Yesterday was my first time to witness the grand opening of a major mall, Robinsons Malls‘ Robinsons Galleria South, the 52nd Robinsons Mall and only the third in its flagship Galleria brand (the other two being Robinsons Galleria Ortigas and Robinsons Galleria Cebú). I’m not exactly a fan of such establishments but I thought of checking out the event because it’s just a stone’s throw away from our place here in San Pedro Tunasán (other than the fact that I’m chronicling our city’s history). Besides, it’s not every day that one gets to witness how a major mall opens to the public for the very first time.
The four-level Robinsons Galleria South sits on a 3.8-hectare property which was once owned by a popular soft drinks manufacturer. Robinsons Land Corporation, the parent company behind Robinsons Malls, had been planning to put up an ordinary mall on the site. But former Mayor Calixto Catáquiz, in a meeting with officials of Robinsons back in 2012, insisted that the corporation should instead put up a bigger Galleria brand owing to the fact that San Pedro is a dormitory area for thousands of workers in southern Metro Manila and northern La Laguna. In fact, many nearby malls such as SM Center Muntinlupà, Ayala Malls South Park, Festival Alabang, and SM City Santa Rosa are patronized by throngs of San Pedrense residents on a daily basis.
(As an aside, it was on that same 2012 meeting where Mayor Calex last saw Jesse Robredo, former Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, for the last time [They were once colleagues in the Mayors League of the Philippines]. Robredo was also wooing Robinsons for a mall to be setup in his home city. He died in a plane crash a few days after that meeting, but his efforts brought forth Robinsons Place Naga which opened five years later).
As per observers, the above-mentioned malls, plus many others nearby, are in danger of losing profitability because of this new major player. And according to the grapevine, SM Center Muntinlupà, the smallest of them as well as the nearest to Robinsons Galleria South, might end up becoming a mere warehouse for SM. But if these hugely popular malls are to be adversely affected, what more the smaller establishments all around them? For sure, they will be displaced as consumers would rather troop to malls where there are hundreds of smaller establishments to choose from in an air-conditioned setting. This is what many economists and other concerned sectors have been complaining about with regard to the proliferation of malls. Nevertheless, it will then be the responsibility of stakeholders involved (particularly the local government units) on how to protect the smaller players from economic marginalization. It will also, of course, test the resiliency of these smaller entrepreneurs. After all, in a capitalist economy, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Mátira ang matibay.
I remember years ago what a former officemate of mine, a resident of San Pedro for many years, told me about the day when the first Jollibee outlet appeared at the población (town proper). This happened sometime in the late 90s. It was like a huge event for months on end especially since San Pedrenses were still of rural folk demeanor. It was then when people started to realize that their town was starting to progress. Actually, fast food giants such as Jollibee are almost always the measuring stick of a municipality’s economic robustness.
I have interviewed a lot of seniors in our city. Through those interviews, I was able to picture how San Pedro Tunasán —now called the City of San Pedro— looked like in the past. Despite its proximity to Metro Manila, it was a bucolic Lagunense town, no different from my wife’s hometown. It used to be surrounded with farm lands and sampaguita plantations. Its coasts by the lake teemed with ducks, quails, and vegetable plantations.
Today, all these appealing rural features are almost wiped out by modernization. However, this phenomenon is happening not only in San Pedro but in almost all rural areas where there are cities nearby. Malls have a lot to do with all these changes. Whether they are good or bad is still up for debate. What cannot be denied is that it also changed behavioral patterns in once rural societies. For instance, they have taken people away from parks and plazas. Even museum visits have been left in peril.
Through the years, malls have evolved from being mere shopping centers into something bigger, with far-reaching consequences to the Filipino social psyche. Today, one can virtually do almost anything in a mall other than shopping and eating. A myriad of activities could be done here like watching a concert or a flick, paying one’s bills, booking flights, working out, holding a family reunion or celebrating birthdays (in fact, we are going to celebrate my eldest daughter’s 19th birthday there today), playing electronic games, a rendezvous for a casual breakup, and even attending Mass (Robinsons Galleria South has a chapel at the fourth floor dedicated to Mother Teresa of Calcutta). Some have even built their own parks and museums. Other bolder ventures have malls with condominiums and office spaces (such as call centers) attached to them. Due to their massive number of patrons, terrorists have since targeted malls (don’t wonder anymore why security has become super tight). And quite recently, not a few broken souls have chosen malls as a place to take their own lives. Love them or hate them, malls have become a crucial part of the Filipino way of life.
Has anyone written a scholarly article yet regarding the social and even cultural impact that malls have towards Filipinos?