TANAUAN CITY – You don’t expect a lot from Philippine politicians. Many have no idea about the real meaning of serving the people. In general, the concept of serving the people revolves around political patronage – a type of corruption or favoritism in which a party in power rewards groups, families, ethnicities for their electoral support using illegal gifts or fraudulently awarded appointments or government contracts. It has been cited that in certain cases, political patronage can actually be helpful in facilitating policy coordination, bureaucratic bargaining and reduces the potential for open conflict. In the Philippine setting, however, political patronage keeps people enslaved and the community unable to engender real inclusive growth. It keeps people permanently impoverished.

Many politicians particularly those in the local government units have had no formal education nor do they understand what being a public servant should be. Many are well-meaning but lack the capacity to discern the bigger picture.

It is very rare to have a situation where the majority of stakeholders in a particular community is aligned in trying to do what’s best for their community. It is even rarer for such an alignment to last for quite some time. And, it is like striking oil when such alignment in goals actually gets translated into tangible action. That is what we have in the city and province of Iloilo. Something uncommon.

Thus, it is disturbing, to say the least, to have these questions about the construction of the Iloilo Convention Center. In its conceptual phase, I was asked to arrange a meeting with a large Philippine property developer with the intent of finding donated land upon which the Convention Center was going to be built. I’m sure if he had wanted to, Sen. Drilon would have been able to procure the necessary funding to acquire the land. Yet, his thought was to get the private sector involved so that “ownership” of this project would go beyond just the government. It was imperative to do this because most government projects rot away after construction due to the lack of funding to maintain these projects. Expanding “ownership” of this project to other stakeholders would give the Convention Center a fighting chance of being there for the people of Iloilo long after its proponents are gone. With more people (instead of just government) caring for it, the chances of it falling into disrepair becomes drastically reduced. Finally, with the private sector involved, the government did not have to do and spend for everything.

Why is a convention center necessary for Iloilo City? That is a valid question to ask given our experience with government “white elephants” and “Imeldific” monuments. Tourism (business and leisure) is a key component of development that stakeholders in the city decided early on was critical. A systematic assessment of the city’s capacity to promote both types of tourism revealed many deficiencies which at that time included the lack of hotel rooms, the erratic power supply situation, the growing congestion of the city’s roads and other infrastructural issues. On the business tourism side, the inadequacy of convention-hosting facilities was also highlighted.

Local government, the business community and other stakeholders whether consciously or unconsciously (mostly consciously) gravitated towards a plan to address these shortcomings 10603309_844687968886294_4505046715727587986_nover time. New hotels have sprouted all over the city, the power supply situation was addressed with new power plants, new road networks were built along with other needed improvements (e.g. the Iloilo River Esplanade). Yes – we still have problems in water distribution (the supply side is being addressed with the Jalaur River Project), power distribution remains a challenge, but for the most part things have gone in the direction that the original planners (both government and private sector) had set – much to the surprise of many.

While local businesses began this transformation, investment coming from outside Iloilo City, notably from Ayala Land and Megaworld, has accelerated the trajectory of the development. This concerted push to attract investments to the City in conjunction with the Provinces of Iloilo and Guimaras began as far back as August of 2009 with the holding of the Iloilo Investment Forum at the InterContinental Hotel in Makati. All this continues to this day.

My point is this – with so many well-meaning interests watching over this project, of which the Iloilo Convention Center is just one component (albeit an important one), any malfeasance on the part of any stakeholder would not have gone unnoticed. This entire production will cap a life’s work for the many who truly care for Iloilo City. These people who have worked tirelessly in the background for so many years felt so aggrieved by these accusations (and it’s not even against them) that they came out with a letter of support for Sen. Drilon.

Boy Mejorada was never a part of this. It is easy to criticize and file cases but really, what did you do when you were in a position to do something for Iloilo? I will take Raul Banias any time.


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