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Iloilo town ready to host Independence Day

/ 03:59 AM June 07, 2015
THE SANTA Barbara Church in Iloilo, spic and span after a P50-million restoration, is ready to host the 117th celebration of Philippine independence on June 12. PAUL CORDERO/CONTRIBUTOR

THE SANTA Barbara Church in Iloilo, spic and span after a P50-million restoration, is ready to host the 117th celebration of Philippine independence on June 12. PAUL CORDERO/CONTRIBUTOR

ILOILO CITY, Philippines—The atmosphere in Santa Barbara is festive as the town prepares for the 117th celebration of Philippine Independence Day.

Buntings adorn the streets while finishing touches are being applied to the municipal building, where President Benigno Aquino III is expected to raise the Philippine flag on a 36-meter flagpole on June 12, the first time that Independence Day rites will be held outside Luzon.

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“It is a great honor for us. Maybe [our hosting of Independence Day rites] is long overdue,” a proud Mayor Dennis Superficial told the Inquirer.

The flagpole is located just a few meters across a marker at the town plaza where Iloilo revolutionaries first raised the flag on Nov. 17, 1898, as Spanish colonial rule crumbled.

That was the first time the flag was raised outside Luzon.

The 137-year-old Santa Barbara Church and Convent, which played a key role in the uprising, has been restored in time for the commemoration of the event.

The church and its convent served as the general headquarters and military hospital of the revolutionaries.

Recognizing its role in the struggle for Philippine independence, the National Historical Institute declared Santa Barbara Church and Convent a national historical landmark on July 6, 1990.

The restoration work, supervised by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), cost P50 million.

Municipal tourism officer Irene Magallon said the restoration of the church to its baroque architectural design involved filling cracks in the walls and the reinforcement of columns.

The weakened wall at the back of the altar was buttressed and the church walls were cleaned of biological growth, she said.

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The convent, where wounded revolutionaries received medical care, was restored to its original stone-house design, she said.

Aside from restoring the church and convent, the NHCP also improved the town plaza located across the municipal hall at the cost of P12 million.

Uprising against Spain

According to Provincial Board Member Demy Sonza, a historian, Santa Barbara was a hotbed of revolutionary zeal and it was from there that the uprising against Spain in the Visayas began in 1898.

On Oct. 28, 1898, Martin Delgado, also known as Tan Martin, led a company of revolutionaries from his hacienda in Barangay Tungay and seized the municipal building. The revolutionaries also attacked Spanish forces in other towns of the province.

Delgado was a young teacher who served in the local government but the leaders of the revolution recognized his courage and leadership abilities and made him general in chief of the Ejercito Libertador (Liberation Army).

Under Delgado’s command, the revolutionaries took control of all municipalities of Iloilo, except La Paz and Molo, and the cities of Jaro and Iloilo in just a few days.

On Nov. 17, 1898, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Visayas was organized and inaugurated in Santa Barbara.

That day, members of the Comite Central Revolucionarios de Visayas (Central Revolutionary Committee of the Visayas), who came from various parts of the province, attended a thanksgiving Mass at dawn in the town’s church.

After the Mass, they proceeded to the house of Vicente Bermejo at a corner near the town plaza. The house became Delgado’s headquarters.

Cry of Santa Barbara

In front of Bermejo’s house, a freshly cut bamboo pole was erected as a flagpole while the revolutionary leaders met inside.

A large crowd, including a regiment of the revolutionary army, gathered in front of the house.

Then, Sonza said, General Delgado came out and raised the Philippine flag as the crowd broke into a deafening cheer.

“Viva Filipinas! Fuera España! Viva independencia! (Long live the Philippines! Down with Spain! Long live independence!)” Delgado cried, leading the crowd in proclaiming Philippine independence.

That became known as the Cry of Santa Barbara, the proclamation that sparked the fire of revolution in the Visayas and Mindanao.

It is that event that is reenacted every year during the town’s Kahilwayan (Freedom) Festival.

Tourist destination

Tourists come to Santa Barbara for the festival. Mayor Superficial said the restoration of Santa Barbara Church and Convent had boosted tourist arrivals in the municipality.

This summer, the tourist traffic to the town increased by 20 percent, from 3,500 to more than 4,000, according to Magallon.

With a population of 55,000 Santa Barbara is ready to be declared a first-class municipality.

The town is accessible to tourists. The access road leading to the Iloilo International Airport in neighboring Cabatuan town is part of Santa Barbara.

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TAGS: Iloilo, Independence day, National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Philippine Independence, Santa Barbara Church, Santa Barbara Church and Convent, Vicente Bermejo
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