Pax Panayana

Very little has been written about inter-island migration in the Philippines and it is a rarely discussed topic in the academe. We are in the verge of creating a universal national language. As such, it is inevitable that intensified interaction between ethno-linguistic groups and cultural exchange on an inter-regional basis will greatly shape national identity formation in the 21st century. Local diaspora politics is the name of the game.

More West Visayans live scattered throughout the country and the world than in Western Visayas itself. Negros Occidental has more ‘Ilonggos’ than Iloilo or any other predominantly Hiligaynon-speaking province in the country while Cotabato (North), South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat in southern Mindanao have ‘Ilonggo’ plurality populations outnumbering the Muslim and lumad natives. Metropolitan Manila and its adjacent provinces received an influx of West Visayan migrants towards the end of World War II after the closure of the Iloilo port to international trade and the economic bust of the sugar industry in Negros Island. Collectively, they are known as the diaspora of Panay.

panay map

Panay Island and its neighboring islands.

PANAY: The West Visayan Heartland

Theories behind the origins of the island’s name revolve around two beliefs: Aninipay – coined by the ati or Negrito natives that inhabited the island long before the arrival of Malayo-Polynesian settlers and the other stems from Pan-ay, a municipality in Capiz province, where the first Spanish pueblo (settlement) on the island was established in the 16th century. Though disputed by historians, the island is also said to be the landing sight of the ten Bornean datu who arrived with kinsmen establishing the country’s first Malay settlement in the 12th century after fleeing from civil strife in their homeland.

The heart-shaped island of Panay is the cradle of West Visayan culture and civilization as it gave birth to the Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a and Aklanon languages. Today, there are roughly 11 to 13 million speakers of West Visayan languages throughout the country. Hiligaynon arguably has more speakers than Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Manx and Cornish combined. As a region, the boundaries of Western Visayas were frequently altered as it once included the province of Negros Occidental until 2015 and for brief periods in history, Romblon and Palawan. It also embraces the island-province of Guimaras just across the Iloilo Strait. It is also home to the great Hinilawod (Tales from the Halawod River) epic, a chanted oral tradition by the indigenous Panay Bukidnon tribe in the mountains of central Panay.

Villa Beach

Villa Beach, Arevalo, Iloilo City

What Is This About?

I am blogging about the West Visayan diaspora. I am mad about diaspora politics. It is surprising how many people claim ‘Ilonggo’ or West Visayan origin despite barely having any connection to the island of Panay. Many hardly even speak any of its three main languages. Others were not born or raised there. This reminds me of a phenomenon in the United States where many Americans claim to be Irish or German but essentially have nothing to do with Ireland or Germany at all. Similar to the ethnic Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, the Panayanon have a strong sense of heritage loyalty with a tendency to reconnect with their ethno-linguistic roots.

As a college student, I noticed the University of San Agustin Library having a Panayana Studies section dedicated entirely to the study of West Visayan culture, heritage and linguistics while the University of the Philippines-Visayas had the Center for West Visayan Studies, a research arm that serves the same purpose. While glancing through old family pictures, it occurred to me how much our personal lives are very much linked to our country’s history regardless of whatever region we may have originated from.

Contrary to what we learn from social studies class, the Philippines is actually a colorful mosaic of diverse facets. Sadly, many Filipino children in big cities grow up disconnected from their ancestral roots. As a child, my parents avoided the prospects of provincial life with the fear of being labelled as promdi, a derogatory term for people from the countryside who lack sophistication and urban taste. Geographic discrimination is still a reality in Filipino society today. But moving to Iloilo in 2006 opened my eyes as it enabled me to rediscover my heritage, a life-changing experience far greater than what any university could have offered me.


The author at Phoenix Park in Dublin.

Why I Write This Blog

Among the turning points that drove me to start a blog was the harrowing experience of my paternal grandparents’ house in Pilar, Capiz burning down to ashes in a 2007 fire accident. From then on, my idea of home and belongingness gradually shifted from the material to the metaphysical: I wanted to make up for something that was lost as a form of therapy. I came to accept that people, time and space constantly come and go. Being part of a diaspora, I feel obliged to write about my heritage and my personal experiences. A collection of documentary and literary output based entirely upon personal memory and constant reflection. As an individual, I want to write about the society and culture that defines me. About a people who are but a mere microcosm in the phenomenon of national and global migration.