The mayors of Iloilo

Published September 1, 2021, 6:58 AM

by Milwida Guevara

Clint Eastwood does not only have a towering presence in movie screen.  There is always a Clint Eastwood among our local leaders.  They stand out in any crowd.  They speak with bravado and make decision like lightning.  I have been writing about these leaders quite often.

But leadership has many faces.  Like a rainbow, leadership has many colors, and gender diversity.

There is the Mayor of Alimodian, Gefree Alonsabe.  He could steal the thunder from Mayor Vico anytime.  His shoulders are draped in a red Pashmina.  His nails and lips are painted red.  Senator Win calls him the “Most Beautiful Mayor in the Universe.”  But make no mistake about his leadership.  He won with his tagline “Bakla ako, pero hindi ako corrupt.”  (I may be gay, but I am not corrupt.).  In our present government which reeks of corruption, his integrity program is a breath of fresh air.  Mayor Jefree has outstanding programs in health and in education and travels to the remotest barangays to ensure that everybody is helped.   

Mayor Jefree calls the Mayor of Concepcion, Raul Banias, “Papa” (Father and Supporter).  The shy mayor can only smile.  But he is “Papa” in the real sense.  The Ford Foundation saw his potential and gave him a grant early on.  He chose to share the grant with peer-Mayors from Northern Iloilo who banded together in an alliance called NIACDEV.  They realized that certain programs like coastal protection and food security can only be carried out if they worked together.  The selfless Mayor Raul chose to share his opportunities with others. 

This trait served him well when Governor Art Defensor requested him to serve as the Provincial Administrator.  In tandem, they both saw to it that development would not just “trickle down” to all the towns in Iloilo.  They made it a point for all the Local Chief Executives to walk in lockstep and made them partners in planning and implementing socio-economic infrastructure projects.

It would not be fair to mention Mayor Raul without his best buddy, Mayor Jett Rojas of Ajuy, Iloilo.  His leadership is full of sweetness—not only through a sing-song with which he speaks, but in dealing with his constituents.  Perhaps he developed such sweet rapport after being shocked that students thought he was “GMA” because of his petite nature.  He then embarked on a massive education program—training teachers, organizing parents, and developing instructional materials.  He is happy to say that now, the children can recognize him anytime and anywhere.    He outsmarts Mayor Raul in certain ways.  When he heard that I was going to Concepcion with the World Bank Director Bert Hoffman, he met us at the airport and had the first chance to met Mr. Hoffman. 

Mayor Jerry Trenas of Iloilo City is our “climate change” Mayor.  I saw a sunny day become a stormy day when we presented him with the low NAT (national admission test) scores of the students.  His meeting was short of ranting and raving.  I regularly follow the changes in his moods in our viber group as he writes with desperation about the lack of vaccines in the city and the unresponsiveness of government agencies.  I then I see the clouds disappear as he talks about his partnership with the private sector to open the economy and to help the poor and the hungry.  Mayor Jerry penned the private sector partnership behind the world famous “Dinagyang Festival and started the transformation of Iloilo city into a bustling metropolis with the Iloilo River Development Project.               

And then there is the rising superstar Board Member Jason Gonzales, former Mayor of Lambunao.  He is one of our deep thinkers who can eloquently articulate his thoughts with an “Arrneow accent.”  He set his vision on improving the lives of famers and made his dream come through by making them part of a supply chain—provision of inputs, technical training, value-formation, and access to markets.  He surprised us all with introducing meditation in schools    and convinced us not by stories but with hard data on the positive outcomes of his innovation.

I must not forget Mayor Ronilo Caspe of Cabatuan.  The Iloilo international airport is nestled in his town.  Bu more than this, Cabatuan is always a  showcase of governance in action.  Mayor Caspe is respected for his participatory leadership where leaders from tribal communities are given a seat in the table.  Having been a principal, he develops programs to ensure that all the children develop good reading and math skills.  He shows us how to effectively harness the support of OFWs.  With their help, he built a   playground which serves as a paradise for children.

The lack of space deprives me of the opportunity to showcase how leadership abounds in local governments: the ever smiling Dr. Mac Napulan, the feisty former Mayor of Lemery Ligaya Apura; Mayor Rey “Jaworski” Grabato of Mina, the fountain of youth, Mayor Carina Flores of Oton, the rising star of Dumangas, Mayor Ronaldo Golez, and the ever shy Mayor Larry Villanueva of San Dionisio.  These Mayors are not in the limelight.  They are not seen on national TV.  But they make the sun shine despite heavy thunder and black clouds.  They do not only give us hope.  They answer our prayers for leaders who take good care of their own.

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