I was in Naga City last Saturday and instinctively I headed for the burned supermarket that prominently figured in the local and national news recently. I knew the location as well as the market’s general lay-out having visited it or passed around it several times in the past. I was curious on the extent of the damage and how things are different now. Knapsack and camera in tow, I just walked my way towards the market oblivious to the slight drizzle and the sky that is turning dark. I could have easily taken a jeepney or tricycle but there is something about walking the streets of familiar and not-so-familiar places that fascinates me. The few pesos that I would save wouldn’t hurt as recession lurks just behind the corner.
The first thing that caught my attention was the blackened 2nd floor and the crowd of vendors that occupies the street beneath it. The traffic was beginning to build up as tricycles and jeepneys slow down trying to avoid the various obstacles that used to be minimal in the past. Looking at the market from end to end, I realized it’s really huge occupying two big blocks.
The fire that destroyed the Naga Public Market has displaced hundreds of vendors that used to occupy the 2nd and 3rd floors. They are mostly those occupying stalls in the wet market selling meat, fish, fruits and vegetables. They now occupy both sides of J. Hernandez street housed in makeshift tents selling their wares. Both the vendors and the buyers are exposed to the sun and the rain with only their flimsy trapal and umbrellas to protect them. They are also exposed to the carbon monoxide and pollution that are ever present in the street as jeepneys, tricycles and other motorized vehicles inch their way through the narrowed and crowded streets made worse by the rain.
When I asked the vendors how long they will be back to their previous stalls, nobody can give a definite answer. Looking at their faces, I experienced a surge of emotions. I was happy to know that they are still able to sell and earn a living for their children and family. At the same time I felt sad because they have to endure harsh conditions and nobody’s sure for how long this will last. These are simple people with simple dreams, honest and hardworking who deserve every hard-earned peso they earn. I felt great admiration for them but words weren’t coming out.
Those occupying the ground floor of the supermarket were not as affected. It’s business as usual for them except for the fact that they now have to share their frontage with the hordes of displaced vendors that are also trying to make a living in the aftermath of the tragedy. A significant portion of the second floor housing ukay-ukay stalls was spared from the fire. In the inner portions of the ground floor, the beauty and barber shops are still intact. I did not find those barbers whom I used to play chess with many years ago. I wasn’t even sure if they are still there or if I can remember their faces. The row of carinderias still serve snacks and meals, each one trying to entice customers to try out their menus. After a light snack I exited through the rows of stalls selling clothes, dropped by the newsstand and bought a copy of my favorite local newspaper. I used to browse the headlines in this particular newsstand and somehow it felt reassuring that they are still there.
With the commitment of several high ranking Bicolano government officials to reconstruct the damaged Supermarket, I’m optimistic that in no time the Maogmang Lugar public market with its myriad of native attractions and local charm will be back to its feet and will continue to serve the people of Naga City and the surrounding towns as well as continue to fascinate simple travelers like me.