The Panay Diaspora: An Introduction


Muelle Loney: The historic port of Iloilo was opened to international trade in 1856 establishing direct commercial links to Europe and Asia-Pacific making it a major trading hub in Southeast Asia at the time. It brought immense wealth to the Philippines through the export of sugar from Negros Occidental and later enabled the massive exodus of West Visayan migrant laborers to other parts of the country.

The West Visayans are a migratory and influential people who have greatly contributed to the development of Philippine cultural identity and nationhood. They gave us La Paz Batchoy, Pancit Molo and Chicken Inasal. But their historic significance actually spans beyond just that. Even the famed island of Boracay, Kalibo’s Ati-atihan and Bacolod’s MasKarra festivals pale to the colorful history of West Visayan migration.

From Panay Island, they have spread across the archipelago with a huge diaspora in Negros Occidental, southern Mindanao and Metro Manila followed by significant pocket communities in Palawan, Mindoro, Masbate and Romblon. Western Visayas may only have 4.2 million inhabitants as a region but there are roughly 7 to 8 million people throughout the Philippines who claim to be of “Ilonggo” or West Visayan origin. The so called 13 million-strong “Ilonggo vote” or “Ilonggo consumer base” is a politicized phenomenon many politicians and businessmen have attempted to capitalize on. Yet they are also a complex people subdivided into three linguistic groups: Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a and Aklanon.


Western Visayas has produced national icons like President Manuel Roxas, first president of the Third Philippine Republic, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, first Asian woman from a developing state to be elected judge at the International Criminal Court, Graciano Lopez Jaena, orator and co-founder of the La Solidaridad movement, as well as national artists Jovita Fuentes (international musical performer), and Leandro Locsin (architect of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Philippine International Convention Center, Folk Arts Theater and the Sultanate of Brunei’s Istana Nurul Iman) among others. Many of Manila’s leading industrialists such as the Lopez, Araneta, Benedicto and Sarabia clans trace their roots in Western Visayas.

West Visayans are often erroneously referred to by other Filipinos as ‘Ilonggos’, probably due to the emergence of the Iloilo international trading port and the booming sugar industry of Negros Occidental, which have brought immense wealth to the country in the mid-19th century onward. Many emigres from Panay found it convenient to label themselves as “people from Iloilo” while rich sugar barons and oppressed planation workers in western Negros Island, mostly descendants of emigres from Iloilo province, often called themselves “Ilonggo”. Thus, the Aklanon, Antiqueño and Capiznon were absorbed into the Ilonggo fold. Since then, the words “Iloilo” and “Ilonggo” have left an indelible imprint on the popular Filipino conscience.


A map of Panay, Guimaras and northern Negros.


But according to Dr. Leoncio Deriada of the University of the Philippines-Visayas, the usage of the term “Ilonggo” is technically incorrect when pertaining to the people of Western Visayas collectively as it merely applies to a person from Iloilo. Hence, many have proposed the use of West Visayan, Panayan or even Panayanon as a more proper term.

Originating from Pilar, Capiz, my parents left the island of Panay for Manila in their early 20s. Many of our relatives have built new lives in Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces. Others have left Western Visayas generations ago. None of my paternal first cousins were born in Panay. Neither me nor my sister were born nor raised in this region. I never had a strong consciousness of my heritage until I moved to Iloilo City  for college as a teenager. Now that I no longer live in the region, the feeling of belonging to a diaspora really fascinates me.

This blog attempts to map out the cultural identity of West Visayans and their significance to Filipino nationhood. Aside from my personal thoughts on society, lifestyle, art, cinema and literature, this compilation gathers inspirational stories of the Panayanon and their descendants elsewhere, their culture, heritage and history. They serve as reminders of the past, present and future enriching our human experience and the way Filipinos view themselves. This is dedicated to my family, relatives and friends who are also members of the great diaspora.


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