This blog is in no way a political blog and, to be frank about it, I was never a fan of the Presidentiable who goes by the same family name. BUT I have known of a place in the Visayas where hair-raising supernatural stories once abound. This folklore was so popular that the local government once celebrated a festival that honored these Philippine monsters.
Maligayang Pagdating sa Syudad ng Roxas!
Landing around a little before 8am, I arrived in Roxas City at a time that the city was just about getting warmed up for the day. It was pretty obvious, from the tricycle driver who brought me to the city center, that the place is not a spot that most travellers or tourists frequent as he was not aware of any breakfast place that was ready to accept guests at that time.
Roxas City is Panay’s center for education, commerce, and trade. It was once known as Capiz until it became a chartered city and adopted the name Roxas City, in honor of the first Philippine President of the Third Republic, Manuel Roxas, who is a native of the city. The city became popular because of Philippine folklore that told of stories of gruesome supernatural beings. These stories were so popular that the local officials celebrated it with a short-lived “Aswang Festival”.
Today, Roxas City is the gateway to Panay’s beautiful tourist spots and is recognized as the “Seafood Capital of the Philippines” because of its rich marine resources.
I had a couple of hours to spend in Roxas City enroute to Kalibo, I decided to go around Roxas City before heading off to the intoxicating drum beats of the Ati-Atihan.
Manuel Roxas Birthplace
Right at the heart of the city stands a statue that honors Roxas City’s famous son, Manuel Roxas. The person, to whom the city was named after, served as one of the country’s president.
Three blocks down Rizal Street sits the Manuel Acuna Roxas Shrine. The quaint bahay-na-bato house is the birthplace of the former Philippine President. Since I came in a little too early, I was not able to explore the interiors of the house.
Halaran Plaza / Roxas City Band Stand
Heading back to the city center, one would notice a grandstand that has served as a mute witness to Capiz’s history and a lot of politically charged meetings. The bandstand was built in 1920’s by the first Filipino principal of the province, Jose Roldan.
What makes the bandstand unique apart from its age is that it was designed to survive earthquakes.
Roxas City Bridge
The Halaran Plaza sits along the Panay River and it offers a commanding view of the river. It is also a good vantage point to view the Roxas City Bridge, once referred to as the Old Capiz Bridge. The century-old bridge was built in 1910 to connect the town center to its business district.
The bridge is a thing of beauty and what I heard was that it can be reaaly romantic to stroll by the bridge during evenings.
Roxas City Fountain
Just right before the entrance of the Roxas City Bridge is the Roxas City Fountain. It is a fountain that forms part of the cultural and historical district of Roxas City. The fountain was built in 1925 and it serves as the Kilometer Zero or the reference point to determine distances in the region.
The original fountain was destroyed in World War 2 and it was restored soon after. The Roxas City Fountain was also a focal point for political differences decades after its restoration. It was in 2007 when the fountain was reinvented from its original eight sculptured fishes to four kneeling male figures. The projected costed millions of pesos to redesign, only to be refurbished to its original structure three years later.
At present, the Roxas City Fountain remains an icon of the city’s rich and colourful heritage.
Capiz Provincial Capitol
Just a few meters away from the plaza and the fountain stands a mighty structure that serves as the seat of power of the province of Capiz. It is one of the well-preserved heritage structures in the city and is also within the historical district of the city.
The neoclassical architecture of the building was the brainchild of Architect William Parsons, the man behind the design of the Manila Hotel. The Capiz Provincial Capitol was completed in 1915. Just right across the building is a statue honouring the Philippine National Hero, Jose Rizal.
Roxas Cathedral (Immaculate Conception Metropolitan Cathedral)
The church stands as the centrepiece of Roxas City’s heritage district. The church was founded in 1707 and it is one of the oldest churches in Panay Island. The current structure was first built in 1876 and was reconstructed in 1954.
The church stands with its simple façade majestically overlooking the Panay River. Its simple hues of cream and blue stands out in the busy atmosphere of the city. The adjacent bell tower stands like a sentinel that guards the city as it juts out the skyline of the city.
The simple façade of the church is a stark contrast to the intricate beauty of its interior. It is highlighted by a two-tierred retablo that honors its patron, the Immaculate Conception.
Roxas City Hall
Tucked neatly beside the Roxas Cathedral, the Roxas City Hall is a complete contrast to the old structures of the district. It stands out with its modern look. The City Hall serves as the seat of power of the city as this is where the City Mayor holds office. It is also where most government offices are located.
Just right across the street from the City Hall is a white-washed structure that houses the cultural treasures of the city and the region. The Panubli-on Museum is a good example of an effective reuse of an old architectural structure. The structure once served as a water tank for the city after it was constructed in 1910. As the decades went by and a more effective water system was introduced, the water tank became a mere structure until it was refurbished to house the cultural and historical artifacts.
The museum houses the memorabilia’s of the famous sons and daughters of the city and the province. Interestingly, a number of these individuals are famous for their contributions in the arts. Of course, it also showcases the stories of its local heroes and, of course, former President Manuel Roxas.
