Mayor says market demolition complaint ‘politically motivated’

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas asserted that the administrative complaint against him concerning the demolition of the 80-year-old art deco façade of the Iloilo Central Market is “politically motivated.”

“Well, now, it’s already driven by politics,” he said in a press conference on Monday.

The city mayor’s statement comes in response to the administrative complaint filed by cultural heritage advocate Jose Nereo Lujan before the Office of the Ombudsman Visayas on July 4.

Lujan, who is also the chief of the Iloilo Provincial Information and Community Affairs Office (PICAO), accused Treñas of grave misconduct, grave abuse of authority, conduct unbecoming, and acts prejudicial to the interest of service in demolishing the Central Market’s art deco façade.

Maintaining that he did not violate any laws in the demolition, Treñas even resorted to asking who is the legal counsel of Lujan and who he or she is affiliated with.

“I wonder who Lujan’s lawyer is. We also have to look at the connections of his lawyer,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lujan said his decision to file a case against the mayor is a personal cause driven by his commitment as a historian and a heritage advocate.

Atty. Doni June Almio is the legal counsel of Lujan in the cyber libel case filed by the city mayor against him in May this year.

The heritage advocate said he chose Almio to represent him based on “professional competence, not political connections.”

Lujan also shared that he received information that the narrative being pushed by the mayor is that Almio has a past professional association with former Councilor Love Baronda, the sister of Iloilo City’s lone district Rep. Julienne “Jamjam” Baronda.

Jamjam and Treñas have recently parted ways as political allies after the latter endorsed his daughter and executive assistant to run for a congressional seat in the 2025 midterm elections.

Lujan stressed that the city mayor’s remarks “fail to address the fundamental issue – the legality of the demolition of a heritage structure.”

“The accusation of political motivation is a classic deflection tactic, aiming to shift public focus away from the core concern,” he said in a statement.

“It’s a diversion from the real question: Did Treñas secure the necessary approval from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) before proceeding with the demolition?” he furthered.

The PICAO chief also reiterated his allegations that the city mayor has not presented any evidence to confirm that the NHCP sanctioned the destruction of this historic structure.

The city government has shared with the media several papers related to the demolition of the structure.

One of the documents, a February 2023 letter from the NHCP under then-chairperson Rene Escalante to City Architect Regina Gregorio, said that upon its review of the documents and proposed development plans, the agency is “amenable to the project since it will restore the original architectural character of the old Iloilo Central Market.”

The letter, however, did not categorically mention an approval of the demolition of the façade.

It can also be noted that there is no board resolution from 2022 to 2023 available on the NHCP website indicating that the Commission granted clearance for the structure’s demolition.

“Treñas’s insistence that he followed the law must be substantiated with concrete evidence. Until then, his claims remain unproven. The focus should be on whether due process was followed and whether the demolition was legally justified,” Lujan stressed.

Meanwhile, the city mayor further emphasized that the redevelopment of the project will continue unless there is an injunction notice or a temporary restraining order.

“So far as we are concerned, together with our partner, SM Prime Holdings, Inc. (SMPHI), I think we have followed the provision of the law,” he added, emphasizing that SMPHI is a reputable property developer.

The rehabilitation of the Central Market is under a Public-Private Partnership between the city government and SMPHI.

The city government awarded SMPHI the 25-year lease agreement for the redevelopment in August 2022.

A topping-off ceremony for the market, marking the end of concrete works and the beginning of finishing jobs, is scheduled for this August.

Treñas also confirmed that the December 2024 completion date remains on track.

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