Editorial: Preserving Carbon’s connections

·3 min read

When Armie first arrived in Cebu to study at the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu in Lahug, she realized that all but one of the jeepney routes plying the Lahug area took her to the largest and oldest public market: Carbon Market.

During her four years in college, Armie wised up. While Cebu City had world-class malls, the best buys in Cebu City—cheapest school supplies, houseware that she and her dorm mates bought at wholesale prices, filling meals at student prices, and “ukay-ukay (used clothing)” finds for haggling—could all be found at Carbon.

Armie learned the hard way that Carbon was not a place to be naïve and careless. She lost her wallet and scientific calculator when her backpack was opened and then closed without her knowledge as she wandered with a friend to search for secondhand books at Freedom Park.

The illegal and criminal were often linked with media reports and citizens’ anecdotes about Carbon: from purse snatching to black market trade in abortifacients and syndicates dealing with illegal drugs and the flesh trade.

Yet, fieldwork introduced Armie to the people’s organizations that worked with the Carbon community of vendors, porters, hawkers, informal workers, and their families.

Communal undertakings managed public toilets, rolled out micro-finance for people without capital and savings, and helped solo parents with their children’s nutrition and education.

Her teacher remembers the article Armie turned in because of the connections she made between Carbon’s past and present: Freedom Park sellers helping students procure affordable Valentine’s Day roses and graduation corsages at the Freedom Park, which, during the American colonial era, was the Plaza Washington, site originally of military exhibitions and later, a public space for citizens to speak out on issues, including denouncement of the American colonial government.

The interweaving strands of Carbon Market’s past, present, and future are being tested by the modernization project undertaken by the Cebu City Government through a joint venture agreement with the Megawide Construction Corporation (MCC).

The vision of a world-class, multi-purpose, and green revitalization of the Carbon Market clashes with the fears of vendors and consumers who fear their displacement in favor of a market that is more affluent, cosmopolitan, and transient.

Cebu2World Development Inc. (C2W), a subsidiary of MCC, assured that the approximately 6,000 registered vendors of Carbon Market will be accommodated in the new main public market, reported Cherry Ann T. Lim in SunStar Cebu on July 30, 2022.

A less rosy picture of their future is feared by the Cebu Market Vendors Multipurpose Cooperative (Cemvedco), who anticipate higher rental and smaller stalls that will lead to dwindling profits in the new main public market.

As reported by the Philippine News Agency on Jan. 26, 2021, Cemvedco chairperson Erwin Goc-ong raised their uncertainties: “How about those selling salt, ‘puso’, sachets? If we allow them into this ‘first-world’ market, can they afford it?”

For Armie, employed now in the private sector, the modernization project of the Carbon Market creates ambivalent reactions. She welcomes the improvements in sanitation, security, and solid waste management that are promised in the next years.

However, she is skeptical whether private sector participation will make the “modern” Carbon Market as accessible to people from all walks of life, particularly those who are marginalized, as the “old” Carbon was to people with less means in life.

Sustaining the heritage of the Carbon Market should also be prioritized. The Carbon Market that rose from the efforts of Cebuanos to sustain an inclusive economic center on what used to be the coal depot serving the Cebu Railroad 113 years ago should not depart from its raison d’ etre: to create space for Cebuanos, especially the most vulnerable, to provide for their needs and raise their standards of living.

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