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A pocket of peace and quiet

By BUTCH DALISAY, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 05, 2023 5:00 am

Roxas City, the capital of Capiz, is proud to declare itself the “Seafood Capital of the Philippines” as well, but I didn’t even know that when I booked a flight for me and my wife Beng last month to spend a few days in Roxas.

I still had a few “super passes” I’d bought a bunch of from an airline promo last year and they were expiring soon, so as Beng and I are wont to do, we decided to pick a place on that airline’s list of destinations, one where we’d never been before. It would help that Beng was Ilongga, and having been married to her for almost 50 years, I could understand Hiligaynon, so getting around would be no problem.

The “seafood capital” tag popped up when I googled “Roxas City” for ideas about where to go and what to do—that was the clincher for me, the scourge of crabs, shrimp, scallops, and all aquatic arthropods.

An hour-long plane ride from Manila deposited us in Roxas City’s airport, which has the advantage of being a short tricycle ride away from downtown.

The Immaculate Conception church in the city plaza.

For our “hotel,” I picked out, online, a place called the Olive Hostel, which proved to be an adventure on its own. At just over P1K a night with free breakfast and within walking distance of Western civilization, it seemed just right for Beng and me, who don’t insist on five-star luxury.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live in a container, well, we found out. It literally was built out of steel containers piled on top of each other, with doors and windows cut out. But don’t get me wrong: it was all very capably and tastefully done, and as tiny as our quarters were, it was actually quite cozy; the bathrooms were immaculately clean and the wi-fi was strong. There was no TV, but we made up for that by watching Netflix on my laptop, perched on my tummy. (Beng and I are used to tiny hotels in HK, Japan, and Korea; I’m usually claustrophobic, but I don’t feel that with Beng beside me.)

The Olive Hostel’s grounds were, by contrast, spacious and very well maintained, lovely especially in the evening. For those seeking more traditional lodgings, the President’s Inn downtown comes highly recommended. Among the city’s newest and most modern hotels, three—the Veronica, the Urban Manor, and the Islands—can be found in Pueblo de Panay township.

Exhibits at the Panublion Museum.

Roxas City has one of the prettiest and cleanest plazas I’ve seen around the country, small but the very picture of what a plaza has always been in our provincial imaginations, with City Hall, the church, and a park with a bandstand beside a river.

To one corner stands the Panublion Museum, a cleverly repurposed water tank that showcases highlights of Capiznon history and culture. Managed by its very capable director, Cheryl Anne del Rosario, Panublion features the personal memorabilia of the city’s favorite son, President Manuel A. Roxas, including the flag flown at the July 4, 1946 inaugural of Philippine postwar independence. (President Roxas’ ancestral home is not too far away and is open for public viewing, but was closed on the day we toured the city.)

The museum also showcases the tools and finery of the province’s and island’s indigenous peoples. Most captivating were the exhibits featuring Capiz’s two female National Artists—Jovita Fuentes for Music and Daisy Avellana for Theater. Fuentes’ golden gown contrasted sharply with the suit of armor worn by Avellana as Joan of Arc. Entrance to the museum is free, but donations are welcome.

A river cruise at the Palina Greenbelt Ecopark.

On our first night we walked out to a neighborhood restaurant where the chicken inasal was P108 with unlimited rice and a surprisingly good fruit drink, plus lomi at P68. We had the obligatory seafood lunch in one of the many restaurants along Baybay (literally, the beach), but much more charming and restful was a similar lunch on a bamboo raft on the river at the Palina Greenbelt Ecopark, normally part of a lazy cruise (the tide was too low when we arrived for any cruising, but the scenery was enough to soothe the senses).

Roxas has no shortage of malls for the urban dweller. The usual suspects—SM, Gaisano, CityMall—line the main highway downtown. Its equivalent of Metro Manila’s BGC is the 670-hectare Pueblo de Panay township, a residential and commercial development project master-planned by a Singaporean company and offering the most modern facilities and amenities to Capiz’s and Panay’s rising middle class.

Butch and Beng Dalisay with Harriette Banzon and the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue.

A mutual friend—the peripatetic Susan Claire Agbayani—introduced us to Hariette Ong Banzon and her husband Peter, the couple behind the Pueblo, who invited us to dinner at Cafe Terraza, their hilltop restaurant offering a panoramic view of the city far below.

But before dinner, Hariette made sure to bring us to see the project dearest to her heart and now one of the city’s—indeed the island’s—most remarkable landmarks: the 132-foot statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which Harriette commissioned following the miraculous cure of a relative. Hariette and Peter—incidentally both fellow PSHS alumni, so we had other memories to share—are people of faith and conscience, reflecting their values in their optimism about Roxas City’s prospects and the way they run their business.

For all the things we seek in this troubled world—a pocket of peace and quiet, good food, rejuvenation of body and soul, and friendly people— Roxas City has much to offer, and we can only give it our ultimate accolade: “We’ll be back!”