In his many speeches, former Mayor Jerry Treñas often announced how Iloilo City would become a “Premier City” by 2015. And so, it happened. That’s the beauty of political continuity. In 2010, I voted for then Vice-Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog for city mayor convinced that he was an avid supporter of culture and the arts as advised by friends from the cultural community. It was a landmark year as the Commission on Elections introduced automated polls for the first time in our electoral history. Aspirations were high as economic growth and opportunity were surging. Aside from completing my college degree that summer, it was my first time to vote in a national election. The year before, I have been part of a nationwide campaign that encouraged youth voters to participate in the upcoming polls. I was a registered voter in Mandurriao district since 2007 and decided to make good use of my voice. Surprisingly, the persons I chose for mayor, vice mayor, city congressman, vice governor and governor all won.
Iloilo City is of historic significance to the Philippines having served as a key trading port in the country second only to Manila for over a century. Foreign banks and companies opened shop in the city as early as the mid-19th century followed by diplomatic missions establishing their consulates there. The demise of the sugar industry in Western Visayas in the 1970s, however, led to the economic degradation of the international port that once linked the city to the rest of the world. Its metropolitan region is a treasure trove of heritage structures and historical landmarks dating from the 16th to early 20th centuries. They range from Gothic-inspired coral stone churches, to century-old ancestral mansions of wealthy landowners and old shop houses in the downtown’s commercial district built in art deco and neoclassical style, many of which have either become derelict or were torn down due to years of neglect. A lot of them were lost to the World War II bombings and heritage conservationists were desperate to save what was left.
The 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century was an interesting time to be around as Iloilo City’s economic development was already picking up under the administration of former Mayor Jerry Treñas also hailed for tackling many urban challenges such as crime, pollution, congestion and infrastructure. The country’s leading corporations and retailers were expanding in the city. Insufficient water supply and electricity was becoming a problem. Iloilo’s economic elite was also striving to bring back the city’s former glory. Today, the city has a booming property market, businesses are thriving and tourist arrivals are soaring. Investor confidence is at an all-time high. What the city of Iloilo has become today is a result of the political vision and continuity of its leaders. Without pride of place and sense of heritage, this city would be nothing.
The Local Government Unit of Iloilo City and its civil servants do not adhere to any ideology nor do they get orders from a tight-fisted set of rulers. So, how did this southern city jump into prominence as a role model for good governance and urban sophistication within a short span of time? Mayor Jed and his advisers got their cards right by pursuing the right policies for their constituents, connecting with the right persons and institutions, investing heavily in urban renewal and infrastructure, and maintaining sound relations with their fellow elected officials. Their innovative thinking and progress-oriented attitude has made them stand out from the rest.
Megaworld’s Business Boulevard in Mandurriao, Iloilo City (Photo by Marco Antonio)
For the past six years, Mayor Jed was Iloilo City’s poster boy to the country and the world. He was literally the face of this city. He made our president proud and was often singled out in speeches and good governance talks. As a public official, he fulfilled his duties and obligations with passion. He is a man of great wit and class, one who also knows how to address the sensibilities of his constituents. His city administrators are of great value to him having brought them to the Civil Service College in Singapore to learn a thing or two about clean and efficient governance. Mr. Mabilog was the kind of mayor other cities could only envy. As we look back to his term, it would be interesting to analyze his leadership style and the things he pursued as the city’s top official:
- Political Will and Unity – For the city’s own good, the mayor realized the importance of social harmony and common foresight with his fellow elected leaders. He has worked closely with peers in the city and provincial governments during his term and maintained sound relations with other government officials in Western Visayas. Both public and internal criticisms remained minor issues and support from almost every sector in society was widespread.
- Effective Social Media Promotion – Mayor Jed and his advisers have harnessed the power of social media to their advantage. His public engagements and achievements are well-documented online and receive massive following from his constituents, fans and critics from all over the country and the world. It is also the most reliable source of updates from the mayor’s office that any commoner can access.
- Government-Private Sector Partnership – The city government has been widely praised for its tie ups with the private sector, which has always been supportive of the mayor’s social, cultural, and economic stimulus programs. If it were not for the selfless contributions of the city’s economic elite and investors alike, the city would have not made it this far. One great example is the iconic Iloilo Convention Center which was built on donated land.
- Heritage Conservation – No other city in the country has pursued a massive heritage conservation drive to the same extent as Iloilo did. A massive restoration program was carried out to revive the downtown area’s old neoclassical and art deco buildings followed by the blessing of the Philippine Historical Institute declaring Calle Real (now J.M. Basa St.) and its adjacent roads as a living heritage commercial district. The adaptive reuse of heritage buildings was also high up on the list of the city hall’s priorities. The century old Iloilo City Jail and old Jaro City Hall are currently undergoing renovation to serve as the regional branch and office of the National Museum. The agency is now also spearheading the planned restoration of the historic Fort San Pedro. Mayor Jed’s heavy investment in cultural infrastructure has made an impressive impact on visitors, dignitaries and cultural workers from other all over the country. Not many are quite aware of the role that culture plays in economic growth and national development. I’m glad we have a mayor that does.
