Miagao, Iloilo is a historic town known worldwide for its very ornate and unique religious structure. It is a well-preserved municipality where the artistic traditions of its local people were influenced by Spanish culture, and the result is brilliant.
But more than the church, watchtowers and bridges, Miagao is also home to several exciting natural attractions. Nature is very specific and unique in its beauty especially in the upland barangays with stunning cascades, unique rock formations, mysterious caves, a hidden lake and magnificent rice terraces. Though some are already well-known to local tourists but many are waiting for their discovery. Undoubtedly, this miracle of nature is among the most extraordinary natural attractions in Iloilo which is worth the visit.
Miagao is situated in the southern portion of the province. It is 40.5 kilometers away or an hour and twenty minute ride from Iloilo City. It is bounded by the town of Igbaras in the northeast, by Guimbal in the east, by San Joaquin in the west and by the municipality of Sibalom in the province of Antique in the northwest. It has a land area of 13, 286 hectares that is politically subdivided into 119 barangays; 22 from the coastal area and 97 from landlocked areas.
Miagao, a First Class Municipality is populated by 67, 565 (2015 Census on Population) Miagaowanons. Market day is every Saturday. It annually celebrates its Religious Fiesta every 22nd of September in honour of St. Thomas of Villanova.
To get to Miagao, one can take a jeepney at the Don Benito Q. Acap Sr. Southern Iloilo Perimeter Boundary Terminal in Barangay Mohon, Oton, Iloilo or at the Iloilo Terminal Market in Barangay Rizal Pala-Pala I, Iloilo City.
How Miagao derived its name from a plant called “miagos” (Osmoxylon lineare), a medicinal shrub that grew abundantly in the area. It was said that the plant is used to treat gallstones and high blood pressure.
Miagao, known to be the second largest town in the province became a municipality in 1716. Prior to this, Miagao was arrabal of four different towns in southern Iloilo, namely: Oton, Tigbauan, San Joaquin and Guimbal.
The present fortress church, the third stucture was built in 1786 by Spanish Agustinian missionaries is thismtown’s icon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site included am,ong Baroque Churches of the Philippines in 1993.
ST. THOMAS OF VILLANOVA PARISH CHURCH is of Baroque-Romanesque architectural style. The original church, convent and municipal hall were built in 1734in a lowland plateau by the sea called Ubos. However, it was burned by Muslim pirates in 1741 another church was built from 1744 to 1750 under the supervision of Father Fernando Camporredondo but was again burned by the Muslim pirates I 1754.
The present church is the third structure built under the supervision of Father Francisco Gonzales Maximo in 1786 and completed in 1797. It boasts of its native façade with a unique explosion of botanical motif: coconut, banana, papaya tree and a stylized guava tree. Its centerpiece is San Cristobal in rolled pants carrying the child Jesus. Below it is a niche where the statue of St. Thomas of Villanova stands.
The church is made of huge stone blocks quarried in Sitio Tubog, San Joaquin and in the mountains of Igbaras. Its new site is in Tacas which gives a commanding view of the mouth of Miagao River, the usual route of the pirates when entering the town. It was strongly built that it withstood the earthquake in December 28, 1855 and the powerful “Lady Kaykay” in 1948. Some restoration was supervised by Father Agustin Escudero with Father Jose Sacristin decorating its interior in 1880.
The church sinks six meters deep in the ground with walls 2.5 meters thick including the outside buttresses. When the present church was finished, its left tower was lower than its right. In 1830 an additional structure was constructed to make the belfries of equal height. It was under the supervision of Father Francisco Perez.
However, it was burned by revolutionaries in 1898 Philippine-American war and was used as a headquarters and barracks.
In February 16, 1963 a historical marker by the National Historical Institute was placed on the church and was declared a National Shrine through Presidential Decree No. 260, dated August 1, 1973. In 1993 it was included in the World Heritage List, the only one in the Visayas and Mindanao.
