UP Visayas: A Cultural Heritage

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The formal creation of UP Visayas (UPV), which encompassed three regions: Western (Iloilo), Central (Cebu) and Eastern (Tacloban) Visayas in 1983, was a product of long history of struggle to have higher learning equitably shared to Visayan youths.

With fishery education as the flagship discipline, UP Visayas aimed at becoming the center of excellence in marine, aquatic, and ocean sciences side by side with developing nationalism and promoting cultural heritage and artistic endeavors, providing opportunities for managerial and entrepreneurial pursuits, and nurturing skills in the use and application of technology to everyday life.

These goals were transformed into reality with the institutionalization of the  colleges and one school strategically located in three major islands: College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (CFOS), College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), College of Management (CM), UP-Cebu College (UPCC), UP-Tacloban College (UPTC), and the School of Technology (SOTECH).

The existence of UPV was closely linked to political developments leading to the urbanization of Iloilo City. These provided a strong impetus to the development of various historico-cultural institutions, making UPV a fertile ground for historical and architectural studies and documentation of cultural and artistic heritage. The finest examples of these institutions are heritage buildings and regional centers for culture and the arts in the region.

Neo-classic building

The UPV Main Building located at the heart of the Iloilo City campus is considered the oldest among surviving heritage structures. Built from 1933 to1935 as the city hall in preparation for  Iloilo’s conversion into a chartered city in 1937, it was designed by the  Filipino architect, Juan Arellano. It is a massive and splendid structure of neo-classic and revivalist styles, which stands on the lot donated by Ilonggo philanthropist, Doña Juliana Melliza.

The building is characterized as a formal, one-level structure with neat rows of arched windows predominating. The main entrance dividing the horizontal plane in two equal parts is flanked on either side by austere-looking composite pilasters and projected the arches of the windows. Its roof is also capped with an interesting cupola or dome. Arellano made the façade more grandiose and imposing by employing the artistic acumen of his Italian friend, Francesco Riccardo Monti, who specialized on funerary art: he sculpted  two seated bronze male statues representing the abstract concepts of Law and Order on opposite sides of the entrance and a bas-relief of four figures above the arched opening depicting a Roman court.

Despite its composite neo-classic elements outside, Art Deco and even nativist elements predominate the interior. It has two big patios and a wide court that serves as entrance foyer. The emphasis on compactness and the dominance of its environs are highlighted in outside lines while space, ventilation, and lighting are given importance in the interior layout. Neo-classic elements are  present in the entire building: uniformly arched windows, stylized composite columns, high ceilings and dome, and wide patios. Tropical  features  reflective of the Filipino bahay na bato are also observable: wide sliding main windows, ventanillas, and raised wooden floors.

The building’s centerpiece consists of the Court Room and the Session Hall (also known as Lozano Hall), which was named in honor of Cresenciano Lozano, a lawmaker from Guimaras who authored House Bill 2368, which became RA 365, granting Iloilo the status of a chartered city in 1937. The building construction was completed on February 4, 1935.

Amid much fanfare and celebration coinciding with the Christmas season, the building, also known as the presidencia, was formally inaugurated with much grandeur, attended by no less than  foreign consuls and representatives, on December 19, 1936. Ramon Campos, the first mayor of the chartered city of Iloilo occupied the building in 1937.

During the Japanese war of aggression, Mayor Maximino Jalandoni vacated the city hall when the Japanese troops occupied Iloilo City on April 18, 1942. The Japanese troops made the building their garrison from 1943 to 1945. After the war, Mayor Fernando Lopez and the Iloilo City Council passed Resolution 485 appealing for the establishment of a Junior UP College  in Iloilo.

On February 21, 1946, the Council reiterated to the UP Board of Regents (BOR) its request and through Resolution 461 unanimously approved by the Council on April 8, 1947, formally donated the pre-war city hall and its site of 10.8 hectares for the exclusive use of UP Iloilo College. UPIC was formally opened with Dr. Tomas Fonacier as its first dean on July 1, 1947.

Since 1947, the building served as  venue of diverse academic, administrative, artistic and cultural affairs of UPIC (now UP Visayas). A plan to convert the building into UPV Museum of Arts and Culture was laid down during the  administration of Chancellor Dr. Arsenio Camacho. During the incumbency of Chancellor Glenn Aguilar (2005-2008), the architectural documentation of the building was undertaken. In 2008, this author did the historical documentation of the building.