- Economic Empowerment – Businesses have soared in Iloilo City since the incumbent mayor took office in 2010 from roughly 8,000 business registrations to over 16,000 as of 2016. This means private enterprises have doubled in just a short span of six years! The City Hall has done strides easing requirements for start-up businesses to flourish. MSMEs are now taking Iloilo by storm. Even the franchise industry is booming. Confidence in the local economy cannot be sustained without consumer confidence but the continued influx of both national and global brands into the city only proves that locals are spending a lot. Megaworld Croporation has pledged PhP 35 billion for the development of its flagship project, the Iloilo Business Park. Ayala Land, SM Investments and Gaisano Capital also followed suit ensuring vibrant economic activity. The dawn of call center companies followed by hotels and commercial banks literally gave rise to a young professional class eager to live, play, buy and invest for the future. And this kind of atmosphere lures in a lot of investors.
- Infrastructure Development – The ten-lane Benigno Aquino, Jr. Avenue, better known as Diversion Road, has become Iloilo City’s showcase boulevard to visiting travelers, investors and politicians who are often amazed by its wide, brick-layered bicycle and pedestrian lanes with sufficient streetlights showcasing the city’s progress. And this thoroughfare is just one of the city government’s many road and bridge widening programs initiated over the years to ease urban traffic in response to the city’s growing population and rapid urbanization. Another milestone is the Iloilo Circumferential Road that encircles the entire city. Infrastructure development has been one of the top priorities of the Mabilog administration and billions of pesos were poured in by the national government to help realize this dream. At the Ioilo Port, the passenger transport terminal has been remarkably improved. The wide bicycle lanes have encouraged a yearly bikers’ festival to take place. During the early phases of the project, people used to complain about obstructions caused by these developments later realizing that these were done for their benefit and their city’s future.
- Urban Renewal and Recreation – A new lifestyle city has emerged under Mayor Jed’s term. The revitalization of the Iloilo River and the Iloilo River Esplanade were among the the city government’s first efforts towards urban renewal. Recognizing the role of rivers in a city’s economic and urban wellbeing, the country’s top urban planner and landscape architect, Paulo Alcazaren, was brought in to spearhead the riverfront’s beautification efforts. It proved to be so successful that it was later replicated in other parts of the city several times over reaching up to Muelle Loney encouraging joggers, strollers and fitness enthusiasts to enjoy the benefits of having a clean, spacious and lively riverfront with fresh air. It also offers one of the country’s most breath-taking river sunset views. Ten years ago, the river was technically dead. It was heavily polluted and thousands of informal settlements nestled along its river banks. Its foul stench was a sore to the city’s image. Fast forward today, the river’s rebirth serves as a living testimony that all is possible if leaders pursue the right initiatives. The Iloilo River’s revitalization is a success story that should inspire other cities throughout the country.
Mayor Mabilog’s success in administering Iloilo City is also the success of his supportive constituents. Had we not chosen the right leaders in our city and province, who knows what would have become of this historic city? Looking back, we’ve earned the reputation as one of the country’s most livable and competitive cities many times over with awards such as the 2015 Livable Cities Design Challenge and the International Awards for Livable Communities in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Iloilo City was also a finalist for the 2013 Thiess International River Prize, nominated for the 2016 Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize and the mayor himself was a finalist in the 2014 World Mayor Awards. In the end, what we sow is what we will reap in the long-run.
Many of us are barely aware of the power we have as voters, taxpayers and constituents. We all have a stake and responsibility for our city. It is also our duty to keep our mayor motivated having worked tirelessly for our well-being. Mr. Mabilog has elevated our society to its highest potential showing us what we can all achieve in a community where residents dream big band work together. We, too, have a civic responsibility to bring out the best of ourselves and what this city can offer to the world.
One doesn’t need to look for figures to recognize the changes our city has undergone. Anyone who’s left the city five to ten years ago would be amazed of what it has achieved. Because of his hard work, Iloilo City is now reconnected to the world as a global city. It has truly become a “Premier City” after its successful hosting of key meetings during the 2015 APEC Summit proving to be an ideal M.I.C.E. (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) destination for many years to come. His leadership is truly inspiring and commendable.
Thank you, Mayor Jed, for making our city livable again. We truly appreciate your dedication as city mayor of Iloilo.