Port of Iloilo
Review and History

The Port of Iloilo is the independent capital of the province of Iloilo in the western Visayas region on Panay Island in the Philippines. It is the center of the larger Iloilo-Guimaras metropolitan area and the economic center of the region. During the colonial periods, the Port of Iloilo was an important agricultural center for the Philippines, exporting copra (dried coconut meat), mangoes, sugar, and bananas as well as other natural resources. In 2007, the City and Port of Iloilo was home to over 418 thousand people.

Located in the center of the Philippine islands, the Port of Iloilo is well-positioned to be an important center for industry, commerce, and trade. It has the educational infrastructure to prepare a skilled workforce, and it has the physical city infrastructure to attract and support business and industry. Today, the Port of Iloilo’s banking, finance, retail trade, and customer service sectors are important to the local and national economy.

Port History

The Port of Iloilo’s economy flourished before the Spanish came to colonize the islands. The Spanish conquest of the Philippines had already started when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi came to the Island of Panay in 1566. He established a settlement at Ogtong and appointed a deputy that later became the governor. The Spanish held the area tight for a couple of centuries.

By the 1700s, the Dutch and the Moros (Filipino Muslims) were making frequent raids on the Spanish territories. The Spanish then moved their capital to the village of Irong-Irong where they built Fort San Pedro to protect their interests. Eventually, “Irong-Irong” was shortened to Iloilo and, blessed with a natural port, the city was made the province’s capital.

The latter 1700s, a weaving industry in the Visayas region stimulated trade and growth of the Port of Iloilo’s economy. It was sometimes called the “Textile Capital of the Philippines,” and its goods were exported to Manila as well as foreign destinations. The growing textile industry gave birth to a new middle class. Unfortunately, competition was introduced from the United Kingdom’s cheap textiles and from the growing sugar economy. By the middle 19th Century, the textile industry began to diminish.

The opening of the Port of Iloilo to the world market in 1855 replaced the disappearing textile industry. The port gave local industry and agriculture a gateway to foreign markets. While this helped the economy, the sugar industry brought a boom to the city and its neighbor island, Negros. Demand for sugar was high, and the British Vice-consul gave loans, built port warehouses, and introduced the sugar farmers to new technologies.

The Port of Iloilo’s rich families built haciendas and developed much of Negros Island. With increased commercial activity, the city also developed infrastructure, educational and recreational facilities, banks, consulates, and many new businesses. The Port of Iloilo was so successful that the Spanish Queen Regent honored it with the status of a city in 1890 and established the city government.

When the Revolution broke out in Manila, the reaction of Port of Iloilo residents was slow and mixed. After the Spanish lost a few battles to the Katipunan and the Americans, the city finally joined in the fight for Philippine independence. However, when Spain surrendered to the United States, they moved their colonial government to the Port of Iloilo. This time, the citizens were not passive.

By the end of 1898, Spain had surrendered to the local rebels in what is now the Plaza Libertad. Despite their victory, independence was not to be. The United States forces began to move toward colonization in 1899. Local resistance continued until 1901.

The American Baptist church came to the Philippines in 1900. Their missions spawned the Central Philippine University in 1905 as well as other schools to educate locals, particularly in theology. The Port of Iloilo became the center for the Baptists in the Philippines.

Although the United States revoked the city status of the Port of Iloilo, its active commerce and busy port brought city status back in 1937, when the Port of Iloilo incorporated several other nearby towns. During this period, the Port of Iloilo was called “The Queen City of the South.”

When the demand for sugar began to fall, Port of Iloilo workers became restless and frightened investors away from the city. Then in 1942, the Japanese invaded Panay Island, and the economy came to a stop. The Japanese planned to colonize the islands in the fashion of the former Spanish and American imperialist powers. Their plans were thwarted when Filipino and US forced freed the city from Japan’s military occupation in 1945.

World War II hurt the Port of Iloilo’s economy and infrastructure, but local situations were more damaging. Labor strife, the declining sugar industry, and increasing rural conflicts drove many residents out of the Port of Iloilo to find better opportunities. Businesses began to move away as well.

From the 1960s to the 1990s, the Port of Iloilo’s economy progressed slowly. The fishing port was built. The international seaport was modernized and upgraded. New commercial firms began to invest in the city. Today, the Port of Iloilo is the regional center for Western Visayas and the main seaport for Panay Island.

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