‘ALL ON PAPER’: Iloilo City Hall defends Central Market demolition

Iloilo City Jerry Treñas on Monday was fuming at the media for their continued inquiry into the Iloilo City Central Market demolition to the point that he threatened to sue journalists through his law firm.

By Joseph Bernard A. Marzan

The Iloilo City government reiterated on Monday, May 20, that it followed legal processes to demolish the Iloilo City Public Market (Central Market) after a government official suggested informal inquiries into the matter.

Engineer Mavi Gustilo, head of the city government’s Office of the Building Official (OBO), said during a regular press conference that they initially recommended retrofitting the more than 100-year-old market.

“When the OBO conducted structural assessment last August [2023], and we found that there were visual identification of defects. We saw major cracks in the structural components, that’s why we recommended the repair, retrofitting, and subsequent demolition if retrofitting is no longer possible,” Gustilo said.

She added that they ordered Ms. Maricel Mabaquiao, head of the Local Economic Enterprise Office, to vacate the premises due to safety concerns. Subsequently, SM Prime Holdings applied for a demolition permit, which was approved by the Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council.

“Before we gave the demolition permit, SM tried to save [the structure]. We have photos showing that they conducted retrofitting. In fact, we have copies of their methodology and pictures of them conducting retrofitting. But later on, during the scraping of the concrete structures, especially the tower, it seemed that the concrete was already getting crushed. That was the basis that it was beyond repair,” she explained further.

Mayor Jerry Treñas affirmed that the city government submitted complete requirements to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and that the plans, including the demolition, were approved by the agency.

In a February 20, 2023 letter to City Architect Regina Gregorio, then-NHCP chairperson Rene Escalante said that the commission was “amenable to the project since it will restore the original architectural character of the old Iloilo Central Market.”

However, National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Commissioner for Cultural Heritage Ivan Anthony Henares said on Saturday, May 18, that they were reviewing whether the NHCP-approved plans included demolition provisions.

Mayor Treñas criticized the lack of engineering and architectural expertise in the cultural agencies, expressing frustration over the conflicting statements.

“Budlay bala kay lain nga agency, mahambal naman parte sa lain nga agency! Kag indi man mga engineer, indi man mga architect! Mga wala pulos! Waay kadtuan ni kita! Gina sunod ta ang tanan nga kinahanglan. Wala kita gina shortcut! Mga labutaw bala nga istorya. Dasun ano pa? Nga gina-imbestigar ako? Yudipota! Pa-imbestiga, bilat sang amay ya!” the mayor exclaimed.

It’s frustrating when one agency comments on another agency’s matters without the proper expertise. We have followed all required processes. These are just baseless stories. Why am I being investigated? This is absurd! (Followed by expletives).

He then recalled the “irresponsible journalism” remark made by Henares, directed at Daily Guardian and Panay News, which both reported on the commissioner’s remarks on Sunday morning.

The mayor even threatened to sue the Iloilo media, through his law firm, over the controversy.

Treñas also responded to Henares’ remark that the application should have been filed with the NCCA instead of the NHCP.

“It has always been with the NHCP. There’s a law on it,” he said.

The documents provided by the city government to the media did not clearly indicate demolition.

A letter from Architect Gregorio to Escalante mentioned submitting plans and an inspection report but did not explicitly recommend demolition.

“This is to inform you that the Iloilo City Government has received an unsolicited proposal from SM Prime Holdings Inc. to develop the Iloilo Central Market along Aldeguer, Iznart, Rizal and Guanco Sts., City Proper, Iloilo City. The existing market is composed of a cluster of buildings built in different periods among which is the structure located at the corner of Rizal and Iznart Sts. that has been declared as a heritage structure. Relative thereto, we are submitting herewith the proposed plans and perspectives for your review, recommendation and/or approval. For your reference, I am also attaching the Inspection Report of the Office of the Building Official and pictures of existing heritage structure,” according to Gregorio’s letter to Escalante.

Neither did the OBO’s August 9, 2022 inspection report make any statement directly recommending demolition.

The OBO’s August 9, 2022 inspection report highlighted structural defects and recommended immediate repairs, but did not directly recommend demolition.

“The assessment of the building was conducted through visual identification of defects in structural and non-structural components of the building as well as the electrical and mechanical utilities. For the noted defects, corresponding recommendations are provided.”

“As per assessment, exposed corroded reinforcing steel bars and major cracks were found on concrete beans which may lead to structural failure of the member. Cracks were also noted on concrete floor slabs as well as on canopy. The deteriorated ceilings due to water leakages indicate that the roofing is in the state of dilapidation. It has been observed that the whole building lacks proper maintenance, which causes the occurrence of the abovementioned deterioration, dilapidation, and defects.”

“It is highly recommended to conduct immediate repair of those structural members such as beams, columns, and slabs with noted defect to prevent further deterioration, structural members with noted defects that is beyond repair will be subjected for demolition.”

“Building and all parts thereof as well as all facilities and utilities found therein shall be maintained in safe, sanitary and good working condition.”

The minutes of the Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council’s January 18, 2024 meeting noted a resolution from December 19, 2023, that did not object to the demolition, nearly ten months after NHCP’s approval. This is the only document where demolition was explicitly mulled and mentioned.

While Gustilo mentioned the demolition permit was attributed to SM Prime Holdings, the permit approved by Mayor Treñas indicated it was applied for by the Iloilo City Government.

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