‘University City’

City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog never gets tired of conjuring new schemes to show constituents how tirelessly he is trying to promote Iloilo City  to investors and tourists as a premiere destination. On Tuesday, I heard Aksyon Radyo Iloilo reporter May Ortega talk about Mabilog’s initiative to package the city as “university city” in the hope of attracting more foreign students to pursue their university education here. As usual, Mabilog’s latest scheme is purely air, with no substance.

Perhaps Mabilog is unaware that the city is already host to thousands of foreign students, South Koreans among them, attending school in prestigious universities here for several decades now. There is no need for him to push that image; Iloilo City’s reputation as a center for excellence in education has been existence since he was still wearing short pants. It will do little to repackage the city with that label he has in mind.

It’s time Mabilog realizes that governing Iloilo City isn’t about slogans and labels. The product can speak for itself. What the city desperately needs is honest and accountable leadership, where decisiveness and transparency are major hallmarks, and constituents are able to repose their complete trust and confidence in their leaders. Sadly, after almost one year and a half in office, Mabilog has veered off course from an ethical and moral compass in leadership, and is now navigating in the turbulent seas of scandal and corruption.

It’s also time for Mabilog to realize that as a university city, he is dealing with constituents who can easily through his not-so-brilliant schemes and crude attempts to hide his dishonesty, incompetence and lack of sincerity. Ilonggos are an intelligent people. Mabilog may have succeeded to disguising his true character in the last elections, or persuaded voters that he was the “lesser evil”, but at the rate his popularity and trust ratings are falling, even his supporters are now crying “abandon ship” to avoid being sucked deep into the ocean of corruption.

It’s time Mabilog stops treating Ilonggos as stupid and gullible who will just believe everything he peddles. So far, what we’ve seen with Mabilog are scams and frauds that speak volumes about his character flaws. Perhaps he thinks he has become a master of disguise and a Houdini escape artist who can extricate himself from tight situations. But he’s wrong. His true character is now being unmasked and exposed. At a young age, he is mired in corruption and deception, and I can’t see how he can advance another step in politics.

The deceptive and dishonest character of Mabilog is capsulized in the corporate fraud that he masterminded to abscond the P2 million financial grant of United Parcel Service (UPS) for the improvement of the English language teaching competency of public school teachers in Iloilo City.  Here is a man who deliberately deceived a generous donor to pursue a noble project and rake in P2 million! In any language, he betrayed his true identity as a scam artist masquerading as a public official. That’s the reason he is keeping quiet and steers clear of the issue. He knows there’s no way he can justify his actions.

In other cultures, such behavior would have led to his resignation as city mayor. But then, Mabilog has developed a thick hide. He has lost the sense of decency and honor. He has become insensitive to public criticism, just as he is now ignoring the cacophony of negative commentaries about how he turned the Jaro public plaza into a giant pissing ground, open-air karaoke bar and flea market for the next four months. He feels compelled to keep barangay captains in Jaro who stand to reap millions of pesos from rental income from the Jaro plaza to keep them loyal.

It doesn’t help Mabilog that he has a spokesman with a loud and foul mouth. He forgets that the behavior and language of his spokesman is a reflection of him. The public has constantly found Jeffrey Celiz to be offensive in the way he talks on radio. I won’t be surprised that many Ilonggos have changed their view from positive to negative about Mabilog just on this basis. I guess Mabilog and Celiz simply deserve each other.

The bottom line is that no amount of media hype to promote Iloilo City as “university city” will not change reality. The corruption stinks, and worse, the stench is emanating from the city mayor’s office. That is certain to become the biggest turn-off  for investors and visitors who might be interested in coming here. Propaganda, especially bad propaganda, can’t deodorize that stink.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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