by Katrina Kate Dianne Punay and Hannah Faith Tormis
Clothing is one of the basic necessities of life. But as the years pass, clothing has become more than a necessity. In this materialistic world where labels and price tags serve as indicators of social status, clothes have become mirrors that reflect who you are—for most people.
The term ukay-ukay has never been a stranger to us. In this poverty-stricken and calamity-prone country, some turn to the affordable ukay-ukay to meet the need for clothing. But is ukay-ukay a mere solution, an affordable way to meet our need for clothing? Is Ukay-ukay okay?
Ukay-ukay is derived from the Filipino term “halukay” which means “to dig”. Clearly, the etymology explains how people deal with Ukay-ukay. Seen by many as a messy mound of clothes, shoes, bags, etc., are being swarmed by Filipinos who, like eagle-eyed treasure hunters, dig in for items that they find. They are ready to fight and haul to have secondhand happiness from these hand-me-down item that are utmost useful.
Since the 90’s, it has become a part of the Filipino culture that you can’t find a city or province in the Philippines that has no ukay-ukay stand. The Ukay-ukay business that had its roots in Cebu and Baguio, have ‘prospered’ all over the Metro Manila,Lucena, Bohol, Davao, Zamboanga, Iligan and Dipolog. The Ukay-ukay industry became a big hit that the Federation of Philippine Textile Industries complained about this due to the drop of their income.
“Basically, what makes ukay-ukay clothes different from other clothes is that they are undeniably helpful to average people,” says 2nd year student ChaiiGumia.
What we see as a unkempt mound of clothes, shoes, bags, etc. are sent here to the county as donations, or as a help from various parts of the globe mainly because of all the factors that make our country third world—and makes it branded to our well-off counterparts. These donations piled up and were sold to traders who resale it to the public. There are also some overseas workers who collect used clothing and send it to the Philippines through Balikbayan boxes to sell by bundle or bulk it to their friends and relatives who are interested in the Ukay-ukay business.
“We get to purchase ukay-ukay at 10, 000 PHP by bundle. There are companies that deliver ukay-ukay from Japan, or Korea,” said Aileen Tamayo in Visayan. She is an ukay-ukay vendor at Lisada Street, Uyanguren, Davao City.
There are also ukay-ukay vendors who don’t buy ukay-ukay items by bundle. Instead, they purchase from their co-ukay-ukay sellers. Chosen items they bargain would be marked as ‘selected items’ and are hanged with a price little bit higher than those in the clutter. They are the ones you see in boutique-like stores. Yes, these selected items have, in no doubt, a better quality than the pieces in the messy pile.
Little do we know that every item that we enthusiastically pull from the messy mound of ukay-ukay items are seen by vendors as a supportive push for their livelihood.
“Ukay-ukay has been a big help to us. We gain enough for our meals every day,” expressed Carmen Bautista, an ukay-ukay vendor at Uyanguren since 1990. “It also assists us in paying our debts,” she added, citing that they can earn 1, 000 PHP at most every day.
Behind the usefulness and aid of every good item come negative viewpoints ukay-ukay offers. Is this push that we give to the vendors a helpful push or condemning push?
Unknown to most Ateneans, in decreed lenses, importation of used clothing is illegal by virtue of Republic Act No. 4653 passed and approved as early as 1966. It is “an act to safeguard the health of the people and maintain the dignity of the nation by declaring it a national policy to prohibit the commercial importation of textile articles commonly known as used clothing or rags. It imposes a fine of 200 PHP to 20, 000 PHP or imprisonment to violators.
To shed light, Republic Act No. 1937 (in particular, Sec. 105 paragraph v.), opposingly consents the importation of used clothing for relief work or for non-for-profit relief organizations. Because of this, some Ukay-ukay importations have been made legal, which explains the abundance of its kind anywhere in the Philippines.
It is noted that Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo once said that they have never given any license or permit to Ukay-ukay sellers, and that the permits these people are using were given by the local government units.
Many believe that the mandate aims to protect local markets and industries. Economics Department Chair Atty. Arnold Abejaron accounted that it was not created to protect the industry, but to protect public health as is stated in the law. He agreed that indeed, Ukay-ukay benefits the budget-conscious where there is not only ‘brand’, but also affordability to enjoy.
Abejaron indicated that the flourishing Ukay-ukay could be seen as a challenge to the industry to do well for the public’s preference of its products. He indicated that people’s choice of ukay-ukay is not all throughout, after all.
Looking into it, he said that Ukay-ukay is not only used clothing as it also counts those of the surplus ones. But he stressed that if the government is certain this trade hinders the thriving of local merchandises and businesses, then it should check its stand for consistency of the policy. “May batas. Ideally, ipatupad,” he said.
Perhaps, there is a question that haunts your mind. How come that there are Ukay-ukay stands that visibly lay bare their business to the public? Is the policy still effective?
The Philippine Daily Inquirer cited last year that the Bureau of Customs (BoC) seized 15, 000, 000 PHP worth of ukay-ukay smuggled into the country from Hong Kong, according to Customs Commissioner RuffyBiazon.
“Let me remind all traders that importation of used clothing is not allowed under our customs laws,” Biazonstressed.
The Philippine Star documented that Davao City Health Office (CHO) chief Josephine Villafuerte said that clothes sold at ukay-ukay stalls may have gathered molds or fungus that can cause respiratory tract infection. It risks a person’s health if not properly disinfected. She said that when inhaled, it may also cause colds and cough. There could also be an allergic reaction to the skin. It can also cause body odor.
“The clothes sold maybe owned by someone who had an epidemic disease, and that the second owner may accumulate the said disease from the ukay-ukay clothes or stuff,” 2nd year Carrie Anino pointed out.
“We shall enforce these laws to the fullest, if only to protect the local market and to help secure the public from the health hazards posed by the importation of used clothing,” the BoC head affirmed.
The government still has to clear what side is it really on in the expanding of ukay-ukay. In all things claimed, the law seems to be one in the list with no strict implementation.