San Joaquin is a town that sits on the border of Iloilo and Antique. It faces the Sulu sea and is surrounded by hills. The masterpiece of the town’s heritage gems are the Yglesia, an outstanding example of hispano-filipino architecture and the Old Catholic cemetery. The latter is believed to be the finest Camposanto (old Catholic graveyard) in the region. Its wall and the chapel was built using fossil seashell rocks and to this day has retained much of its original construction. The neogothic cemetery chapel is perhaps the only existing building of its kind constructed during the Spanish Philippine era.
The town once had a good cluster of antilean houses. Unfortunately, it was set ablaze by the guerilla forces in the area during the Japanese occupation. The church was not spared and was damaged but it survived and was later repaired. This coastal town has a relatively small population and is one of the cleanest in the province. Overshadowed by its more popular neighbor Miagao, San Joaquin, is one of those unique and charming sleepy towns that is a must visit if you appreciate history and architecture.
CNN featured the town in its CNNgo page “25 of Asia’s most overlooked destinations” and has this to say about their visit, “In a province crammed with Spanish colonial monuments, you’d hardly think that a little church tucked away in a sleepy town would cause a stir. Wrong. The little-known San Joaquin Church in the Filipino province of Iloilo is a shocker. Instead of limestone bricks and Virgin Marys, its bass relief disquietingly depicts a bloody battle scene, complete with rifle action and men jostled off horses. The only church in the Philippines with a “military theme,” the San Joaquin Church was erected in 1869 to commemorate how the Spanish thrashed the Moors in the Battle of Tetuan”.
Layug, the renowned Filipino church researcher referred to the church as the “most militaristic”. It facade have this detailed bas relief (originally pigmented) that illustrates the epic battle of Tetuán. The relief of the Rendición de Tetuan is the depiction of the legendary Prime Minister Leopold O’Donell’s greatest achievement. O’Donnell commandeered almost 40 thousand soldiers and defeated the Morrocans. What’s remarkable is that O’Donnell just took a respite from his prime ministerial duties to personally handle the conflict. He would be known in Spanish history as Duque de Tetuán. O’Donnell was a Spanish statesman of Irish descent.
The building of Iglesia de San Joaquin was entirely an Augustinian affair. Padre Santaren together with a peninsular Ingeniero of Iloilo named Felipe Díaz produced the plan. The sculptors of the Rendicion however has remained a mystery. Some suggest that they were skilled Chinese artisans that were converted to Catholicism. While others believe that the sculptors came all the way from Mexico. Beside San Joaquin’s church are the ruins of the convent. According to accounts, there was once an oval well and a kiln for breaking bread. The natives first learned to bake bread here.
The Rendición de Tetuan was created to rally the community behind the struggle against the frequent piratical attacks. Known to scatter and destroy communities that the missionaries had worked hard to bring together. The area, due to its proximity to Mindanao, has been known grounds for slave raids. This religious art presents to us the ingenuity of the Friar. Understanding that moral is just as important as everything else, they made something that they knew would inspire the Joaquinense’s of how the faith was defended. It was in Layug’s words “a larger than life depiction of the struggle between the Christians and the Moros”.
Going to San Joaquin is a ride away from Iloilo City.The terminal is located in Arevalo (Villa).I traveled through scenic and historic coastal towns of Iloilo – I’ve lost count how many bridges were crossed– more or less 50 km from the ciudad, an hour to get there. The sights made itwell worth it. San Joaquin is the last southern town before Antique.