From copycats to inspiration: Iloilo City’s sustainability journey

By Ces Oreña-Drilon

Iloilo City, already establishing itself as a prime example of a green city, continues to push forward.

The Iloilo City Capitol as viewed from across the Iloilo River lined with a 9-kilometer esplanade where many restaurants and business establishments have mushroomed.

Emulating its success, similar linear parks and esplanades have been popping up across the country, just like Iloilo’s which stretches for about 9 kilometers, crafted by landscape architect and environmental planner Paulo Alcazaren, sparking a sense of pride among the Ilonggos.

Last week, Mayor Jerry Treñas, along with Iloilo City’s Architect’s Office, organized a stakeholder’s forum titled “Towards a Greener Footprint for Iloilo City.” Iloilo takes pride in being one of the first cities to have a city architect, marking a significant milestone in its journey towards sustainability leadership.

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas addresses stakeholder forum held at SM City Iloilo, “We have three primary eco forests in the city, we reuse rain water in the Molo Plaza and we have bidded out solar panels for the roof of the city hall. I assure you we will have a greener future!”

During her keynote address, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Toni Yulo Loyzaga praised Iloilo City, hailing it as “the most modern version of a beautiful coastal garden city.” She commended the city’s internationally renowned esplanade and other well-invested features, while also highlighting the preservation of its built heritage, which showcases the elegance of its culture.

DENR Secretary Toni Loyzaga gives advice to young architects, “Understand the city as a system of systems, make use of vernacular architecture and understand architecture and urban design of informal settlers which reflect the principles of architecture at its most basic.”

Loyzaga acknowledged that there is still much to be done, likening cities to living organisms with a “specific metabolism fueled by the use of natural and manmade resources and human talent.”

In presenting her 13-point agenda for Iloilo City’s green program, Loyzaga announced that on August 4, the DENR will launch the nationwide implementation of the Extended Producer’s Law. This law mandates enterprises to take responsibility for collecting all the plastic packaging they use in any form and managing the solid waste they generate.

Loyzaga emphasized that a greener footprint strengthens the city’s resilience against climate change. She offered a set of recommendations, which can also be applicable to other cities across the country – given that the Philippines is an urban nation with 54% of its population residing in urban barangays.

The following are some of her key proposals:

  • Conduct a comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory to determine the contributions of various sectors to the city’s emissions and set targets for reducing emissions.
  • Develop a strategy for emissions reduction, ensuring accountability for each sector involved.
  • Create an inventory of green and blue assets, with a focus on “blue-ing” Iloilo by recognizing the carbon-sequestration capabilities of mangroves and wetlands, which exceed those of mature tropical forests by tenfold.
  • Implement sustainable building practices, aiming to achieve more with fewer resources.
  • Embrace and revive vernacular architecture, including the use of capiz, aljibe or cisterns, and ventanillas.
  • Conduct a metro-wide biodiversity inventory, enabling the application of nature-based solutions to address flooding in vulnerable areas, such as crop lands and fish ponds.
  • Adopt a resilience strategy grounded in scientific knowledge and expertise.
  • Foster a circular economy to promote sustainable resource use and minimize waste generation.
  • Implement integrated water resource management practices to ensure efficient and sustainable water use.
  • Transition to renewable energy sources to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Strive for self-sufficiency as a city, promoting local production and resource utilization.
  • Incorporate risk-informed governance to enhance preparedness and response to potential hazards.
  • Prioritize the maintenance and preservation of the city’s cultural and social identity by safeguarding its built heritage.

An exhibit by United Architects of the Philippines, Iloilo showcased renderings of future green structures. In photo are Iloilo City Architect Regie Gregorio, Arch Michaela Tayag, Liza Silerio, Paulo Alcazaren, Mayor Jerry Treñas and Grace Magno of SM Supermalls.

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas emphasized the significance of forging public and private partnerships.

Several projects aimed at stimulating economic activity and revitalizing the old city district have been set in motion, including the redevelopment of two public markets.

The local government has partnered with the Sy family’s integrated property arm, SM Prime Holdings, to construct two environmentally friendly buildings. Additionally, discussions are underway with the Lopez Group to establish an eco-friendly transport system, and with Metro Pacific Investments Corp. for a waste-to-energy plant.

Artist’s perspective of the future Iloilo Central Market highlighting its art deco features.

The terms of reference for the Metro Pacific proposal are currently being prepared for a Swiss challenge evaluation.

Construction of the two public markets will be completed by the fourth quarter of 2024, at a cost of P3 billion under a long-term lease agreement.

The future Iloilo Central Market. SM Prime has pledged the adaptive reuse of the existing structure because of its heritage features.

Alcazaren cited political will as one of the key ingredients in Iloilo’s march toward green status. In 2018, it was named the country’s most bike friendly city and in 2019, it was recognized by ASEAN with a clean tourist city award with a badge good for 3 years.

He recalled how former Senator Frank Drilon in partnership with Mayor Treñas dealt with some political opposition and community misgivings when the Esplanade was built.

Alcazaren’s design firm will soon embark on a new plan to redevelop the sidewalks from the Poblacion to the harbor of Iloilo City, in a move to regenerate the heritage district. He assured that all heritage features would be retained, in consultation with the National Historical Commission

Treñas said two of his predecessors attempted to redevelop the city’s two public markets but were unsuccessful. “In my case, it only took a month to conclude talks with SM,” he said.

“I am a strong supporter of heritage. I am on my fifth term. People trust me because I do what I say. I feel the old city will be regenerated. New developments will bring in more economic activity,” Treñas said.

For her part, SM Prime’s VP for Corporate Compliance, Engineer Liza Silerio, said: “ As a partner of Iloilo City, we have to show the city that all our actions are trustworthy. We are part of the city and we are a responsible developer. We lead by example which has been demonstrated through the years.”

Engineer Liza Silerio, SM Prime VP for Compliance illustrates the water recycling system practice of SM Supermalls. “We have been recycling water for decades now and have gone a step further by building the first rainwater treatment facility in Baguio City.”

To demonstrate SM Prime’s commitment to sustainability, Silverio unveiled a video presentation of the first rainwater filtration treatment facility in an SM mall. This innovative system now provides potable water to the mall’s tenants. SM collects 83 million liters of water in 25 of its malls through water catchment basins.

“These are opportunities that developers and retailers at this scale can afford. The social and environmental impacts are multiplied around the communities,” Loyzaga pointed out.

Treñas emphasized that the forum marks the beginning of a series of events aimed at promoting green architecture in Iloilo. With the city currently undergoing a construction boom, he intends to provide architects and engineers with opportunities to explore sustainable building practices.

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