Sen. Franklin Drilon (seventh from left) receives a painting by local artist Kinno Florentino (extreme right) during the culmination dinner of Iloilo Business Week at Grand Xing Imperial Hotel. With them in photo are (from left) lawyer Jobert Penaflorida, Terence Uygonco, Juan Jose Jamora, Iloilo Multisectoral Business Organization Inc. president Fanny Uy, former Iloilo governor Arthur Defensor Sr., Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas and former Tourism secretary Narzalina Lim.
FRANKly, why Iloilo is back on the radar
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - August 27, 2019 - 12:00am

I spent five of my formative years in Iloilo and though it was the setting of my halcyon days, it looked like a city that was left behind by its neighbors, and Manila, of course.

“While other cities, like Cebu and Bacolod, made huge development strides, Iloilo fell behind — reduced to a shadow of its former self,” recalled Sen. Franklin Drilon, an Ilonggo to the core. “The infrastructure was poor. The roads were bad. The airport and seaport were dirty, disorderly and inefficient. In a coffee table book, Iloilo was even compared to a woman abandoned by her lover in the Ilonggo kundiman Ay, ay Kalisud.

That was sad because Iloilo has so much to offer.

“Fortunately, many Ilonggos never gave up on the dream of making Iloilo a premier investment and tourist destination,” said Drilon.

Among those who turned the dream into everyday reality that you could see, touch and walk on (or drive your car or taxi your plane on) is Drilon himself.

The Iloilo I saw when I was invited to a concert at the Molo Church two years ago was stunning in comparison to the Iloilo I had left in my childhood.

And no wonder.

“The last 12 years have seen tremendous growth. Sen. Franklin Drilon has contributed a lot of big ticket projects,  which have changed the landscape of Iloilo forever,” former Tourism secretary Narzalina Lim pointed out.

“The story of our province and city is not just the story of the Ilonggos. It is the story of Filipinos. This is the story of people who are determined to scale new heights of economic and social success,” Drilon said when he was recently feted by giants of Philippine business.

Some 400 persons attended the reception hosted by Iloilo Economic Development Foundation Inc. and the Iloilo Multisectoral Business Organization Inc. at the Grand Xing Imperial Hotel in Iloilo City last Aug. 16. The dinner with the theme “Celebrating the Ilonggo Spirit” was the culmination of the weeklong Iloilo Business Week 2019.

The dinner ended with a rousing toast. (From left) Martin Dy Buncio, Fanny Uy, Senator Drilon and SM Investments Corp.’s Tessie Sy-Coson.

“Senator Drilon and I have worked on quite a number of projects, like the construction of the Iloilo International Airport. We cannot underestimate the impact that it has,” said former Iloilo governor Arthur Defensor Sr.

“The beautiful 10-lane highway from the airport to Iloilo City is responsible for opening the eyes of the country that Iloilo is on the road,” he added.

The former governor was referring to the 15-kilometer Sen. Benigno Aquino Avenue, a project of Drilon, which is the main gateway to the city. The whole stretch is now a commercial strip, dotted by new hotels and business establishments.

It is complemented by a 14-km. four-lane circumferential road, the Pres. Corazon Aquino Avenue, which provided easy access to the city and opened new land areas for development.

“Iloilo stands out as an investment location because it has good, well-connected infrastructure,” said Francis Gentoral, executive director of the Iloilo Local Economic Development Foundation Inc.

Iloilo is in fact the first SM branch outside of Manila and as early as 1979, there was already a branch of SM in Iloilo.

“I think that Iloilo really grew tremendously. Big companies are already located here. I think Iloilo, after five years, will usher in the growth of more businesses,” said Fanny Uy of the Iloilo Multisectoral Business Organization Inc.

“Drilon has revived interest in our river by developing the Esplanade,” Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas said, referring to the eight-kilometer long, six-meter wide Iloilo River Esplanade, the longest linear park in the country, which became a model of urban development. Drilon said this project was close to his heart because he used to swim there as a boy.

Drilon thanked the local leaders and the business community for recognizing his efforts.

Sen. Franklin Drilon and wife Mila (fifth and fourth from left) with (from left) Marco Vargas, Lopez Group Foundation and Lopez Museum’s Cedie Lopez Vargas, Mayor Jerry Treñas and Nikolas de Ynchausti.

“In Iloilo, we have proven that we can create change when we put our collective interest before individual interest. In Iloilo, we are nurturing big dreams and are working hard to realize these dreams,” Drilon said.

“Our ambitious plans for Iloilo are not achievable in the short term. But in less than a decade, Iloilo’s rapid progress stunned even our most committed critics,” he added.

But Drilon said that “there’s more to be done and the development of Iloilo remains a work in progress.”

“It is not yet time for us to pat our backs and say, ‘look, how far we have gone.’ Rather, it is, ‘look, how far do we have to go’?” Drilon said.

The Ilonggo senator outlined some of his plans for Iloilo. Among these are the construction of the Iloilo-Guimaras bridge, the positioning of Iloilo as MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) destination, and the establishment of agro-industrial economic zones, among others.

“Let us lobby and put pressure on the government to commence construction of the Iloilo-Guimaras bridge. The recent tragedy, which claimed the lives of 31 people, should leave no doubt on the need for this bridge, regardless of any economic rate of return standard used by our economic managers in deciding on this.”

Drilon also initiated the restoration of heritage structures in Iloilo. Among these are the century-old Elizalde building, which now houses the first Museum of Philippine Economic History. This was where my late father Frank Mayor worked when he was assigned to the city by Elizalde International. There is also the Sunburst Park, where Drilon plans to put up the Wall of Panay Heroes; the renovation of the old Iloilo Custom House; and the restoration of the main building in UP Visayas.

“We have achieved our dreams for our people. Now, we can dream some more,” Drilon concluded.

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

ARTHUR DEFENSOR SR. FRANKLIN DRILON ILOILO JERRY TREñAS NARZALINA LIM
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