February 25, 2024

The operations of the night market, which brings the city an annual income averaging P18 million, has been suspended shortly after it resumed operations on Dec. 1 following lapses in crowd control measures that compromised the observance of the minimum health protocol on physical distancing.

The date of its resumption has not been decided yet as the technical group is currently devising further adjustments subject for approval of Mayor Benjamin Magalong.

Market Superintendent Fernando Ragma, Jr. took responsibility for the lapse, admitting they were overwhelmed by the huge number of people who attended the Christmas tree lighting at Session Road and which spilled over to the night market venue along Harrison Road.

He said they and the Public Order and Safety Division and police were not able to deal with the Dec. 1 night market crowd whose excitement may be likened to that of the Panagbenga.

Ragma said the reopening of the night market was planned for one and a half months.

On ordinary days, it operates with a total of 1,067 slots, which they reduced to 433 slots for dry goods and 48 slots for food vendors, or 45 percent of the original number of slots, to comply with the need to limit their capacity to avoid crowding.

The size of the stalls was originally 1.5 by 1.5 meters, which was expanded to 2 by 2 meters, so that the vendor can remain on the other side of the stall to maintain distance and shall tend to one to two customers at a time.

They consulted with the City Health Services Office which held training for the block leaders, and coordinated with the Baguio City Police Office and other concerned agencies.

However, the number and excitement of people caught them by surprise.

“We prepared, we did our best to prepare. Unfortunately, admittedly we failed to forecast the spill-over of the event from Session Road. We also failed to forecast the excitement ng tao sa Baguio na ‘nung nalaman na magbubukas na ang night market, mas marami ang may gusto kasi nakaka-boost ng morale laban sa ating kalaban na virus.

We campaigned na magbubukas na tayo para buhayin ang ekonomiya ng night market. Unfortunately, ito nga ang nangyari. Nagkaroon ng problema sa crowd control, which is something na gustong-gusto ng Covid. Nawala ang disiplina,” Ragma said during a media briefing on Dec. 2.

In the post-assessment meeting of the Baguio City market task force with City Treasurer Alex Cabarrubias and BCPO Director Allen Co among others, Ragma said they started devising adjustments that will not only be strictly followed, but “severely” implemented.

The initial adjustment includes further reducing the number of slots. The three lanes occupied last Dec. 1 will be reduced to two lanes. They will also request the City Environment and Parks Management Office to allow the Ganza parking area to be occupied by the food vendors since it is not used at night.

Ragma said they are planning to cordon off the entire night market area so that there will only be one entry and one exit point, allowing them to limit the number of people inside the vending area. 

Ang usapan, hindi lang strictly but severely we will implement social distancing,” Ragma said.

The revised plan will be finalized and submitted as recommendation to the mayor.

Ragma said the night market needs to open again as it involves the livelihood of more than 1,000 vendors who are all Baguio residents who were also affected by the Covid-19 crisis.

Hindi puwedeng puro health na lang, kailangan pag-usapan natin at buhayin ang livelihood ng tao. There should be balance and so we will make sure there will be discipline when we reopen the night market,” he said.

Last year, the city collected more than P18M as regulatory fee from more than 1,000 night market vendors, who pay P50 per night of operation or P350 a week collected on a weekly advanced payment basis. – Hanna C. Lacsamana