March 2, 2024

■  Hanna C. Lacsamana   

Trade fairs and all other commercial activities at Malcolm Square are banned temporarily as the city council continues with its deliberations on the proposed ordinance on the use of the one of the most iconic parks at the heart of the city.

In its special session on Nov. 28, the city council unanimously passed a resolution to not allow commercial and economic activities at Malcolm Square for December, as it gathers inputs for the proposed ordinance for Malcolm Square.

Pending at the city council is the proposed ordinance of Councilor Isabelo Cosalan Jr. entitled “An ordinance regulating and governing the operation and maintenance of Malcolm Square”.

Among other activities, the proposal seeks to disallow at Malcolm Square the marketing or promotion of products, peddling of services and goods of any kind including shoe shine and cutflower/ornamental plants, as well as trade fairs except those sponsored by the city government.

In keeping with the city’s Trade Fair Ordinance that bans trade fairs and a 2011 resolution that sought to restore Malcolm Square’s original condition as a plaza and to be strictly managed by the city government free from any commercial promotion and undertaking favoring only commercial owners, the present proposed ordinance seeks to only allow social programs, musical concerts, television shows and film productions, field demonstrations, sports tournaments, skills competitions, political rallies, and similar activities that are consistent with the use of the park.

The councilors’ decision to temporarily ban trade fairs and selling activities meantime was reached in consultation with City Environment and Parks Management Officer Rhenan Diwas, who agrees there is a need for strict implementing guidelines that shall govern the operation and maintenance on the use of Malcolm Square.

Upon the councilors’ request, Diwas assured his office will help in crafting the proposed measure’s implementing rules and regulations as part of Cepmo’s recommendations it will soon submit to the city council.

While being historically known as a people’s park or recreation area for residents especially elders, the council is mulling on the proposal as Malcolm Square has also become a venue for trade fairs and marketing and promotion of products and services.

Councilor Peter Fianza stressed on the nature of Malcolm Square as a people’s park, and being such, he said it should be preserved strictly for the enjoyment of the community by not allowing activities that will destroy its very purpose.

“I think we are losing track of what is the purpose of Malcolm Square. As per the proposed ordinance, it recognizes Malcolm Square as a ‘people’s park’. It is not vending park. It’s not giving them opportunities where to sell. Unless we like to make it as trade site,” Fianza said.

Fianza cited the need to set the city’s priorities for the park.

“I think we enjoy being at Malcolm Square because we see the elders seated there from morning up to the afternoon. Now, if we allow you to give opportunities to all those wanting to earn some income, we allow that. But what happens if there is conflict? I want to have an activity on Sunday. But you have already given that to the vendors. So will that not destroy the purpose of Malcolm Square? We set activities there. What is your priority: Allowing vendors to sell or allowing these cultural activities or peoples organizations to be there? I think we have to consider those,” Fianza said.

Diwas explained the practice since the pandemic has been to respond to requests from organizations to use the area to promote and sell to give them opportunity to recoup and have a source of livelihood.

He said the provision in the proposed ordinance would be difficult to implement in some degree because trade fairs have become essential in the sense that not all are given opportunity to have or afford to rent a space in commercial establishments.

“There are indeed certain individuals and associations that need such activities. Now with the proposed ordinance, it would be limiting opportunities for these groups. I understand that our intention is to avoid abuses in the conduct of trade fairs etc., but I think maybe we could look into other alternatives or ways of how to regulate this but not to totally curtail the opportunity need by these groups,” Diwas said.

At the suggestion of Councilors Betty Lourdes Tabanda, John Rey Mananeng, Arthur Allad-iw, and Leandro Yangot Jr., Diwas agreed to the proposal to totally ban trade fairs and other activities that include selling at Malcolm Square but allow these commercial activities in other areas.

Diwas said such policy as well as disallowing trade activities sponsored by the city government would be good since his office is usually in a quandary when endorsements for trade fairs reach his office which at times present a conflict in schedules for the use of the park and lead to frequent issues of unsanitary practices and unavailability of the park for public use.

“Malcolm is for leisure and recreation, but it can also be an avenue for communities to promote their products in a certain period. I think we have to look into the realities because to be candid, parang naiipit po ang opisina ko sa bawal ang trade fair sa ordinance, pero marami namang mga request for that. So hindi natin alam paano i-weigh. Kasi importante ang livelihood, importante rin ang recreation. So I think we need to strike a balance between that,” Diwas said, as he agreed the balance can be had if trade fairs will be held in other places and leaving Malcolm Square for its purpose.

He also agreed there is a need to carefully review requests for trade fairs, identify what activities shall be allowed, and there should be limit in its period.

He added it would also solve the concern that when they issue permits for the conduct of advocacy activities at the park, organizers do not divulge that they will be also doing promotion and selling of goods and services.

In response to calls for ways to preserve the culture and old traditions Malcolm Square have nurtured through the years, Diwas said Cepmo is preparing a strategic location plan for cutflower shops that may include identifying an area for shoe shine, which Fianza and Tabanda opined have become a tradition that supported a clean system that does not disturb the nature of the park.

Fianza also advised Cepmo to be careful in taking suggestions from advocacy groups. “Study what they are trying to propose. Let us not give away the culture of the old Baguio. If it can still be preserved, then it should be preserved. It used to be a place where young boys can earn a little income by shining shoes, which is not a dirty matter. It can be a clean system.

Why is Malcolm Square is so popular? Because of its uniqueness, adopted from the uniqueness of the City of Baguio. Can you change Session Road or it is known to others instantly? When people come back to Baguio and they would find there is no Session Road, what can they tell you? The same is true with Malcolm Square. It used to be people’s park, you can do everything there, so I think you have to study what activities will not destroy its concept as a people’s park,” Fianza said.

Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan asked Diwas to consider the suggestions of the councilors as he initiated the motion later authored by all councilors to totally ban trade fairs at the park and its vicinity for the whole month of December pending final decision on the proposed ordinance. – Hanna C. Lacsamana