calle real – ano natabo sa imo?

Iloilo City, Philippines – Growing up, Calle Real was the name we associated with downtown Iloilo.  It was the hub of commercial activity in the city.

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to run into a prominent citizen of Iloilo City. He had come to inaugurate one of the medical offices at a healthcare facility that is owned by a company I work for. I guess he liked what he saw because he told me – “obrahon niyo ni sa iloilo, ha (do this in Iloilo).He went on to say – “do this in downtown” – referring to Calle Real.

Sad to say, building a medical facility in downtown Iloilo is going to be a logistical and economic challenge especially given the other options in other parts of the city. Nevertheless, I went down to Iloilo and walked through Calle Real. I have to say that I had avoided going there (I have only been there once previously over the past 15 or so years) primarily because we say it’s kagarot to go there. I’m not sure what the exact English translation is but the term could mean irritating, congested, uncomfortable – all of those words together.

This time, I went on a Sunday afternoon. Traffic was not that bad as businesses were obviously closed and the shoppers had long migrated to SM City while the restaurant-going crowd no longer went to downtown. Despite my already low expectations of what I’d see, my experience turned out to be well below my already low expectations.

For one, I didn’t expect to see an abandoned building along Calle Real like the ones you’d see in seedy cities all over the world. I didn’t expect to see a boarded up lot along JM Basa Street. It also appeared that there have been efforts to clean-up and re-paint some of the buildings along this main thoroughfare. The end result only makes it worse as one (relatively) newly-painted building would sit beside another building whose owners probably don’t really care.

While googling “Calle Real, Iloilo City”, I discover that a Local Cultural Conservation Ordinance was enacted in 2000 to “to prevent further destruction of heritage sites in the city, preservation of the establishments and to be reused again for commercial, tourism, educational or institutional functions.”  The impressively named and abbreviated, Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council (ICCHCC) is supposedly the overseer of whatever preservation efforts there have been.

I guess they had high hopes when this ICCHCC was set up. It’s also obvious that it has failed miserably in its task if my “man on the street” experience is to be any gauge.  As we say in Ilonggo – “Te, ano natabo? Puro hambal, wala man resulta (So, what happened?All talk, but no results).”

I have always been one to appreciate the fact that life will be full of mistakes, the question is – what have we learned from them? If the preservation of downtown Iloilo is something more than mere lip service, what is being done now or do we again say – “Bay-i na lang da. Wala ta mahimo. Amo gid na ya. (Let’s just forget about it. We can’t do anything about it. That’s just the way it is.)”?

“Pobre man ang Iloilo. Wala na tubig, kahuluya pa sang downtown. Maayo lang may kuryente na (Poor Iloilo. It has no water and downtown is embarrassing. It’s a good thing, there is at least electricity now).

Part of one’s identity is the place that he comes from.  In a sense, it’s his anchor.  It’s a place one can always go to for succor, to remember the carefree days of childhood.  When you see your hometown fade into obscurity through neglect and the absence of community pride – it becomes downright depressing.

If Calle Real is not saved, a significant part of the city will have died. And for many Ilonggos, a key part of their heritage will be relegated to the “baol” of old pictures.


more pictures –


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