By Emme Rose S. Santiagudo, Correspondent

ILOILO CITY — The opening of the restored main building of the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV), which served as Iloilo’s first government hall, adds to the roster of historical and cultural attractions here.

Designed by renowned Filipino architect Juan Marcos Arellano — who also designed Manila’s Metropolitan Theater, the Central Post Office Building, and the Legislative Building that is now the National Museum of Fine Arts — the UPV building was inaugurated in 1936 alongside the elevation of Iloilo from a municipality to a chartered city in December that year.

Mr. Arellano tapped the help of his Italian friend, sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti, particularly for the two bronze male statues at the building’s main entrance, representing the concept of “Law and Order.”

“Essentially, the building is neo-classical, putting emphasis on the compactness and the space, at the same time ventilation because the idea is an open and spacious office space,” Randy M. Madrid, director of the UPV Center for West Visayan Studies, said in an interview during the unveiling ceremony on Aug. 16.

Doña Juliana Melliza donated the 10,000-square meter lot to the government in 1929.

The construction of the building started in 1931 and was completed at a cost of P90,000.

During World War II — still the biggest building in the city — it was used by the invading Japanese army as a garrison.

After the war, the city government decided to donate the building to UP in order to establish a UP Junior College in Iloilo.

The mayor at that time was Fernando H. Lopez, who would later hold other government posts, including vice-president of the country.

In 1947, the UP Iloilo College was formally opened.

It was renovated in 1950 with the help of the Philippine War Damage Commission. Now, nearly 70 years later, the building has been fully restored.

The building’s P54-million restoration was funded under the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon and Antique Rep. Loren B. Legarda were among those who pushed for the restoration of the building.

Mr. Drilon, a graduate of the school, has fond memories of his school days.

“I studied high school here and it brings back a lot of memories. I am very pleased with what the NHCP has done. It gives pride to the Ilonggos that we are able to restore these buildings to make them conscious of its rich culture and historical background,” Mr. Drilon said during the turnover ceremony.

NHCP Chairperson Rene R. Escalante led the formal turnover to the UP, represented by UP President Danilo L. Concepcion and witnessed by UPV Chancellor Ricardo P. Babaran and Vice-Chancellor for Planning and Development Martin G. Genodepa.

Mr. Madrid said they are hoping that the opening of the building to the public would contribute to the city’s tourism industry.

He said, “When Iloilo City was dubbed as the ‘Queen City of the South’ (a title that is now also attributed to Cebu), many major activities happened here and in the different parts of the city. Now, we are hoping that this structure can contribute something to the tourism development of Iloilo City.”

Among Iloilo City’s other historical-cultural sites are the Molo Mansion; the Jaro Cathedral; Calle Real in the downtown area; the Western Visayas Regional Museum at the old Iloilo Provincial Jail; the Museum of Philippine Economic History, housed at the Elizalde Building Iloilo; the Museum Contemporary Arts at the Iloilo Business Park; Nelly’s Garden, also known as the “Lopez Heritage House” in Jaro District; and the Old Customs House of Iloilo, also known as “Aduana in Muelley Loney St.”