March 27, 2023

The Baguio City Market Authority has been asked to update its guidelines in the screening of lessors at the public market as city officials continue to receive complaints that the body’s procedure, which was formulated before the Covid-19 pandemic, did not consider the circumstances that lessors went through when community quarantines were imposed.

One of the questioned guidelines is the mandatory presence of lessors at their stalls, otherwise, the BCMA will have to declare the stalls vacant and will be auctioned to others who are interested to lease.

During the city council’s session on Jan. 30, Councilor Isabelo Cosalan Jr. has asked the BCMA represented by City Treasurer Alex Cabarrubias and Permits and Licensing Division head Allan Abayao to update the guidelines by incorporating remedies that can be availed of by an affected lessor in situations beyond their control such as the recent pandemic.

Cosalan said one specific case that reached him is the case of a lessor who had to return to his hometown in Mindanao during the enhanced community quarantine, which necessitated him to employ a salesperson to tend to his stall in his absence. He said the lessor was later told that he will not be prioritized when the BCMA auctions or bids stalls that will be declared vacant.

The BCMA conducts spot inspections to check if the lessors listed in its database are the ones who truly occupy the stalls. It is one of the city government’s ways of stamping out the illegal occupation of stalls following investigation conducted last year by a task force created by Mayor Benjamin Magalong that showed massive subleasing, mortage, sale, and reassigning of stalls to heirs of original lessors in violation of the Market Code and Tax Ordinance.

Sections 157 and 160 of the Tax Ordinance state leaseholders shall physically or personally conduct business in the stall subject of the lease.

Section 157 adds the leaseholder shall not sell, lease, or transfer to other individuals or permit others to conduct business therein. Section 161 likewise prohibits the sub-leasing of stalls and the use of dummies.  

In consideration to actual occupants, the city council granted last year an amnesty allowing them to apply for the stalls they are occupying subject to conditions set in the ordinance.

The ordinance prescribes the following corrective remedies:

For the transfer of leasehold rights, the transferee, upon presenting a deed of sale, waiver of rights, or acknowledgment by the registered leaseholder of the transfer, shall be issued a contract of lease, provided the transferee is personally or physically conducting business in the stall/booth;

For a stall whose registered leaseholder is already deceased, the compulsory heirs of the deceased person must execute an extrajudicial settlement or waiver of rights designating a person (who may not necessarily be a compulsory heir) to be the next registered leaseholder; and

For a leaseholder who is sub-leasing or mortgaging their stall or using a dummy, they must terminate this relationship.

The leaseholder, with the consent of the other party, may regain occupancy of the stall. Should both parties fail to agree, the contract of lease shall be revoked or cancelled and the stall shall be declared vacant.

The amnesty ended April last year where around 1,000 sublessors applied.

Cabarrubias said the BCMA is evaluating the applications and in about two months, will render a decision about the applications. He said the BCMA may recommend for the extension of application if needed.

Meanwhile, Abayao said the BCMA does not automatically disqualify lessors or declare stalls as vacant. He said guidelines provide that lessors who cannot personally tend to their stalls are required to file a leave of absence at the BCMA and submit the name of their substitute.

“If a lessor claims that they are temporarily absent, the BCMA waits until they come back. A lessor is given a maximum leave of six months. After which, the CTO will issue a notice if the absence goes beyond the prescribed period.”

Councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda, meanwhile asked Cabarrubias to investigate the PLD’s issuance of business permit to cooperatives that are operating stalls at the market.

Cabarrubias said he is not aware of the issuance of a permit to a cooperative but the process should be that stalls should be awarded to a natural person, not a juridical entity.

He assured the concerns of the city council will be discussed and addressed by the BCMA. – Rimaliza A. Opiña with reports from Jordan G. Habbiling