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Market Stories for Markets of Resistance

As part of the recently concluded Markets of Resistance, I gave a short talk in Katipunan RestoArt, near the old Dangwa station, on a few facets of the market that are meaningful to me as a Baguio girl. Sharing my stories again here. (Some of this stuff I've said before, here.)

There are markets and there is the market, economies of places and places of economy. I want to share stories about the market place – the Baguio public market – as cosmopolitan, exotic or exoticized, historical, human, home, hostile, changing. The market as a mirror.

The market as cosmopolitan, is also the market exoticized:

Let me begin with a quote from the book, “From Land of the Headhunters: Being an account of a summer holiday in Baguio, 1924.” This was a manuscript found by Bencab in a small antique shop in London in 1977, which he published as a small book in 1991.

The author, who left no trace of his identity in the manuscript, quotes a “local guide book”:

“The up-to-date Filipino mingles with the scantily dressed Benguets, Lepantos, Bontocs, Ifugaos, and occasionally Kalingas… In one corner sturdy natives of the hills will be buying the piece-de-resistance of a coming feast – a dog – which will probably have four or five days hiking over the mountain trails, carefully guarded by its purchasers, before its miserable existence is brought to an end. A little further down a fashionably dressed visitor will be buying curios; across the way, squatting on the ground, smoking a cigar a foot long, will be a native woman haggling over the price of rice or camotes; and next door one of the Baguio housewives will be buying locally-grown strawberries and cabbages; and so on without end.”

On Trip Advisor, a Sri Lankan visitor wrote in 2013:

“From veggies to fruits to cloths to anything. it's a maze. you will get lost. mainly Baguio products and things you need for cold climes of the highlands, this beautiful market has every thing. for the first time i saw purple color eggs at this market.”

The market as a place with a 106-year history:

Here I draw on the valuable work done by our local historian, Erlyn Alcantara.

The original Stone Market was made from cut Baguio stone and was built in 1908. It burned in 1970. The year before, in 1969, the city government had signed a contract with a private corporation to renovate, reconstruct and modernize the market. The stone market was demolished in the mid-70’s. In 1975, there was a proposal to build a 17-story hotel and commercial complex on the original site of the Stone Market. Baguio civic groups and the Market Fire Victims’ Association opposed it vigorously and the project stopped in 1978 but in 1980 construction began on what we now know as the Maharlika Livelihood Center.

What remains of the old Baguio City market, are buildings that were inaugurated in the 1950’s. These remnants can be glimpsed, if you look hard enough, in the “tourist” vegetable section and in the rice section, but the old Baguio stone pillars are painted over in maroon and white as part of a beautification project of the city government. I like to think of those painted pillars of Baguio stone as metaphors for how the city government handles our city's affairs. But that's another story.

The market as home:

Manang Lilian has supplied three generations and several branches of our family with vegetables, goose liver Chinese sausages and tapuy. I have known her since my childhood, from when I used to walk to the market with my lola or my nanay. When we were kids, my cousin, my sister and I were handed freshly peeled carrots at her stall. Until now, a trip to the market isn’t complete without a stop by Manang Lilian’s stall in the “tourist” section of the market.

Once I wrote a few words on how to answer the question, Why do Baguio people drink so much? “What you do is you offer them a drink. Maybe you could take them out for a smoke-filled night in a pub on Session Road, or spend a quiet afternoon in the inner, maze-like alleys of the Baguio city market, where you can share a bench with the old locals, trade stories and buy tapuy by the shot… Tell them about your friends and how they’ve saved you how you keep each other safe and sane, how you’d trust them with your life, for better or for worse, in drunkenness or sobriety…”

The market as hostile. The market as corrupt. The market as threatened and threatening:

The tapuy section I wrote about is gone. It was demolished a few years ago and replaced by the roofed space in Block Three, beside the Fantasy World installation of Marta Lovina. The new structure has now walls but the crowded ukay-ukay stalls hide stories of the displacement and loss of income of other market vendors and the politics behind the erasure of the past in favor of a shiny, new present.

Earlier this year, you might have noticed the disappearance of the ambulant vendors and sidewalk vendors from the market’s open spaces. While for some this has made the market more spacious, better organized, cleaner, their absence too quietly speaks of surveillance and violence. One ambulant vendor, Oscar Caranto, died in July 2014 after he was badly beaten by members of the Public Order and Safety Division of the city government. In a rage, market vendors carried his coffin to city hall, demanding justice.

In 2008 and 2009 the sari-sari section and the fruit and vegetable setions were gutted by fires. On the afternoon of the 2009 fire I walked through the market. I found my suki for bananas on a sidewalk selling a crate of slightly ash-covered but miraculously not burned bananas. I asked why she was still doing business on a day like this. Her eyes were red and swollen. Her hands were black from grime. Kelangan e, she said. I have to. I bought one bunch of bananas. They were unnaturally warm.

In 1995 Uniwide won a bid with the city government to build a new market building over what we now know as the Baguio public market. The Uniwide contract is currently dormant because it is beset with legal problems and different market organizations are battling against it in court. But the city government holds that the contract is still valid. Many market vendors fear that if Uniwide or any big corporation takes over, they will lose their places in the market. Many residents fear that this could mean the end of a way of life.

The market as a place to resist certan ideas and insist on other realities:

Just across the street from the public market, Paulo, his family and Katipunan Resto-Art embody the possibilities for creating new realities, with Katipunan’s brazen combination of pulutan, pinikpikan, beer, gin, videoke nights and art exhibits.

When we buy food in the market, we can choose to buy produce that keeps the chain of supply shorter, closer to the source. In the market we can choose to support economies that link the city to the surrounding mountains and the nearby coast, economies that support small-holder farmers and fishermen.

Why should we continue to bother with the smelly, often wet, mess of the Baguio public market? Those of us that frequent the place have our own reasons. For me it’s because...

The market is a place where the heart swells with random acts of human kindness:

Manang Linda, my suki for chicken guarantees that the meat in her stall is slaughtered the day she sells it. A few years ago she began to diversify by selling vegetables and tinapa made by her aunt and her husband. Occasionally she slips a few extra pieces of tinapa into my basket.

Manang Maricel, my suki for seafood always asks after the different members of the family when I show up at her stall alone. “Kumusta na si baby? Ba’t di mo kasama si Mr. Pogi? Matagal nang di dumadaan dito panganay mo a.”

The human connections I make in the market, the connections we’re making here, right now, have no monetary value. These human connections are made possible by freedom uncurtailed by big corporations. These connections are made possible by everything the Baguio market is, and everything it is not.

The market as a mirror.

Fantasy World, by Marta Lovina. Passersby could have their photos taken with the standees.
Marta bartered coffee or vegetables for the prints.


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