October 11, 2013

On the Issue of Fees Being Collected from People Exercising or Doing Photoshoots in Burnham Park

A quote on skepticism by Kim Eric Drexler (a prominent American engineer) contains a line that goes "I've encountered a lot of people who sound like critics but very few who have substantive criticisms." Assuming that Drexler is a Baguio citizen, he would be uttering the same line upon reading the dozens of posts on Facebook condemning the collection of fees by City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEPMO) from people doing exercises and photoshoots in Burnham Park. These posts have been flooding everybody's Facebook feeds lately. The issue "trended" or "went viral" as most people refer to such occurrences these days.

People are eagerly bashing the CEPMO with tons of insults and unfounded claims. Almost everyone has a bad egg to throw in the direction of the CEPMO. Journalists, artists, photographers, ordinary netizens and politicians even. But here's the BIG question - are they being fair in hurling such vitriol? Are they barking at the wrong tree? Is the CEPMO deserving of the nasty bashing that it's currently receiving?

Being a critic is healthy especially if you are questioning the actions of a higher authority. In the Burnham Park issue, the ones in the hot seat are the CEPMO and city government officials (Mayor Mauricio Domogan in particular). One comment on Facebook described Domogan as a "useless idiot". The comment had 27 "likes" which means 27 people either agree with the description or are simply "liking" posts for the sake of "liking".

The whole issue started when the news broke out that people doing exercises and photoshoots at the park are being asked for permits and payments. Needless to say, all hell broke loose. After hundreds of posts and shares and reposts in social media sites, things started becoming indistinct. A crystal clear river got so mudded that you no longer know which is which. As a person reshares a post, he/she adds something to it. This is the problem with social media sites. People are so fond of making knee-jerk reactions. When they heard that money is being collected from people exercising in Burnham Park, they immediately started brandishing machetes and screaming vitriol against the collectors without thinking things first. It doesn't seem to occur to them that there's a possibility there's a lie (or a half-truth) being circulated.

What happened to critical thinking? What happened to skepticism? Baguio folks, you are not robots. Downloading everything you see and hear from the internet into your heads then believing them as truths is never a good idea. You hear about money being collected in Burnham Park and you immediately make the decision that it's a bad thing. Looking into the bigger picture and weighing the sentiments from both parties before voicing your piece is still the best course to take. We should avoid looking at sensitive social issues with tunnel vision.
photo by flickr/lightthroughmylense
Here's how it should be: So park officials are collecting fees. That's already an established fact as shown by the receipts that circulated on Facebook. What should be your initial reaction? Instead of cursing the park officials right out of the bat, why not ask the question "Why are they collecting fees?". Surely, they didn't just come up with the idea without some sort of planning. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Now, their explanation is that they are not collecting from everybody. They are collecting only from those who are using the park grounds for commercial purposes.

Case in point is their claim that some of those exercising in groups are paying their instructors or coaches. So in essence, the instructors are using the park grounds for profit. Using a public property for your personal gain is definitely NOT right. Now, some say the exchange of money is on a donation basis. Some say participants are paying 20 pesos each. Whichever is true, money is still involved. The instructors still pocket cash at the end of the day. Either given through donation or not, the fact remains that that's money earned on public property.

Some of the exercisers say that their morning routines at the park are free of charge meaning they aren't paying nor donating any money to their instructors. If this claim is true then the park officials are "greedy pigs" as a Facebook commenter observed. It's definitely wrong to collect money from people who are exercising at the park because these people have the right to exercise there.

In conclusion, if you are paying an instructor or coach to help you exercise at the park, the park officials have reason to ask your instructor to pay up or jog off. If the exercises are done without any exchange of money, then exercise all you want. If a park official comes collecting, you can tell him or her to jog off. A public park is a public park.

Just think of the "illegal vendors" selling within the premises of Burnham Park. They are prohibited to sell there because they are using a public property for their personal profit. It would be unfair if fitness instructors are allowed to sell their services there while these small vendors are being chased away like flies.

Another misconception about the issue is that joggers there are being forced to pay as well. However, several people have made it known that they've jogged there just recently and they're not being asked to pay. So again, this could be a case of misguided conclusions. If it is indeed true that people going there for morning runs are being asked to pay up, then the CEPMO is going overboard. It's just wrong. It's not right. Whoever came up with the idea that joggers in a public park pay fees should be sacked from office.

The issue about photoshoots is a bit more complicated. However, taking photos with friends or family while strolling or having picnics in the public grounds should ALWAYS be free. As to photoshoots wherein professional photographers and their clients are involved, it's a bit more difficult to determine what constitutes exercising your rights to use the park and using it for commercial purposes.

My overall stand here is that you can exercise, jog or take photos whenever you want for FREE on the park as long as you do it as a right, not as a commercial activity. If you are a coach teaching folks how to do tai chi or tae bo for a fee, then that's a different story. You are making money off the park so you should pay your dues to the park.

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  1. Yes, you have a point. It can really get confusing the more an issue becomes viral because more people add to the story without verifying facts or assuming that the information they see on their social media feed is already verified and true. Personally, two years or so ago, I and a friend used to join the morning Taibo exercises in the park and we just go there and join and no one ever told us to pay or donate. I'm not sure that's still the way it goes today...it could have changed. About the having to pay to jog or take pictures in the park issue, I think that is absurd. No politician or power-that-be in their right mind would think that they can get away with imposing such order without earning flak from the public. I think the real problem is misinformation and the fact that the Internet has become so ubiquitous that anyone can access it now, even those who are naive enough to actually think what they see/read there is fact.

  2. well said,investigate the facts before making unnecessary reaction cos it doesn't solve anything...

  3. I agree with charging fees for commercial activities. But picture-taking? Seriously. Medyo nakakatawa ha. IT IS FUNNY in the Philippines. Have seen a lot of better-looking better in different countries that didn't charge people anything for photoshoots. So there is no FLAW IN INTENTION. But I bet there are flaws in implementation. Another thing why I take the sides of those who judged "wrongly" is I like their argument/ judgment better. If there's a better way to make money, it's imposing tax on entry of Baguio City because cars cause real environmental issues. Still very dumb, sorry.