SECONDHAND.  Ukay-ukay stalls -- where used clothes and other materials are sold at cheaper prices compared to new and signature ones -- abound in Davao City’s downtown area.  Many cash-strapped locals patronize ukay-ukay.  (davaotoday.com photo by Medel V. Hernani)

SECONDHAND. Ukay-ukay stalls -- where used clothes and other materials are sold at cheaper prices compared to new and signature ones -- abound in Davao City’s downtown area. Many cash-strapped locals patronize ukay-ukay. (davaotoday.com photo by Medel V. Hernani)

Despite a law banning the commercial importation of used clothing and rags, the selling of imported used clothing and apparel or relief clothes at cheaper prices in the ukay-ukay market continues to proliferate in the country.  The booming ukay ukay phenomenon also threatens to suppress the local garments industry. 

By LEIGH E. DALUGDOG
Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — A traditional shopping list includes food and clothing.  And for individuals, especially cash-strapped students and young professionals, who have a fascination for the fashionable, be it clothes, bags and accessories, meeting the craving for stylish clothing is anything but easy.

But no worries, thanks to ukay-ukay.

Ukay-ukay, from the Visayan term ukay or ‘to dig,’ is a colloquial term that means one has to dig into piles of goods like clothing.  Ukay-ukay goods refer to secondhand or pre-worn imported retail clothes, shoes, and bags sold at lesser price.

“Aside from being cheap, ukay-ukay shops have more varieties compared to designer shops.  If you buy branded things, you’ll end up sharing the same design or style to others.  But if you’ll shop in ukay-ukay stores, you’re assured, you alone will have that particular design,” says ‘certified’ ukay-ukay addict Michelle Topinio, an entrepreneur and a mother of two.

Indeed, ukay-ukay is a very affordable source of fashionable yet durable clothes for those with fairly small incomes.  Some would resort to buying ukay-ukay items because these are relatively identical with the brand new garments and accessories that may be bought in high-class stores and shopping malls.

‘Underground’ market

The thriving ukay-ukay business in Davao City started out in major public markets like the Bankerohan Public Market and Agdao Public Market.  Eventually, it spread out along the streets of Lizada, San Pedro, Claro M. Recto, and now there is a long stretch of stalls offering affordable finds in Roxas Avenue.

But the Philippine government has banned the importation, sale, and retail of ukay-ukay goods with the law Republic Act 4653 in 1966.  The law purportedly aims to protect local markets and industries and to promote the use of sanitary and hygienic textiles.  Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has also banned the entry and sale of ukay-ukay items in the market.

In September 2010, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) announced it will put an end to the ukay-ukay industry.

“We are against the ukay-ukay because it is an illegal activity,” Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo said.  He added 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.

While government authorities have every legal right to confiscate and even burn ukay-ukay items, ukay-ukay sellers have managed to continue their business by relocating outside Metro Manila — to locations not usually monitored by the DTI and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Here in Davao City, selling of secondhand clothing continue to flourish.

“We received no complaints with regards to ukay-ukay here in the city,” lawyer Tristan Domingo, the city’s Business Bureau chief, said.

According to Domingo, the city provides permits to businesses engaged in ukay-ukay for as long as they comply with government regulations like payment of business tax, income tax and other fees.

However, there are illegal ukay-ukay vendors, or those who haven’t secured permits, who sprawl the city usually at night.  Business Bureau’s Domingo said despite their lack of manpower, there are inspection teams who are investigating the matter.

Legalize ukay-ukay

“We appeal that ukay-ukay selling will not be prohibited because this is really a big help for poor vendors like us.  Not only that, consumers can buy cheaper in ukay-ukay compared to expensive stores,” Nicole, an ukay-ukay vendor who requested anonymity, said.

She said ukay-ukay business has been around in the city for years; and nobody has complained.  She added, the public finds it a practical means to shop for clothes.  Nicole’s stall, which has quite a number of avid buyers or suki, is strategically located along Roxas Avenue, a major street in the city’s downtown area.

“So far, we don’t have problems selling ukay-ukay.  We earn from this business and this has been our source of living,” she said.

Ukay-ukay vendors like Nicole who clamored for the legalization of ukay-ukay found an ally in Congressman Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro.

Umali, a former deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Customs, wants the importation of used clothes sold in ukay-ukay markets legalized in order to generate revenue through the collection of import duties and taxes and to protect the health of people and welfare of local textile manufacturers.

The bill he proposed, House Bill 5188, noted that despite a law banning the commercial importation of used clothing and rags, the selling of imported used clothing and apparel or relief clothes at cheaper prices in the ukay-ukay market continues to proliferate in the country.  He added, the booming ukay-ukay phenomenon also threatens to suppress the local garments industry.

Philippine-made textiles and garments are said to be 30 percent more expensive than their counterparts in the market, due partly to the insufficient local production and technology processes as well as their relatively low productivity.  The textile and garments industry still needs adequate provisions for the training of as well as incentives for workers, technological efficiency, development in market production and creation of regulating bodies.  It will be tougher for these local firms to compete against the ukay-ukay sellers.

Ukay-ukay apparels are usually donated goods and are not taxed when it is imported into the country.

Section 3 of HB 5188 provides there shall be levied, collected and paid on every commercial importation of used clothing an ad valorem tax duty equivalent to 30 percent based on the total value of the goods.  (Leigh E. Dalugdog/davaotoday.com)

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