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A public market for whom?

STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul C. Villarete (The Freeman) - May 4, 2021 - 12:00am

When the concept of build-operate-and-transfer (BOT) became popular in the early 1990s, a couple or two public markets in the capital were heralded as fine examples. They faded from memory, though, because types of infrastructure proved to be better-suited and more efficient for Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). Airports, expressways, terminals, to name a few. Those public markets built through PPP of 20 years ago wore off their novelty.

The main drawback for a public market to be “privatized” so-to-speak is the name itself – public market. A public market is firstly “public” because it is operated by the government. As the decades go by, we now have modern supermarkets and groceries which directly compete with public markets. Many of us prefer these private markets in the malls. We only mainly go to a public market because maybe of the lower prices and for things not available elsewhere.

But there is another reason why these markets are also called “public” and maybe this is the more apt one – it’s because in there, the public can sell (which evidently you can’t in private malls). Planning history reveals to us that settlements developed into sitios, barangays, and into towns in relation to the development of its markets which started as a weekly “tabo” (meeting place) for barter and trade in the olden days. It is not only where a family can buy; more importantly, it’s a place where farmers, fishermen, or craftsmen can sell. This benefit has largely been eroded by middlemen throughout the years, but, until today, the public market remains the only opportunity for these basic sectors to earn a living properly.

This is where consistency in public and economic management is essential. Improvement of public services and infrastructure through PPP will always be a viable and preferential option, but this has to be placed within a framework of a broader market services framework of the entire city, not on a piecemeal undertaking because somebody suggested or submitted a proposal. Whether we like it or not, people will be displaced and the worst affected are the vendors, the ambulant ones --mostly farmers, fishermen, vendors, mostly small-time producers out to eke a daily living. While fiscal efficiency is a goal in governance, the broader goal is to provide a safety net for the basic sectors and ensure that no one is left behind. There will always be a need for public markets, as there was for the “tabo” in the olden days. It’s not a novelty to turn one market private just for it to compete against all the private supermarkets and groceries easily accessible to all nowadays.

Ideally, governments exist to support their citizenry to enjoy better lives. But the rich and the poor will always stay with us and it is incumbent upon government to protect the helpless, the vulnerable, less capable, those who don’t have the means, so that they can also grow together with those more capable. It is the government’s foremost supreme responsibility, and accountability, to design that this would be so. As we go forward to a better future, one thing remains essential: No one should be left behind.

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