Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Iloilo River during the American period

WHEN THE Americans took over the governance of the Philippines, the first major improvement done in Iloilo was with the port in the Iloilo River because of its leading importance in Philippine economic activities at that time.

Improvements were provided for by Act No. 641 appropriating $150,000 in United currency for this purpose (Report of Philippine Commission, 1903). Work started in 1904 when the Philippine Commission contracted the J.G. White and Co. to dredge the river from the mouth of the Custom House at a depth of not less than 15 feet at low water and to rebuild the existing retaining wall (Worcester, 1904). Seven hundred eighty-three feet of river wall and 1,290 feet of reinforced concrete wharf, both to accommodate vessels of 18 feet at low water, were built along the south bank of the middle reach of the river. These were completed in March 1907. All in all, P1,000 was spent for the dredging of the Iloilo River and the improvements done on the wharf (120 th Port Anniversary, 1975). In the same year, pillotes were erected in order to facilitate the docking of ships.

The dredging work done on the Iloilo River from 1904 to 1907 enabled the government to reclaim 210,000 square meters of land along the banks, especially the lower portion of the area between the river and Fort San Pedro.
More improvements were done from 1908 to 1915. The insular government purchased a new dredge for the construction of the concrete marginal wharf with road connections and part of the dredging operations to include the turning basin (Report of the Philippine Commission, 1908).

The dredging projects and maintenance made the Iloilo River deep. As a result, it was able to accommodate larger vessels both in foreign operation and domestic shipping. Thus, by 1916, it was clearing more ships than Manila. It cleared 6,071 vessels totaling 398,130 tons, compared to Manila’s 2,849 vessels of 343,600 tons (Iloilo Provincial Historical Committee, 1975). That year, Iloilo also got a new custom house and, as if to prove that the Iloilo port was the heart of the city’s economic life, it was made the tallest building in the city that time. It is noteworthy to mention that Iloilo was the second port of call in the Philippines during this time as far as coast-wise shipping was concerned David, 1937).
In 1926, 115 meters of concrete river wall was added and, in the following year, rock jetties were put up at the river mouth to prevent erosion and formation of mud bars. In 1929, more dredging was was done to further improve the operations of the Iloilo port (Quintilla,1992). Again, in 1927, because of the dredging activity, a greater expanse of land (the later site of the Iloilo airport and now partly occupied by Camp Delgado and squatters), was reclaimed.

To serve the growing number of sea-going vessels sailing into the Iloilo port, dockyards and machine shops were established along the inner portion of the river. Those that were already operating in the 1920’s were the Visayan Stevedore and Transportation Co. (VISTRANCO), Iloilo Drydock and Engineering Co. (IDECO) and Taller Bisayas Strachan and McMurray. In the late 1930’s, two more establishments were added, namely: Commonwealth Foundry Shops and Dolendo Engineering, also known as La Paz Engineering.

With the reclamation of low-lying areas along the Iloilo River, more roads were constructed leading to the heart of the town of Iloilo. Notable among these was the extension of the Muelle Loney road from Calle Arroyo to the Casa Real or the Provincial Capitol (Versoza, 1937).

In 1937, because of the situation of the Iloilo River, the government appropriated P420,000 for dredging it and P98,165.40 for port maintenance (David, 1937). As can be seen, a lot of dredging and improvement were done on the Iloilo River and the port during the American period. These projects had far-reaching effects on the physical character and economy of the Iloilo town.

source: The News Today, July 1, 2005.


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