The City of Iloilo (Filipino: Lungsod ng Iloilo, Hiligaynon: Syudad sang Iloilo or Dakbanwa sang Iloilo) is a major city and highly urbanized city in the Philippines and the capital city of Iloilo. It is the regional center of the Western Visayas as well as the center of the Iloilo-Guimaras Metropolitan Area. In the 2007 census, Iloilo City had a population of 418,710 with a 1.8% population annual growth rate. It is bordered by the towns of Oton in the west, Pavia in the north, Leganes in the northeast and the Iloilo Strait in its eastern and southern coastline. The city was a conglomeration of former towns, which are now the geographical districts, composing of: Jaro, Molo, La Paz, Mandurriao, Villa Arevalo, and Iloilo City Proper. The district of Lapuz, a former part of La Paz, was declared a separate district in 2008.
The history of Iloilo City dates back to the Spanish colonial period, starting out as a small and incoherent grouping of fishermen's hamlets from the Iloilo River by a large swamp which after 1855 became the second most important port of call in the colony due to transhipment of sugar products from the neighboring Negros Island. It was later given the honorific title of "La Muy Noble Ciudad" (English: The Most Noble City) by the Queen Regent of Spain . At the turn of the 20th century, Iloilo City was second to the primate city of Manila, with stores along Calle Real selling luxury products from all over the world, an agricultural experimental station established at La Paz in 1888, a school of Arts and Trades which opened in 1891, and a telephone network system operating in 1894.
In the coming of the Americans also in the turn of the 20th century, institutions like Central Philippine University (the first Baptist and 2nd private American university in Asia and in the country); Jaro Evangelical Church (the first Baptist church in the country); Iloilo Mission Hospital (the first Protestant hospital in the country); and the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches (the oldest Baptist organizational body in the Philippines); where established.
Even before the Spanish colonizers came, Iloilo had a flourishing economy. Lore has it that in the 13th century, ten Bornean datus came to the island of Panay and gave a gold hat (salakot) and a long golden necklace as a peace offering and to the Ati natives of the island. It was said that it was also a way of the ten Bornean datus to barter the flat lands of Panay from the Ati. One datu, named Paiburong, was given the territory of Irong-Irong.
Early Spanish colonial period
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.
The Sugar Boom era and the late Spanish colonial period
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.
On 5 October 1889, due to the economic development that was happening in Iloilo, the Queen Regent of Spain raised the status of the town into the Royal City (Queen's City) of the South, 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. However, the Capital City of Iloilo was the first to offer assistance to the Spanish Crown in quelling the insurrection, owing allegiance to no other Country than Spain before the Philippine Independence. Because of this, the Queen Regent Maria Cristina honored the City (in the name of her son King Alfonso III) with the title "La Muy Noble", in appreciation of the most noble virtue of Ilonggo chivalry. Due to the Spanish blow by blow defeat by, at first, the Katipunan, and later by the Americans, the Spaniards left Manila and established the last Spanish Capital in the Orient in Iloilo City. Sooner, however, through the leadership of General Martin Delgado, the towns of Iloilo got involved in the struggle for independence, except for Iloilo City, Molo, and Jaro.
On December 25, 1898, the Spanish government surrendered to the Ilonggo revoltionaries in Plaza Alfonso XIII (Plaza Libertad today), and in that place the Filipinos and Spaniards parted ways as friends. In the name of the last Spanish Governor General, Don Diego de los Ríos, Brig. General and Military Provincial Governor Ricardo Monet, together with Lt. Col. Agustín Solís, formally handed over Plaza Alfonso XIII to the Republic of the Philippines through the person of the Filipino General Martin Delgado, who represented President Emilio Aguinaldo in Iloilo. Martin Delgado was named Governor of the Province afterwards.
The newly found freedom of Ilonggos was short-lived, the American forces arrived in Iloilo in late December 1898. By February 1899, the North Americans started to mobilize for colonizing anew the City and Province. Resistance was the reaction of Ilonggos upon the invasion which lasted up to 1901.
American colonial era and Japanese occupation
In 1900, the Americans reverted the city's status into a township again. Yet because of its continuous commercial activities and because it was an important port of call in the Visayas-Mindanao area, it regained the cityhood status on July 16, 1937, through Commonwealth Act 158. Incorporated as part of Iloilo City were the towns of Molo, Jaro, Mandurriao, La Paz and Villa de Arevalo.
In the very early start of American colonial era, Protestant American Missionaries came to Iloilo as a backlash against Catholicism in the Philippines. The first Protestants to came was the Presbyterians and they established the first Protestant and American hospital in country, Iloilo Mission Hospital; and supposedly it came also that Silliman University (the first Protestant and private American university in Asia and the country) was originally a location for its foundation, but due to Catholic opposition, the founder, David S, Hibbard moved to Dumaguete City, where the university is now presently found. Along with the Presbyterians, Baptists came and established Central Philippine University (the first Baptist university in the country), Jaro Evangelical Church (the first Baptist church in the Philippines), and the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches (the oldest Baptist organizational body in the Philippines)
Sometime after its re-establishment, the City adopted a seal with the title given to it by the Queen Regent María Cristina, together with another title: "Muy Leal". Thus, the City's title became "La Muy Leal y Noble Ciudad de Iloílo", which remains inscribed on its seal until the present. 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 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 makeshift 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.