Roxas City is the capital of Capiz, a province in the famous island of Panay in the Visayas Region of the Philippines. It was my first time to visit the place, thanks to another research job. We boarded the domestic flight bound for the city at around five in the morning and reached Roxas Airport after an hour of bumpy travel in the clouds.
The plane was considerably smaller than those bound for abroad. It was well-misted inside, lending a similar feel of real-like fogs up in the mountainsides. The ride was jolty, mayhap due to the then low pressure threatening to become a full-blown typhoon below.
Upon touchdown, the Roxas City Airport looked like a minute version of the international airport in Manila. The said construction was vastly diminished by size and by the number of stores that crowded–or more correctly, uncrowded–the area. Instead of taxi cabs, its entrance teemed with tricycles awaiting newly arrived passengers.
Our driver arrived a few minutes later, bearing a welcoming smile which, by the way, is common amongst Capiznons (everywhere we went, we were greeted with the warmest smiles and the beautiful, lilting language called Hiligaynon). Soon, we began traversing the city roads that boasted of typical urban infrastructures juxtaposed with the ever-present ricefields, fishponds, palm tree plantations, and mangroves.
After eating breakfast at a popular fastfood joint along the highway, we reached the vacation home of our client-sponsor. Set beside the rolling Sibuyan Sea, the sprawling mansion was to be our beloved home for the next several weeks. Indeed, it was a refreshing change from the usual, urban environs that each of us was used to. Although, one distracting characteristic of the place was the consistent smell of uga (Hiligaynon term for dried fish), one of the main products of the province of Capiz.
Locals leave massive bamboo racks, filled-to-brimming with all kinds of fish, along the beachfront in order to let them dry. Capiz, after all, is known as the “Seafood Capital of the Philippines”. The good thing about this, though, is the fact that, almost everyday, the kind caretaker of our sponsor’s mansion would simply ask for a few pieces of uga from the neighbors which, in turn, became surprise additions to our meals.
Along the seashore lies the barangay of Dumulog. This is where most of Roxas City’s uga is left to dry under the sun. Mind you, the Capiz tuyo is different from the usual ones found in Luzon marketplaces. Aside from the fact that Dumulog’s dried fish is of premium taste and quality, it rarely leaves an after-smell in the hands. For those who don’t know this, the average tuyo may be considered odorous for most and it could leave its strong smell in the hands of those who opt to eat it, kamayan-style.
Not far from Dumulog is Baybay, another barangay of Roxas City. Also found along the seashore, Baybay is a tourist destination. It has several hotels. It has a number of restaurants that serve different seafoods. It also has a park that overlooks the beach. If you’re not picky, you may even elect to take a quick swim or simply walk (hand-in-hand with someone, hehehe!) along the shoreline.
Roxas City has its own museum as well. Located near the town center, Ang Panublion Museum showcases the different facets of the rich history of Capiz. You can also make a quick visit to the Roxas City Tourism Office where you can easily request for varied pamphlets that indicate the different tourist spots in Capiz and in the whole Panay island.
Another must-see is Banica, yet another barangay of Roxas City. This is the “Pasalubong Center” of the city. Here, you may visit the Banica Seafood Market and discover countless piles of various dried seafood and more.
In Banica, we also visited a quaint, little shop (Sorry, I forgot its name! I shall insert it here as soon as I remember the name, I promise!) that sold local handicrafts made out of coconut shells, kapis shells, buri, and abaca. Our eyes all went big, oooh-ing and aaah-ing about all the gorgeous treasures that it contained. Of course, most of us couldn’t help but purchase a thing or two–or three or more–especially since the Christmas rush was (and still is) on its way.
We had to travel for more or less an hour to reach the rural town of Sigma. Passing through the town of Ivisan, the road was peppered with vast fishponds interspersed again with all kinds of palm trees, thick bamboo shrubs, and mangroves. All along the highway, vendors selling different kinds of seafood would appear.
Also, it was a heart-rending experience to find traditional bahay kubos (nipa huts) that even had native windows made out of criss-crossing bamboo and walls made out of—guess what! Nipa, of course! All over the mystique municipality of Sigma were quaint, tiny houses that spoke of beauteous simplicity that eclipsed the glaring commonness of modern structures accumulating all over the urban areas.
