Cebu ‘poverty capital of the Philippines’ | Inquirer Opinion

Cebu ‘poverty capital of the Philippines’

(Conclusion of a series on Iloilo)

As the Spanish empire surrendered Manila to the US invasion on Dec. 24, 1898, Iloilo waned as the “Queen City of the South.” In his book “A Queen Dies Slowly: The Rise and Decline of Iloilo City,” the American historian Alfred W. McCoy writes ruefully about the demise of the crown jewel of Spain’s possessions in the Philippines. He defends Iloilo’s status as the “Queen City of the South” against the assault of people who claim that with Iloilo’s economic decline, its crown as the second city after Manila in Hispanic Philippines had now passed to Cebu City. He argues that it was the “Queen”—the symbolic name of Iloilo—that was eroded by Cebu’s challenge, but it has not lost its title as the “Queen City of the South.”


In his effort to illuminate the distinctions between the cities of Cebu and Iloilo, McCoy stops short of saying, “The Queen is dead, long live the Queen!” Meanwhile, the rivalry between the two cities continued to fester after the end of Spanish rule.

The contentious debate between the respective supporters of Iloilo and Cebu over Iloilo’s status as the preeminent second city after Manila intensified after Gov. Diego de los Rios abandoned Manila and surrendered the sovereignty of Spain’s last colony to the triumphant revolutionary army of Iloilo.


In that debate, the newspaper Ilonggo Weekly has weighed in with articles emphasizing the “pivotal role” played by Iloilo in the formation of the Philippines as a nation and its independence. It asserted that the Philippine flag bears witness to Iloilo as the “Queen City of the South.” It pointed out that on the proclamation of the independence of the Philippine Republic on June 12, 1898, the first Filipino flag unfurled on that occasion contained the three principal islands of the archipelago—Luzon, Mindanao and Panay.

“Astonishingly, of all the clusters of islands, only Panay is mentioned and the only city there was Iloilo,” an article stated, adding that for Mindanao, “Davao has no city and interestingly, any of the three stars would not represent Cebu.” It’s compelling evidence that one of the three stars in the flag depicts Iloilo—the “Queen City of the South”—where “nationalism emanates from powerful and illustrious families and the Ilonggo Nation.”

On Dec. 13, 1898, Gen. E. S. Otis sent a cablegram to Washington forwarding a request of Iloilo businessmen “appreciating the desirability of securing possession of this city, the second of the Philippines in importance.”

In the debate over which between Iloilo and Cebu was the most important second city of the islands during the Spanish colonial period, the Ilonggo Weekly argues that historical material showed why Iloilo “is irrevocably possessing… the ‘Eternal Title’ as the ‘Queen City of the South’ in modern times.”

The paper cites “important things to ponder that prove Iloilo has got what it takes,” such as:

  • Iloilo scores highest in the human development index in the Visayas and Mindanao, and the quality of life is better than in any other area in Western Visayas.
  • Its banks have more than P60 billion in savings compared to other areas in the Philippines, indicating that the elites do not control its economy and the general population has disposable cash saved in banks.
  • Its soil is so fertile that it produces any kind of crop such as rice, corn and sugarcane. Its ships deliver rice to different areas in the country.
  • Cebu cannot attain this, due to its limestone plateaus, coastal plains with predominantly rolling hills, and rugged terrain traversing the northern and southern lengths of the island.
  • Iloilo gives Negros Occidental its power supply.
  • Despite its small population and land area, Iloilo revenue collection is third nationwide. The first and second have bigger populations and are geographically attached to Manila; expectedly, they have manufacturing industries.
  • The population of Iloilo is only over 2 million and it has 10 universities, while the population of Cebu is over 4 million and it has 16 universities.
  • Iloilo has 13 health-care providers, while Cebu has 12.
  • Iloilo was lowest in poverty incidence in 2012, among Davao, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Negros Occidental, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB).
  • Cebu’s economy is evident in its manufacturing and shipping industries and business and tourism sectors. It has improved the cityscape with skyscrapers, but the economic fundamentals are telling an entirely different story. The NSCB poverty statistics negate Cebu’s claim of prosperity because it does not translate to improvement of its people’s living conditions. While a few families and a number of foreign investors funnel billions of pesos into its banks, the rich are getting richer and the magnitude of household poverty is steadily getting worse, making Cebu tops in the whole Philippines in poverty incidence.
  • A big number of households in Cebu are consistently sliding downhill, and still rising. It is supposedly a land of opportunity for people to make better lives for themselves, but what’s happening is quite the reverse because 40 percent of its population are battling poverty.
  • All these socioeconomic data reveal the “troubling reality that Cebu is the poverty capital of the Philippines.”

• While admittedly large, Cebu island “actually suffers from much reduced land area for agricultural development.” It has no room for agriculture.

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TAGS: cebu, Iloilo, Queen City of the South, spanish rule
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