ILOILO CITY – The recent demolition of the historic Iloilo Central Market has sparked an outcry from cultural agencies, particularly the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Reports from The Daily Guardian and Panay News reveal that said agency is launching an investigation into the matter, citing concerns about potential violations of cultural heritage laws. Dr. Ivan Henares, Secretary-General of the Philippine Commission for UNESCO, emphasized the need for scrutiny, indicating ongoing inquiries into the role of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) in the decision-making process.

In response to these allegations, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas denied any wrongdoing, asserting that the demolition adhered to legal protocols. He defended the decision, claiming the Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council and the NHCP approved it.

A letter from then NHCP Chair Rene Escalante dated Feb. 20, 2023, indicated the commission’s favorable stance towards the proposed development plans for the Central Market. However, there was no definite approval to demolish the façade.

The city mayor, also said that the city government had no choice but to demolish the façade after the Office of the Building Official declared that it was no longer safe to keep it due to its poor structural integrity. Nevertheless, critics, including Henares, argue that alternative solutions, such as retrofitting, should have been explored to preserve the historic facade. “We are in an age of modern technology where we can retrofit many structures. It’s being done all over the world. And here we are in the Philippines using the excuse that something is structurally unsound for public safety when modern technology can retrofit a historic structure. So, let’s not use ‘structurally unsound’ as a reason for demolition,” said Henares.

BAYAN-Panay points out that the city government should be held accountable for failing to maintain the heritage site before the market’s rehabilitation.

During a press conference on May 20, Mayor Treñas deemed the press irresponsible for reporting the issue, causing the project to garner negative opinions from Ilonggo citizens. He continued admonishing the press by stating he would take this issue to court, as recorded on his office’s official Facebook page live feed.

Following this, various journalists and media groups released statements of condemnation for the mayor’s behavior. According to the Daily Guardian, the Mayor’s reaction showed that people in power can attack and manipulate media establishments when the news they release is unfavorable. The Daily Guardian added that the berating statement of the mayor poses a threat not only to the press but to the common Ilonggo who may want to express their opinions and sentiments.

The Panay chapter of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines looks at the mayor’s behavior and statement as a threat to the state of the local press and media practitioners. All of these are clear acts of media censorship and attacks against press freedom.

Additionally, CEGP Panay reiterated that the recent case is not new and reminded the public to always be mindful of the forms of attacks the media faces amidst their reporting of issues that affect the public and are of public interest, like the case of the Iloilo Central Market.

The issue concerning the Central Market gained traction back in 2022 when several groups staged various collective actions to prevent its demolition. For the local population, the Central Market stands as one of the major economic hotspots for the whole of Iloilo province along with the Iloilo Market Terminal, locally known as “Super”. Currently, these two Iloilo landmarks are being privatized under the Public-Private Partnership between the LGU and SM Prime Holdings.

It was September of last year when the groundbreaking ceremony for the city project was held. However, it was only this year that the demolition of the market’s structure was continued, displacing hundreds of Central Market vendors./PT


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