malls in the Philippines

Reimagining Greenhills: A water park, mosque, Funko Pop museum, South Sea Pearls gallery, and more

Isagani de Castro Jr.

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Reimagining Greenhills: A water park, mosque, Funko Pop museum, South Sea Pearls gallery, and more

Composite photos fromPhilippinen Archtecture Facebook, Jollibee handout, San Juan City social media post, Rob Reyes/Rappler file

Greenhills used to be the Philippines' shopping mecca. Not anymore. How to bring back the good old days?

For the nth time, Greenhills Shopping Center (GSC) has again landed on the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy (Notorious Markets List). It is the lone physical market of the Philippines on the 2023 list.

GSC continues to sell counterfeit goods such as electronics, perfumes, watches, shoes, accessories, and other fashion items, according to the USTR’s latest report released on January 30, 2024.

Greenhills’ inclusion in the list again shows the weak rule of law in the Philippines. As the USTR said, “[Property] Rights holders report enforcement activity in the form of warning letters and subsequent suspension of business, but the targets of enforcement often evade such efforts by moving the location of their stalls.” 

But counterfeit products have ceased to be Greenhills’ main attraction. Online shopping, anti-piracy drives, and technological changes have combined to substantially reduce the foot traffic in what was once the go-to place for shopping in Metro Manila.

If Greenhills wants to bring back life to what it says is the Philippines’ first shopping complex, it will have to work with the San Juan City government and other private establishments in drawing up a master plan. They will have to creative.

With more Filipinos traveling abroad and seeing what other countries have to offer in terms of shopping and entertainment, mall-goers expect unique experiences. They want Instagrammable spots that they can share with friends and families on social media. They want to taste food that aren’t available in the areas where they reside or work. They want to be enriched by history and culture.

As a longtime former resident of San Juan City, I am saddened by what’s become of Greenhills. Gone is the hustle and bustle of shoppers, the excitement in buying good finds. I have thus come up with some ideas on how to bring non-residents of the city back to Greenhills. Since San Juan is the smallest city in Metro Manila with 126,347 people, it has to attract the majority who do not live there.

Overhaul Greenhills Project

But first, a quick summary of what’s been the official responses to the inclusion of Greenhills in USTR’s Notorious Markets List:

  • On February 2, 2024, the Intellectual Property Rights of the Philippines (IPOPHL) said it continues to work with the National Committee on Intellectual Property Rights (NCIPR), which it chairs, in fulfilling the work plan Overhaul Greenhills Project (OG Project) to eliminate the stores selling counterfeit products. 
  • Under the OG Project, the NCIPR was supposed to collaborate more with Greenhills “with hopes of compelling the shopping center to implement stricter monitoring of their stalls and impose heftier penalties against sellers of counterfeit products,” the IPOPHL said a year ago or in February 2023. 
  • The year before, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between IPOPHL and the Philippine Retailers Association (PRA) on a code of conduct in the fight against piracy was signed on March 30. Since GSC is part of the PRA, it was thought that the MOU would “help stamp out counterfeit trade the the lone physical Philippine market still on the list.”
  • IPOPHL had also hoped that San Juan City would “fully enforce” the Intellectual Property Code of 1997 and the Department of the Interior and Local Government’s (DILG) IP-related issuances on anti-counterfeit and anti-piracy policies.
  • San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora vowed in 2023 that the city would strongly enforce the law by strictly monitoring the shopping center, but the sale of counterfeit products continued. 
BUSY NO MORE. The tiangge area in Greenhills Shopping Area in San Juan City no longer gets high foot traffic, even during the Christmas season, as this photo taken on December 13, 2023 shows. Ortigas Land will be moving these shops to its new GH Mall as it tries to stamp out sellers of counterfeit products. Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler

“Truly, clearing Greenhills of IP infringement activities will not be an easy feat. Its long-standing reputation as a market for Class As and Bs and pirated DVDs has cut across generations. The problem demands the close and consistent collaboration among NCIPR members, local governments, brand owners and Greenhills – both its managers and vendors. Equally important is the role of consumers whom we continuously enlighten about the possible harms of counterfeiting to their health, lives and households, as well as to the environment and the economy in the bigger picture and longer term,” IPOPHL Director-General Rowel Barba said in last year’s press release. 

