Filipinos go big with pasalubong, or a gift you bring home to loved ones after a trip. A deeply-entrenched tradition that shows you remembered the recipient while you were away from home. In Zamboanga City, the best place to go to for this is at the Canelar Barter Trade Center.
Located at Barangay Camino Nuevo, the center is a mere 10-minute tricycle ride from Zamboanga International Airport. It is home to low-cost imported items from nearby countries, and visitors can easily buy pasalubong here for 20 people at just Php 1,000 or about USD 20.
Everything from bags, noodles, chocolates, and key chains to malong, scarves, shawls, and textiles from nearby Malaysia and Indonesia are sold here. It only takes about 24 hours to transport Indonesian and Malaysian goods to Zamboanga, although it takes two to three days to be released from Customs.
This free flow of trade was due to a Presidential Decree in 1973. It allowed businessmen from Sulu and Zamboanga to trade with neighboring islands and sell imported items without tariff duties.
“And if we trace back, Zamboanga airport already catered to international flights such as travels to and from Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia and Manado, Indonesia,” says Errold Bayona, president of Asosacion de Guia Turistico del Zamboanga (Tour Guide’s Association of Zamboanga).
This engagement down south led to a stronger trade relationship between the three countries for several years.
Php 1,000 Challenge
In Canelar, you can buy a variety of imported snacks and quality goods at an affordable price. If you have a talent in bargaining, you may put your sweet sales talk to a test as sellers are willing to provide wholesale discounts. Some for as low as 15% off.
So what are the things you can buy out of your Php 1,000 budget?
You can start with the 2n1 magic bag for Php 150. These clutch wallets are made of Batik, which you can further unzip and turn into tote bags. “The textiles are imported from Indonesia and locals would stitch them to create garments, wallets, bags, and blankets,” says Arlene Villarmia, seller at Canelar Barter Trade Center.
The 2n1 magic bag is one of the center’s best sellers aside from malongs. 5 ft malongs, on the other hand, are sold at Php 200. “Way cheaper from the kinds that you get in Manila,” Villarmia adds.
A set of Zamboanga keychains is at Php 100. It has beautifully drawn Vinta boats on a small polished wood with words, “I love Zamboanga.” A set has 4 pieces. Ref magnets are at Php 70 each.
Ten pieces of Batik coin purse are sold for Php 250 while shawls for Php 100 each. Zamboanga souvenir shirts for Php 120. The total price of all items mentioned? Php 990.
Other items that can be seen at Canelar are Malaysian candies and chocolates at Php 80 to Php 230. Locals also recommend Malaysia’s Kari noodles, best paired with boiled egg. A pack costs Php 65. Authentic freshwater pearls and south sea pearls are also being sold at some stalls starting at Php 3,000 per piece.
There were no shipments during the COVID-19 lockdown and the sellers had to rely on existing stocks.
“We’re more than happy if sales in the entire Canelar reach Php 5,000. Pre-pandemic, there were around 4 to 5 sellers working in each stall,” Villarmia shares.
Some stalls are still closed, but the business owners and sellers are hoping that the trade center will return to its pre-pandemic glory. Most of them are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, excited to welcome tourists once again.
People in Canelar are also trying to adapt to today’s livelihood strategies such as online selling. But most of them, admittedly, are still trying to learn. “We believe it’s still different when tourists come and see the products,” says Margaret, a stall owner.
How to Visit
One and a half kilometers away from Zamboanga City Hall and 2 kilometers away from the airport, Canelar Barter Trade Center is open everyday from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. Travelers may take a tricycle ride which costs Php 50 or jeepneys going to Canelar or Canelar Moret for Php 8.
Explore Zamboanga City responsibly by making sure that you comply with the province’s health and safety protocols, such as wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.
Ensure that you have acquired travel authority at https://s-pass.ph/ prior trip. Bring a copy or screenshot of this along with your vaccination card and valid ID upon arrival.
For the latest travel information about Zamboanga, you may visit their official website or Facebook page. You may also review updated safety protocols and requirements on Philippine destinations at www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel