VIGAN CITY, ILOCOS SUR
Vigan’s vision is to create a productive, investment-friendly, and safe heritage province that promotes industrial peace, green economy, employment generation, and poverty reduction
BY ATTY. JAVIER FLORES WITH MIO DELA CRUZ
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ATTY. JAVIER FLORES AND PIE DAVID
Bagnet and longganisa—for some of us, these come to mind when we think of Vigan. For others, the mention of the city’s name evokes memories of walking along the cobblestoned-steps of Calle Crisologo, and snapping a “selfie” or two with its heritage buildings, or maybe buying an abel iloko, the famous handwoven fabric that the region is known for, from the souvenir shops that line the street.
Vigan, however, is an old soul. Vigan is the only city in the country that has been declared by UNESCO
(United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as a world heritage site, an acknowledgment that it is a living fabric of historical significance.
Recently, Vigan also won a spot as one of the “New7Wonders Cities” campaign of the Swiss-registered
nonprofit New7Wonders Foundation. The campaign allowed people from all over the world to nominate and vote for cities that they believe fit the title of being a wonder of the world. People voted
via telephone and the internet. Since Filipinos are some of the most prolific internet users in the world, Vigan garnered one of the seven coveted spots, alongside Beirut, a city founded in
Garnering those accolades guaranteed a steady stream of tourists for Vigan. But as any conservationist
would know, tourism brings its own boons and burdens. According to Tourism Investment Promotion Officer Edgar de la Cruz, the city receives an estimated one million visitors per year, both in terms of day visitors and tourists who stay overnight. Hotels have been required to expand, and transient houses
have sprung up to accommodate the influx of tourists. The volume of foot and vehicle traffic generates vibrations that threaten the age-old buildings that are the hallmarks of Vigan.
KEEPING UP WITH THE TIMES
Vigan knew how to cope. In the early 2000s, under the steady leadership of Mayor Eva Marie Singson-Medina, the mother of the current Mayor, Juan Carlo Medina, the city saw the need to improve other tourism destinations so that people and trade would not be limited to Calle Crisologo. To that end, the
city designated and upgraded the areas for the industries it is known for: loom weaving, jar- or burnay-making, preparation of native delicacies, and damili-making (or terracotta or red clay craft making), among a host of others. All these areas are reachable by horse-drawn carriages or kalesas. Mayor Singson-Medina also laid the groundwork for the Vigan Conservation Complex, which is a vision that will see completion under the term of her son. The complex houses not only one museum, but three, featuring various periods of Vigan history—from the time of its early settlers, to the time of the Japanese occupation, and to the period of the saka-saka, that violent phase in Ilocos history defined by the bloody archrivalry between the Singson and the Crisologo clans. The Conservation Complex also features an Escuela Talyer or school for restorers, a product development center for ceramics, and a research center that will house digitized materials regarding the history of the north culled from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). Once the complex is opened to the public, students will be able
to use the interactive features of the museum such as the ability to build a digital house using traditional architectural features of doors, windows, and roof. The city has also been a recipient of a convergence fund from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Tourism (DOT) to develop Calle Ventura Delos Reyes and Plaridel Streets, which are streets parallel to Calle Crisologo, including all adjoining roads. Soon, these streets will also be paved with cobblestones sourced locally to ease the congestion at Calle Crisologo. Considering the city’s focus on conservation of its heritage,
it is but natural that the city adopted a Vigan Conservation Council, which reviews and approves applications for construction, renovation, restoration, and other works in the heritage district. It is composed of representatives from the local government, the academe, the homeowners association, nongovernment organizations, and the Church. The accolades of the city do not end there. Under a competition held by the Council for the Welfare of Children, Vigan had won as the most child-friendly city under the component city category three years in a row, from 2009 to 2011. In 2011, Vigan was elevated into the Hall of Fame of the competition, and now spends a great deal of its efforts in teaching other local
government units policies geared for the welfare of children in the community
A LOOK BACK AT VIGAN’S HISTORY
Long before it was called Vigan and before the arrival of the Spaniards, the lands lying in the delta of the Abra River and hemmed in by the Mestizo and the Govantes rivers were known as “Samtoy,” a contraction of the words “sao mi ditoy,” meaning “our language.” The area was already an important trading center for merchants from Japan, China, Malaya, India, and the local inhabitants composed mostly of Dumagats and Tinguians. Chinese junks laden with silk and porcelain regularly traded with the people from the Cordillera region, who brought with them gold and beeswax. As the goods brought by the Chinese junks were light, the Chinese would use piedra china or granite cobblestones as ballast, and would leave these stones
in the Samtoy once they had the goods they needed. These piedra china became the flooring material of stone houses and churches that are seen around Vigan to this day.
