Iloilo: Center of culture, arts, and business

(Message of Senator Franklin M. Drilon during the inauguration of the Museum of Philippine Economic History at the Elizalde Building in Iloilo City on Feb 11, 2019)

A HUNDRED years ago, Iloilo was known as the “Queen City of the South.” Iloilo was the center of commerce South of Manila at the turn of the twentieth century.

It is with great pride that I lead today’s inauguration of the first ever museum in the country to feature the colorful and lengthy economic history of the country—the Museum of Philippine Economic History.

It is the first of its kind in the country. The first ever museum that is solely dedicated to the economic history of our country. It is only fitting that a museum of this kind is put up here in Iloilo City.

The century-old Elizalde building was one of the centers of economic activity in Iloilo that shaped the economic vigor of the country since the Spanish colonial times, and propelled Iloilo as a regional economic center up to the American period.

The structure where the museum is housed is a historical artifact and heritage landmark of Iloilo in itself. This old structure that you see today dates back to the eighteenth century. It was formerly owned by one of the country’s biggest trading firms, the Ynchausti y Compania, of the Ynchausti family. The firm’s name was synonymous with its products like Yco Floor Wax, andYco Paints.

If you are a basketball afficionado, Yco Paints will probably ring a bell, being the team of one of the greatest Filipino basketball players of all time, Carlos “Caloy” Loyzaga, during the 1950s to early 1960s.

Now fully restored by the NHCP, the Museum of Philippine Economic History boasts hundred decades-old artifacts and items on display, including old San Miguel beer bottles from the Ynchausti clan; molino de sangre, which was a very important tool during the peak of Western Visayas region’s sugar industry; looms from the oldest weavers of Miagao in Iloilo, which was known then as the Textile Capital of the Philippines. When Vice Consul Nicolas Loney arrived in Iloilo, he introduced the cheap textiles from Manchester and our textile industry suffered and we lost the title Textile Capital of the Philippines.

The museum also showcases artifacts coming from other regions such as t’nalak from Mindanao and decades-old gold, necklace and other accessories from Pampanga; old photographs and maps, and other interesting remnants of the past.

I want to take this opportunity to express gratitude to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, led by its Chairman Rene Escalante and Executive Director Ludovico Badoy, for supporting our vision of transforming the century-old Elizalde building into a museum that will open a window to the past.

This new Museum of Philippine Economic History is the third museum in Iloilo that has been opened since 2018. The Megaworld Corporation opened the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Arts and the National Museum opened its Western Visayas Regional Museum in the old Iloilo Provincial Jail in 2018.

Five years ago, I conceptualized the Iloilo Heritage and Urban Renewal Project that aims to protect and preserve the rich and colorful heritage and culture of Iloilo.

The transformation of Elizalde building, formerly the Commission on Audit building, into a museum is only the latest in a slew of restoration projects that we have undertaken since then.

We have successfully restored the old Iloilo Customs House, called Aduana; the Sunburst Park; and the Ker and Co. Building.

The Sunburst Park, which was originally known as “Plaza de Aduana,” a description of the park fronting the Iloilo Custom House or Aduana, was developed following the inauguration of the Iloilo Customs House in 1916. It was in the plaza where the US Army 40th Infantry “Sunburst” Division helped liberate Panay from the Japanese at the end of World War II.

Today, the newly renovated park boasts wide public space and features: a walkway, a chess playground, park benches, parking area, the existing Peralta Statue, and the Sunburst area.

Also restored was the century-old Iloilo Customs House, which now houses a government agency and a gallery on the history of the port of Iloilo.

The Provincial Government led by Gov. Arthur Defensor has also initiated major heritage conservation projects, including the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Casa Real de Iloilo and the Prison House of Iloilo, which now houses the National Museum Western Visayas Regional Museum and Satellite Office.

All these initiatives will breathe new life into Iloilo’s growing economy and tourism. Because of these, I am certain that Iloilo could soon become the country’s center of culture and the arts.

All these newly restored edifices are strategically situated in the city’s Central Business District facing the much-praised Iloilo River that we successfully cleaned and restored a few years ago. We put up the Esplanade. In 2018, Iloilo City was awarded the prestigious Gawad Galing Pook Award for our successful rehabilitation of the Iloilo River.

Given that, I believe with the correct planning we can use that to our advantage. We should promote Iloilo as the center of culture and the arts and as the preferred destination for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE).

As an Ilonggo, I am proud of this heritage landmark and museum, showcasing the endurance, innovation and creativity of Filipino workers and enterprising businessmen and women to create a path towards self-sustainability and progress for the Philippines.

Talking of sustainability, I am happy to announce that the construction of the P11-billion Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project or Jalaur Dam is in progress.

May Ilonggos and the rest of Filipinos enjoy this museum, not only as a learning hub of Philippine history, but also as a place that would inspire visitors, young and old, to venture their own path and willingly contribute to the Philippine economy.

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