ILOILO City – Jerry Treñas is a wily politician as a city mayor ought to be. He shrewdly knows how to preserve his constituency and public approval. His refusal to approve Bayan’s request to hold public gathering at Sunburst Park during the 2020 Human Rights Day parallels his parrying act to avoid hosting the NTF-ELCAC of Paralde-Celiz-Badoy caboodle. By strictly implementing pandemic GCQ classification he appeared to disappoint both groups but cutely avoided the scandal of favoring one over another. And in doing so Treñas maintained an image as a neutral umpire of contesting claims over the City as a political space.
Keen observers however can readily detect the Mayor’s exaggerated, nay, unreasonable restriction of around 30-persons attendance in Bayan’s mass mobilization. As a lawyer, Treñas could not miss the weight of words “prohibiting the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” in the Constitution. Such constitutional injunctions cannot be trimmed by mere local unit’s implementing guidelines. Yet an underling in the Office of the Mayor played by the script in performing a namby-pamby dilly-delaying goose chase. Thus, the City Campus of UP Visayas became the sanctuary of refuge and mobilization of the rallyists.
Deprived of their triumphant welcome, the anti-communist caravan of Paralde, Badoy and Celiz has to settle in a secondary city of Passi, some 56.6 kilometres away from the main Iloilo City where they expect to be feted. Celiz whimpered, “why can’t we hold an important gathering of the people, the government, and the [RTF-ELCAC], but we allow the Night Market, street activities, and going around, in the guise of reviving the economy?” But Treñas stood tall and threw the book, so to speak, on Celiz’s whinings by slyly weaponizing the guidelines of the national Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID). “As a lawyer, I always follow rules. Now if you still insist, and ask me to allow a mass gathering of 1,000 people under GCQ, my answer would still be the same – it’s a NO for me.” Quod Erat Demonstrandum! [Quotes from: Daily Guardian, 14 December 2020].
A playbook exists that is already familiar for any seasoned mayor of a city. A petty chief executive enjoys relative autonomy from national encroachment if a city like Iloilo is characterised as highly urbanised, mildly dependent on Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) and collects enough revenues for its annual disbursements. Moreover, a perennial politician like Treñas had already established a reliable network of supporters and sources of re-election donors. As long as authority is deployed with cunning and determination, Treñas is quite aware he stays uncontested in the Iloilo City. For now, in public’s eyes, he is the hands-on, law-abiding but patrimonial figure of their city.
While the drone-shot of Iloilo City shows voguish landscapes built along the sides of its estuarine river, the citizens’ politics markedly remains pre-modern. Efficacious democratic participation as hallmark of a city’s civic culture is not felt in public decisions. Where the mayor is viewed as some controlling father figure and the citizens as simply dependent followers, politics in the city seems no different from what sociologist Max Weber called archaic patrimonialism.###