The reign of deceit

I never gave this affair about Jed Patrick E. Mabilog being nominated for a supposed “World Mayor” award until my friend, lawyer and journalist Teofisto “Pistong” Melliza, shared on my Facebook wall a campaign poster seeking voter support for the Iloilo City mayor among netizens.

What struck me as incredible was the statement that Mabilog is the only Philippine city mayor who was nominated to the top 25 local chief executives from around the world to vie for this award. It revealed much about what this supposed award is all about. It is a racket.

No sensible organization would confer an award as “World Mayor” on the basis of online votes by email. That method of selection could never qualify as a credible reflection of the sentiments of people from around the world. It is a deceitful ploy that will only help vultures gobble up more prey.

Inside me, I feel hurt that still a considerable number of Ilonggos are falling prey to this racket. In City Hall, officials and employees are allowing themselves to be used as tools to promote the deceit. In doing so, they are devoured by the scam and become deceitful themselves. For everybody knows Mabilog is not material for such an award if that were a legitimate one.

One just needs to look around the city to know that Mabilog can’t even qualify to be the best mayor of Iloilo City in its history. In almost every aspect of governance, Mabilog has done poorly. If there is one area where he excels, it’s in what I call “cosmetic governance”. This guy knows how to embellish an ugly picture to make it look good.

Right now, there is a public uproar over the frequent brown-outs in Iloilo City. There is hardly a day when the city is not hit by a power outage. In the past, power interruptions were caused by weather disturbances such as a thunderstorm, which caused tree branches to break and hit power lines. Lately, however, brown outs occur even in calm weather. The outages happen without obvious causes.

But Ilonggos have never heard their city mayor castigate Panay Electric Co. for its deteriorating service. Mabilog has kept unusually quiet as most of the people curse PECO for these brown outs. It’s as if Mabilog has been deaf about the people’s gripes about electrical services. The situation has turned so bad that Philippine Daily Inquirer ran a story about it. Still, Mabilog remained mum about it.

Well, Mabilog has been more vociferous on the water supply problems of Iloilo City. However, his words are never backed up by action. Four years ago, Mabilog said he would lead a picket march against the Metro Iloilo Water District unless it put an end to its inability to supply water to the city’s households. Nothing happened. Time and again, Mabilog would raise his shrill voice against MIWD. It never went beyond words.

The same thing could be said about Mabilog’s handling of the city’s garbage, crime, traffic and other major problems, to include health and sanitation. In all these areas, his performance could be described as dismal failures. He is so pre-occupied with “beautificaaation”. However, he forgets the problems can’t be hidden with cosmetics.

To my mind, Mabilog resorts to deceitful methods to hide his incompetence. He doesn’t know his job, but he doesn’t want to admit it. He needs camouflage to make him look good. He needs awards and titles to polish and shine his otherwise lackluster image. He makes heavy use of cosmetics, false eyelashes and wigs to accomplish this. Of course I use that in a figurative sense.

But there is one image that comes to mind when I think about Mabilog’s deceitful stratagems. Two years ago, he asked his media handlers to compose a “before and after” poster of his supposed achievements in cleaning up the Iloilo River. The left side of the poster showed a colony of shanties spilling over the banks of the Iloilo River, with Gaisano City in the background. The right side of the poster showed that portion of the riverbank cleared of the ugly shanties. Mabilog claimed it as his accomplishment.

Everybody knows that these squatter shanties were removed from the riverbank way back in the late 90s as part of the Iloilo River improvement project of Senator Franklin Drilon. The occupants were relocated to a village in Pavia, Iloilo. Mabilog was not yet in public office. And the improvement of the place was also upon the instance of Drilon one or two years after the structures were removed.

In short, Mabilog claimed credit for something he had nothing to do with. He shamelessly did it to project a positive image of what he had supposedly done for the Iloilo River for an upcoming international summit which Iloilo city was hosting. Such dishonesty tastes like bile, and no decent individual would consciously do it.

And so now, we see Mabilog aspiring for a lofty-sounding title as “World Mayor”. He hasn’t even started to do his job right, and he is trying to snare another false, empty, hollow title to his name.

