The ‘return of the comeback’ is probably a fitting phrase to describe Sunburst Park. Prior to its reintroduction to the City of Love, the original Sunburst existed long time ago. Its long history started with the Iloilo Customs House, built in 1916 during the American Colonial Period. In front of the building was an expansive garden bisected by walkways. Back then, the collective structure was referred to as the Plaza de Aduana (Aduana, meaning Customs House in Spanish). “The Sunburst soldiers captured Lapaz, Jaro and Iloilo City two days after they landed on the beach of Parara in Tigbauan on 18 March 1945. Civilians warmly welcomed American forces with gifts of eggs, fruit and candies made from camote and coconuts as they marched towards Iloilo City. Major General Isaac Rapp Brush, chief of the Sunburst Division, addressed US soldiers and Filipino guerillas gathered at the Plaza de Aduana that afternoon. The crowd also occupied Mapa Street and a portion of J. M. Basa street while Brush spoke to them from a podium at the Iloilo Customs House,” excerpts from a social media post of the Iloilo City Government, crediting the narrative to local historian Nereo Cajilig Lujan. The area was renamed ‘Sunburst Park’ in honor of the US 40th Infantry ‘Sunburst’ Division that helped liberate Panay Island from the Japanese at the end of World War II. Over the years, the park was transformed into what was known as the ‘Iloilo Freedom Grandstand’. The grandstand was a memorial to the Iloilo City Freedom Law or Republic Act 1209 that the late Rodolfo ‘Roding’ Ganzon authored in 1955. Ganzon was a former senator, congressman, and mayor and his authored law allowed Ilonggos to elect their own leaders. Prior to the law’s enactment, officials were appointed by the president. The Iloilo Freedom Grandstand witnessed the growth of Iloilo City over the years. It was also the venue of choice for the world-class Iloilo Dinagyang Festival Tribe Competition. Countless tribes performed at the Iloilo Freedom Grandstand until the structure was demolished in 2018 to give way to the Sunburst Park.
Returning Sunburst Park
The historic Iloilo Freedom Grandstand, where the previous tribe competition took place, was taken down after its last Flag Raising Ceremony, February 5, 2018. It was relocated along Muelle Loney Street facing the historic Iloilo River to pave the way for the redevelopment of Sunburst Park. The new grandstand is named ‘Dinagyang Grandstand’, and later reverted to ‘Iloilo Freedom Grandstand’ and was blessed January 2019 – in time for the Dinagyang Festival Opening Salvo. Moreover, the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) turned over the restored Sunburst Park in January 2019 to the local government. According to TIEZA, restoration cost is estimated to be at P19.467 million. With the turnover, the local government will be handling operations, management, and overall maintenance of the place. “From a historical perspective in terms of Customs House, this is I think one of the remaining three in the country… Moving forward, we are hoping we can open a lot more of these places and what we really want to look at right now is to look into the rehabilitation, look at the master planning of places and proper maintenance of the area,” says Pocholo Joselito Paragas, Chief Operating Officer of TIEZA (via Philippine News Agency). The new and improve Sunburst Park features a walkway, chess playground, park benches, parking area, and a statue of Macario Peralta, a Filipino hero, soldier, lawyer, senator, and the Secretary of National Defense.