Miagao, Iloilo Province. In our opinion, Miagao should be a top pick retirement destination for those who are looking for and can adapt to life in Philippine a small town. Here’s why. A major University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UPV) campus is located in Miagao. Its presence, and the students and faculty associated with UPV give Miagao a more upscale, genteel character than most Philippine small towns. It has more amenities and services than other towns of its size. The municipal infrastructure and maintenance are exceptionally good. The Miagao public market is one of the cleanest, friendliest, best-run markets we’ve seen in the Philippines.
The dominating presence of the 18th century Miagao Church, a designated UNESCO world heritage site, in the center of the town is a pleasant change from the jumble of dirty post-war concrete structures which constitute the heart many Philippine small towns.
Miagao is slightly reminiscent of Dumaguete, another, much larger Philippine college town. Miagao has a bit of the college town gentility of Dumaguete, but does not have the more extensive shopping, medical care, dining and accommodation amenities which Dumaguete offers. You’ll have to travel 40KM to Iloilo City for most services. Nor does it have the hundreds of foreigners, beggars, bars and bar girls and crime, which for us have somewhat dimmed Dumaguete’s luster.
Miagao is a bit refined but still is a small Philippine place. Please see our short essay of life in the provinces.
We find the Ateneo de Manila’s Panublion heritage site to be a real treasure. Explore it yourself at: http://www.ateneo.edu/offices/mirlab/panublion/r6_miagao.html
Here’s what it says about the Miagao Church: “Santo Tomás de Villanueva Parish In 1993, Miagao church was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List under the title “Baroque churches of the Philippines.” The town was a visita of Oton until 1580, then annexed to Tigbauan until 1592, to San Joaquin until 1703, Guimbal until 1731 when it was raised to an independent parish. However, it was only 1734 that Miagao had a resident priest, Fr. Fernando Camporredondo. The original town site was by the sea in a place called Ubos (Hiligaynon for lower place). A church and other structures were built around 1734 but in 1741 the church was burnt during a slave raid. Fr. Camporredendo who ministered in Miagao from 1734-37, 44-50 built a second church during his second term. This lasted a handful of years because in 1754, the town was looted and burnt during another raid. Because of its vulnerability to raids, the Augustinians transferred the town up a hill called Tacas. There Fr. Francisco Mayo began building the present church in the year 1786. The structure was completed in 1797. Stones were quarried from San Joaquin and Igbaras. Fr. Francisco Perez added a story to the left tower in 1839. In 1864, Fr. Agustín Escudero restored the church. In 1880 Fr. José Sacristán decorated the interior. Early in the 20th century, the church was burnt during the Philippine American war and used as headquarters and barracks during World War II. The interior of the church was greatly damaged. In 1948, 1959, and in the 1970 the church was restored. Restoration is an ongoing concern as the soft yellow sandstone used in the church erodes easily.”
Exuberant a word that captures the spirit of the stone carving on the pediment of the Miagao Church. If anyone has any questions about what “tropical Baroque” means, a visit to this church should be an education. St. Christopher is shown carrying the diminutive baby Jesus though a grove of palms, papaya and other stylized tropical vegetation. The carving, probably done by Chinese craftsmen, is bold, imaginative and delightful. What was the intention of the artists? Alicia M.L. Coseteng speculates that “the intention…was to show that the same Christopher who ferried the Child Jesus across the biblical river to safety could well have crossed the seas to implant a rich and abundant faith in these islands…” (Coseteng, Spanish Churches of the Philippines, 1972).