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The Jaro Plaza ‘reloaded’

A FEW issues ago, this writer commended Rep. Jerry P. Treñas (Iloilo City) for laying the groundwork for the restoration of the famous Jaro Plaza. Later, I personally attended the PowerPoint presentation on the project at his constituency office, with no less than Architect Augusto “Toti” Villalon discussing it with multi-sectoral stakeholders.

While flashing his tentative sketches on the white board, Villalon sought for our suggestions on how we would like the project done.  He said that since the plaza had slowly evolved, he could not and would not reproduce the original, Spanish-vintage landscape. But he could get ideas from the best of the old pictures. For instance, he had been advised to elevate the ground level to eliminate the usual flooding.

The old pictures of the Jaro Plaza show a bandstand, benches, walkways and lush ornamental plants and flowers.

In the presence of Rep. Treñas, some of us (including this writer) made known our disgust over the frequent “conversion” of the plaza into a hodgepodge of “kiosks, carnival rides, restaurants and ukay-ukay market” for at least three months each year on the pretext of Christmas, New Year and Jaro Fiesta, collectively lumped as the “Jaro Agro-Industrial and Charity Fair.”

That’s anomalous! Under Presidential Decree 1216, parks are for public use and therefore “beyond the commerce of men.” And so we suggested that the restored Jaro Plaza would serve its true purpose as a free recreational facility for children and adults; only then would it regain its renowned prestige.

The plaza restoration would be undertaken by the Tourism Infrastructure Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) at a still undisclosed budget.

The plaza restoration is just half of the Jaro Plaza Complex. The other half, already fully restored, is the old municipal hall that would be converted into a regional museum under the auspices of the National Historical Commission and the National Museum. The Iloilo City Sangguniang Panlungsod has passed an ordinance donating the structure to the National Museum.

The Jaro Plaza Complex is one of seven heritage sites covered by the Treñas-authored Republic Act 10555. The rest are the Jaro Cathedral, Molo Church, Molo Plaza Complex, Iloilo City Central Business District, Fort San Pedro, and the Plaza Libertad Complex.

The other day, I purposely drove around the Jaro Plaza to see whether restoration has begun.  If it had, the rain being poured by tropical storm “Marce” might have intervened.

What shocked me, however, was not the rising rain water but the re-conversion of the plaza into market stalls, eateries and enclosed gambling plots supposedly granted “franchise” for a fee by the Association of Barangay Captains (ABC) of Jaro. There was no sign of restoration work going on.

I called up Congressman Treñas, who candidly admitted that TIEZA had not defrayed funds yet for the restoration. Well, it was understandable since the agency has a relatively new chief operating officer in the person of Guiller Asido.

As regards the “restoration of commerce” at the plaza, Treñas would rather not comment. That ball is in the court of Mayor Jed Mabilog.

Meanwhile, reliable sources tell us that the owners of merchandise stalls and kiosks within and around the plaza pay an average fee of P5,000 per stall to the ABC. I wonder whether, as in last year, they get no official receipt for that./PN



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