Paskuhan Village, a park bereft of joy

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CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—There’s little about a park named Christmas here that elicit feelings commonly associated with the holidays.

Paskuhan (Christmas) Village is intact but there is barely anything, except for its name, that would make a visit to the park feel like Christmas.

Not the star-shaped roof of the plenary hall or the life-size images of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a nativity scene. Lanterns have faded on an outdoor wall across the main entrance. Christmas decors are sparse.

Past the gate, piped-in carols are barely audible at the center of the 21-year-old, 9.3-hectare park in this Pampanga capital that was a project of the late President Corazon Aquino.

Hiyasmin Viray, one of a small corps of workers keeping the park open, said she can’t feel Christmas like she did in past years inside Paskuhan.

Pioneer

Viray, 50, marketing officer of the park, was there when Ms Aquino opened the park to the public on Dec. 11, 1990.

The concept was simple, Viray said. The park was to showcase small and giant lanterns and other Christmas items in support of local craftsmen and entrepreneurs.

It could have made Paskuhan a unique tourist destination in Asia. Sadly, it isn’t to be sustained.

Floods, Mt. Pinatubo’s 1991 eruptions, changes in administration and the rise of shopping malls had sounded the death knell for the park, Viray said.

Former First Lady Amelita Ramos recreated Paskuhan, using the “Gardens of the World” theme or “Florikultura” in 1998. A year after, however, the tropical plants, flowers and foliage wilted.

Its current theme as “North Philippines” or “Hilaga” is gone. The Days Hotel at the park’s northern side is non-operational.

No income

Only one of 32 stalls is leased. The five exhibit halls are empty. Tenants from Central Luzon, the Ilocos, Cagayan Valley and the Cordillera had closed shop after months of suffering losses since their most active supporter, then Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon, won a seat in the Senate in 2004.

Al-fresco bars are closed and the nightly concerts of local bands have stopped. Last year’s rides and games on the parking ground will not return this month.

What keeps Paskuhan alive could be the 24 workers that keep the park going and clean despite a lean budget of P800,000 a month. They work on job order status, meaning they are not entitled to benefits.

Income from rental and gate receipts (P10 per person) have not reversed Paskuhan’s net losses, said a Department of Tourism source who did not want to be named for lack of authority to speak.

The park is full of potential, according to Viray, mainly because it is along the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) and Jose Abad Santos Avenue (Gapan-San Fernando-Olongapo Road).

Mayor Oscar Rodriguez said he had discussed with the management of NLEx, including businessman Manuel Pangilinan, whose company is co-owner of the expressway, to make Paskuhan viable and attractive.

In the meantime, Viray and other workers keep doing the park open hoping that one day, Christmas would return to Paskuhan Village.

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