MEANWHILE, two seemingly unrelated events transpired that would significantly influence the bid for Cityhood. First was the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement on March 23, 1999 among the Government of the Philippines through the Department of Tourism, Government of Spain through the Agencia Española de Cooperacion Internacional, the Presidential Commission for the Restoration, Conversion and Preservation of the Vigan Heritage Village, the Province of Ilocos Sur, the Municipality of Vigan and Fundacion Santiago for the formulation of the Master Plan for the historic center of Vigan.
For being an exceptionally intact and well preserved example of a European trading town in the East and East Asia, the Historic Town of Vigan was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Lists on December 21, 1999 which now include 630 cultural and natural properties of exceptional universal value in 158 State Parties or countries all over the world.
The Philippines has five sites inscribed in the World Heritage List: 1) the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park; 2) the Four Baroque Churches of San Agustin (Intramuros), Sta. Maria (Ilocos Sur), Paoay (Ilocos Norte), and Miagao (Iloilo); 3) the Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras; 4) the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park; and 5) the Historic Town of Vigan.
When Senate Bill 1801 for Vigan Cityhood was filed by Sen. Serge Osmeña III there were already more than 50 pending Senate Bills for cityhood. In response to the strong opposition from the League of Cities to the creation of additional cities as thus would diminish their IRA share, a consensus was reached by the senators to accommodate new Cityhood bills only in provinces where there are no existing cities on a one city per province condition.
Aside from being at the tail-end of a long line of Cityhood Bills pending in the Senate, S.B. 1801 met another obstacle by the refiling of an earlier Candon Cityhood bill thereby creating a situation where two municipalities of one province were at the same time vying for Cityhood conversion.
In the early morning of March 20, 2000, a mass was celebrated by Msgr. Emerito Venida at the roof-top of Fernandina Hotel just behind Ali Mall in Cubao for the large Vigan delegation comprising municipal officials, heads of offices and employees, barangay captains, representative of NGOs and people’s organizations. The mass was in preparation for the Senate Public Hearing for S.B. 1801 scheduled at 10:00 A.M. of the same day.
Since the public hearing of the Cityhood bill of Candon was also scheduled on the same morning, a charged atmosphere pervaded inside one of the function rooms of the Senate as the contending delegates from Vigan and Candon converged to lobby for the passage of their respective cityhood bills while members of the Committee on Local Governments headed by Sen. Pimentel scrutinized the qualifications of both municipalities.
The impasse was broken when, months later, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel suggested that Vigan’s Cityhood bill could be considered by just recognizing or validating the Royal Decree that created “Ciudad Fernandina de Vigan”. But this would entail the production of a 243 year-old document. Although substantial records still exist referring to Vigan as the 3rd oldest city established by the Spaniards known as “Ciudad Fernandina” in the National Archives and that of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia, the original copy of the Royal Decree was nowhere to be found.
The hand of providence must have played an important part in the earnest search for the original copy of the Royal Decree because by that time, there were already two Spanish Achitects who were in town to supervise the formulation of the Master Plan for the revitalization of the historic center of Vigan. Architect Fernando Pulin, one of the Spanish Architects, was instrumental in tracing the Royal Decree issued coincidentally by his namesake, Fernando VI, King of Spain, creating Ciudad Fernandina de Vigan in 1757 at the Archivo de Simancas, in Villadolid, Spain.
On the basis of the vital documents, Senate Bill 1801 was replaced on October 4, 2000 by Senate Bill No. 2174 entitled “An Act Validating and Recognizing the Creation of the City of Vigan by the Royal Decree of September 7, 1757 issued by Fernando VI, King of Spain” sponsored by Senators Aquilino Pimentel and Serge Osmeña and in a short span of five days, on October 9, 2000, the new S.B. 2174 was approved on the 3rd and final reading by the Philippine Senate.
On the feast of the Immaculate Concepcion, December 8, 2000, R.A. 8988, the consolidated version of House Bill 1801, was transmitted to Malacañang Palace for the signature of the President and on December 28, 2000, R.A 8988 was signed into a law.
In the plebiscite on January 22, 2001, R.A. 8988 rode on the crest of the highest percentage ever recorded pertaining to the number of affirmative votes cast in a plebiscite for Cityhood when 92.7% of those who participated affirmed the Cityhood of Vigan.
History is often projected as a chronology of empires, a pageant of kings and queens, heroes and heroines, philosophers and sages. To trace the convergence of events that led to the rebirth of “Ciudad Fernandina de Vigan”, one has to go back five years earlier to the fateful local elections of 1995 as the turning-point that signaled the emergence of a new breed of local officials headed by Eva Marie S. Medina, the first lady Mayor of Vigan, who would restore the pride and confidence of the Bigueños on their local government.
This was the start of a new era in local history characterized by widespread multi-sectoral consultations and frequent dialogues between public and the private sectors to promote the formation and active participation of people’s and non-government organizations in government.
As in the conversion of its patron, St. Paul, the transformation of Vigan from a notorious warlord country into one of the most peaceful and progressive communities in the country and the compelling initiative of the Bigueños have succeeded in cultivating a fertile ground for the rebirth of their beloved “Ciudad Fernandina de Vigan.”
Surely, these abundant shower of blessings in so short a time must clearly manifest the hand of providence.