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A dream Baguio public market in the making
by Marilou Guieb

Whenever the Baguio City Public Market is brought to a conversation, the stories my mother used to tell me come to my mind. The market held a lot of sentimental memories for her as much of her childhood routine centered on the market.

She used to reminisce how the road on Sundays would be lined with the original early residents donned with the classic “coat and tie”– American suits over their g-strings – squatted in a line along that main alley, or Americans coming to chat together with locals.

-- Ofelia C. Empian



Important deals were sealed in those casual gatherings. Or they sat there just because it was a pleasure to see everyone else, as the market was then a central point of convergence. Everybody just seemed to know everyone else.

To this day, the surnames of the early migrants who established some of the first market stores still hang over the stalls, though it is a question if they haven’t been yet been turned over to other owners. Dimalanta, Dipasupil, Tubera, and Alabanza, among others, are landmark names in the market. I always take pride for example of the fact that the famous hamonado Baguio longaniza was a making of my mother. Baguio longaniza was first concocted in the Alabanza kitchen to preserve meat that was not sold at the end of the day. When hung next day, it sold fast and thus became a tradition. One evening, my mother, young lass then, played with the ingredients and with some additions, ola, the hamonado flavor came to be.

She used to recall how on payday, miners would leave their camps and take leisure in town. Their cloth stores were busy on such days, many of the men coming to buy g-strings. Business would be good and she would take out 50 centavos, which was the cost of special pansit those days. It’s a remnant of a bigger tale on how mining built the city of Baguio.

One strawberry season when the vegetable and fruit lanes were decked with the luscious red strawberries, my mother told me the admirable story of an American who came very early on and introduced the use of the baskets that contained the strawberries. They were called punnets, thin strips of wood soaked in water to soften and be woven into baskets. Even that is a memory now, replaced by carton boxes of tetra pack juices.

I recently came across the history of that man in a recent post of Suzanne Duque, an old acquaintance. The man was Joe Rice, a Hungarian-American, a United States Army veteran who came to Baguio with only a few pesos. He saw the conditions conducive to a vegetable business and originated the big baskets as containers for the cabbages that he delivered to Manila regularly. He brought cabbage and strawberry seeds and is said to have started the propagation of strawberries on a large scale.

That’s one of the many stories of just how our market began to be the major attraction for vegetables and strawberries.

Richard Cheng, a descendant of a Chinese migrant and the brother of the loved Dr. Charles Cheng, in a book described how the Chinese made the temperate vegetables flourish, sweetening them with mashed soya beans as fertilizers in the wide fields of New Lucban.

There is the fascinating story of Mr. Haight who also sowed the seeds of the vegetable industry the crops of which ended up in the city market.

Also gone are the Baguio stone ashtrays so prolific in the hands of Ifugao carvers. In fact the old market was also mainly erected with these old Baguio stones that soon diminished because of over extraction.

Ominous shadows of war also linger in the minds of original settlers. My mother would describe a grandmother who could not help but watch Japanese executions of Filipinos where the chicken area is now and would return home all ashen in complexion due to the stress.

The old market was the pulse of the city, a place for pleasantries where in the 1930s Ibaloys and Americans and Baguio folk intermingled and where shopping was once a pleasure. It continued to be a delight for tourists and locals alike for many years after the war but somewhere down the line as population and real estate boomed, its small town market charm just faded away.

The memories are tentacles to the history of the city – of a heritage formed by eras – American, Japanese, Chinese strains of stories running through the veins of local life, all having a place in the bustling atmosphere of the old market now covered by layers of tarps and crowded stalls in skewed arrangements.

Only old timers feel the nostalgia of meandering about the market as the new generation only see a market in disarray with stinking puddles of market slime, cracked lanes and slippery alleys, and disgusting sludge in narrow drainage pathways where young boys occasionally fish for coins at the end of the day. It has also lost its friendly air with now a stream of harassed strangers in a hurry its more likely scene.

Only the old stonewalls that survived the World War II bombings, a major fire in 1970 and in 2009 remain as mute testimonies to the vibrancy that once thrived in that market.

-- Ofelia C. Empian



Time to change

Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong is not mincing words in expressing his dismay over the shameful state of the market. “This is one of the dirtiest and disorderly markets in the country,” he said.

Doing something about it is one among his 15-point agenda and is aggressive about making it happen.

The mayor is confident that even as there may be some things that need ironing, there are no major barriers with the city council assuring him of their support.

“We will do the modernization and improvements ourselves,” he said, adding that a third party will just ensue in charges against one another.

Magalong was alluding to the fiasco with the Uniwide Sales and Realty Corp. where because of litigation of over 20 years held up any major improvement of the market.

The city had entered into a contract with Uniwide in 1996 for the corporation to proceed with a P1.7 billion worth market modernization. But market vendors challenged in court the validity of the 30-year build-operate-transfer contract.

In a Sept. 2 decision, however, the Supreme Court validated the contract and Uniwide chair Jimmy Gow quickly informed then mayor Mauricio Domogan of its interest to pursue the market development, even upgrading the original five-story building plan to eight stories.

