Witnesses to a forgotten and perilous past: Guimbal’s Bantayan and Kota of Miag-ao
Iloilo, being the seat of power of Spain in Western Visayas and a main supply route to the south in the colonial period, has been an attractive target for foreign skirmishes aiming to weaken the Spanish hold in the islands. Moro raids and attacks by the Dutch in the southern coasts of Panay led to the construction of fortifications aimed at warning and defending several settlements and towns. Now centuries after they were built, these structures now stand as a living reminder of the once perilous times.
Of the many colonial watchtowers and fortifications in the coasts of Iloilo, I was blessed to visit two of them – the Bantayan at Guimbal, and the Kota of Miag-ao. Both built to defend their towns, but have different stories to tell.
Kota of Miag-ao
Built in 1760 by the Spanish expeditionary forces, it was aimed as both a watchtower and a fortress against the Muslim invaders and other colonial marauders.
In 1994, it was renovated and converted into a multi-purpose hall and barangay office of the Baybay Norte, Miag-ao. The hall sits on top of the tower (while the bottom was filled with cement to strengthen the base). What remains of the kota is a good evidence of Ilonggo ingenuity – it was built with coral stones held together by mortar.
Many believe the original structure was built through forced labor in the Spanish era.
Baybay Norte is a few blocks away from the town proper. One may reach it by riding tricycles from the town proper.
Bantayan of Guimbal
Along the coasts of Guimbal, stands a perfectly preserved 17th century Moro watchtower. It was used as a look out to forewarn the people of the town and prepare them to defend Guimbal from marauding Moro pirate raiders who capture locals and sell them at slave markets in Kolambogan, Mindanao (now part of Zamboanga peninsula) during the Spanish colonial era.
The watchtower near the Bantayan Resort is four to five meters high, giving a commanding view of the beach and the sea.
The Guimbal watchtower has earned a distinguishable reputation for the town because of its iconic crown-like shape. The tower is now part of the town seal and is the inspiration behind the annual Bantayan Festival which is being held in every April.
Why the several incursions at Iloilo?
According to the late Professor Funtecha, there are several reasons why the province, especially its coasts, was subjected to frequent pirate raids and foreign attacks. He cited these reasons:
1. Iloilo, prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, was already a thriving community and has attained a significant degree of progress as compared to other Visayan islands. It is the leading position of Iloilo that it suffered greatly from frequent attacks from the Moros.
2. Upon the arrival of the Spaniards, Iloilo had already centers of population that is trading with different groups of communities, some as far as China. It appears therefore that there was much that Iloilo could offer to the Moros in terms of wealth and pillage.
3. Geography. Iloilo, being the southern territory of Panay Island, faces the vast Sulu sea which separates it from Moro communities in Mindanao and some in southern Palawan. Panay is also strategically important because it serves as a gateway to other Visayan Islands. An outpost in the island would serve as a convenient base in attacking other nearby islands.
4. Because of its strategic, demographic, and geographic importance, Iloilo became the political, military and religious seat of the Spanish regime in the Visayas and Mindanao. Iloilo became an important link of the supply chain in aiding the conquistadores in the southern islands. One important Moro motivation therefore was to destroy Spanish power in Iloilo so as to weaken the colonizers’ capability in attacking Mindanao and Sulu.
From Iloilo International Airport:
- You can take the Shuttle Bus going to SM City, Iloilo.
- From SM City, Iloilo, take the SM Mandurriao jeepney and take a stop at the nearby intersection under the overpass and ride the Oton or Villa-Mohon bound jeep going to the jeepney terminal located in Mohon, Oton.
- In Mohon Oton Terminal, there will be several Miag-ao jeepneys ready to take you there. You can opt to be dropped at Guimbal for the watchtower (near Bantayan Beach Resort).
From Iloilo City Proper
- Take the Miag-ao bound jeepney from Super terminal, Iloilo City.
- You can also take buses going to Anini-y or Dao Antique in Molo Terminal. Tell the bus conductor to drop you off in Miag-ao town proper or Guimbal (near Bantayan Beach Resort)
For Private Transportation:
- Guimbal is 27 kilometers while Miag-ao is 37 kilometers away from Iloilo City.
- Take a drive along Iloilo- Antique National Road would get you to Guimbal in half an hour and to Miag-ao in about 45 minutes.