January 29, 2006

IN & OUT (5)
Steve T. Barreiro

Sanctioning illegality

The status of the night market remains in limbo.

To clarify the issue, I refer to the January 24 Joint Committee Report submitted to the City Council session wherein there are three major points of issue.

First, “not a single night market vendor has been duly registered with the BIR during the entirety of their operations.”

Second, the night market vendors themselves admitted “that they have been selling products which are not tourist oriented” thus violating the spirit or rationale behind the promulgation of the ordinance. According to a senior council member the rationale behind the creation of the tourist night market was to provide a venue for the sale of such famed Ilocos products and tourist oriented goods such as the longganisa, bagnet, gammet, and abel cloth to name a few. The night market vendors did not sell these kinds of products and there were even some observations to the effect that some of the vendors were selling pirated CD’s and VCD’s.

Third, “the City government entered into a lease contract with the night market vendors by leasing out a portion of F.R. Castro Avenue – a property of public dominion, in gross violation of existing law.”

The crux of the problem is that the “tourist night market” has been operating in violation of the law, hence illegally, and this operation was being condoned and sanctioned by the City government itself.

A senior government agency official stated that while business activity and competition must be encouraged, illegally operating businesses must not prejudice legitimate businesses. Members of LAMARVA have complied with the various requisites such as BIR registration and the procurement of licenses and business permits; they are disadvantaged by the night market vendors selling similar items without paying taxes and the proper business fees, thus bringing down costs and allowing them to retail at bargain basement prices in comparison. The law is supposed to protect, not to discriminate against those who abide by the law.

However, the closure of the night market has also impinged upon the livelihood of a great number of people. It must be noted that in response to the displacement of the night market vendors, the joint committee report recommended a thorough study on how to establish a new night market, not a “Tourist Night Market,” at a designated place operating without any legal impediment.

As the legislative process takes time, Councilor Yvonne Ranada concerned with the plight of the displaced vendors, proposed a fast-track solution, recommending a temporary reopening of the night market operation for the duration of the LC fiesta. However, the motion was quashed failing to muster the 2/3 vote required for the suspension of the rules. Sources reveal that the Ranada proposal, requiring a simple majority (in this case 6 of 10 present), would have surely passed if the suspension of the rules had carried through.

The approval of the fast-track proposal would have been the smart public relations move. The refusal of Councilors Lazo, Blanco, Chua, and Dancel will probably elicit a generally negative impression from a public unaware or uncomprehending of the central issues involved.

However, an examination of the issue reveals that the legally operating market businesses were being unfairly affected by the illegally operating night market vendors. By allowing this and even collecting fees, the city government in effect sanctioned this illegal activity to the detriment of the law abiding businesses.

Though the proposal of the Hon. Ranada was of humanitarian intent, we must understand the refusal of the 4 councilors, particularly of the Hon. Attorney Lazo, to approve of an action which would reinstate, even if temporarily, a clearly illegal activity.

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