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A "new" Iloilo revisited

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I had a quick  overnight revisit of  Iloilo City  -- my place of origin with Guimbal town as my birthplace -- over the weekend to attend the national board meeting of the JCI Senate and the swearing in of Businessman Ramiro Galanto as Iloilo JCI senate president. I still have many close relatives there although our family migrated to Davao when I was about one year old.

The face of  Iloilo City has considerably changed since I last visited several years ago.  Its main boulevard, called the Diversion Road, has been widened (would you believe?)  to 6 lanes on each side or a total of  12 lanes in all ! I personally crossed the wide boulevard by the Smallville complex  and counted  myself, including a bicycle lane.    All the way on the 25- kilometer strip from downtown to the modern international airport in Cabatuan, a massive road expansion project is on-going with houses and buildings being demolished on both sides of the road.  I asked the taxi driver, in Ilonggo dialect of course, how come the authorities were able to convince the squatters

( now euphemistically called " informal settlers") to leave and give way to development. His answer: firm handling by the local government with relocation assistance.      The whole area, formerly swampy with squatters,   is spruced up and now sprouting with new plush buildings, malls, entertainment areas,  hotels and offices.

Being a Saturday night, swarms of  Ilonggos were on a massive "gimmick" mode in the area, even spilling into the streets and sidewalks while jazz bands were almost in all  beerhouses, bars, fine dining  restos -- no, not the sleezy types -- but wholesome nooks and cozy hideaways.

My colleague in the JCI senate board Bobby Castro from Puerto Princesa, Palawan    brought me  to see and walk through the riverbanks  that   was before a slum area. The  slum dwellers were properly relocated and the whole area lining the river   has been converted into a  fashionable pathway lined with mangrove greeneries , tiled walkways made of  bricks  snaking about 2 kilometers long. The place is referred to by all now as the river "esplanade" (meaning, open space for public walks or strolls.)  Hundreds of promenaders were just walking and strolling in the night.  Bobby who owns the famous "Palawan" pawnshop/cash transfer business that has now about 1,000 outlets nationwide (and therefore has been to almost all nooks of the country) was so impressed about the area development of Iloilo that he volunteered to walk me to to the place and see for myself the esplanade. I've been to many places but this one was something! A strategic development masterplan must have chartered the course of events that transformed Iloilo into what I saw.

Indeed, over dinner, Iloilo City's Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog, himself a JCI senator and chief architect of the city's transformation and spearheadingpreparations  to host next year's ministerial meetings of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC),  simply  said in understatement :"Iloilo City is now under construction". In the former airport area that was vacated with the new international airport at Cabatuan, a multi billion business complex of Megaworld is starting to rise and take shape. The new city hall is considered  a first in the country pioneering in "go green" technology. A modern hospital, a convention center, Marriott and Richmonde Hotels are all in the making or in the planning board. The city mayor being an avid biker himself, it is no surprise that bicycle lanes everywhere are in the development plans -- something already in integrated by advanced cities in the world in their
infra masterplans.

I wish other chief executives of cities in Mindanao go visit and see for themselves  what's happening there now  in Iloilo City. I promised to myself to make my pilgrimage to my birthplace more often from now on!

Yes, we Ilonggos are jokingly called "tikalon" or overly boastful. But with what I saw, I don't mind being called such -- for boasting about what Iloilo has truly become today. But, yes, the best is yet to come.(jessdureza@gmail.com)




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