A FAIRLY significant date is coming up soon, one that isn’t particularly flashy or notable on the surface but has been a matter of contention.
The date in question is July 1, the end of the current extended stay of the city’s newsstands in the central business district.
For a quick bit of context, the city in following a national directive, is looking to get stands out of the sidewalks. This caused a significant amount of friction between those affected – the vendors themselves, and the local newspaper industry, which relies on these newsstands for a not-insignificant portion of their distribution.
The relocation requires the stands to move at least 0.6 meters away from the sidewalks, which essentially forces them to find some sort of private establishment willing to take them in, likely at cost of the rent. The alternatives are – well, there aren’t any clear alternatives yet, which is part of the problem.
This relocation was supposed to take place last year but was delayed for six months as a compromise to give the city time to figure out how to properly relocate the stands in a way that vendor livelihood could be preserved.
And now, the deadline is coming back around, with the council formally requesting the mayor’s office for another extension.
The status quo will be preserved.
And what then? Shall we wait another six months for the deadline to come around, and ask for another extension? The status quo will be maintained. Until when?
Now, personally, I have no problem with the status quo. I would prefer the status quo in this situation. Keep the newsstands and the papers around in the heart of the city, where they can reach the people.
But as much as I would like for things to stay the way they are, there is an inevitability and a driving force behind the relocation. It isn’t just some city drive to get them out of the sidewalks, it’s at the behest of a national order to clear the sidewalks. There is more weight to the move than can be pushed aside by the resistance of a small band of vendors and a small local journalistic industry.
And so this status quo is fragile and will inevitably break. The orders come from above, and cannot be shunted aside.
Which means that while there is time, the city must figure out how to deal with this situation. Plans for proper relocation must be made, plans that would allow the vendors who live on not particularly high incomes to continue trading. Not just for their sake, but because this is a rather touchy topic.
Local papers are still a significant part of the reach of the media, especially at the grassroots. And the participation of the media and the journalistic circles in shaping public thought is important to influence and foster informed decision-making, and informed participation in the political process among many other benefits.
To remove newsstands from the heart of the city without a proper plan in place to ensure that they can continue to exist and more importantly be accessible would not just harm the livelihoods of the vendors affected, but also negatively impact the free flow of information to the public.
I will give a great benefit of the doubt to the city of Baguio and say for the record that I doubt the city intends to curtail press freedom. But even though it isn’t the intention, it will have that sort of effect, and just as bad, if not worse, potentially signify that that is what the city intends, if the matter is handled incorrectly.
The status quo continues for now. But it will be a break, and it must be broken right.