People & Culture

Iligan city is a melting bowl of interfaith and intercultural community. It's population of 308,046 within its 44 barangays consist largely of Cebuano, Bisaya, Maranaos and few Higaonons tribe. Farming is primarily the livelihood of hinterland communities with the city's vast agricultural land covering 70% of its 81,337 hectares land area.


Señor San Miguel

In the face of all adversities, one thing never changes in Iligan City – the people’s trust and devotion to Saint Michael the Archangel. Respected by all ethnic groups, Saint Michael brings together Iliganons –Christians, Muslims, Higaonons and Lumads as one family in faithful homage to him.

“Señor San Miguel,” the armor-clad patron saint of Iligan is revered as its defender and protector against all threats.

Every year on September 29, Iligan’s colorful tradition of venerating Saint Michael on his feast day is lovingly and fervently relived in so many ways that have become so deeply rooted into the Iliganon psyche. Through the San Miguel Comedia, the mass singing of “ Ang Buotan nga Iliganon,” fiesta fare from the elaborate and extravagant lechon, to the down-to-earth torta and ibos, the siren call is irresistible. It beckons all to come home and join the chorus of “Viva Señor San Miguel!”

The celebration of the Feast of St. Michael officially or liturgically starts on September 20 with Holy Mass at the St.Michael Cathedral and the “Pagpakanaug” or the ritual transfer of the image of St. Michael from its niche in the main altar towards a pedestal on the side altar. Thousands of devotees flock to the cathedral to witness the ceremonies and for a chance to don the helmet of St. Michael, believed to impart powers of the warrior-archangel to the wearer. The “pagpakanaug” signals the start of the 9-day novena for the patron saint.


"You have to taste a culture to understand it"

-Deborah Cater


Inside the cathedral, sweet incense from the altar permeates the air while a sea of undulating, swaying warm bodies move towards the pedestal where St. Michael now stands. Like a warrior-general rallying his army in battle against the enemy, the descent of St. Michael evokes a thundering chorus that echoes and reechoes the chant “Viva Señor San Miguel! Viva!” The ritual reaches fever pitch when the City Mayor and the Congressman joins St. Michael on the pedestal for the “pagkalo.” They are the first ones to don the patron saint’s helmet as dictated by tradition.

After hundreds, perhaps thousands of fortunate devotees get their chance to don St. Michael’s helmet, the entire cathedral breaks into the Iliganon anthem “Ang Iliganon nga Buotan.” The song is a sort of auld lang syne for Iliganons; their very own song, its melody echoing from the past in an unbroken rhythm.


“Viva Señor San Miguel! Bibo Iligan!” This year’s theme as conceived and implemented by the city government-led Fiesta Committee is as close to the heart of the Iliganon as it is to what St. Michael symbolizes. Festive, colorful, and full of life, the fiesta celebration continues to live up to the expectations and ideals of the city’s over 300,000 residents. Mainstream highlights of the celebration are “Pamukaw” or the early dawn parade of the city’s band to rouse the residents for the dawn novenas; the “kasadya” street dancing festival; the Miss Iligan and Little Miss Iligan pageants; and the San Miguel Procession.

One of the more significant highlights of the fiesta celebration is an Iliganon tradition and cultural heritage — the San Miguel Comedia. The religious musical play is one of the country’s last surviving zarzuelas and considered a priceless heritage. Sadly, it is not particularly popular among the younger generation of Iliganons and needs wider exposure. The San Miguel Comedia depicts the fall of the proud and rebellious Lucifer over God’s faithful servant warrior St. Michael the Archangel. Written by a Cebuano playwright, Iligan’s Divine Comedy of Señor San Miguel was first staged in 1890. The actors today are descendants of the original actors.

Adding more life and catering to a wider segment of the local populace are the various sports competitions and exhibitions, ‘mugna” trade fairs, coastal clean-up drives, concerts and street parties.

As the repeated shouts of “Viva Señor San Miguel! Viva!” echoes through the catherdral walls, and as the melody of “ Ang Iliganon nga Buotan” streams out of the windows, they reverberate into the streets, in every home and into the whole city. In fact into the whole world, wherever Iliganons are.

“Viva Señor San Miguel! Viva!” This is the impassioned and joyous salute, the homage of the people of Iligan to its beloved patron saint — defender, protector and faithful warrior of God.