ILOILO CITY, Philippines – While many continue to be increasingly frustrated by the national government’s unclear plans toward handling the coronavirus pandemic, Ilonggos have remained fairly optimistic about how the health crisis will play out in their city.
Thanks in large part to its Mayor Jerry Treñas who seems to be doing everything in his capacity to keep the tide of COVID-19 at bay. To name a few of the initiatives the mayor has taken, there’s the imposition of a preventive enhanced community quarantine, the establishment of community kitchens around the city to feed the constituents of each barangay, plus his plea for mass testing is now backed with financial support from affluent local businessmen.
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Treñas’s leadership style and approach to the crisis has earned him raves and support in and outside his bailiwick. Netizens have bestowed the city with tags like “the Republic of Iloilo City,” “a country within a country,” and “Wakanda of the Philippines.”
Indeed, Iloilo is quickly emerging as a model city when it comes to its response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. “These are extraordinary times. We are at war with something we cannot see. We have to meet this challenge with extraordinary measures as well,” Treñas told ANCX Thursday, April 2.
As of that date, Iloilo City has three confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death. To keep numbers low, Treñas knows fully well the city must protect the welfare of its frontliners.
In the wake of the Department of Health’s announcement of Iloilo's first COVID-19 positive case in late March, employees of Iloilo’s The Medical City hospital faced discrimination after reports came out the patient was confined at their facility. Some 50 staff members of the hospital were barred from their boarding houses by their respective landlords, refused by eateries, sari-sari stores, and public transport.
Treñas took immediate steps to remedy the situation, establishing Iloilo City College as a temporary dorm for health care workers and other frontliners who need a place to stay. He also ensured shuttle services were made available to Ilonggo nurses and doctors.
In the week that followed, Treñas told the city council to amend the existing “anti-discrimination ordinance” to include a provision that forbids businesses from ostracizing individuals due to their jobs.
Calling frontliners as “modern day heroes,” Treñas continues to be a staunch champion of the welfare of Ilonggo workers in the medical field. “It is [our] sworn duty to provide protection for all our doctors. I do not want to see another doctor die because of the lack of proper PPEs (personal protective equipment).”
To date, the city has raised around Php 1.5 million to purchase and produce personal protective equipment and make them readily available to all the city’s frontliners.
Aside from the 240 community kitchens that feed underprivileged families in the grassroots, Treñas has also put up a dedicated kitchen that feeds some 1,700 frontliners every day. Lauding the mayor’s foresight, Senator Franklin Drilon earlier this week donated P1.5 million which will go to sustaining the city’s food and relief efforts.
‘Stopped in its tracks’
Treñas is one of the first mayors in the country to impose an enhanced community quarantine on his locality, laying down Executive Order 55-2020 on March 20 as a preventive measure to stop the spread of COVID-19 in its tracks — this was before the city registered its first confirmed case of novel coronavirus.
More impressive is the fact that as early as January, Treñas and Iloilo Provincial Governor Arthur Defensor Jr. had already called on Cebu Pacific to immediately suspend its direct flights from the Iloilo International Airport to Hong Kong, and vice versa, as China was quickly emerging as the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just this Thursday, Treñas signed EO No. 60-2020, requiring all Ilonggos to wear face masks when out in public, to limit the potential spread of Covid. Iloilo has also begun its nightly rally to sanitize the city’s streets, an endeavor led by the City Health Office. City Hall has enlisted the firetrucks of the Bureau of Fire Protection and privately-run local firefighting groups, Federation Iloilo Fire Brigade and the Iloilo Citizens Action Group (ICAG), to patrol the city’s major thoroughfares every night and spray them with disinfectant solution.
The City Hall is fully coordinating with the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Bureau of Fire Protection, the Philippine Coastguard, and the Public Safety and Transportation Management Office (PSTMO) to establish border controls and strategic checkpoints, as well as implement the measures of the ECQ.
In an inspired move, a ship owned by the John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University – currently docked at Iloilo River Wharf in Muelle Loney, City Proper – has also been lent to the city as temporary lodging for first responders and medical frontliners. The ship’s central location lends ease and accessibility to the Iloilo footmen during this pressing time.
‘Mass testing now’
Mayor Treñas is one of the loudest proponents of mass testing for COVID-19 in the region, seeing it as the only means for the city to get a clear picture of the extent of the virus’s spread.
Treñas collaborated with scientists and medical professionals from the University of the Philippines Visayas alumni community to champion the establishment of a local test hub at the West Visayas Medical Center (WVMC) in Mandurriao district. The project finally came to fruition in late March, with DOH officially accrediting WVMC as the first test hub in Region 6.
DOH and Research Institute for Tropical Medicine has allotted 5,000 test kits to run the facility, but Treñas believes this is not yet enough to push for “aggressive” mass testing in Iloilo.
Thankfully, a group of prominent Ilonggo businessmen have pooled P5.5 million to purchase 2,500 FDA-approved tests kits from South Korea. Treñas told ANCX the shipment is set to arrive in Iloilo next week. With this first batch of test kits the city mayor hopes to cooperate with the DOH and the RITM to conduct widespread testing in Iloilo City as soon as possible.
Despite all his efforts, Treñas refuses to take all the credit when it comes to his city's fight against COVID-19. “Hindi ko ni tanan makaya kung ako lang isa pero kay ara ang mga Ilonggo tanan malampuwasan gid naton ni!” the veteran politician said. (“I couldn’t have done all of this alone, but with the help and cooperation of every Ilonggo I know we can get through this difficult time together.”)
Treñas said city hall has received around PhP15 million worth of donations in kind, from sacks of rice to canned goods and other food packs, all of which have been funneled to the city’s community kitchens and barangays for distribution. The city opened its doors to aid and donations as early as the second week of March and the robust support from the Ilonggos and the private sector has not ceased since.
To fast-track its supply operations, city hall has established the centrally located Jaro Gym as its Relief Operations headquarters, with some 8,225 sacks of rice and 1,652 boxes of canned goods and noodles awaiting delivery to the city’s districts.
“Our goal is for no Ilonggo to go hungry during this time of crisis,” Treñas told ANCX. “It seems like a difficult task but what I’ve learned is mamag-an lang siya kung tanan kita magbinuligay kag kung mag sige sige ta binuligay.” (“What I’ve learned is the burden of this task has become manageable with all the support and help of the Ilonggos.”)
Asked to comment on the many statements of praise the city has been getting, Treñas puts the spotlight on the Ilonggo character. “Is it because we are the ‘City of Love?’ And the malambing Ilonggos are naturally giving? For me, I believe that Iloilo is different because of its people,” said the mayor. “Us Ilonggos always look out for each other, and we are the kind of people who stand tall and remain steafast. I know if we will just work together and be here for each other, we will be able to overcome this crisis together.”
Photographs from Iloilo City Government page