Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

From Street to Store to Shopping Mall: Extralegal Zones of Commerce for Pirated Audio-Visual Goods in Baguio, the Philippines

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

From Street to Store to Shopping Mall: Extralegal Zones of Commerce for Pirated Audio-Visual Goods in Baguio, the Philippines

Article excerpt

Despite protests from some vendors... [the] Mayor... is standing his ground to put a stop to illegal vending activities city wide.... This as some vendors still persist in going back to their old vending sites despite repeated warnings... [The Mayor] however said, "Vendors are not being totally stopped from selling as they are given vending sites and times to ply their trade. (Rillorta 2013, pp. 2, 11)

Philippine newspaper reports such as this account from Baguio illustrate the effects of the widespread presence of fixed and ambulant street vendors in transforming the use of public space, as people throughout the urban Global South increasingly turn to alternative street economies to gain access to income-generating work. In Baguio, the regional administrative hub of the northern Philippines, for example, vendors use hand-held baskets or plastic mats spread out on sidewalks to hawk every commodity from cooked foods, fresh produce, candies, newspapers and cigarettes to pirated CDs and DVDs. They offer these goods to the visitors, municipal officials and everyday residents who pass by their displays. Here, as in other southern countries, economic liberalization, rural-to-urban migration and a lack of employment options have left many urbanites with little choice but to undertake such other-than-legal enterprises. These circumstances raise debates about "appropriate" development for contemporary urbanizing centres. As the above press account also demonstrates, southern governments' fluctuating actions, moving between tolerance and prohibition of street economies, highlight the disjuncture between the state's laws and the experiential logistics of peoples' independent and often "extralegal" work--the "fuzzy or contested boundaries" between the domains of "legality" and "illegality" (Nordstrom 2007, p. 211; Smart and Zerilli 2014, p. 222).

Since the late 1990s, this problematic scenario has become especially evident in Baguio, where growing numbers of Philippine Muslim migrants fleeing civil strife in Mindanao (Cadalig 2007; Florendo 2004) have arrived on already crowded city streets to sell manufactured products such as new clothing, cell phones and accessories, costume jewellery and especially pirated DVDs and CDs. Businesses offering unauthorized goods of the latter kind have continued to operate despite renewed restrictions on street sales in 2013, as some Muslim vendors maintain their street enterprises by selling at night when fewer police are on duty, while others have been able to move their trade to storefronts and to public market stalls. Selling pirated and thus "illegal" DVDs and CDs increases street vendors' already precarious position regarding legitimate access to public space for commerce. It also jeopardizes the business of stores, as merchants risk violating laws regulating the type of goods that they can "legally" sell (see Henry V. 2012; Tilman 2005; Trice 2011).

This article focuses on the trade in pirated DVDs and CDs in Baguio, one dominated initially by Philippine Muslim street vendors and later by Muslim merchants in stores and public markets. I suggest that these small-scale traders assert their right to livelihood by crafting a unique mix of "advocacy" and "everyday politics" (Kerkvliet 2009, pp. 232-33) and in so doing unsettle essentialist categories of public space use and legal/illegal practice. In Baguio, where the municipal government is balancing achieving its vision for urban development--tidy streets and lawful businesses--with people's demand for work, city officials follow policies of vacillation that vary among tolerating, penalizing, regulating and prohibiting both street-side enterprises and storefront sales of pirated goods (Milgram 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014). The city's recently arrived Philippine Muslim vendors, many of them Maranao from the northern Mindanao provinces of Lanao del Norte and Lanao de Sur, may appear to be poorly qualified to organize their trade. …

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