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Business with culture in Iloilo

Over the past year, still eagerly emerging from our post-pandemic stupor, my wife Beng and I have been traveling up a storm, limiting ourselves to local destinations such as Bacolod, Virac, Davao, Roxas City and Iloilo City. We chose these places because we’d never been there before – such as Virac and Roxas – or hadn’t visited for many years.

We were most impressed by the progress shown by Iloilo, whose transformation into a rapidly urbanizing metropolis I had begun to observe well before the pandemic. City and provincial officials, under the initial leadership and with the strong support of former senator Franklin Drilon, had managed to unite behind the key objectives of a continuing comprehensive development plan that has straddled several local and national administrations.

All over the country, you hear about politicians achieving national prominence and power, even to the point of aspiring for the presidency – except that back in their home provinces, they did little or nothing for their constituents, and may even have lost the local vote to an outsider as a result. Drilon never ran for president – a job I think he would have performed excellently, if our voters were thinking rationally – but if he did then he could have counted on a near-solid Iloilo vote for never forgetting where he came from and ensuring Iloilo’s emergence as a model of city planning.

Any visitor to Iloilo cannot fail to be impressed by its dynamic growth, from the minute he or she steps off the plane in the city’s airport in Cabatuan, about 20 kilometers from downtown Iloilo. The long drive to the city down the wide, smooth highway is a virtual introduction to the city’s progress, with new malls, office buildings, car dealerships, hotels, construction depots, hospitals and housing lining both sides of the road; new bridges and overpasses were rising here and there. A Grab car service just opened this year, our driver said, happy to be lifted by that rising economic tide.

The crown jewel of Iloilo’s renaissance is clearly the Iloilo River Esplanade, now stretching nine kilometers along both banks of the river in its expanded form. Designed by the celebrated architect Paulo Alcazaren,