Sunday, August 24, 2014

pillars of progress.

(The piece below was written in support of Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog's nomination for World Mayor 2014 - an annual award given to outstanding mayors all over the world. He is the only Philippine mayor to be included in this year's shortlist. Read more about the award at

I first met Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog back in 2004 when I was selected as one of the Ten Outstanding Student Leaders of Iloilo City (TOSLIC), an event spearheaded by his HALIGI Foundation. For the non-Ilonggo speaker, “haligi” means support or pillar, and my initial impressions of him were just that: A big man with an even bigger heart, a “haligi” in every sense of the word.

In its website, The World Mayor Award seeks to recognize “a mayor who has made outstanding contributions to his/her community and has developed a vision for urban living and working that is relevant to towns and cities across the world.” For Mayor Jed, the contributions are surely many, but the vision has always been the same: Elevate Iloilo City to premier status by 2015, and snatch back its coveted title as the historical Queen City of the South.

And why not? History has always been the city’s claim to fame. Thanks to the efforts of the Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council, restored Art Deco buildings now bask in resplendent glory along downtown Calle Real, the country’s newest heritage zone as declared by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. Elsewhere, it’s a more striking tryst of the old and new: With business permits streamlined, government efficiency bolstered, and corruption kept in check, the city’s bullish climate became the prime battleground for the movers and the shakers of Philippine economy: Industrial parks took shape, shiny edifices rose one after another, and gung-ho investors arrived in droves. Roads and bridges enjoyed a facelift, and crime rate remained low. As a testament to these achievements, the city gained prominence in the Red Orchid Awards, the International Livable Communities Awards, and the National Competitiveness Council’s Most Competitive Cities, and bagged the honor as one of the official venues for the 2015 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Ministerial Meetings.

Amid all these, environmental sustainability has not taken a back step. An avid cyclist, Mayor Jed championed the creation of crisp bike lanes along the swanky avenue slicing through the city’s new, burgeoning Central Business District. To alleviate the city’s perennial flooding problem (and avoid the cataclysmic scale of destruction spawned by Typhoon Frank in 2008), floodways were constructed in the suburbs, and the streets kept litter-free. But the administration’s crowning glory in the environmental arena would have to be the remarkable transformation of the Iloilo River – a dying waterway given a second lease on life, paragon host of the first ever Philippine International River Summit in 2012 and a finalist in the 2013 Theiss International Riverprize Awards.

Throughout the pursuit of progress, Mayor Jed has not forgotten the greatest catalysts of a city’s success: its people. In keeping with Iloilo City’s reputation as an academic center, education continued to be a top priority especially with the establishment of the Iloilo City Community College. Moreover, the government’s trademark womb-to-tomb program provides socialized services including maternal care, child immunizations, mass weddings, livelihood trainings, low-cost housing for informal settlers (especially those along the riverbanks), and even free coffin and embalming services. 

Early on, Mayor Jed realized the importance of partnerships. He has harnessed the tremendous power of public-private partnerships (PPPs) in many of the government’s key projects, and has forged a crucial alliance with Iloilo City Representative and former Mayor Jerry P. Trenas (whom I had the pleasure of working alongside during Rotary Club’s Boys and Girls Week in 2002) and incumbent Senate President Franklin Drilon – the dynamic triumvirate orchestrating Iloilo City’s metamorphosis.

“I love it here. It’s very progressive,” quipped one of my medical colleagues during a trip to the city earlier this year. We were taking a leisurely nighttime stroll along the lush River Esplanade, a tourist attraction in itself. In front of us, a group of youngsters scrambled for a mandatory photo-op before a huge sign that read, “I Am Iloilo.” Such words, I believe, must have grown to become a slogan of shared sentiments, a symbol for a city on the cutting edge of change. Under Mayor Jed’s leadership, that change had indeed spiraled into an unstoppable wave breaking barriers in all directions. He became Iloilo City’s infallible “haligi”, the proverbial pillar behind the city’s sterling story of success.