But their victory was muddled with a Securities and Exchange Commission order in 2013 dissolving their corporation because of insolvency, or having more liabilities than assets due to financial losses since 2003, the SEC claimed.

But Uniwide has not moved since they signified their intent to start their project within a year of its Supreme Court victory, fueling speculations that the corporation's debt ridden situation hampers its ability to proceed with the development.

The city council has twice passed a measure dissolving the contract based on the order of SEC that the corporation no longer exists, the last at the same time the mayor ordered the formation of a task force for the market development. The legal issue may not have seen its end, but for Magalong, it is better to plan now than later.

Magalong also stressed the policy of his administration for transparency especially on matters of financial transactions, thus the ease on disclosure of the availability of the P1 billion funds.

The city mayor, already proving his propensity for swift action, has already tasked the city council to form a task force to oversee the project, which is now headed by councilors Phillian Weygan and Mylen Yaranon, also an architect.

“We also have the money to jumpstart the project,” Magalong said, explaining that they had spotted P1B that can be allotted for the market improvement. He said that the city council in principle has assured him this amount dedicated to this agenda.

Magalong said the matter on social acceptability can also be an issue with a third party involved profit is its priority compared to the public service thrust of government. Completion may take longer due to the more tedious process involved in implementing government projects compared to a private timetable where return of investment is the goal.

He hopes that a contractor can be selected by the fourth quarter of the year so that work can begin by the coming of the New Year. This means that the group of Yaranon must have to work intently in drafting a masterplan.

While the money is certainly not enough, Magalong is elated that the group of vendors will be contributing capitalization to the development.

This was reflected much earlier as seen in a 2015 report by Courier reporter Rimaliza Opiña, which said that the Bamarva group formed the Tiendaan Realty Development Corporation in 2013 “to undertake the development, and as of this year (2015), is amending its articles of incorporation to raise the capitalization of P30 million. Using the “piggy bank” approach, Tiendaan could pool P100 million to develop the market, the group, represented by Bamarva president Zosimo Abratique said.”

The mayor also said that the whole planning will involve the market people and the public.

-- Ofelia C. Empian



Dreamers at work

A rough blueprint has been drafted by the task force and will go through more brainstorming with vendors. The technical work draws a dream market – aesthetically pleasing, clean, and efficiently laid out, Yaranon explains.

It begins with highlighting the assets of the market – at once beautiful and displaying its fastest selling products – vegetables, flowers, and fruits at the forefront.

The front stalls will be moved elsewhere but the stone posts will remain with benches and greenery to serve also as waiting areas stretching to a landscaped area where Parungao Pharmacy stands now. The vegetable alley will serve as an entry to a three-lane road so as to decongest Magsaysay Road. It can also become an incidental solution to the problem of finding the night market place a more permanent setting.

This will mean pushing the vegetable stalls a bit farther but will remain a welcoming showcase of the market along with flowers that are presently hidden in the dungeon-like area of the market. The image already gives a bright and picturesque presentation, making the central space occupied by the wet market incongruent with an aesthetic flow. Yaranon quips, “Presently, the entrance opens up to a central space that is smelly and dirty.”

She said that the wet market might be moved to the farther end of the market closer to the main drainage, which can be a more practical option in maintaining cleanliness.

The initial plan takes into account the bagsakan area, foot traffic, and a place for everyone to ensure that no vendor will be displaced.

Meetings between the task force and the market group have started and will be a continuing process to finally gain a happy marriage of ideas and consensus of city planners and the vendors. Yaranon admitted that some aspects might need persuasion but that decisions best for the greater good will prevail.

Yaranon said they will employ private architects but initially working out plans with Architect Joseph Alabanza and Saint Louis University-based architect Donna Tabangin and architects from the City Buildings and Architecture Office as design consultants, among others.

They envision an architectural terraced design and a market square, or perhaps a rooftop kind of relaxation area decked with greenery where people can sit and have coffee while enjoying a view.

The dream recaptures an important facet of the old market – of becoming a space that showcases the best of what the city can offer, a space conducive to the sharing of stories and once again a market to be known for colorful vegetables, fragrant flowers and quaint native curio and souvenir items. Most of all a market that realizes the dream of a city beautiful long envisioned by its founders.
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Philippine National Police – Police Regional Office – CAR
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Baguio Central University
Baguio Country Club
Benguet Electric Cooperative Inc.
Congressman Mark Go
Data Center of the Philippines of Baguio City, Inc.
Department of Health – CAR
Kings’ College of the Philippines
Mayor Benjamin B. Magalong
Pines City Colleges
Sangguniang Panlungsod
SiTEL
SM City Baguio
Social Security System
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Albergo Hotel and Residences
Baguio Center Mall
Baguio Water District
C & Triple A Supermart
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Curamed Pharmacy
Department of Agriculture – CAR
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Ganza & Solibao Restaurants
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John Hay Management Corporation
Mayor Romeo K. Salda
MMS Development Training Center Corporatino
Mother Earth Deli Basket
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Regional Development Council – CAR
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