By Herbert Vego
WHILE walking around the Jaro Plaza, I noticed it was still undergoing renovation as mandated by Republic Act 10555, which declared the Jaro Plaza Complex as one of the seven heritage sites to be preserved for tourism purposes.
Authored by the then Congressman Jerry P. Treñas (now mayor) and signed into law by the late President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III on May 15, 2013, the law also calls for the restoration of six other heritage sites, namely the Jaro Cathedral, Molo Church, Molo Plaza Complex, Iloilo City Central Business District, Fort San Pedro, and the Plaza Libertad Complex.
These heritage sites moved the late historian Gregorio Zaide to call Iloilo City the “Athens of the Philippines.”
For now, let us focus on the Jaro Plaza. Would it be restored to its original grandeur?
Before going on, let this writer express dismay over the retention of Mark Lapid as chief operating officer of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA). He was sworn into office by Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. last July 5.
Lapid — a son of Sen. Lito Lapid — had shown no brilliant performance in that position, to which he was previously appointed by former President Rodrigo Duterte in January 2021
He had also been appointed to the same TIEZA post by the late Pres. Noynoy Aquino in 2014. He gave it up in 2016 to pursue a senatorial bid that failed.
By then, he should have released TIEZA’s fund for the restoration of the Jaro Plaza here in Iloilo City. He never did for a reason only he knows.
Thus, the plaza is now being restored — without TIEZA’s financial assistance — by the city government through the initiative of Mayor Jerry Treñas and the Sangguniang Panglunsod at a budget of ₱200 million. Two other plazas being restored on city funds are La Paz and Arevalo.
What happened to the original TIEZA budget that should have been disbursed for the Jaro Plaza restoration in 2016?
When I asked the mayor about it, he replied that it had been “used by the national government for the pandemic.”
Take note that the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country in March 2020 or four years after the 2016 resignation of Mark Lapid from TIEZA.
The late Architect Augusto “Toti” Villalon must be turning in his grave.
Villalon came to Iloilo City in 2016 to be introduced by then Congressman Treñas as the restoration expert who would restore Jaro Plaza to its Spanish vintage with full financial backing from TIEZA. In the audience were multi-sectoral representatives, including the media.
He vowed to redesign the plaza back to its Spanish vintage based on old pictures and other historical references. The old pictures of the Jaro Plaza show a bandstand (probably the one still standing there), benches, walkways and lush ornamental plants and flowers.
Alas, Toti Villalon passed away at age 63 on May 5, 2018 without seeing the fulfillment of the project. But his legacy is worth remembering. A native of Cebu City, he was renowned here and abroad for being the first Filipino member of the Paris-based International Council for Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).
Among the Philippine heritage sites he has restored are the Miagao church in Miag-ao, Iloilo, Paoay church in Ilocos Norte, San Agustin Church in Manila and Santa Maria church in Ilocos Sur.
The original Jaro Plaza is believed to have been constructed in the late 1580s when it was the standard practice of the Spanish government to establish a plaza in their domain in order to bring the natives closer to Roman Catholicism and to achieve effective administrative control over the people.
Iloilo’s two great heroes, Graciano Lopez Jaena and Gen. Martin Delgado, were frequent strollers at the plaza in the 1870s or 1880s; they were students of the nearby San Vicente de Ferrer Seminary.
A statue of Graciano Lopez Jaena Statue now stands at the west side of the park near the belfry. On the east side is the large gazebo with his name printed on top. The park is surrounded by awesome old buildings, including the Jaro Cathedral, the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Jaro Palace, and several old Spanish style mansions.
NO WORD FROM ILECO YET
IT has been more than one week since July 30, 2022 when the bill extending MORE Power’s distribution franchise from Iloilo City to Passi City and 15 towns of the 1st and 2nd districts of Iloilo province lapsed into law. We have heard MORE President Roel Z. Castro and other company executives speak out on the company’s readiness to expand without expropriating the Iloilo Electric Cooperative (ILECO).
We have yet to hear from ILECO people, however. This gives us the presumption that they may not have decided yet on how to confront the reality of a looming competition. Their hope of surviving would mostly lie on the co-op’s capability to reduce its skyrocketing power rates to MORE Power’s level.
This is because “unaffordability” was the main reason why the residents of the aforesaid places asked their congressmen to file a bill amending the law (RA 11212) granting the Iloilo City franchise to MORE Power. The new law (RA 11918) fulfills that request.
Let us discuss more on this later, based on our interview with MORE Power’s legal officer, Atty, Alyana Babayen-on.