Today's Punto
Today's Punto
Paskuhan wish
By Bong Lacson

Oct 24, 2017

“ANG PASKUHAN ay naging simbolo na ng San Fernando at ng Pampanga kaya ang city government, hinihingi na i-retain muna ang Paskuhan Village at gawin itong culture and heritage site.”

So spoke Mayor Edwin Santiago in an exclusive interview with Sun-Star Pampanga last week, reminiscing how, in its heyday, the famous Christmas-themed park served as an “iconic symbol of the city’s thriving lantern industry” and “landmark” of the province.

Fault not Santiago for his redundancies there, warped as he was in nostalgia.

Why, the Paskuhan Village was in fact one of the reasons for dubbing the City of San Fernando as “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.” So enthused Santiago.

It is then but right and fitting that the Paskuhan Village be “redeveloped into a lantern city” to showcase the eponymous industry not only of the city but of the whole province.

Even righter, “that the celebration of the annual and colorful Giant Lantern Festival be brought back to its true home, the Paskuhan Village.”

Declared Santiago: Ito ay naging branding na ng San Fernando at ng Pampanga kaya dapat lang na ibalik ito sa kung saan nararapat.”

Beyond the platitudes, what has Santiago, if only on paper, to bring Paskuhan back to where it rightfully belongs?


Zilch. As Sun-Star Pampanga reported: “Santiago did not disclose yet the position of the government in terms of acquiring the management and operation of the property. He said that the matter is still under deliberation and will be disclosed once everything is settled.”

Ay, there’s the rub.

Santiago’s ruminations rose out of the reported nullification of the Paskuhan deal between the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority and Premier Central Inc., a subsidiary of SM Prime Holdings Corp. Santiago found solid ground in the report of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability that recommended to the House of Representatives to void the sale of Paskuhan, which specifically stated that TIEZA disregarded the provision of R.A. 9593 that gives the City of San Fernando and the Province of Pampanga the “right of first refusal” on the sale or lease of Paskuhan.

The report said that TIEZA officials committed malfeasance in the performance of their duties for misapplication of the law and abuse of authority. Now, there’s some question of accountability there.

Now, there’s some cry for prosecution there. As indeed the House committee provided a copy of its report to the Office of the Ombudsman for appropriate action and further investigation on possible administrative, civil and criminal cases against erring TIEZA officials.

That, though merits a separate story. For now, it will be the height of naivete to think that Premier Central will just charge its Paskuhan (mis)deal to unhappy corporate experience and move on. Or for TIEZA to simply return every single cent of the P939,656,848 Premier Central paid for the property: no questions asked, no rationalizations given. (What about the commissions? The usual SOPs?)

Even granting that it will be so, the Paskuhan will not be all Christmas present for Santiago and his city.

The right of first refusal certainly gives the city the first shot to claim ownership of Paskuhan from TIEZA. But not for free. The price though may not be as stiff as the nearly P1 billion Premier Central shelled out, given its being government-to-government transaction.

Now, has the City of San Fernando the funds? If not, has it the credit line to secure some loan from, say, the Land Bank of the Philippines, for the purchase of the once-upona- time Lazatin property?

Even if the city has all these, there is the greater concern of making the property pay for itself as a self-liquidating asset.

Santiago thinks of a “lantern city,” presumably the Paskuhan serving as one-stop shop of workshop, atelier or what have you of the parol craftsmen, product display and store.

Will that be enough to recoup whatever sum of investment the city shall infuse in the place?

Not by a long shot, if we go by the Paskuhan experience at the time of its inception and early years which it was precisely what Santiago is proposing now. And even more – a swimming pool, go-karting and rock climbing subsequently included on the site.

Not even the addition of a Days Inn hotel and the Gardens of the World in the site by Tourism Secretary Mina Gabor to host the international Florikultura show in 1998 could save it from being denigrated as pastulan village – pastureland for carabaos.

No, the deterioration of the Paskuhan Village did not come with the stalemate caused by the House investigation of its sale as reported in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Its dilapidation came within a decade from its inauguration in 1990.

Indeed, not even the PR -savvy Dick Gordon as tourism secretary was able to revive interest – both public and financial – in the Paskuhan which he rebranded as “Hilaga.”

No belittling Santiago now. But pray, tell, how in the world can he possibly excel where both Gabor and Gordon apparently failed?

The Paskuhan may look like a Christmas wish come true to the city. But it is in reality a Pandora’s box. No matter the tinsel and ribbons that it is packed in.

Take it, at the city’s own peril.

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