Proposed "Mallification" of the Baguio Public Market: The Death of a Heritage

The Baguio Public Market is one of the city’s most beloved and most visited heritage sites for both tourists and locals alike. Since its establishment as the center of commerce, it has been a symbol of Baguio’s cultural richness embedded in trade and economic activity. Having visited other public markets in the country, we all can surely vouch for the distinctive ambiance and special vibrancy that makes this particular market stand out from the rest. The sweet scent of freshly harvested Benguet vegetables, the calming aroma of freshly ground Cordilleran coffee, and the delightful sight of native Igorot craftsmanship are just some of the features that keep people coming back.

Currently, there is a growing consensus among local folks that the proposed Government-Private partnership for the development of the City Market is detrimental to Baguio’s ethnic identity and it poses a threat to small scale businesses, vendors, and even buyers who have been trading there throughout the years. To some, the market’s impending “mallification” will tip the scale of economic balance in favor of rich entrepreneurs and the more affluent “shop” (not market) goers.

THE PROPOSAL

The city government announced the direction being considered for the proposed multi-billion re-development of the city’s public market is through the public-private partnership (PPP) scheme instead of acquiring loans from established government financial institutions to ensure the sustainable operation of the facility in the future (from the Official website). This simply means that the Market development will be undertaken by private entities at no cost to the City. What’s the catch? Well the entity (SM Prime Holdings seems to be the preferred developer by the City) will design and undertake the project subject to the approval of the City Government and in return, the said entity will have management and supervision control over the market until the termination of the agreement (which is perhaps at the end of a century).

In an October 14 memorandum, Mayor Benjamin Magalong overturned the recommendation of the Public-Private Partnership for People-Screening Committee (P4-SC), saying that the Sy-led listed firm appears to be more complete and sound. ‘This office finds the unsolicited proposal of SM Prime Holdings more complete and therefore, more beneficial to the city," Magalong said. So there you have it. The preference has been fielded. The proposed design is of course in line with SM’s specialty. According to the proposal, the first two floors will be allocated to the market’s existing vendors and stall occupiers and the higher floors to the mall giant’s “other” clients.

THE PROS AND CONS

The apparent advantage is that the Market will be redeveloped at no cost to the city. It would be cleaner, more organized, and more secured. And that’s about it really.

On the other hand, here are some of the Cons as raised by the public in various forums:

1.    The market loses its cultural character and “masa” appeal. It will become more of a big mall-type concrete shopping jungle.

2.    The City will lose its management control eventually and rent rates and other charges will be determined by the developer.

3.    Prices of goods will likely increase significantly to cope with higher rent, maintenance, and operation costs.

4.    Market vendors will have to compete with other big business franchises and supermarkets within the mall in terms of products and prices.

5.    After 50 years, the City will have to pay the Billion peso cost before they can assume control over the market (included in SM Condition). Parking fees of 1,500 slots will also collected by the developer for the duration of the partnership.

THE COUNTER-PROPSAL

The Baguio Heritage Foundation, Inc., (BHFI), local architects, market vendors, and other Baguio-loving individuals have voiced out a united stand to urge the local government not to allow the privatization and “mallification” of the market. While they acknowledge the need to modernize and redevelop the existing site to address sanitary and peace and order problems, the proposal should be based on proper ethnic landscaping and should be in tune with the consensus of market vendors and stakeholders rather than based on the whims of big private corporations who know little about Baguio and its people.

An alternative partnership between market vendors, cooperatives, and the government seems to be the general “grassroots” preference. The opposing groups also suggest that the city could post bonds and let Baguio residents invest in the market or instead of allowing mall developers, they proposed that the city use its “idle funds” or secure a suitable loan.  Another proposal is to establish district markets in strategic areas to de-congest the central business district. Alternative designs which are more culturally sensitive and more environmentally friendly were also submitted by local architect groups and the market vendor association.

As other parts of the world frown upon privatizing and over-modernizing public market sites, the complete opposite seems to be the norm in our locality. As a thought to ponder, this American excerpt says it all:

A brief history of American public markets explains why believers in good government valued public markets and fought relentlessly to protect them from private enterprise. Public markets had been the responsibility of local government for millennia. They were critical to the economic survival of a city because waste due to excessive competition could mean poverty and starvation for the community. Following this tradition, the municipality in eighteenth-century America set aside public space and extra-wide streets for markets, built sheds for the protection of buyers and sellers, and established precise rules of commercial conduct in the form of market laws.” (Public Markets and Municipal Reform in the Progressive Era; Tangires 1997)


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