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Surigao traders want to go to court to stop night café

Businessmen here questioning the legality of the night café operations may have found a key ally at the City Council, even as they threatened to go to court to close down the weekend revelry.

Last week, Councilor Baltazar C. Abian said he will move for the suspension of the ordinance creating the night Café, a twice-a-week street fair that allows vendors licensed by City Hall to sell food and beverages on a wide strip at the boulevard.

Abian is one of the authors of the ordinance, and his position on the issue weighs heavily on the already contentious fight between members of the Surigao Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Inc. (SCCII) and its main author, Councilor Christopher T. Bonite. Abian said he will file the appropriate motion during this Thursday’s session.

He said he will move to have the night café temporarily stopped if the scheduled talks between city officials and SCCII members this week break down.

The strip is home to several food and entertainment establishments, whose owners complained that the weekend revelry is making the area unattractive to tourists, to the detriment of their businesses. Because the two-lane road at the boulevard is sealed from traffic during Fridays and Saturdays, this also violated the public’s right for access of the street anytime they need it, they said, adding that night Café’s fixed weekend schedule creates a semblance of permanence that is not allowed under the law.

SCCII members’ consternation even grew upon learning that a “night market” would be added on the existing food stalls – also Bonite’s brainchild. The night market, which would allow vendors of apparels and other goods to sell their wares on the boulevard, is expected to be launched this Friday, although Bonite said this may be postponed to a later date.

SCCII president Johann Jake B. Miranda said they will try to stop both weekend activities altogether through a court injunction.

Miranda believes they have a strong case.

“While the Local Government Code allows city councils to craft ordinances allowing likes of night markets or flea markets, the law also includes the word ‘temporarily’ – not on periodic or regular basis. By having it every Friday and Saturday, this is no longer temporary; it is regular. That’s the difference there,” he said.

“But having it during fiestas, once a year celebration for the general welfare of public, that is what we call temporary and that is the purpose of the Local Government Code,” he added.

Another proof of permanence, Miranda said, is the permit the City Hall provides to night café vendors, which he said was a form of a contract. The law, he said, clearly forbids public roads from being subjected into contracts with private persons.

At the City Council, Abian said he will call a committee hearing on the night café issue to be attended by the night café management – headed by Bonite – and SCCII members. The councilor said they will try to find a win-win formula to end the deadlock, though the businessmen made it clear earlier that they want nothing but the closure of the night Café.

What is apparent is Abian’s seeming turnaround on the issue, though in a previous meeting with SCCII members and City Hall officials representing Mayor Ernesto T. Matugas, the councilor vowed to “revisit” the viability of the night café operations.

Miranda said he was elated with Abian’s move.

“We commend the call of the city councilors who also see its irregularities as well as its inconsistency with the Civil Code in which the latter prohibits the use of public streets for commerce,” he said.

Abian had earlier expressed doubts on the viability of the weekend food fair, noting its apparent failure to generate income for the city.

As early as April this year, lawmakers in the city are questioning the viability of the operations based on the dwindling stall owners participating in the weekend revelry, patterned with the night café in Cagayan de Oro City.

Councilor Jose Expeditus Bayana, chairman of the committee on public order and safety, said a temporary suspension of an ordinance can be done by passing a resolution.

Miranda, meanwhile, struck a middle ground tone, saying City Hall can relocate the night café activities if it wants to diffuse the businessmen’s opposition.

“If they transfer the nightly activities to other underdevelop areas in the city, this would be much better. Opening the boulevard to night market is not going to help the boulevard’s image as a tourist spot,” he said.

This did not sound agreeable to Bonite, however.

“We made this ordinance in accordance with Republic Act 7160 in particular with our Local Government Code under Section 21,” the councilor said. “This ordinance is anchored on a solid basis.”

He refuted claims of a permanent closure of roads during night café activities, adding that the allegation of permanence is belied on “the fact that when morning comes, they (vendors) would disassemble their makeshift stalls.”

Bonite said any local government unit can even permanently close a street provided that this is backed up with a valid ordinance.

However, Bonite acceded to demands to postpone the night market, saying the ordinance for this purposes needed revisions.

While he insists for the night café to remain in the boulevard, the councilor said he was willing to sponsor an amendment in which the weekend activities would only be conducted on a limited portion of the boulevard, away from business establishments.

“We can move the whole night café and night Market away from the permanent business establishments so that there will no longer a conflict between the businessmen and the night café vendors,” he said. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)

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