The National Historical Institute (now National Historical Commission of the Philippines) installed a historical marker on the building on November 25, 2008. It was declared a National Historical Landmark by the NHCP on December 14, 2009.

Today, the building houses a textile museum, the first in the region, and two UPV cultural institutions. The Center for West Visayan Studies (CWVS) serves as research hub and repository of West Visayan culture, heritage, and history. The other institution is the UPV Art Gallery which serves as the repository of the University’s prized artworks.

A center of Visayan heritage

The CWVS started as the Visayan Studies Program (VSP) in 1975.  This was a brainchild of then UPIC Dean, Dionisia Rola, who eventually became the first chancellor of UPV.

The Center was primarily established to preserve, propagate, and disseminate facets of Western Visayan history and culture through collection and preservation of artifacts and source materials, production of knowledge from local history and ethnographic and folkloric research, and propagation and dissemination of West Visayan heritage in the region by means of exhibitions, conferences, and theatrical performances.

In 2001, the CWVS  partnered with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in the establishment of School for Living Tradition (SLT) in Central Panay. It was aimed at honing prospective young generation of Panay Bukidnon epic chanters, needleworkers, traditional dancers and instrument players, and folk artists as second liners in the continuance of indigenous Panayanon culture and traditions. The project was chosen as one of the 100 finalists in the Rolex Award for Enterprise in Cultural Heritage Promotion.

The Center also played a big role in the selection of Federico Caballero, a tribal chieftain, seasoned arbiter, and skilled epic chanter, as one of the Gawad ng Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) awardees in 2010 for his repertoire of fourteen-volume Panayanon epics collectively called Sugidanon.

Intellectual legacies

Two UPV professors who once held the helm of CWVS left lasting intellectual legacy to the existence of CWVS. Dr. Henry Funtecha (deceased), who became coordinator from 1983-1988 and eventually director from 1988-1996 and 2008-2009, produced so many researches on local history and culture. Funtecha institutionalized the annual holding of the Regional Conference on History and Culture aimed at disseminating fresh historical information, and linking the academe and community-based cultural initiatives to regional development programs.

Another scholar, Dr. Alicia Magos, who became director from 1996-2002, is the most dynamic  anthropologist and folklorist Western Visayas ever produced after F. Landa Jocano. Her ethnographic studies on Panay indigenous peoples especially their cultural life and homegrown cosmology as well as her forays on Panay Bukidnon epic traditions  are sterling contributions to the preservation and mainstreaming of indigenous knowledge systems  Such feats have earned her an international recognition from the Bangkok-based SEAMEO-Jasper Best Research Award  in 1997,  the Most Outstanding Teacher Award (College Category)  by the Metrobank Foundation in 1999, and the highest rank as Professor Emeritus of the University.

Another UPV icon of excellence is Dr. Leoncio Deriada, who, like Magos, is also Professor Emeritus. A multi-awarded writer and Palanca and Dangal ng Lahi awardee, Deriada is  instrumental in honing second generation of West Visayan literary writers who eventually followed his footsteps to excellence. These include Prof. John Iremil Teodoro, who now teaches at Miriam College in Quezon City, and Dr. Genevieve Asenjo, a faculty member of De La Salle University, Manila. Other noted UPV creative writers are Dr. Alice Tan-Gonzales of Iloilo and Prof. Merly Alunan of Tacloban.

Artistic excellence in visual arts is exemplified by faculty members in fine arts like Prof. Raymund Fernandez of UP Cebu; and in theatrical and dance performances of Teatro Amakan under the direction of Prof.Edward Defensor, and of “An Balangaw” supervised by Prof. Joycie Dorado-Alegre.

Service to community with distinction is likewise shown in numerous advocacies of Prof. Madrilena de la Cerna of UP Cebu for instance, on the promotion of local history and gender issues; Dr. Rosario Asong of UPV Iloilo, also on gender; and Prof. Margarita de la Cruz of UP Tacloban, on environmental concerns.

Finally, intellectual legacy is tantamount to heritage at UPV producing seven UP scientists, namely: Drs. Glenn Aguilar and Ricardo Babaran of College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Drs. Rosalie Arcala-Hall and Rodelio Subade of CAS-Division of Social Sciences, and Drs. Annabel del Norte-Campos, Wilfredo Campos and Juliana Baylon of CAS-Division of Biological Sciences.


The author is university research associate at the Center for West Visayan Studies in UP Visayas. Email him at [email protected]