Issue of December 8, 2019
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Probe on chalet trading sought
by Hanna C. Lacsamana

Organizers of the Christmas fair at the Rose Garden of Burnham Park have been asked to appear during the next city council session, Dec. 9, to shed light on the issues arising from the staging of the An Enchanting Christmas Fair at the park, which to some appeared as a trade fair.

Councilor Mylen Yaranon has also asked the City Mayor’s Office to investigate the report that the city council has received regarding the operation of the chalets for a possible violation by the organizer of their agreement with the city government, which provided, among other terms, that the items to be sold in the activity must be those that are not sold in other business establishments in the city.

There were also claims that the chalets were rented out at P150,000 for the duration of the activity from Nov. 23 up to Jan. 5, 2020; and that intoxicating beverages were sold at the area.

The councilor voiced out her comments during the city council session on Dec. 2, where she said the operation of the Christmas activity might be in violation of the agreement with the organizer that it should not be operating as a trade fair, otherwise it would be a circumvention of the city’s ordinance that requires payment of corresponding taxes for such activities.

The city also has an ordinance that disallows trade fair activities in public parks, a legislation that has been upheld by a regional trial court when it ruled as illegal a previous trade fair organized by the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Baguio at Burnham Park.

“We are asking the mayor for an investigation if there are laws circumvented. The sale of goods, which were reported to be those that are available in other stores, was not what we have agreed upon. If the chalets are rented out, it must have proper accounting and city and BIR taxes must be due, like what we usually do during the Panagbenga Festival,” Yaranon told the Courier in a phone interview Thursday.

She said the city allowed the free use of Rose Garden for the Christmas Fair, being a city activity, which they understood would include shows, performances, and the put-up of chalets selling goods that are not available in the local market.

The councilor dispelled rumors and social media talks that she wanted the Christmas Fair closed down, saying these are not true and the issue was blown out of proportion.

In an interview Friday, Ferdie Ba-lanag, project and creative director of the Christmas Fair, explained the chalet operation is run on sponsorship package arrangement and these were not rented out. Its operators were offered sponsorship packages (platinum, gold, and silver) and in return they would get media values through exhibits and introduction of their products and services.

Balanag explained that amounts the organizer received do not count as rental because these have been spent for the activities of the Enchanting Christmas in Baguio technical and staging preparations, which include the installation of Christmas lanterns around the central business district, art installations, and Rose Garden entrance decorations (P400,000); the lights and sounds used during the Philharmonic Orchestra (P300,000) and other performances throughout the season, the decorations at the Malcolm Square (P230,000), honorariums of artists and volunteers; and provided P320,000 augmentation for the putting up of the Christmas tree at Session Road. So far more or less P2.1 million has already been spent for these, he said.

He clarified the activity is not a trade fair, but a recreational fair that primarily aims to help enhance the Christmas experience and ambiance through activities that complements the city’s Enchanting Christmas in Baguio theme.

On the issue of selling, he cited a city resolution that allows city government-led activities like the Christmas in Baguio, under which the Enchanting Christmas Fair is sanctioned; Summer Vacation in Baguio, and Panagbenga Festival to offer merchandise to the public.

However, “our main reason is not to sell merchandise, but to contribute in making the experience in Baguio more festive, so we actually limited the number of chalets and carefully picked the sponsors who will run them. Some of our sponsors even do not have one, but they are part of it,” Balanag said.

He said they have already issued a notice of termination of contract to one of the exhibitors that violated the guideline on selling unique items.

The serving of liquor, which has been observed during the opening of the activity, was also stopped on the day itself.

“We hope people could discern our purpose of contributing in enhancing the Christmas experience this to be true when they come and visit the area for themselves. This is totally different and we hope we do not confuse this with a trade fair,” he added.

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