Editorial: Pressing for social justice

·3 min read

RECENT events highlight that, even in the midst of a pandemic, the struggle for social justice continues.

One is even inclined to press that, especially in a pandemic that oppresses those less endowed with material resources, economic opportunities, and access to representation and power, the fight for social justice must be sustained.

In the midst of surviving threats to life and livelihood posed by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), members of the Carbon Alliance held a moving candlelight tribute on Aug. 27 for murdered lawyer Rex Fernandez, captured in a video uploaded on the Facebook page of The Freeman.

Raising clenched fists and singing “Paglaum (Hope),” the Carbonhanong Alyansa Alang sa Reporma Ug Bahandianong Ogma Sa Mga Nanginabuhi (Carbon Alliance) lined up before their stalls to pay their respect for the activist/lawyer who supported them and many other individuals and groups marginalized in defending their rights and fair access to opportunities.

As reported by SunStar Philippines and SunStar Cebu on Aug. 27, the vendors’ association counted Fernandez as one of their allies in opposing the Carbon Market redevelopment project.

The Carbon Alliance said Fernandez supported their resistance to the demolition of vendors’ stalls and eviction from their stands at the Carbon Market, and advocated for cancelling the joint venture agreement between the Cebu City Hall and the Megawide Construction Corp.

According to a profile posted on ppp.gov.ph, the Modernization of the Cebu Carbon Market is a P5.5 billion Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) that will involve a 50-year “cooperation period” between the Cebu City Government and the Megawide Corp., which will convert Carbon, one of Cebu’s oldest landmarks, into a “commercial, heritage and and cultural district with a multimodal and integrated transport hub.”

The modernization project is supported by members of the private sector, such as the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI). The project is expected to install solid and liquid waste management systems benefiting the ecology and public health, as well as to triple the Carbon-generated income of the local government, pegged at P21 million annually before the pandemic.

However, ongoing work at the Carbon Market is displacing hundreds of stall sellers and street vendors, many of whom have traditionally sold in Cebu’s oldest wet market with as little as a few hundred pesos as the daily capital rolled to buy commodities, such as spices, for selling that day, and whose earnings are used to meet the daily needs of their family.

As reported by the Rappler on Aug. 13, the Carbon Alliance, representing 13 Carbon-based vendor associations, and the Movement Against Carbon Market Privatization (MACMP), comprised by Carbon vendors, Cebu residents and consumers, decry the modernization project for sidelining the welfare of an estimated 16,000 vendors selling in the area and about 700 families, who fear the demolition of their contiguous homes in Sitio Bato, Barangay Ermita.

In his Aug. 25 column “Candid Thoughts” on SunStar Cebu, Bong Wenceslao wrote that the modernization of the Carbon Market should prioritize the welfare of two sectors made vulnerable in the pandemic: the vendors and the consumers who rely on the trade of competitively priced commodities exchanged at the Carbon Market for decades.

Another aspect needing clarification through public consultations is the preservation and conservation plan of the Megawide Corp. for the Carbon Market, a historical heritage site covered by Proclamation No. 241 signed by President Diosdado Macapagal, according to the same Rappler report.

Restoration and conservation of the country’s heritage sites must be in accordance with the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.

Modernization cannot be bought by sacrificing the survival and welfare of Cebu’s most vulnerable economic sector, as well as the conservation of priceless heritage.

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