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What’s a Fountain for?

Taking a ride from anywhere in Naga, you’ll probably run through Elias Angeles or General Luna which sandwiches Plaza Rizal and Plaza Quezon, and probably get off somewhere along or the other side of the former plaza. In the morning, you’d get a good sunlight while taking a stroll or sitting on one of the concrete benches. (Although I would wonder why you would.) But it’s a good walk or wait. There would be occasional trade fairs. Vendors sell fruits, nuts, and foodstuffs around the corner across the place which used to be New England. Later in the morning, you could get some massage. One could come across guys selling toys that float on air, toys that make annoying sounds, toys that hurt your eyes with bright lights. There was a time when old folks would debate about religion around that same corner. I used to stay around and listen for some amusement. Congressman L-Ray Villafuerte made his first attempt in politics when he ran for mayor and gave a speech in unimpressively broken Bicol in the middle of this city square. One late night when I was going home from a wake, there was a really interesting singing competition which seemed to have been sponsored by the Sangguniang Kabataan on that area. There had been a skating ramp on the other corner which faces the imposing Philippine National Bank building. Back then, I thought, “who would skate around here?”. But what did I know? Kids really went there to skate. I liked it that all the hawkers serving fishballs, kikiam, isaw and bulastog all huddled in one corner and create a smoke billow that would violate the visibility of a passing pedestrian. (Don’t get me wrong. They got good food down there.) However, for the longest time, there had been a dark cloud of prostitution that loomed the plaza which had been almost been all too common to the point of acceptance, that it has become a subject of joke and jest. But recently, police have claimed that they have eradicated such cases (and now can be availed only on a need basis, as the joke goes). My point is, it’s a nice place. Sure, it’s no Central Park or Senado Square; not even a Luneta, but nice nonetheless.

So, why do they have to tear it all down. Isn’t if enough Jollibee got burnt? Anyway, I’ve been hearing about this for quite a long time now – that it’s all going to be fixed and improved with a fountain as a centerpiece. My initial thoughts were, “What would happen to the people who make their living on that area, the vendors and masseurs? Almost all the time, when I ask that question, I would receive responses that painted a picturesque image of the forthcoming version of the plaza without really answering the question on the plaza economy. I would always be told that the plaza will be more beautiful and there will be a fountain right smack in the middle. (There seems to be a new fancy for fountains. Are we planning to compete with Rome?) But what about the vendors and the masseurs? Sometimes, I wouldn’t get an answer. Sometimes, I would get a vague answer. At one time, someone told me that the vendors would be relocated along the river which would be developed as a business district. Would I go that far for some salted peanuts or bulastog or a quick massage? Maybe I would get off my ride somewhere around Tabuco Bridge. (Maybe people could get used to that.) But that isn’t really definite yet. It seems at best, that these citizens who earn a daily living at the plaza’s location would be certainly misplaced, and would have entrepreneurial activities suspended for a considerable to an indefinite period of time. I heard that the project is labeled as “Plaza Rizal Re-development”. Why are they fixing it? It’s not broken. But perhaps brokenness like beauty is in the eye of a beholder. Presumably, projects like this are initiated for the purpose of tourism. Yes, the park would look good, magnificent like a European square, especially with that structure spouting water at the center where people could walk to and from without the nuisance of vendors and hawkers. But what is tourism for? The industry certainly goes beyond environmental and architectural aesthetics. Tourism is instituted for the promotion of the local economy. Beaches are developed, cultural traditions are presented, and structures are constructed in the name of tourism to push the economy, for people to earn a living from it. As it has been, the plaza has already been providing livelihood for small scale entrepreneurs, senior citizens and persons with disability. The plaza has already been achieving the goals of tourism. So, why develop it further? For tourism? Maybe that’s just my assumption.

“One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed.” Proverbs 19:17 Maybe, more priority is being given to adornment over employment.

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