Probing the Jaro Plaza rehab

By Herbert Vego

THE last time this writer interviewed Iloilo City Mayor Jerry P. Treñas, he enthused about the ongoing “second phase” of rehabilitating the Jaro Plaza. If the first phase meant horizontal groundwork, then the second one must be restoration of the plaza’s historic physical attributes. As to how, there’s the rub.

Old pictures of the plaza posted on Facebook show different looks of the plaza before, during, and after the Spanish era.  This has resulted in contrary public opinions on which “past” to revive. The assigned landscape architect, Paulo Alcazaren, must be scratching his head.

In one of the pictures, there’s the “bamboo Eiffel Tower at the plaza of Jaro, Iloilo as published in Felix Laureano’s Recuerdos de Filipinas (Barcelona, 1895).”  It stood near the belfry of the Jaro Cathedral. The rest of the plaza was unpaved ground. So, should the tower be reconstructed, using steel instead of bamboo materials?

No, if my opinion counts.  It would be a poor imitation of France’s famous landmark.

Another picture shows a Spanish-vintage plaza, but with no road dividing the cathedral and the plaza yet.

We have no idea whether Arch. Alcazaren, a non-Ilonggo, has made up his mind on which existing “blasts from the past”  to adopt, assuming he has studied the pictures immortalized by early Filipino photographers.

It is clear, however, that a few structures built within the plaza – including the Jaro Covered Gym – would have to be destroyed because they are eyesores that unmake the traditional public park.

The Jaro Plaza Complex is one of seven heritage sites being restored in accordance with Republic Act 10555, which was authored by the incumbent mayor, then Congressman Jerry P. Treñas, in 2013. The others are the Jaro Cathedral, Molo Church, Molo Plaza Complex, Iloilo City Central Business District, Fort San Pedro, and the Plaza Libertad Complex. Some of them have been fully accomplished.

Going back to the Jaro Plaza, I personally believe that it could have been accomplished long before the pandemic had the funding agency, the Tourism Infrastructure Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) acted promptly. But it did not, to the frustration of the original commissioned architect, Augusto “Toti” Villalon, who died on May 5, 2018.

If Treñas got the correct information, the Tieza budget had been diverted to the Covid-19 pandemic response.

Its restoration has therefore been assumed by the city government with an initial allocation of P90 million.

I clearly remember that in 2016, Rep. Treñas invited Architect Villalon to his constituency office in Iloilo City to brief multi-sectoral representatives and the media on how he intended to restore the Jaro Plaza to its Spanish vintage.

Villalon made a Powerpoint presentation describing and showing his tentative sketches.  He said “tentative” because he needed his audience’s added suggestions on how the finished work would look. He admitted that since the plaza had slowly evolved from its original Spanish-vintage landscape, its surviving pictures could not be the sole basis for restoration, which should also take into consideration present-day realities. If he had his way, he would elevate the plaza to deter flooding during heavy rain.

Villalon’s Spanish-vintage pictures of the Jaro Plaza showed a bandstand, benches, walkways and lush ornamental plants and flowers. However, none had a monument of Ilonggo national hero Graciano Lopez-Jaena. No wonder, it was constructed in the post- Spanish era, or long after his death in 1896.

Its restoration would also be in keeping with Presidential Decree 1216, which provides that parks are for public use and therefore “beyond the commerce of men.”  Therefore, it ought to regain its traditional image as a free tourism and recreational facility for children and adults alike.

The past city administrations had suffered from criticisms for transforming the Jaro Plaza into a hodgepodge of “kiosks, carnival rides, restaurants and ukay-ukay market” during the entire Christmas season and the Jaro fiesta presentations.

If I remember right, it was former Sangguniang Panlalawigan member and historian Demy Sonza who said in a speech that Jaro Plaza had been officially renamed Graciano Lopez Jaena Park.

Sad to say, my “Google search” would not confirm whether a law had been passed to that effect.

Kuya Kim, ano na?

-oOo-

ON RELIABILITY AND AFFORDABILITY OF POWER

MS. MARICEL C. PE, assistant vice-president for customer care of MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) told us in a radio interview that, during a meeting with city officials and investors at the Iloilo Convention Center, the latter expressed their reasons for doing business in Iloilo City.

“One of the reasons why they are here,” she recalled, “is because of the reliability of low-cost power supply. With them around, more jobs would be created within the next five years. We keep in touch with power suppliers who could fill their demand.”

“As inculcated by our president, Roel Castro,” she said, “we need to be always ready, always on our toes, never resting on our laurels.”

As regards the new law (RA 11918) granting MORE Power the authority to expand coverage to Passi City and 16 towns of Iloilo province, she assured us that they keep in step with that mandate. MORE linemen ate now at work burying poles in Pavia.

However, the energization stage would have to wait until the Energy Regulatory  Commission (ERC) flashes the green light.

“We have already received new applicants to augment our existing personnel,” she said. Some of the qualified ones would fill up positions to be vacated by existing employees who would move up to higher positions.  The others would be assigned to the eastern side.”

Successful applicants from “eastern side” or the provincial areas would be fielded to sites near their homes, whenever possible, so they could save time and transportation money and always live with their families. It would also facilitate quick response time to emergencies.

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