The museum also highlights the colourful cultures and traditions that you will find in the region. One particular section featured the 10 Epics of Panay as researched and discovered by Dr. Alicia Magos. The research took years for her to assemble. As explained by John Wee, one of the museum personnel, these epics were recorded from the stories as told by the locals of Panay as these were verbal narratives.
As if on cue, I asked a question that was hounding me from the time that I stepped foot in Roxas City – are there truths to the stories of “aswangs” and how did these stories propagate? He said that the stories of the existence of these mythical creatures were propagated by the Spanish Friars who despised the “Babaylans” or local priestess. Stories were told that these priests dismembered a dead body and scattered it around town and blamed the local priestess of the act, claiming that the priestess were witches who ate human flesh. That probably started the local folklore on these beings which John said was used by their parents to make sure that they come home early.
Roxas City Public Cemetery
On our way to Pan-ay aboard a tricycle, we happened to pass by the cemetery of the city. It caught my attention earlier, as we were making our final approach to the airport, after I caught a glimpse of its Camposanto. I did not let the chance pass up so when we returned from our side trip, I requested that we make a short stopover at the public cemetery, much to the surprise of our tricycle driver.
The Camposanto was already visible from the road and when I entered the place, a number of locals were curious of my visit. I mean, it probably surprised them why a visitor will be particularly interested in visiting a cemetery. One was so curious that he even followed me as I went inside the cemetery.
The first thing that greeted me was the white washed cemetery arc a few meters away from the camposanto. It actually looked very similar to a façade of a church, complete with a main entrance and two smaller adjacent entrances on both sides. A bass relief of a cross is the highlight of the structure. The arc looked really old and elegant. It is the first time that I saw a cemetery arc like this one.
In the midst of the hundreds or even thousands of niches stands an antique structure that dates back to the Spanish period. The octagonal cemetery church was constructed under the term of Augustinian Father Apolinar Alvarez from cut coral stones. This is probably a good historical find for me and I just hope that the local government can look into refurbishing it, together with its arc, as an added attraction for the city.
And no, I didn’t find anything supernatural within its walls.
Santa Monica Parish Church (Pan-ay Church)
Fifteen minutes away from Roxas City is the Santa Monica Parish Church, a National Historical Landmark. The parish was founded in 1572 and the current church structure was built in 1884 from coral stones. It is the oldest church in Panay.
The Baroque-style church has a simple façade that looks like a retablo and a wide courtyard. The interior of the church, with its marble flooring, was similar to that of Bohol’s old churches. The simplicity of the church extends to it white-washed interior with its altar as its highlight. The three-tiered main retablo and the two adjacent retablos had intricate wood carvings. Despite its intricate designs, the three were all painted simply and yet it was a sight to admire.
The convent is located adjacent to the church that houses the offices and a museum where religious and precious images of saints are on display. Also located within the sprawling church grounds is an old Spanish well.
The Pan-ay Church is not only popular for being the first church in the region but it is also the home of the largest bell in the Asia. According to our guide, Randy Glimer, the bell was casted by Juan Reina from the seventy sacks of coins donated by the townsfolk.
Taking a flight of 63 stairs to the top of the belfry, I was in awe to see and touch these bells. The bell tower is also the home of other smaller bells with the oldest dating back to 1822. The biggest bell measured 7 feet in diameter and five feet in height that I was able to fit inside it with ease. It weighs ten metric tons and its clanging sound can be heard as far as Roxas City.
Foodstop: Baybay Beach
A trip to Roxas City is not complete without having a good meal of fresh seafood. I mean, Roxas City is THE Seafood Capital of the Philippines, right? Following the advice of those who have already been to the city, I went to Baybay Beach.
Baybay Beach is a favorite weekend spot for swimming and beach bumming by locals. It is known for its 7-kilometer stretch of ebony-colored sand.
The place is also a great spot to have your tummy-filled with seafood. With that in mind, I ordered two of my favorite seafood fare – shrimps and scallops. You know that I had so much of a fill as I made sure to finish everything that I ordered. I guess the sea breeze added to the experience. Having a great seafood meal by the beach is a must when in Roxas City.
Post Travel Notes
Just like Siquijor, Roxas City or the province of Capiz is a victim of misconceptions so let me be the one of the many to confirm that all the talks of gruesome monsters that supposedly reside there are NOT true. What you will find in Roxas is a quaint little city that is rich in history that intertwines to the daily lives of the locals. Capizanons, if that is how they are called, are lucky to enjoy their history as part of their daily toil, not to mention the variety of seafood choices available to them.
The few hours that I spent in Roxas City enroute to Kalibo was enough to give me my fill of history. The old-soul in me was ecstatic to having been able to catch a glimpse of the past. For those who know me, they would attest how I love reading history through my travels.
So I guess the search for the elusive mythical creatures is still not over for me. I think it is worthy of a second chapter on “My Aswang Chronicles”. Only this time, Roxas City is not going to be just a transit point.
Ano? Roxas Na?
Getting There: Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific have regular flights to Roxas City from Manila and from other Philippine travel hubs. Going around the city and to Pan-ay is done by hopping on to the ever-dependable tricycles that ply the streets of Roxas City.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.