A SOJOURNER’S VIEWS: Magsaysay Park to be handed over to Chinese investors?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 12 September) — Magsaysay Park handover to Chinese investors? A burning news item just reached us recently.

Is a decision that impacts the well-being of the citizens of Davao City left only to a few within the elite circles of our government? Was there any attempt to inform the general public about this investment plan of our local city government?

From what can be gathered even from media circles, there have been very limited attempt to inform the general public about this investment thrust of our city government.

If this property was “sold” at the China International Fair for Investment and Trade in Xiamen from September. 8 to 11, who from Davao City’s Board of Investments attended this fair? Why was there no press release from the city government if such  a deal was made? What were the provisions of this deal?  Did they make sure that the deal involves following protocols that would ensure environmental safety?

But pray tell – why should the ordinary citizen  in Davao city even bother to worry about these kinds of decisions?

After all, as the myth that has been perpetuated in the age of globalization insists:  investments  bring jobs and prosperity to wherever there is a boom in investments.  Unfortunately, many of us who are not interested to dig deeper into an analysis of the impact of such type of investments would only be too happy that the city government has such initiative. And as another myth is to be believed: practically everyone in Davao City trusts the Dutertes to the point where they will surrender their right to participate in decision-making processes that impact their well-being.

But it is about time we debunk these myths and popularize more important the myths that bring greater benefit to the citizenry. Like the myth that the closer we are to nature, the better is our health.  The more we take care of our environment, the better are we able to work towards sustainable development.  A number of ecology-oriented civil society organizations in the whole planet  – especially those  based in urbanized areas – have been demanding of their governments that there be more green spots in the city.

A rider performs a “bunny hop” trick on his BMX in Magsaysay Park, Davao City on Friday, November 14, 2014. The park is a known hangout place among BMX enthusiasts in the city. Mindanewsf file photo by Keith Bacongco

In Davao City, civil society organizations such as the Interface Development Initiatives for Sustainability (IDIS) have been monitoring the city government’s policy regarding green spots in housing villages as well as demanding for more public parks.

For the moment. we have only the very miniscule Rizal Park and Magsaysay Park and People’s Park where ordinary citizens can sit around and watch the world go by.

Otherwise, the majority of the citizenry have no other choice but enter malls to have some space to just sit and relax. But as we all know, malls do not encourage people just sitting around. Besides, in this age of the pandemic, entering malls has its own risks of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

Open spaces with trees and gardens – where children can play to their heart’s content – is a mark of a civilized nation.

Other countries allocate budgets to make their parks truly a small oasis, where citizens can breathe fresh air,  have their eyes feast on beautifully laid-out flower gardens and our children and grandchildren can accumulate memories of their enjoyable childhood. When we travel abroad, we are just so amazed at how cities go an extra mile so that they can take pride in their public parks that they beautify with sculptures, fountains and flower arrangements.

Datu Jaime Epi, an Ovu-Manuvo from Suawan in Marilog district plays the kulintang in Magsaysay Park, Davao City in August 2019. The park has been transformed into a cultural village during the 34th Kadayawan Festival, featuring 11 tribes living in the city. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO BUENO

But poor Davao City. What parks do we have? A Rizal Park with limited trees and can be hot at noontime. And the adjacent park beside the Legislative building is too small. And now, here comes the danger of Magsaysay Park being turned into a Chinese property.Well, as some cynics would claim – what are we Province of China for?  We all know that China – faced with an economic slow-down – which could get worse if President Trump wins his re-election bid and would worsen his anti-China stance – wants to get into more investments for their own recovery.

So we just hand over the whole of Magsaysay Park to them? What will happen to this public space where for the moment,  if a citizen wants to have a little bit of space can just enter this park?  Once “owned by the Chinese,” do we now fork out money for the entrance fee? And who in fact can afford to patronize the hotels and commercial spaces that will be built in this space? And considering that it isn’t really such a big area, is there space for a park and playground?

And what happens now to the original plan to have the Magsaysay Park as the site for the first of the six-phase sewerage treatment under the Infrastructure Modernization of the City (IM4Davao)? Is this now being scrapped in favor of the Chinese deal?

So what now? Is it too late already to push for a reconsideration of this deal? Is there still a possibility of CSOs supported by the citizenry to openly defy the city government’s decision and propose for a review that will involve more active consultation? [MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012,  “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” two books on Davao history, and “Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily – Mindanawon Profiles” launched in February 2019. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw)  Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents]