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Remembering the lessons of the past for the future: The Baguio City Market
by Liza Agoot

Tourists come to Baguio because of many reasons, but a trip to the city without a stroll and purchase at the city market is as good as not visiting Baguio at all.
Considered as the show window of the city, the market is endowed with fertile economic activity, where different kinds of enterprising individuals stay and income-generating activities are undertaken.

Undeniably, the market is also riddled with problems, like unmanageable solid wastes, theft and robbery cases, illegal ven-ding, incidents of physical injuries, zoning problems, corruption, and the never ending problem that the city government continues to face: its development.

A short history
The existing city market became the center of trade of Kafagway even before Baguio became a chartered city.  It has always been the area where products from the lowlands and products from the highland areas of the old Mountain Provinces were traded among local buyers as well as the viajeros.

It was formally established as the Baguio City Public Market in 1913 and covered by a transfer certificate of title for an area of 77,770 square meters.

In the 1960s, an area of 4,672 sq. m. was leased to the Baguio Hilltop Enterprises, where the Hilltop Hotel used to stand; while 5,000 sq. m. was leased to the Human Settlement Development Corporation, where the Maharlika Livelihood Center and Marbay presently stand.

At present, the city market occupies only 61,707 sq. m.

From the early days of its creation as a trading area, the market was divided into blocks and sections virtually imposing a zoning of the different products sold therein. There emerged the blocks 1 to 4, the hangar market, footwear section, caldero section, tobacco section, dry goods section, sari-sari section, rice section, fruit section, hot cake section, flower section, etc.

In 1974, the city council passed an ordinance to set order in the conduct of businesses in the entire city including the city market. The ordinance aimed to implement rules and regulations governing the conduct and operation of businesses, trades, amusements, and other enterprises in the City of Baguio and prescribed permit fees, taxes, and other fees and charges.

This same ordinance detailed the prescribed rules and regulations governing the administration and operation of public markets in the city, and prescribed the rates and rentals for fixed stalls, booths, rooms, and other fees. The ordinance also empowered the city treasurer to have direct and immediate supervision, administration, and control over public markets and the personnel implementing the rules in markets and trade areas.

The 1974 rules governing the market were revised in 1986, which were further revised through a tax ordinance in 2001, and most recently, in 2007.

Fire incidents at the market
All efforts to make the market beautiful by implementing zoning and tax ordinances have been affected by a series of fires over the decades.

In the Jan. 10, 1960 issue of the Baguio Midland Courier, the headline written by Bert Floresca and Romeo Florendo says, “Arson seen in P1.5M fire (four blocks razed in 4-hour blaze).”

The news story revealed the destruction of more than P1.5-million worth of property and rendered more than 120 families homeless, which according to investigation then conducted by the detective bureau of the Baguio police department, was the result of arson. The fire incident which happened at 3:30 in the morning was well responded by the Baguio firemen, but they were virtually helpless because of lack of adequate firefighting equipment, aggravated by the lack of water due to low water pressure. The dawn fire incident gutted what Baguioites then called as the burned area and where the Baguio Centermall presently stands.

A fire again occurred in February 1970, which affected the stone market built in 1917. An estimated damage of P2 M was reported. Like the previous incident, malfunctioning equipment was one of the causes of the delayed arrival of the fire truck.

Midland
’s Feb. 22, 1970 issue stated that the fire was reported by a policeman on beat to have started from the back of the stone market building. He told investigators that he noticed electric wire sparks from some stalls adjacent to the stone market building. The policeman rushed to the fire department to sound the alarm while his companion turned off the electric switch in the area and later called for help through the local radio stations. Fifteen minutes after the alarm sounded, the city fire truck arrived at the scene, although the city fire department was just a few meters away. Capt. Avelino Noble, then city fire chief, told the city mayor and investigators that “the fire truck would not start because of a dead battery and it had to be pushed.”

In its editorial in the same issue entitled “Calamitous Fire,” the Midland discussed how unsafe the downtown area is from destructive fire because the local fire
department is practically helpless in preventing the spread of blazing flame.

Another incident on March 15, 1970 set the dry goods section of the market on fire caused by faulty electrical wiring.

Two decades since then, as published in the Sept. 6, 1992 issue of the Midland, at the dawn of Sept. 1 a fire incident brought the market ablaze like a giant birthday candle for Baguio’s Charter Day celebration. This incident damaged the vintage 1917 vegetable and fruit section building estimated to be worth around P10 M. The fire incident was caused by faulty and antiquated electrical wiring.

In recent times, the sari sari section of the market was razed on April 11, 2008 just after the Holy Week celebration and again last March 2 at around 3 a.m., the fruit and vegetable section adjacent to the recently burned portion was also razed to the ground.  The ultimate causes for these fires have yet to be determined.

Due to the unorganized placement of products in the market, aggravated by the limited if not small alleys, the market has recently been declared as a ‘fire hazard’. Added to this is the fact that many have inhabited the market as either their permanent or temporary residence. While sleeping inside the market has been disallowed and this rule has been made known, still, a lot of vendors blatantly disobey the rules and regulations, which makes the market more prone to fire.

Being a fire zone, ready to go up in flames any time, the city’s attempt to insure the market never prospered. This status of the market made it ineligible to be insured for any kind of peril.

This year, after the old stone market was gutted by fire, the city government took the initiative to purchase new equipment which include breathing apparatus and fire proof coats and boots that would enable firefighters to enter an enclosure without endangering themselves.  Additional pieces of equipment were provided by the city government to the fire office as it won the National Kalasag Award.

Earlier, during the administrations of mayors Bernardo Vergara and Mauricio Domogan, additional vehicles were also purchased by the city government to address the lack of fire trucks.

Aside from the government’s effort, various non-government organizations, firms, and businesses have also established their own fire offices and bought fire trucks, that augment the resources of the city.

The fire office and the city government have also penned an agreement with the water delivery truck owners to provide assistance and water in times of fire incidents.

Market development, Uniwide enters the picture
Every time the market is damaged due to fires, the city often comes to the rescue to repair, rebuild, and remodel the damaged portions. For a number of times, millions of pesos have been appropriated to fund small developments just to be able to bring back the displaced traders to their original selling areas and continue with their livelihood.

From a previously organized market where one simply needed to proceed to one area to find a particular commodity, the market has become topsy turvy; a disorganized place where stalls selling fish are adjacent to a wagwagan, or to any kind of product.

Due to this, the market has been tagged as a ‘danger zone’ meaning, it can cause a major disaster that could affect thousands of persons and destruction to billions worth of properties.

In 1992, the city council through a resolution requested the city planning office to prepare an integrated development plan of the entire city market so that any construction that will be made will be in accordance with the plan, for the purpose of establishing order and without destroying the nature of the city market as a public market.

The study identified five problems, from constricted roads to health and sanitation, as well as legal issues concerning ambulant vendors, and even peace and order.

Ordinance 038 of 1995 was later approved, which provides for the guidelines for the development of the market through a design, build, and lease scheme. A subsequent ordinance was approved in the same year for the drafting of the guidelines for the bidding based on the mode of credit financing or such other investment arrangements as my be proposed by the city development council. The bidding process for the development started in 1995.

Uniwide won during the said bidding. This, however, led to numerous cases filed by market stakeholders against the city government questioning legalities of the resolutions and ordinances which led to Uniwide’s entry into the picture.

Thirteen years after, the trial court in the city came up with its judgment declaring legal the award to Uniwide of the market development. Such decision was elevated to the appellate court and is pending up to the present.

Market Summit
Various political administrations have passed and politicos’ promises were heard like broken records, but order at the market was very far from being resolved. Pleas from market stakeholders and residents alike to develop the market have fallen on deaf ears.

This year, the compelling need to convene stakeholders and other interest groups to the first ever market summit was met, initiated by the city government through the market committee of the city council.

Spelled out in this summit were the existence of problems, such as garbage, cleanliness and sanitation, peace and order, existence of peddlers, the constricted alleys, and dilapidated and inadequate structures.

A common ground of agreement was resolved in the summit with the end in view of restoring law and order, improving public health, safety, rationalizing stall space leasehold rights and occupancy, and maintaining peace and order conditions.

A revelation was brought out in the summit whereby it was learned that there are 1,845 legitimate and permanent stalls; 1,687 temporary stall owners; 1,046 ambulant vendors; and an estimated 508 viajeros.

The summit reported that the “present public market has long needed not just a facelift nor a mere upgrading and maintenance of its facilities. It has been left behind in the race for urban modernization and is now, admittedly, a sorry excuse for a public market in such a favorite tourist destination as Baguio City. It is miserably incongruous with the rest of the Pine City. It must deserve its special place within the unique economic, cultural, and sentimental milieu that is Baguio at the turn of the century.”

The summit output were short term recommendations to address the issue pertaining to peace and order, physical facilities, garbage disposal problems, as well as legal issues surrounding the market and the overall market development. Recommendations for long term action to address the long-term development of the city market were also spelled out.

A review and updating as well as amendment of the market code to make it conform to the changing times, particularly on sub-leasing, expanding the representation of vendors organization in the market development council, and the resolution of the problem on unregulated peddling should be undertaken.
A recommendation to declare the city market as a heritage site was also given.

To solve the issue of overcrowding, the recommendation was to identify and develop satellite markets and or another market.

Long-term solution
Mayor Reinaldo Bautista Jr. said that his ultimate goal for the market is for the city to have an administration over the city public market.
The Uniwide, he said, remains to be the entity clothed with authority over the entire market as embodied in the court decision declaring the award of the development to them.

Bautista said the city’s hands are tied to the point that small improvements like the restoration of the sari-sari and tourist markets which were razed by fire early this year had to be consulted with Uniwide and their permission obtained. While it is true, he said, that whatever monies are infused in the market to improve its condition even for a little might go to waste in case there will be a full blast development, he has to do something to make the market look presentable as the city celebrates its centennial.

“As father of the city, I am obliged to provide the constituents with the comfort for humanitarian consideration.”

Aside from the repair of the recently burned area, the mayor has asked for an allocation to be able to organize blocks 3 and 4, which have become an eyesore, as well as caused health problems, and likewise become a haven of criminals who operate at the market.

Taking a cue from the market summit, Bautista has ordered the conduct of a feasibility study for the putting up of satellite markets around the city.

As of this writing, City Camp and Pacdal have been identified as sites which are expected to start construction as soon as documents have been completed.
Two others, at Irisan Barangay and along Kennon Road, have also been identified. The city government can provide P1.5 billion for the construction of satellite markets.

Bautista said that satellite markets will benefit the city a lot. Decongestion of the city public market will be primarily addressed, not to mention the traffic decongestion eased because people will no longer proceed to the city market just to buy a kilo of fish or a bundle of vegetables.

“We are building communities by building satellite markets as well as changing the landscape of economics.”

City council committee on market head Elaine Sembrano, who regularly visits the market to obtain first-hand information about the situation, said that the threat of market vendors that they will not vote for the politician who will “touch” them or disrupt their source of livelihood cannot be an obstacle that will stop the officials from fixing the market’s status.

“It is not only for the city, but even for the market people and more especially, the residents and the transient marketgoers who will have the comfort and convenience as they enjoy the luxury of being able to choose the best products for them,” she said.

As public markets in other places are built and rebuilt to conform to the changing needs of the people and the changing times, the dream to see a Baguio public market which is organized and conforms to health requirements is still a thing of the future, that the city officials, the stakeholders, as well as the residents have to work hard to attain. Meantime, it is hoped that a finality in the decision of the court of the market’s administration be resolved in the nearest future to finally determine the public market’s fate.
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