It was also striking to find out that every barangay–and even every sitio–had its own patron saint and chapel. Miniature churches, usually colored white or beige, were set side by side with thick forested areas that screamed of peace and serenity. Of course, our daily travels were always accompanied by the intense, humid temperature despite being in the midst of the -ber months.
The local variants of typical Filipino cuisines were, if I’m to be honest, not that outstanding. They tasted like those cooked all over the country. However, Capiznons seem to like their food extra sweet. What stood out was their penchant for sugar; given, of course, that one of the main produce of the province is muscovado.
Lucky for us, our host had vast farms in the town of Sigma. Thus, each visit to his place enabled us to gorge on the Filipino favorite, lechong baboy (roasted pig). This was always served with bottomless glasses of buko juice which helped, enormously, in order to neutralize the heavy feel of eating too much meat all throughout our stay.
Like all Capiznons that we came in contact with, our host was very gracious to us. His endless warmth made the job very memorable. Our work was also made easy by the overflowing welcome of each local government office we were wont to visit.
Aside from a couple of mishaps–one was when we had to leave our borrowed vehicle to trek for more than a kilometer because the hanging bridge was not passable by car and second was when we had to get our vehicle (again) out of the ditch because we assumed that we could go through the soft, uphill terrain heading toward another far-flung barangay–the trip was enlightening as well as refreshing.
We were even able to attend two of Capiz’s festivals. One of those was Mambusao’s annual Inilusan Festival which was on the 25th of November while the other was Roxas City’s Sinadya Festival which was on the first week of December. We also got to visit two barangay fiestas, those of Mianay and Tawog, respectively, where we were invited to take part of their delicious banquet that left us with bellies sighing with satisfaction (and lots and lots of calories! Haha!).
Throughout our short-lived stint in the quaint province of Capiz, we got to visit some of its tourist attractions. We were brought to the municipality of Pan-ay. We visited one of the oldest Catholic churches in the Philippines, the Pan-ay Church, which is also called the Santa Monica Parish Church, where we got to see–and touch–the biggest Catholic church bell in the whole of Asia.
We also took the winding, inclined road that led to the famous–and the Philippines’ largest–statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Reaching the mountaintop, we found several structures that included a little shop that sold religious items as well as a prayer hall at the foot of the aforementioned sculpture. The picturesque area also overlooked several parts of Roxas City, the town of Sigma, and the blue sweep of the Sibuyan Sea.
In truth, Capiz is a province filled with unexplored beauty. Gazing down at the province from the tiny window of the airplane heading back to Luzon, the place looked like a forgotten paradise in the heart of Visayas. Akin to the different dream destinations found in other parts of the Visayan group of islands–and even in Luzon and Mindanao–Capiz has certainly much to offer. The gracious welcome of its people, for instance, is already one of its natural charms that make anyone immediately feel at home.
If only the province gets more of its much-needed government funding; then, perhaps, much of its potential would be vastly developed. Because, despite its obvious provincial appeal, the huge disparity between the poor and the rich is very apparent. Although, a lot of non-government organizations (NGOs) as well as government organizations (GOs) already provide aid to Capiznons, proper management of funds may mean prioritizing essential needs like education and health services which are both badly needed by a lot of its constituents.
Already victims of the disastrous 2013 Yolanda typhoon, the province is prone to a throng of natural disturbances especially since it is alongside the sea. Locals speak of rampant flooding and of their houses being destroyed specifically during the rainy season. This is greatly exacerbated, of course, by the fact that most of its residents merely have homes made of light materials.
Given this dire condition, Capiznons give further proof of the Filipinos’ latent capacity for resilience. Quick to laughter and that ever-ready smile, it was a priceless opportunity to be able to experience Capiz. As one of the natives mentioned, “Life here in Capiz is difficult but as long as you are willing to work hard–till the land and even fish in the ocean–then, you will be able to survive. Besides, my hometown is peaceful. It isn’t like in Manila where it’s already too crowded and too noisy.” I couldn’t agree with him more. Wouldn’t you?