Positive vibes marked the start of 2020 in this highly urbanized city, and not even the global health pandemic can halt the continuous efforts of its local government unit in providing quality service to its constituents.
The unseen threat of the virus likewise did not stop the accolades for the city.
“For 2020, probably the biggest accomplishment even despite the pandemic was that this city has gained prominence,” Iloilo City Mayor Jerry P. Treñas said on Thursday.
The mayor said the initiatives of the city in responding to the threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) was recognized and even earned the moniker “Wakanda of the Philippines”.
This, the mayor said, is a bit difficult because of the high expectations for the city. “What is important I think is for everyone to work together. We still have a lot of things to do,” he said.
Its string of recognitions began with the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Clean Tourist City Award 2020-2022. While it was awarded in Brunei in December 2019, it was presented to the city in January.
It is given to cities that have endeavored to beautify public areas, improve the environment and sanitation, enhance urban spaces, and promote their man-made and natural attractions.
Further, it aims to provide member states with a tool that will improve their tourism quality, increase marketing competitiveness but also improve the situation of residents and livelihood by alleviating poverty.
Complementing the recognition was the launch of the traffic discipline zone at the Sen. Benigno Aquino Avenue (Diversion Road) last January 16.
The 14-kilometer road showcased Ilonggos being law-abiding in following traffic rules and regulations and likewise highlighted the beautification projects of the city.
Before the health crisis, Iloilo’s world-famous Dinagyang introduced change for better entertainment.
On January 26, the first time in 52 years, the religious and cultural festival introduced the 360 degrees concept where similar performances were simultaneously seen from all angles.
It was one of the innovations introduced by the organizers apart from lighting the heritage buildings at the downtown Calle Real dubbed “Illumination”.
City of Love
But not all plans and activities in the City of Love were pursued.
Following the declaration of the national government of the public health emergency, the local chief executive immediately convened all concerned sectors to discuss steps and other measures necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Classes were immediately suspended starting March 16, three days after Iloilo City was placed under enhance community quarantine or “lockdown” that lasted until the end of May.
During the period, only essential businesses were allowed to open. Only selected public transport services were given the go signal to ply routes with minimum health protocols imposed.
On March 25, Iloilo City recorded its first confirmed Covid-19 case — a person with a travel history to Manila.
The city government was not alone in tackling the disease. Support from private and business groups and individuals kept pouring in. The support ranged from the provision of foods, rapid test kits, and personal protective equipment (PPE), among others.
The city government front-liners, the heroes of the campaign, were provided with accommodation.
The vessel of the John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University (JBLFMU) anchored at Iloilo River Wharf in Muelle Loney, City Proper was used as temporary lodging.
Amid the discrimination experienced by other health front-liners, the local government opened the Uswag dormitory at the Iloilo City Community College.
Soon other institutions followed opening their doors to government law enforcers and other individuals in the front-line.
To feed the thousands of front-liners, the mayor’s wife Rosalie, with the help of the LGBTQ community, opened a Kitchen Patrol.
It fed 1,665 front-liners assigned in border checkpoints, hospitals, health centers, operation centers, and at the city hall.
While the daily food sustenance of front-liners had been taken care of, a parallel effort was initiated for city residents affected by the ECQ.
A total of 240 community kitchens were established that served around 1.9 million free meals during the entire duration of the lockdown. Parent-leaders, daycare workers, and supplemental feeding workers joined forces in cooking food for needy Ilonggos.
Ilonggo bakeries and milling firms La Filipina Uygongco, Great Harvest Commodities, Carlos Uy Corporation, and Angelina Bakeshop set aside business rivalries and collaborated with the city government to come up with the Ilonggo Pandesal, which served as a symbol of generosity and unity in times of crisis.
A total of 648,000 pieces of the pandesal were provided for free to city residents for 15 days.
Ilonggo artists also contributed by selling their prized paintings and donated part of the proceeds, used by the local government to produce 300,000 face masks through the Uswag (progress or success) sewers.
The local government in coordination with the Department of Agriculture (DA) rolled out the Uswag Rolling Store offering fresh farm produce to residents.
“Because of the Ilonggos’ unwavering brand of bayanihan spirit, we continue to fight against covid-19. Help from all sectors were overwhelming, and I am certain that it was the help coming from everyone that kept us all intact and resilient,” said the mayor in his State of the City Address (SOCA) delivered in July.
Meantime, with limited transportation, Iloilo City dubbed the “Bike Capital of the Philippines” with an 11-kilometer route along the Diversion Road, also proposed for an additional 32.86 kilometers of bike lane. It also received donations that were provided to law enforcers, health workers, and other front-liners.
The city’s efforts to respond to the threat of Covid-19 was boosted with the opening of its Covid-19 molecular laboratory in Barangay San Pedro, Molo.
The laboratory could release test results as fast as 24 to 48 hours.
It complemented the existing laboratories of the Qualimed Hospital and the Western Visayas Medical Center sub-national laboratory hence the faster processing and release of test results.
Another initiative to address the pandemic is the contact tracing QR code that made it easier for the local government to identify the status of an individual.
Iloilo City has been keeping the lead among the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) in planning for the purchase of vaccines for 100 percent inoculation. It has allocated PHP200 million for the acquisition of the Covid-19 vaccine.
On Dec. 29, the city’s Special Committee on Vaccine Availment had a virtual meeting with vaccine czar and national policy against Covid-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr.
Treñas said several private firms in the city have committed to purchase vaccines for their employees. “I think we are moving forward very good,” he said.
With the new Covid-19 strain, the city remains vigilant and welcomes the idea of imposing a “stronger quarantine” when necessary.
“Let us all enjoy the New Year; know that your city is working for you,” the mayor said.
The city is currently on general community quarantine status but appealed that it be reclassified under modified general community quarantine in January 2021.
As of December 30, Iloilo City was left with 118 total active Covid-19 cases out of its 4,658 total cumulative cases. It also has 652 deaths.
Alongside all the Covid-19 efforts, other infrastructure projects were either completed or were bid out this year.
It was last Oct. 7 when the city government broke ground for the proposed 375-square space state-of-the-art five-story Iloilo City Action and Response (ICARE) Center.
The command center shall house the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRRMO), Public Safety and Transportation Management Office (PSTMO), police, and fire stations.
A site for the proposed 50-bed city hospital was likewise identified.
Ilongga beauty queen
One big win for the Ilonggos amid the pandemic was the coronation of Ilongga Rubiya Mateo as Miss Philippines-Universe during the pageant held in Baguio City in October.
Her homecoming in November made Ilonggos temporarily forget their fears of the Covid-19 virus as they tried to have a glimpse of the beauty queen.
Mateo’s homecoming coincided with the series of lighting ceremonies for the various lanterns and Christmas decorations along the major thoroughfare and plazas in the city.
Over 600 parols (lanterns) known as “Christmas Parol of Hope”, an initiative of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) Iloilo, hang along major streets of the city while private individuals and firms fill the plazas with decorations.
Just in time for Christmas Day, the Baysulangpu Society and private partners completed the mural paintings showcasing the historic landmarks of Calle Real, the old business district of the city.
Considered as the longest mural in Panay Island, the paintings were made on around 100 meters of the blank wall turned canvas along Sen. Benigno Aquino Avenue in Mandurriao district
Source: Philippines News agency