Revisiting the Iloilo River project

 Exactly a year has since passed when Ilonggo Senator Franklin M. Drilon set into motion the ambitious Iloilo River project to make this waterway a center of tourism and business activity for his hometown. Unfortunately, despite the heft and weight — politically speaking — put into the project by Drilon, the Iloilo River remains far from becoming a local version of the Singapore Quays upon which it is inspired. While the docks have been cleared of derelicts, and fishing boats have been shooed away from Muelle Loney, the dirtiness of the Iloilo River hasn’t changed at all.

Right now, the P70-million Esplanade Project designed by world-famous landscape architect Paolo Alcazaren is underway to serve as the centerpiece of the project. It is expected to be completed in another three months. But not too far away, beside the newly built Carpenters Bridge, could be seen the colony of shanties that provide a sharp contrast to the anticipated beauty of the Esplanade. True, the illegal fishpens are gone. These informal settlers are harder to dislodge, however. And the problem is that the city government under Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog has no clue where to relocate them.

Indeed, the Iloilo River project is supposed to be largely the responsibility of the local government. As things turned out, however, only Drilon seems to have done his part of the deal. The share of the work assigned to the local government hasn’t moved an inch. This must be a frustrating endeavor for Drilon, because everything he has committed for the project have been delivered. Unfortunately, much of what he is moving are stymied by the failure of Mabilog to do his part.

A clear case in point is the dredging of the Iloilo River. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) reported that the water quality of the waterway has deteriorated severely because of pollution. This situation was only aggravated by the sedimentation that has accumulated on the river bed, making it a lot shallower than it was before. The shallow depth of the river reduced its ability to let the ebb and flow of the tide to naturally discharge toxic substances out to the sea.

The dredging didn’t materialize not because of a lack in equipment. In fact, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) was quick on the draw, so to speak, in transferring its Visayas Dredge II equipment to Iloilo City within a few days after Drilon called up the agency’s top brass. Drilon knows how to flex his political muscle; that’s the reason his end of the bargain moved along the express lane.

But the dredging operations never got to start. After a year, the Visayas Dredge II equipment remains moored at its designated temporary disposal site near the Lopez-Quirino Bridge. Not a single drop of silt has been scooped out of the river bottom. Why? The city government couldn’t find a suitable place where to dump the dredged material. Nobody seems to be interested about looking for that. (Is it because nobody makes a commission?)

The dredging is an important component for the success of the river project. You can’t have a beautiful Esplanade and make do with a polluted, shallow river. The Esplanada is just a stage for viewing the majesty of the Iloilo River as Drilon fondly remembers it during his teen-aged days when he regularly swam across its then clean waters. It’s unfortunate Mabilog doesn’t consider it important enough.

There’s more to the issue of water quality. For over a year now, the DENR has warned about the dangerously high level of toxic material in the river, making it unfit for swimming. How can Drilon ever want to dive into its waters again? The culprit here is the unmitigated discharge of effluent material and even human waste from more than a hundred business establishments and even more houses in the city. The DENR has recommended remedial measures, like requiring wastewater treatment facilities for business establishments, before these are issued business permits. This recommendation has gone unheeded by Mabilog.

Of course, these things are already beyond the scope of Drilon’s participation in the project. It is his dream project, a legacy that he wants to leave behind once he bows out of public service. But his dream is being turned into a nightmare by Mabilog, who can’t seem to grasp the beauty of Drilon’s project. Mabilog is focused on completing the overpriced City Hall project to the neglect of the Iloilo River project and other equally important concerns. Drilon can’t be Mabilog’s baby sitter. Despite his stature, there are limits to what Drilon can do for the city.

The Iloilo River project isn’t just an infrastructure project. It is about projecting a positive image of community in Iloilo City, its way of life as a people. Too bad, the responsibility for leading that community rests with the City Mayor. In Mabilog, we’ve found an individual who falls short of the standard. He is mired in corruption issues. He gestures a lot, but accomplishes almost nothing. He is all form, and no substance.