales like Jaro or Villa, even first towns like Pavia, Oton, Leganes and Santa Barbara, are now rushing towards the city. That is why we had a lot of things to do before we rationalize our public transport system, as the city has gone beyond its territorial limits.
Muelle Loney and Aduana Building (2011). Iloilo City Proper's major source of activity since the 19th Century was its river wharf, Muelle Loney. Transshipment of sugar, other goods, and inter-island ferry was once its main activity. After shipping has moved somewhere else, there was a decline in activities. Tourism is seen as the one replacing the void left by transshipment and trade in this side of the city.
However, unlike Vigan where the poblacion is still the center, Iloilo has multiple commercial districts. The older one is the corridor from Jaro to Iloilo City through E.Lopez-Luna St. Another is the Molo-City Proper Corridor. And lastly, the newer one which is in Mandurriao and Diversion Road areas.
Iloilo’s downtown flourished because of its port. All roads—Molo or Jaro—lead to City Proper. When Diversion Road was not existing and Mandurriao was an isolated district, almost all public transport converge in the city proper. It was and still is strategically located.
The opening of Mandurriao as a central business district, catalyzed by the construction of Diversion Road (now Benigno Aquino Jr Avenue) in the 1980s and the closure of Mandurriao Airport, triggered massive business boom and infrastructure upgrades in this side of the city. The district is closer and more accessible to the residential districts like Molo, Jaro, and first towns like Pavia, Leganes, and Oton than that of City Proper. Hence, the shift of the city's commercial center inland.

With the rise of Mandurriao as the new business district, City Proper became more isolated and “layô” for residents from the arrabales. Most of the transshipment and cargo shipping operations have moved out of Muelle Loney and into Loboc in Lapuz District. Bacolod-bound ferries have moved out to the other side and inter-island ferry isn’t as robust as it used to be.
The presence of the city and provincial government in the old downtown area makes the district robust and thriving. Small and medium enterprises make this their home.
Movements of commercial activity from older parts of the city to newer areas are not an unusual happening in the Philippines. Though City of Manila is still bustling, the prime commercial high-end activities are now focused on Makati, BGC, Ortigas, Alabang, and QC. In smaller cities like Vigan, Avenida Quezon replaced Calle Crisologo’s role as the commercial main street. Cebu City’s Colon and “downtown” have marched towards “Uptown” and SRP. Even GenSan’s Pioneer Avenue have moved on to either Santiago Boulevard and National Highway. In other cities, it is ironic that the by-pass roads—the roads which were intentionally built to divert traffic away from the bustling town/city center, becomes the new town center and commercial district.
The city proper's heritage district is a manifestation of the by-gone era of transshipment and business as a port city.
To some, they see this as the start of “urban decay.” Some argue that “gentrifying old districts” may revive that commercial activity and “glory” fuelled by nostalgia. I am concerned on how this will not displace the current residents and stakeholders, just in the name of beauification and revitalization. Amo na nga nagapamangkot ko regarding how the tenants of Central Market will be after the rehab of the old marketplace.
The new challenge is on how to make Calle Real or City Proper significant given the changes in urban fabric of Iloilo City. Efforts are seen through tourism as one sector that would fill the gap that transshipment and commercial activity once devoted to the port district left. By night fall, it is a sleepy district (to which historically speaking, it was except occasions of ‘igpat-igpat sugâ’). The heritage buildings, narratives and stories, and even traditional shops tell the story of the history of this southern city. Having Dinagyang maintain its stage(s) in the downtown area is a boost. Adds layer Iloilo’s rich cultural narrative.
Calle Real, Iloilo City's main avenue at its old city early in the morning.
Amid all of these well-preserved heritage buildings, it is the people’s experiences and stories that make it identifiable and creates a “sense of place” or “diwa ng lunan.” The sentimentality of nostalgia and the everyday life makes it what it is. Tao ang nagahimo sang significance kag purpose sang isa ka lugar.
Isa nanamang morning musings.
This article/musing was originally written as "Rush Hour" in "The Daily Guardian - Iloilo" on 15 October 2022. The article can be read here: