MEGAWIDE Construction Corp. (MCC) has pretty much done a good job in marketing the idea of the modern Carbon market, its interim structure now under way and expected to be completed late this year. Every day, vendors along Calderon St. and residents of Sitio Bato, Ermita have to contend with a looming wall of tarpaulin at the construction site with a message that says, “Gasugod na ta para sa mas maayong kinabuhi ug mas hayahay na kaugmaon.” (We’re now starting for a better life and a more comfortable future.) There is a mixed feeling among them—fear that they are dispensable in the grand scheme of things and vague hope that, perhaps, some change may bring in a more profitable future. Whichever, the louder message comes from this newly formed coalition of vendor organizations that is strongly protesting the project and has pushed litigation for redress.
The supposed transformation of the old market hopes to achieve everything “world-class and modern” while retaining supposedly Cebu’s cultural identity, integrating prominently the emblematic “puso” (hanging rice) in the structural design. There is much virtue signaling in the project features—supposedly accommodating all representations of the Carbon market culture—from wholesalers, stall owners, ambulant vendors, to startup entrepreneurs and a “lifestyle village.” To put some order in the supposedly mare’s net of a market, MCC’s design incorporates transport terminals and an airport check-in area.
Well and good, yes. But the cosmopolite in many of us may yet fail to see it any other way. For the thousands who have lived in the Carbon culture and the millions of Cebuanos who have seen both worlds, we know it would take more than the imagination of corporate think-tanks to overhaul that lived experience. With the current resistance the project is facing now, we begin to imagine a bunch of parachuting market researchers who returned to the corporate tables with a half-baked brief. That is why the project comes out as thoroughly from the point of view of an outsider—from one steeped on the supposedly better idea of what a “world-class, modern market” is—inorganic, and thus radical from the point of view of insiders who have lived experience of Carbon’s trading culture.
So when MCC’s marketing call mentions “homage to culture,” just which culture is it referring to? Obsessed with being celebratory on things “Cebuano,” MCC’s development concept becomes a hodgepodge of all the elements of a futuristic Cebuano metropolis, and in the process waylaid tons of ground realities as far as trading practices in the Carbon culture are concerned.
Easiest to appreciate in the old Carbon is how prices in the market contrast to those of what one finds in grocery supermarkets. The markets in neighboring cities in the metro, in fact, get their supplies in Carbon. Why is this so? Because the trade flow cost has been pared down to a minimum. The complexity of the sub-cultures that moves down under are being pushed by an informal sector of laborers, ambulant vendors, informal transport etc.
The recently proposed ordinance by Cebu City Councilor Renato Osmeña to define “ambulant vendors” as only those with a “certificate of recognition” becomes a dangerous proposition in the height of protests against the project. It will become an instrument to isolate hundreds who are displeased by the project in the first place.
City officials may need to rethink their decision in letting the joint venture agreement with MCC breeze through their noses. One cannot isolate Carbon from the rest of the city’s concerns. When push comes to shove, with the vendors’ alliance bringing their gripes to court, it has the right potential to be a heavy election issue next year.