TAYTAY BONI in Barangay Igtuba, Miagao, Iloilo is an old stone bridge about a kilometer away from the poblacion. Named after Boni Neular, the construction foreman and major carpenter, it was constructed in 1854.
Made of stone blocks locally known as tablea, each block measured 12 inches in length and 6 inches in width and is 3 inches thick. The bridge is approximately 43.81 meters long and 6.71 meters wide with an area totaling to 233.58 square meters. It is six meters high with walls a meter thick. Its waterway is said to have a dimension of 2.44 meters high and 2.74 meters wide. The bridge connected Miagao to neighboring Guimbal was still used after World War II but was damaged in 1948 by the Lady Kaykay earthquake that resulted to the destruction of its middle part and the crumbling of its walls. The earthquake brought in tidal waves and landslides that eventually covered the creek and dried up the area.
DANAO SA MIAGAO known to the locals as TINAGONG DAGAT is a hidden lake situated in the forested area of Barangay Ongyod elevated approximately 3,000 feet above sea level. Getting there requires some hiking to be able to see this mysterious lake which is said to be ten times bigger than an ordinary swimming pool. It is one of the most visited attractions of the town by local tourists especially during the Holy Week.
MIAGAO RICE TERRACES in Barangay Cabalaunan is another attraction that will surely overwhelm sightseers. Its panoramic terraces over its 500-hectare rice fields were carved in perpendicular of the mountain barangay with minimal equipment. Its mud walls beautifully contouring the slopes protects pond fields that are maintained through an elaborate irrigation scheme.
SINUHUTAN CAVE In Barangay Onop is a 3-hour mountainous trek. The cave’s name coming from the Hiligaynon term “suhut” or “to walk below,” speaks for itself when entering the site. Tourists can access the cave by passing through its three entrances that leads to three prominent chambers such as the “Jacosi Tab” where a certain species of shrimp is found; the “Female Genital”; and “The Plaza or The Cathedral.” It is said that during the Japanese occupation, the cave became a fortress for the locals living in the area.
BATO LABOG in Barangay Olango is a mysterious elongated rock that is buried in the middle of the mountain. It has an estimated length that measures 400 meters with a width of 3-4 meters and a height of approximately 30 meters. The name originates from the local word “labog” which means long.
BUSLUGAN FALLS in Barangay Dalije is surrounded by virgin forest. Its inviting pond creates a playful ambience irresistible for visitors. BANOGON FALLS in Barangay Dalije is a cascade that resembles a smooth white hair falling gracefully. The word “banogon” may have come from the fact that the surrounding forest is home to “banog” birds belonging to the eagle family. BUSLOGAN FALLS in Barangay Tigmarabo is very popular during rainy season as its current is so tough that produces a thundering sound that can be heard even from afar. The name comes from the local word “buslog” which means strong current. Other falls found in the area include IRIK-IKAN and PARIGUSAN DIWATA.
SALAKAYAN is celebrated every 1st week till the 2nd week of February. Taken from the Hiligaynon word salakay or to attack, the core of the celebration is based on the famous battle fought on May 7, 1754. Every year, Miagaowanons celebrate their liberation from Moro pirates who were notorious for their slave-hunting expedititons in the area.
The highlight of the festivity is the tribe competition that gives everyone with an interest in history the chance to witness historical events interpreted thru dance-drama. An added special feature of the tribal presentation are the Gigantes, literally “giants and big heads,” as they parade through the streets. The giants represent traditional or historical figures of Miagao.
HABLON Festival celebrated every 1st week of September is one of the must-see events of Miagao. Visitors are sure to see many hand-woven fabrics and products for sale. At first glance, one may not realize the quality of these fabrics; fewer are aware of the long history and importance weaving has played in Miagao society. The fabrics are not only beautiful and unique, but they provide a means for visitors to appreciate indigenous culture of the town. Special events include weaving design competition, pageantry, float parade and fashion show.