PROTECTING PUBLIC INTEREST OVER MARKET DEVELOPMENT
The planned rehabilitation of the city public market by any private entity is alarming many sectors in Baguio.
The city public market is perhaps one of the remaining iconic “show window” of those sentimental old times and people who have had some connection with the city fear that the establishment of another mall in the guise of a public market will annihilate its heritage or historical value.
But more than that, no amount of words is able to convince many stakeholders that profit will not be above public interest if the modernization of the city public market is given to a private entity. This is because return of investment in record time is a standard goal of any business venture.
Also to be considered is that privatization of government facilities for a period of time such as the city public market may not always translate into efficiency, especially if lowly traders would be made to suffer in the long run.
Recent developments over the long-time plan to develop the city public market that have led to the award of an original proponent status (OPS) to a giant mall developer has generated mixed reactions from the public, especially those whose sources of livelihood are now threatened by the Private-Public Partnership scheme.
Stakeholders will have more sense of ownership over the city public market if development is carried out by the city government. They feel the city has the capacity to do so and it is also the reason the state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines had the confidence of granting City Hall in May this year a whopping P4.3 billion 15-year-term loan for the ambitious project. The city has after all drawn its economic strength from this old market long before multinational companies made Baguio as their expansion area.
In the course of further scrutinizing the proposal of SM Prime Holdings, Inc. which was recently granted the OPS, City Hall must also give weight to the suggestions of key stakeholders such as the vendors’ groups and the Baguio Heritage Foundation, Inc. They have been consistent in their appeal for the city not to turn the market, a Baguio icon, into another mall, for many good reasons.
For one, not only occupancy of Baguio merchants must be prioritized, but a lesson that should have been learned when many homegrown businesses had to close shop with the entry of a giant mall. These were family enterprises that gave the city its quaintness and made the local economy afloat for decades.
The city may have forgotten the bitter lesson, but the market vendors have not. They are not about to allow big corporations to rule over the government facility without a fight if only to keep prices affordable for the public even with a modernized facility, even by more modest but decent standards compared to the magnitude of the proposed mall proposal.
But the vendors’ financial capability to match the projected cost of the market development pegged at P6B remains a question. Their critical role, meantime, is to remain vigilant in making all public officials and employees with hands dipped into the planned redevelopment of the market to be accountable for all their actions.
The city’s assurance that it will select the best offer through the conduct of the so-called Swiss challenge to allow other companies to match or even surpass the proposal of SMPHI does not even convince the public that public interest will reign over profit in the planned redevelopment of the city market.
To begin with, the scheme already eliminates the chance for the facility to be modernized by the city government, which is the battle cry of most residents.
Studies have shown that the more competitive the business is, the more public interest and profit overlap. The city public market is an example, being located right at the heart of the central business district.
With a private corporation taking control of the market, additional charges will be passed on to those who buy at the market so that for traders may be able to cope with relatively higher stall rentals and other charges.
In this most difficult time, the city must ensure that public interest, not corporate craving, must prevail and that people are made to feel a sense of ownership over the city public market.