“What will happen to Carrot Man if our public markets are privatized and agricultural products are imported?” asked BAYAN Metro Manila Chairman Raymond Palatino to the market vendors and other sectors that attended the first Palengke Summit.
The Palengke Summit convened market vendors in Metro Manila on February 29, organized by BAYAN Metro Manila, urban poor group KADAMAY and Save Manila Public Market Alliance (SAMPAL).
Carrot Man is 21-year old Igorot farmer Jeyrick Sigmaton from the Mountain Province region. He became an instant sensation after photos of him taken by a netizen who admired his good looks and hard work was posted online. The young farmer, when asked about his personal life, was able to share about the indigenous peoples’ hardships in livelihood, lack of education and lack of opportunities.
“The Carrot Man sensation does not only point to us stories of would-be celebrities fashioned from media hype, but of societal issues as vital as land reform, development of agriculture and food production,” added Palatino.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Chairman Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano also called for an end to the privatization of public markets.
“Agricultural products will become more expensive because people will be forced to buy from corporate groceries such as Puregold and SM Supermarket,” said the peasant leader.
Mariano lamented the government lack of support to farmers.
“Worse, importation of cheap agricultural products is killing our farmers. Privatization, trade liberalization and deregulation are neoliberal policies are aggressively being pushed by the Aquino government,” said Mariano.
The need for collective action
Marcos Libres, president of SAMPAL, stressed the need for collective action.
Libres shared their initial victory against Ordinance 8346, otherwise known as Joint Venture Ordinance (JVO), a legislation signed by Manila City Mayor Joseph Estrada that would allow the city government to enter joint ventures with private companies for the rehabilitation of 17 public markets.
“Before, Mayor Estrada wouldn’t even face us, but after we staged a market holiday, he sat down with us and negotiated,” said Libres.
On September 14, 2015, vendors of Sampaloc Market, San Andres Market, Sta. Ana Market, Trabajo Market and Quinta Market closed shop and trooped to Manila City hall to protest the JVO.
Estrada assured the vendors that rehabilitation of the markets would not result in higher rental fees and displacement of poor vendors. The mayor also assured the vendors that the public markets would still be under government control.
Fight not yet over
“The fight is not over because the JVA is still in place. The law is effective for 25 years. In succeeding years, the rental fees will definitely rise,” said Libres.
The JVO is being criticized for being the local version of President Aquino’s flagship program Public Private Partnership (PPP).
Kalipunang Damayang Mahihirap National Chairperson Bea Arellano assailed Aquino’s PPP program.
“Under the PPP program, the urban poor suffered tremendously because of the demolition of homes and livelihood in favor of ‘modernization’ programs,” said Arellano.
Arellano further stated that billionaires such as the Ayalas benefitted most from the PPP.
During Aquino’s term, the Ayalas were able to secure lucrative deals with government. These projects include the Quezon City Central Business District project, LRT-1 extension project and the 74-hectare Food Terminal Incorporated in Taguig.
Eight big markets and homes of some 200 families along Balintawak area in Quezon City were set to be demolished. The Quezon City government said the closure of the markets in Balintawak was due to the operator’s violations. But vendors also feared talks about Ayala Land’s entry to develop the area into a business center.
Market vendors staged a protest to oppose the local government’s move to close the public market on January 20.
Politicians’ agenda on markets questioned
The Palengke Summit came up with a list of demands address to candidates vying for public office.
“Since the campaign season started, politicians were quick on their feet to campaign at public markets. But what is their stand on issues concerning public markets?” asked Palatino.
The demands include putting an end to privatization and demolition of public markets, allocation of government funds to modernize public markets and financial assistance to displaced vendors.
Market vendors also agreed to launch synchronized, decentralized protests on March 27, the first day of local electoral campaign.