‘MANO-A-MANO’: Treñas faces admin raps on Central Market’s demolition

Despite so-called resolutions and expression of supports from various groups and personalities, the ghost of the demolished Central Market continues to hound Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas. The more than 80-year-old market was flattened by SM Prime Holdings as part of its multi-billion-peso redevelopment project. (Photo by Mariela Angella Oladive)

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor  

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas is engaged in a legal battle with a “cultural heritage advocate” following a cyber libel complaint he previously lodged against the latter.

Treñas is now facing an administrative complaint over the redevelopment of the Iloilo Central Market, particularly the demolition of the 80-year-old art deco façade.

Jose Nereo Lujan filed the complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman Visayas on July 4. He happens to be the chief of the Iloilo Provincial Information and Community Affairs Office at the Provincial Capitol, which is a separate local government unit from Iloilo City.

Lujan’s 17-page complaint cited Treñas’ grave misconduct, abuse of authority, conduct unbecoming, and acts prejudicial to the interest of service for demolishing the Central Market’s art deco façade.

He emphasized that the city mayor’s actions were contrary to law or regulations, given that the market is a heritage structure and presumed important cultural property.

“Sometime in early March 2024, I noticed that the Art Deco Iloilo Central Market, a heritage structure and a presumed important cultural property in Iloilo, having been built during the American period and is more than 50 years old, was being demolished,” Lujan said.

“By the second week of April 2024, the Iloilo Central Market had already been totally demolished. The demolition of the structure was applied for and consented to by Treñas,” he added.

Historical documents indicated that the Central Market opened to the public on January 15, 1912, but the art deco façade was built later in 1938.

The heritage structure, which stands within the Iloilo City Central Business District Heritage Zone, was declared a Historic Center under Resolution No. 3, Series of 2014, by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).

The same NHCP resolution listed the Central Market as a presumed important cultural property, given that it is more than 50 years old.

“Clearly, Treñas’ act of demolishing the Art Deco Iloilo Central Market without any clearance from the NHCP is contrary to law,” Lujan stressed, noting a violation of Republic Act 10066.

RA 10066 provides for the protection and conservation of national cultural heritage, especially on rules to preserve historic buildings over 50 years old.

Lujan further argued that the city mayor committed grave misconduct since the demolition was “illegal and undermines” its official declaration as a historic or heritage site.

“Demolition without any clearance and approval from the NHCP is grave misconduct, considering that there are already established rules for the demolition of heritage and cultural tourism buildings,” he said.

He also pointed out that there is no board resolution from 2022 to 2023 on the NHCP website indicating that the Commission granted clearance to demolish the art deco Iloilo Central Market.

In a May 20 press conference, Treñas maintained that the city government followed legal processes in demolishing the Central Market, citing the city’s Office of the Building Official and Cultural Heritage Conservation Council’s report that the structure was “unsafe.”

In a letter publicly shared by the city government, the NHCP under then-chairperson Rene Escalante informed City Architect Regina Gregorio in February 2023 that upon reviewing the documents and proposed development plans, the agency was “amenable to the project since it will restore the original architectural character of the old Iloilo Central Market.”

It was not categorically mentioned in the letter that the demolition of the façade was approved.

In his complaint, Lujan has asked the Ombudsman for Treñas’ dismissal from government service and forfeiture of all benefits and other emoluments.

He also sought the city mayor’s “perpetual disqualification” from holding any government position and his preventive suspension while the case is ongoing.

In late May, Treñas filed a cyber libel complaint against Lujan for allegedly “harassing” him and his family on social media.

The city mayor also mentioned filing a civil case for damages and administrative charges against Lujan, noting that the latter is not a media practitioner but a government official.

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