December 6, 2023

■ Jane B. Cadalig & Harley F. Palangchao 

FOR PROFIT OR LEGACY? — The planned redevelopment of the Baguio City public market is one of the five high impact projects presented during the two-day Public-Private Partnership Investment Summit held at the Baguio Convention and Cultural Center last week. While concerned groups and corporations are likely to participate in the Swiss challenge, Mayor Benjamin Magalong said the original proponent status holder, SM Prime Holdings, intends to develop the market not for profit but to leave a legacy for the city. — Harley Palangchao

The redevelopment of the Baguio City public market will no longer be a profit-oriented venture, but the proponent’s legacy for the city and its people.

Mayor Benjamin Magalong said this has been the outcome of the series of engagements the city government has with SM Prime Holdings, holder of the original proponent status (OPS) for the public market modernization program.

Magalong reiterated this during the Investment Forum on Oct. 4 and 5 where development proponents presented their projects for the city at the Baguio Convention and Cultural Center.

“The intention is no longer to put up a market that is profitable to SM. They are no longer thinking about how they will recoup their investment. They just want to give it back as a legacy to Baguio City,” Magalong said.

SM’s initial offer was to manage 70 percent of the public market, which will leave the 30 percent to be managed by the city.

Because they agreed to leave a legacy for Baguio, Magalong said SM will now manage 30 percent and the 70 percent will be given to the city government.

Magalong said SM has agreed to the 30-70 sharing scheme as a way of giving back to the community following its mall expansion project in 2012.

Magalong shared in the forum that during their talks with top management of SM and informed them of the public protest due to environmental issues in relation to its mall expansion, the management decided to make the public market project a legacy for Baguio.

SM was granted the OPS pursuant to the city’s Public-Private Partnership for the People Initiative Ordinance.

Negotiations for the terms of reference for the development are ongoing. The negotiations started in March 2021.

Groups opposed to the awarding of the OPS to SM say the development of the public market should not be done by another giant mall.

The Baguio Market Vendors Alliance Consolidated, Inc. (Bamarva) through its president, lawyer Zosimo Abratique, told reporters in a press conference Friday the consortium of cooperatives with the Baguio City Market Multipurpose Cooperative as the lead cooperative is not against the planned redevelopment of the city public market.

However, he clarified the city government must also recognize that the consortium of cooperatives is financially capable to fund the redevelopment of the city market in partnership with the city government, saying three of the six cooperatives can raise over P1 billion to jumpstart the project.

He cited that in 2019, officers and members of cooperatives at the city market collaborated with City Hall in coming up with a master plan for the redevelopment of the market but such plan was abandoned in favor of supposed unsolicited proposals.

Officers of the six cooperatives who formed the panel in a press conference shared the view that any proposal to redevelop the market should be pro vendors, pro Baguio, and pro people. They claimed the current proposal being entertained by the city does not provide a level playing field which would ultimately lead to the extinction of small entrepreneurs.

Magalong earlier reiterated the awarding of the OPS to SM does not mean the company already won the contract to develop the public market.

He said after the negotiations, SM’s proposal will be subject to a Swiss challenge where other proponents will have the opportunity to submit proposals deemed better than that of the mall’s.

SM has to match the proposals if it wants to be awarded the contract. Otherwise, it will lose the OPS and the contract will be given to the proponent that offered better proposal.

Abratique claimed the consortium of cooperatives is closely monitoring the day the Swiss challenge takes place, as they are also studying the aspects that the OPS holder could not possibly match. The consortium opted not to discuss their proposals.

He, however, acknowledged the OPS holder has an edge in the event the Swiss challenge takes place especially that the public remains unaware of the agreements between the city and SM. The consortium said it is ready to contest the proposal of the OPS holder.

“With the non-disclosure agreement required of the observers in the negotiations, we could not comment on whatever has been agreed upon by SM and the city. We will cross the bridge when we get there,” reads the Bamarva statement.

The consortium also urged the city government to always consider that the welfare of the 4,000 vendors and their families is paramount in any decision involving the long-time plan to redevelop the city market.

“In sum, the vendors are not against development of the market. They will after all be the direct beneficiaries. In fact, they have invested in an alternative proposal. We call on the general populace of Baguio to support the proposal of vendors,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, vendors at Blocks 3 and 4 whose stalls were gutted on March 11 appealed to City Hall to release their lease contract, which is a requirement in renewing their business permits.

“Up to now we do not have lease contracts. How can we renew our business permit for 2024?” asked Denniz Benitez, who represented one of the vendors’ cooperatives.