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Investigate the Baguio City Public Market fire! Oppose privatization of public spaces!

Photo source: Cordillera People’s Alliance

On March 11, a fire broke out in some parts of Baguio City Public Market, which destroyed over 1,700 stalls and damaged approximately 24 million pesos worth of property and products.

Apart from the immediate impact of the fire on the livelihoods of vendors and small businesses, Kadamay is also concerned about the effects of the fire on the fight against the privatization of this public space. Although the fire at the public market is not yet fully extinguished, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong immediately stated that he wants to “fast track” the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project so that the “relocation site” can be established, and the market can be rehabilitated.

Since 2020, the plan to privatize the Baguio City Public Market has been circulating. This has been protested by vendors and small businesses due to the potential increase in rent. When the market is privatized, their rent is expected to increase from 11 pesos per square meter to 50 pesos per square meter. This also means higher prices for residents of Baguio.

For the past three years, vendors, small business owners, consumers, heritage conservationists, and residents of Baguio have collectively opposed the sale of Baguio City Public Market to large corporations like Robinson’s and SM.

Despite these protests, the Baguio City government pushed through with the project. Several weeks before the fire, press releases and news articles were published in various local and national newspapers about the continuation of the private development of the Baguio City Public Market.

The use of fires in spaces of interest to large businesses is not new. “Hot demolition” often occurs in informal settlements that large malls and condominiums want to build on. Sitio San Roque was burned down to build the Ayala Vertis North Project as part of the QC Central Business District project. Coastal communities in Cavite were also burned down to continue the Manila Bay reclamation projects.

It is concerning that whenever the government plans to privatize a place and the people oppose it, fires follow.

An immediate and thorough investigation into the real cause of the fire at Baguio City Public Market is necessary. Likewise, the victims of the fire, vendors, and small businesses should be given temporary space with dignity. The government should also provide aid to those affected by the fire to help them recover.

To the vendors of Baguio City Public Market: Kadamay stands with you in your ongoing fight against the privatization of your market. We stand for your right to a dignified livelihood that is not tied to the exorbitant rents and fees of large corporations interested in your market. You have made Baguio City Public Market thrive; it is only right that you dictate and enjoy its progress and not companies like Robinson’s and SM.

To the residents of Baguio: let us together safeguard and defend our public spaces from greedy large corporations and their affiliates in national and local governments. Let us not allow our public assets to be sold by the government. Public spaces like Baguio City Public Market are part of our right to government services; these are spaces we pay for with our taxes, and the return to us should be lower-priced goods and dignified livelihoods for our vendors.

Let us help the victims of the fire by launching donation drives and other types of community efforts. Let us conduct studies on vendors and small business owners to learn about their actual situation.

Above all, let us defend the Baguio City Public Market from the private interests of large corporations who only seek to profit at our expense.