On February 2, we visited Sulu Garden, a fine restaurant set in a lovely Japanese and Philippine inspired garden in Miag-ao, west of Iloilo City along the south coast of Panay.


We enjoyed a good meal and much hilarity.  If you read these posts on laughter



you will recognize the phenomenon and even the two comedians!




In back of the dining area we discovered a small museum with two large dioramas of events important in the history of Miag-ao.  Jonathan Matias, the owner, showed us around this museum.  He has done most of the research, driven by the belief that local history must be made accessible and interesting, especially to younger people.  As he writes about the salt making tradition in Miag-ao (see the end of this post for more on this), “It is not always the responsibility of the young to know, it is our responsibility to teach them. And part of this responsibility is to make local knowledge accessible, more known to them. Hence, it is our responsibility to make it easier for the future generation to know a lot more about our old local traditions. They simply won’t likely do it themselves and these articles on the Asinderos hopefully may become a tool to make that awareness happen. At least for now preserve the knowledge for the future when they are ready to care.”


This diorama shows the battle of Miag-ao, or Salakayan, that began on May 7, 1754 and continued for some days.  The Christianized settlers and Spanish soldiers repulsed Moro (Muslim) raiders from Mindanao in the Sulu Sea.  This was one of many battles fought between Spaniards and Muslims over decades.  Perhaps you can read the details in this photo (and if you can’t, you’ll find links to the history at the end of this post).


Jonathan has done most of the research on these battles, as well as on many other cultural and historic topics.  As he notes in his description of Salakayan, most of the history comes from Spanish records.  He is looking for Muslim records that would show these events from a different perspective.  In a book issued for the 300th anniversary of the Miag-ao church, he wrote two articles about Salakayan, one from the perspective of a Christian settler at the time, the other from that of a Moro warrior.  (Clint Eastwood did something similar in his two treatments of the battle of Iwo Jima: “Flags of our Fathers” tells the American story; “Letters from Iwo Jima” the Japanese side).  You can read Jonathan’s articles at:




The second diorama shows a dramatic event in the history of the war between the Katipunan, the Filipino revolutionary movement that defeated the Spanish, and the American soldiers who came to take their new-won freedom away from the Filipinos.  On April 28, 1900, a truce was declared under extraordinary terms that both sides honored.  Read the poster for the rest of the story!


Jonathan pointed out that the women on a stage in the center were the prettiest in the village: a distraction calculated to keep the two warring sides on the straight and narrow path to the truce agreement.  You can see that they are strategically placed between the American troops coming from the left and the Filipinos advancing from the right!

He also told me that it is now known that it was not the American Army’s 18th  Volunteer Infantry Regiment that garrisoned the town of Miag-ao in 1900 but Company M of the 26th Infantry.  One of the US soldiers, an Irish immigrant named Richard O’Brien, became a movie star during the Silent Movie Era from the 1920’s and a supporting actor in talking movies through the 1950’s under the screen name Richard Garrick.  Jonathan writes in an email message:   “On a side note, Garrick (real name Richard O’Brien) was the primary witness against Capt MacDonald of the 26th Infantry who was court martialed for a massacre of villagers in Lanag (a district of southern Iloilo).  I am still trying to find the location of the massacre which has evaporated in local people’s memories or was simply erased during the colonial period.”


New details are continually coming to light, in large part through a lively conversation on Facebook groups (Philippine-American War, Cabatuan Panay Historical Society, Historic Miagao @ Sulu Garden) with researchers, some of them descendants of the soldiers at the time.

The museum receives period photos from internet correspondents and uses these to fashion small figures who are costumed and painted as authentically as possible.  This process is fascinating.  Each figure is carved from a small block of laminated vinyl floor tile and then painted.



Should you ever visit the church in Miag-ao, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, be sure to visit Sulu Garden!  Ask for Jonathan – second from the left in this photo.


For more on the war between the Filipino rebels and US forces, I highly recommend Sitting in Darkness, which tells the dramatic story of the capture of General Emilio Aguinaldo, the commander of the Filipino army.

Here are articles that Jonathan has written about the “asinderos”, the salt makers of Miag-ao.  They make salt in a way not seen anywhere else in the world.  I will tease you with a few photos and hope you’ll read further.






My sincere thanks to Jonathan Matias for introducing us to his museum and garden, and for editing this post.  Jonathan has provided these links to the history of the Philippine – American War:



and these to the history of the Miag-ao Church, the subject of another post today:



Link to the electronic copy about the history of Miag-ao, published in 1979