A few days before Christmas last year, I found myself in Iligan, a highly-urbanized city in Southern Philippines. It was a welcome change in our family’s ‘December routine’ since for as long as I could remember, we usually spend our holiday vacations in Jimenez, Misamis Occidental.
So if not for a cousin’s wedding, I would not have visited again the place of my childbirth. Although I spent a good five years of my college life here, I wished I have really explored the places that should have been very familiar to me by now.
Before we checked out from our inn somewhere in Pala-o, I decided to get away and boarded a small jeepney bound for the city. I did not tell my folks where I was headed, but I promised them that I’ll be back in an hour or even less.
The city proper, where most of its business establishments are concentrated, is small yet clean. One only needs to remember its two parallel thoroughfares in getting around: Quezon and Aguinaldo streets. Almost all the jeepneys pass by these routes but if you still can’t find your way, just walk around or ask the very friendly locals.
I alighted by St. Michael Cathedral, one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. At the left-most portion of the church’s facade is a statue of St. Michael the Archangel, the city’s patron saint. This is not the same icon though that’s lowered during the “Pagpakana-ug,” one of the highlights in the Diyandi Festival in September, the Iliganons’ month-long fiesta. This ritual pays homage to the protector of Iligan and his ‘celestial battles’ mentioned in the Bible.
Near the church or just a few block away from it, are the many restaurants and eateries that my classmates and I frequented. Unfortunately, we did not take a lot of food porn photos as Instagram was not yet invented back in the day. But I’m glad that a few of my favorites are still around – Pop Rock Bakeshop and Cafe and an eatery we affectionately call as ‘banig.‘ The latter introduced me to the mysteriously delicious Soup No. 5.
On my way to the market, I saw a few old ancestral houses which I never noticed before. I did not have the luxury of time so I just walked past them and headed straight to the Tambacan Hanging Bridge. Other than that morning, I could recall that I have been to this part of the city only once. If my memory still serves me right, it was in 2002 when some of my friends and I boarded a jeepney here that brought us to the Mt. Agad-agad jump-off.
By this time, I got a text message that breakfast in our inn was already being served. I quickly hailed a Pala-o jeepney for my final destination – the Buhanginan Hill where the Iligan City Hall and the open-air Anahaw Amphitheater are located. I alighted by Gazpacho Grill and took the short yet scenic hike up the hill.
At the top, I could make out St. Michael Cathedral’s belfry in the horizon and even the Malindang mountain ranges across Panguil Bay. It’s a beautiful view that I haven’t seen before. This frame in particular, among the many fascinating things about this city that I would now only read online, has always been there all along. And it’s a bit of a shame actually, that it took me quite awhile to realize that.
I must give it then to Iligan’s many hardworking residents who still chose to stay in a city that has been through a lot, including a big steel plant shutting down in the 90s and a typhoon that came pummeling through it recently, yet managed to flourish amidst those many challenges.
I took a quick snapshot, walked my way down to Gazpacho and hailed a jeepney back to Isabel. I slipped in almost unnoticed by my other relatives, some of which asked me where’s I’ve been that morning.