The first thing my friends told me when they found out I was going to Capiz was to bring some garlic and/or salt with me to ward off the infamous aswangs. That impression is by far the single most notorious belief about Capiz, and I would say it’s rather unfair too.
To dispel any other myths and misconceptions about Capiz, the locals organized an Aswang Festival a few years back. Their way of poking fun at themselves and their detractors upset the clergy so much, that the priests convinced them it was a bad idea. The apparent influence of the Church in these parts just shows the religiousness deeply ingrained in its people, contrary to its reputation of being the land of the aswangs.
Landing in Roxas City, I got a great view of the sea and the nearby beaches. Although in the same region as Iloilo, Guimaras and Boracay, Capiz is not well-known among avid beach-goers as a popular tourist destination. Yet I am told that it boasts of the same pristine waters and white, powdery sand in many of its islands and coastal areas. In fact, nearby Olotayan Island, just a few minutes boatride from Roxas City can give Boracay a run for its money.
Fortunately, one of Capiz’ redeeming qualities is its being known as the Seafood Capital of thePhilippines. If anyone wants to gorge on shellfish, seaweed and a wide array of bounty-from-the-sea, this is the place to head off to. With its coastline and river networks still abundant with mangroves, it’s no wonder crabs, shrimps, clams and oysters are teeming in these waters.
While there are actually many restaurants within Roxas City to have your fill of seafood, a good place to go to is the Seafood Court and People’s Park at BaybayBeach. Just a stone’s throw away from DILG Secretary Mar Roxas’ home, its open area has a short promenade and a great view of the nearby islands – Mantalinga and Olotayan. The beachline is currently being renovated with establishments being moved away from the coastline itself, but numerous seafood restaurants and resorts line this boulevard of sorts.
For the budget conscious, there are many cheap hotels in the city proper. Most lodgings are reasonably priced and within walking distance from food establishments. Tricycles, the major mode of transport in these parts, are easily available at every turn and will take you anywhere within Roxas City for a mere P8.00 fare. Most tourist sites are also quite accessible.
Named after its most famous son, the first President of the Philippine Republic Manuel Roxas, the city’s significance in Philippine history doesn’t begin or end with him. The local museum that houses various artifacts and some memorabilia on the late President Roxas and other illustrious sons and daughters of Capiz, was built at the turn of the century and used to be an old watertank. Beside the “Ang Panubli-on” museum is a mini-park with a statue of President Roxas. This small enclosure also serves as a favorite hang-out of the local senior citizens and is a cozy, shady sanctuary in the sunny albeit humid city.
A few steps away is the riverbanks area which is surprisingly very clean and well-maintained. While there are a few boats navigating its waters and offering rides, it has not been commercialized enough to cause undue pollution. Reminiscent of some American architectural influence, there is a grand pavilion referred to as the Roxas City Bandstand. Constructed in the 1920s by Jose Roldan, the first Filipino headmaster of the Capiz Trade School, it’s where one can take a photo with a picturesque background of the Panay River and the Roxas City bridge. Built in 1910, the Roxas City bridge also known as the old Capiz Bridge, connects the political center to the commercial areas of the city and has historically help usher in development to Capiz.
A similar Western flavor can be seen in the city’s central water fountain which also serves as a “rotunda” of sorts for vehicular traffic. Lighting up in colors in the evenings, this fountain has the Provincial Capitol, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the City Hall bordering it from two sides. And somewhere in the busy maze of streets and ancient buildings is the ancestral home of President Roxas. But unlike most ancestral houses which have been transformed into self-supporting museums, theirs is still currently occupied by some descendants and hence, not open to the public.
Nearby churches and belltowers are a testament to how entrenched the Spanish colonizers were in these parts. The Immaculate Conception Metropolitan Cathedral within the town plaza is one of the oldest in the region and was constructed with the blood and sweat of Filipinos coerced into Forced Labor by the Spaniards. Read any Filipino history book and know that many uprisings occurred in the region, including the Panay revolt of 1663 started by a babaylan turned Christian named Tapar.
Near the very modern Government and Business Center and Villareal Stadium is another park with memorials to Capiz’ war heroes. One image on horseback is a tribute to General Esteban Contreras who rebelled against the Spanish and American colonizers with a motley crew of peasants. An obelisk-like structure as well as a smaller memorial with embossed names are dedicated to the heroes and victims of the Japanese Occupation in the 1940s. In fact, the nearby Capiz National High School with its famous 48-step staircase was once used as a Japanese garrison. Quite aptly, the office of the regional vice-president of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines is located nearby.
Since I am allergic to most crustaceans, it took more than seafood for Capiz to impress me. But with its rich historical and cultural traits, as well as its natural beauty, I was completely enamored.