When the Spaniards arrived on the islands, the trading post captured their attention. It was also at that time that the place began to be called Vigan. The name originated from an often-told tale of a Spaniard walking along the banks of the Mestizo River where he met a native. When the Spaniard asked for the name of the place in the Spanish language and pointed to the ground, the local inhabitant did not understand him. But seeing that Spaniard was pointing to giant taro plant called Bigaa, the native exclaimed “Bigaa Apo.” Hence, the name Vigan. After the Spaniards established their colonial capital in Manila, Governor General Guido de Lavezares sent Captain Juan de Salcedo with 70 to 80 soldiers on a pacification or evangelization campaign to the north, beginning with Vigan (also spelled as Bigan). Salcedo arrived in Vigan on June 12, 1572. Don Juan de Salcedo christened the place “Villa Fernandina de Vigan” in honor of King Philip II’s son, Prince Ferdinand who died at the age of four. After Salcedo pacified Luzon, he was rewarded the province of Ylocos, then made up of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra, La Union, and some part of Mountain Province as his Encomienda, with Vigan as its capital. It was the Spaniards who designed the grid of streets and buildings according to a pattern inscribed in Ley de la Indias for all new towns in the Spanish Empire. A Papal Bull established the Nueva Segovia diocese in Cagayan’s city of
Lallo as the religious center of the North of Luzon. Due to the threat of flooding, the diocese was transferred to Vigan, which at the time was only a pueblo or town, and not yet a city, by virtue of the
Royal Decree of Sept. 7, 1758. By this Royal Decree, the new seat of the diocese was automatically elevated to the status of a city.
Today, the City Government of Vigan is the repository of a certified true copy of the Royal Decree issued by King Fernando VI. It states, among others, that so long as the cathedral stands and the seat of the diocese is in Vigan, it will always remain as a city.
FINDING ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE ON THE PHILIPPINE MAP
“You can be out all night long in Vigan and we can guarantee your safety,” Gov. Ryan and Mayor Carlo Medina of Vigan both say, and cite former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson for laying the
groundwork for their province’s enviable peace and order today. The strength of Singson’s political
dynasty in the province is viewed by his politically-inclined relatives and allies to signify peace and unity. Although Chavit ran and won as municipal councilor last year in Narvacan, as token political participation after announcing he has had enough of politics, he continues to be the fulcrum from which politics
in Ilocos Sur revolve. Many of his relatives and allies ran unopposed in the last 2016 elections, including Gov. Ryan (son), Vice Gov. Jerry Singson (brother), Vigan Mayor Carlo Medina (nephew), First District Rep. DV Savellano (partymate), and Second District Rep. Eric Singson (cousin).
The political clan attributes the sustained economic success of Ilocos Sur, specifically the cities of Vigan and Candon, to their collective political will and cooperation. Gov. Ryan notes that without the support and cooperation of elected leaders from various levels of governance in his province—from barangay officials and municipal council members to provincial board members and representatives in Congress—the task of rebuilding Vigan to its former glory days would have been impossible. Mayor Eva, mother of incumbent Mayor Carlo, is recognized as the key architect of Vigan’s transformation from a laid-back municipality to a vibrant city that attracts an average of a million visitors a year. She is the daughter of
the late former Ilocos Sur Gov. Evaristo “Toting” Singson, Chavit’s brother, who served as mayor of Vigan at the same time when Chavit was governor of Ilocos Sur from 1972 to 1986.
GETTING READY FOR METRO VIGAN
If size and population were the only bases for cityhood, Vigan would not have qualified as a city even today. According to figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority, Vigan does not have the minimum land area and population required by the Local Government Code for cityhood.
This is why a plan is already in place to develop a Metro Vigan, which includes the neighboring municipalities of Bantay, Caoayan, Sta. Catalina, San Ildefonso, and San Vicente. With Vigan’s growing
popularity among tourists and investors, more economic growth is expected in the next 10 years. Economic expansion is also forecast to happen to Candon City in the Second District, with spillover
economic benefits to neighboring towns: Santiago, San Esteban, Sta. Lucia, Sta. Cruz, Galimuyod, Salcedo, Tagudin, and Banayoyo.
The provincial government has both medium- and long-term plans to shepherd these developments. “We’re closely working with NEDA (National Economic Development Authority) and DPWH (Department of Public of Works and Highways) in identifying infrastructure projects to support our development projects,” he says. “While we wish to have more industries to hasten industrialization and generate more jobs for our people, we’re also focused on supporting our farmers because our province is still basically an agricultural area.”
KEYS TO COMPETITIVENESS
The first six years of Gov. Ryan’s incumbency saw Ilocos Sur’s steady rise in the competitiveness index as monitored by the National Competitiveness Council. The province now ranks 11th, just a notch behind Ilocos Norte, and is expected to be in the top 10 before his third and final term as governor, which ends in 2019.
The local government unit is in talks with potential investors from other countries—Malaysia, Indonesia, and China—for projects that qualify under the Public-Private Partnership Program of the government. “Most of these are outside Vigan so that we can continue to protect our cultural heritage and allow other towns to grow and prosper,” says the governor. The province is particularly bullish about attracting business from China, the world’s newest economic powerhouse, because of its relative proximity.
Gov. Ryan’s vision is to “create a productive, investment-friendly, and safe heritage province,” anchored on a 10-year (2010-2020) development plan that promotes industrial peace, green economy, employment generation, and poverty reduction.