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The Baguio Public Market:
Then, Now, and Again

by Erlyn Ruth Alcantara

Then and Now...

Over a hundred years ago, Baguio was a newly established township in the Northern Luzon highlands. The Baguio Market then served a small, multi-cultural community.

Today, Baguio City is Northern Luzon’s regional capital with a population of over 300,000.

The demands of Baguio’s growing population are felt most at the public market. Spaces are getting more cramped by a steadily growing number of vendors and market-goers. The market’s water, drainage, and waste disposal systems have been so strained and are in dire need of maintenance and upgrading.

The Baguio Stone Market, 1934 (US NARA)
Made of cut Baguio stone, the walls of this popular city landmark survived the Allied bombing raids of the Second World War and a major fire in 1970. It was demolished in the mid-1970s.
The Baguio Stone Market, 1962 (W. Fabianic collection)
One of the first buildings repaired after 1945 was the Stone Market.
Maharlika Livelihood Center, 2008 (Ompong Tan)
In 1975, Mar-Bay & Co., Inc. proposed to build a 17-storey hotel and a commercial complex on the site of the Stone Market. Civic groups and the Market Fire Victims’ Association vigorously opposed the project. In 1978, construction on the hotel project stopped but resumed two years later for the building of a five-storey complex which became the Maharlika Livelihood Center.

Then and Again...

The market fire in 1970 and the subsequent demolition of the Stone Market stand out in the memory of Baguio residents who witnessed these. A major fire on Feb. 19, 1970 gutted all the stalls at the Stone Market and the Dry Goods Section. Only a year earlier, on Feb. 25, 1969, the city had entered into an agreement with a private corporation to renovate, reconstruct, and modernize the Stone Market.

In this light, many residents find the recent market fires disturbing. With plans “to develop the market” and old and new contracts being reviewed, it does not help dispel public distrust that the cause of the fires has not been sufficiently determined.

Still, we need to learn from mistakes in our history. The city lost one of its most historically important buildings when the Stone Market was demolished. The buildings inaugurated in 1952, 1955, and 1958 are the remaining links to the “old Baguio Market.” Yet these are afforded little value in spite of their historical importance.

“Fire destroys Stone Market,” February 1970 (Baguio Midland Courier)
A market fire on Feb. 19, 1970 displaced over 200 vendors occupying the Stone Market and the Dry Goods Section behind it. Despite public clamor to rebuild the roof, beams, and stalls, the Stone Market was demolished. Only a year earlier, on Feb. 25, 1969, the city had entered into an agreement with a private corporation to renovate, reconstruct, and modernize the Stone Market.

Market fire, April 12, 2008 (Jose Yñiguez)
The Sari-Sari Section of the market burns down at dawn.
After the Fire, February 1970 (Angel Visperas)
A view of the ruins of the Stone Market (middle) and Dry Goods Section (foreground) after the fire. Another fire in 1976 gutted makeshift stalls built by vendors who lost their stores in the 1970 fire.
After the fire, March 2009 (Harley Palangchao)
Less than a year after the Sari-Sari Section fire, adjacent market buildings burned down at dawn again, destroying the Vegetable-Fruit and Tobacco Sections.

Moving Forward

Together, city officials, vendors’ associations, engineers, green design experts, civic groups, and concerned individuals will be making important decisions on the future of Baguio’s central market. But first, a fresh slate: Cards on the table, so to speak, in order that constructive inputs could be made towards improving the market. To help us move forward and rise above controversies, everyone involved, especially those in positions of authority, must recognize (so as not to squander) the opportunity to act with integrity and to positively contribute to long-term goals.

For now, it could also be helpful to learn from other local and Asian public markets—look at models and see what features can be adapted or modified to suit the needs of Baguio’s marketplace.

It was not too long ago when the Baguio Market was known as one of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful markets. What would it take for the city to regain that distinction?

These texts and photographs (except for the 2009 photo) are excerpts from The Baguio Public Market 1908-2008, an exhibition held in September to December 2008.
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