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The history of Iloilo City is interwoven of two islands, Panay and Negros,

known as Western Visayas Region. Negros Occidental’s history has been shaped by
the migration of capital and labour from Panay.It is also known as the “Queen city
of the south”.

The Iloilo’s agricultural economy has based largely on rice cultivation, while
Negros Occidental has dominated by plantation of sugar production since the mid-
19th century.

The Western Visayas region has undergone three major economic

transformations, each with profound consequences of Iloilo City. The first major
changes occurred in the mid 18th century when the region began a transition from a
largely subsistence economy to commercial textile production. Next in the decade
following the Iloilo’s port to direct foreign trade in 1855, the handicraft weaving
industry failed in the face of competition from English manufacturers and sugar
produced in Negros plantations became the region’s major export.

Iloilo City has served as the regions paramount administrative and commercial
center since the start of Spanish rule in the 16th century.

From the 14th century, the Visayan region was involved in a regular trade with
Chinese merchant that passed through the islands enroute to the Sulu Sea and
Mollucas. At the time of Spanish contact in the 1560’s the Ilonggos had a highly
developed material civilization and were already skilled weavers. Iloilo remained
center until the mid-18th century when the Chinese mestizo merchant began to
export the region’s handicraft.

In early 1840’s, the French scholar, Mallat visited the Western Visayas and
published the first systematic survey of the Philippine weaving industry. In 1842
248, 000 francs’ worth of cloth was exported via Manila and Iloilo’s production found
markets in Asia, Europe and America. The growth of Iloilo’s cloth industry appears
to have had a market impact on the demography and morphology of the six towns,
which comprised the urban area.

In 1855, Iloilo was opened to foreign commerce, marks the start of a new era
in Philippine history. On July 31, 1856, the new British Vice consul, Nicholas Loney
landed at Iloilo to begin a 13 year residence in the city that was to have a major
impacts on the region’s economy. Loney dedicated himself to the promotion of
cheap British cottons as a substitute for Ilonggo productions and encouragement of
sugar production as a return cargo or the extension of Manchester’s trading sphere
to the Visayas.

The outbreak of American civil war resulted on the slow export of the
Manchester “cotton famine”, allowing Iloilo’s weaver’s a temporary respite from the
inevitable onslaught. As Manchester’s production revived in 1864-65, Panay’s cloth
exports decline steadily, and within a decade had reduced to a factor in the region’s

The shift from textile to sugar exports had a profound impact on almost every
aspect of Iloilo City’s economic and social organization. The capital, commercial
skills and labour dislocated by the precipitous decline of the weaving industry were
quickly absorbed into Negros’ expanding sugar economy. Iloilo’s urban area
suffered a steady loss of population and the city did not recover because of its
original economic base in the weaving industry until 1859 population level until the
sugar boom of World War I. The annual harvest cycle of the sugar cane set the
rhythm of the city’s commercial activity. From September to April, the foreign
traders filled their riverfront warehouses as the fleets of light lorcha sail craft
delivered bagged sugar from hundreds of steam mills dotting the Negros sugar

While Negros produced sugar, Iloilo City performed all of the industry’s
support functions. Iloilo City’s prosperity was based upon serving the needs of the
Negros sugar planter, his foreign patrons, and perhaps most importantly, its own
population stevedores.

Despite its more impressive appearance, the reborn City of Iloilo had lost its
essential economic dynamism was no longer the home of independent mercantile
elite who controlled their own capital equipment and transport.

Vice-Consul Loney, played an important role in the emergence of Iloilo as a

sugar entrepôt. He believed that the efficient port was of paramount importance to
the growth of the region’s foreign trade. In 1859, the British diplomat Sir John
Bowring published a map of Iloilo Town. Loney devoted much of his time to promote
the British goods and the establishment of direct of Iloilo- England shipping lines to
reduce transports costs. His interests was also the promotion of inter- island steam
shipping which made Iloilo City became the dominant place in Western Visayas.It
replaced Manila as the regional center for distribution of foreign products. Many
foreign firms established in Iloilo.

Chinese controlled the the regions trade while the Europeans Managed Iloilo’s
import and export firms although the city was more developed in 1890 than in 1855
but it has a weaker economy. Food shortage appeared after 1870 because of the
transfer of labour from Panay’s Rice Farms to Negros sugar plantation.

The opening of the Negros Plantation frontiers is one of the major events in
the modern Philippine history. Its unique feature of this growth is the close
relationship between the de-industrialization of the Iloilo city and the development
of Negros sugar industry. The three critical elements in the rapid expansion of sugar
production---Plantation management, capital, and agricultural labour were largely
derivative from the Ilonggo textile industry.
Esteban de la Rama of Molo and Julio Javellana of Jaro were the two ilonggo
merchants that made a minor entry into the market. Gavino Gasataya of Guimbal
on Iloilo’s Southern coast was accused on many forms of corruption.

However, Teodoro Benedicto, from a Chinese Mestizo family started his

business as a petty cloth merchant before the boom of sugar industry. Furthermore,
the Spaniards accused him that he corrupted the gobernadorcillo of Pontevedra,
leaving the poor dispossessed no official recourse.

On the other hand, Iloilo’s first labour union was the Union Ubrera, it was
organized in 1903 by Julio P. Hernandez, a wealthy sugar planter and former
secretary of war in the revolutionary government. He publicly advocated Draconian
laws to prevent Negros Plantation labourers from absconding on their debts, and his

Jose Nava known as the most important leader to emerge from the ranks of
Iloilo’s literati, he was also the reputed assassin of the city’s prosperity and a major
figure in the history of Philippine trade unionism. He was born into a prosperous
merchant family and his union activities were large by the outgrowth of his work as
a journalist. He also produced his first Ilonggo zarzuela in 1912.

In November 1917, Jose Nava together with his close compadre Vicente
Ybiernas called a meeting to form a more active union, the Union Obrera de Iloilo.
However, after of the peak influence the Union Ubrera collapsed because of political

The decline of the region’s sugar export was dramatic but still not complete.
Despite of the antagonism, the union managed to reach an understanding with the
remaining Spanish export firms and an integral component of the city’s stevedoring

Sugar transport is the primary source of the economic activity of Iloilo City
after 1870, and its loss was a blow from which the city could not recover. During
1930 and 1940s, when sugar handling shifted to Negros, the decline began.

The end……
Rise and Decline
of Iloilo City”
Alfred W. McCoy

Submitted By:
Lyrin Mae Dominguez