February 2, 2023

WHEN TRADE FAIRS STAIN GOOD GOVERNANCE POLICY

Baguio residents and tourists alike will not yet see an end to the trade fairs that have sprouted at the central business district last year and more than three years ago if we include the weekly closure of Session Road.
Recently, the city council, with concurrence of the City Mayor’s Office and the City Environment and Parks Management Office, approved another trade fair at People’s Park.
In the past, trade fairs were conducted to raise funds for various causes. Then and now, the favored venue of these fairs were public areas such as parks and roads.
By definition, trade fairs are supposed to be a venue to showcase innovative products of small businesses.
But in Baguio, the words “trade fair” have earned a bad name because of the fact that earnings from these activities have not been properly accounted and the existence (or non-existence) of beneficiaries have been questioned.
Use of public spaces has also been criticized since it has been a public policy that parks, playgrounds, and roads are supposed to be “beyond the commerce of man.”
To safeguard public parks and roads, the city council passed the Trade Fair Ordinance which regulated the conduct of such activity by prescribing areas where and when these activities may be held. It also spelled out which events may be exempt from the ordinance’s coverage.
In the past, several attempts have been made to circumvent the ordinance, but always, operation of these trade fairs have been cut short owing to a vigilant citizenry who quickly pointed out transgressions of the powers that be.
It is different this time. In the guise of helping affected citizens “recover from the Covid-19 pandemic,” trade fairs, which now have different names, have been allowed to operate – in direct defiance of the ordinance that regulate their operation.
Worse, this has been allowed by the same people who crafted the law. It has been permitted by the same people who found ways to circumvent the law, and in the process sidelined other businessmen who have long been airing legitimate concerns, and residents inconvenienced by the mushrooming of stalls at areas designated as breathing spaces.
We are also saddened by the fact that the Cepmo, the department in charge of ensuring that open spaces such as parks are kept pristine and protected, did not raise a finger about the series of trade fairs that have been operating even before the holidays.
The Cepmo could have done more instead of just going “by the book” by just instructing the operators to pay the required fees. It could have been more stern by standing by ordinances that prohibit the holding of trade fairs at city parks.
We would like to point out that the weekly Session Road showcase has set the precedent for the series of requests for the holding of trade fairs in other parts of the city.
We understand the city government’s intent of helping affected MSMEs, but institutionalizing it without going through the proper procedure not only violates a city ordinance but the Local Government Code as well.
Now that the economy has reopened, the practice of using the pandemic as reason for the holding of trade fairs should no longer be allowed.
We also ask the Legislative Monitoring Committee of the city council to make an honest to goodness assessment of the Trade Fair Ordinance. At the rate the city council has been permitting the operation of trade fairs, is the Trade Fair Ordinance still relevant or should it already be scrapped?
City officials constantly harp about good governance. But good governance should start in their own backyard and that can only happen if there is a sense of accountability among the people who are supposed to be our role models.

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