Greenhills management’s long-term tack in finally putting an end to piracy in the shopping complex is the development of a new mall, which had a soft opening of its East Wing last October in time for Christmas. Under Greenhills management’s plan, it will no longer allow the vendors who sell counterfeit goods in its new mall. Only the traders who sell pearls in tiangges and those selling genuine clothing and fashion items will be accommodated. 

EAST WING. A number of people have their photos taken in Greenhills (GH) Mall’s East Wing Atrium on December 2, 2023. The new wing had its soft opening in November 2023. Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler

In response to this, USTR said in its 2023 report that companies whose property rights have been violated “need to wait and see the results.” 

Ecommerce and piracy

Greenhills is no longer a shopping mecca. In its heyday, it used to get as many as 80,000 shoppers on weekdays and 100,000 to 120,000 on weekends.

Online shopping is probably the biggest factor behind Greenhills’ decline as a bargain shopping center with unique finds. With no rent to pay (and no taxes and permits for many), those selling on ecommerce sites can sell goods at lower prices than the shops in Greenhills. For instance, mobile phones, among the hottest items bought in Greenhills years ago, are generally cheaper online than in physical stores.

Advances in technology have also killed piracy. Streaming platforms have made DVDs obsolete. Fake DVDs are now found mainly in palengkes (wet and dry markets), no longer in malls. 

Game developers have also been able to stop the illegal copying of games, a service which was available in Greenhills two to three decades ago.

I lived in San Juan for over two decades when it was still a town of Metro Manila. For many years, especially in the ’80s and ’90s, shoppers filled its tiangge area, Virra Mall, Shoppesville, especially during Christmas, which had around 2,000 shops. Many micro and small entrepreneurs were made rich by Greenhills. 

For some of the residents of San Juan who lived nearby, traffic got so bad that it was faster to walk to the place. Parking was always difficult, and the roads surrounding Greenhills Shopping Center would be lined up with cars parked on the streets. Shops closed not earlier than 10 pm during the Yuletide season.

When I visited Greenhills Shopping Center last December in what was supposed to be its peak month, parking was a breeze, what with its new multi-level parking buildings in front, and the multi-level parking on top of Unimart grocery.

GH. Ortigas Land’s new Greenhills Mall’s (GH Mall) East Wing had its soft opening in November 2023, part of a P60-billion redevelopment of Metro Manila’s “first shopping complex.” Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler

Ortigas Land had a soft opening of the new East Wing of what it now calls GH Mall last November, and there was hardly any buzz about it. Except for a few unique ones, the tenants in GH Mall can also be found in other malls in the capital. 

Greenhills will be moving its pearl market and the other tiangges to this new wing. Five levels of the mall will be the new areas for the 2,000 tiangge stalls of the shopping complex.

“The tiangge will be a section in the mall. It will be more organized but still be a bargain shopping haven,” then-Ortigas & Company president Jaime Ysmael said back in 2018 on Greenhills’ P60-billion redevelopment.

Reviving Greenhills

How do you then solve a problem like Greenhills?

San Juan City, Ortigas Land, the Chinese-Filipino community, the Moro traders, and other stakeholders will have to go to the history of San Juan as well as the story of Greenhills and identify what will make people, especially those who do not live in the city, return to Greenhills. 

Here are some ideas from someone who lived in San Juan for 25 years.

1. A ‘Wattah Wattah’ Park

San Juan is famous for the feast of its patron saint, St. John the Baptist. Every year, except during the pandemic, June 24 is celebrated by dousing people with water. This “Basaan” (get wet) tradition, which commemorates Jesus Christ’s baptism by St. John, is now called the city’s “Wattah, Wattah” festival. 

Ortigas Land, the owner of Greenhills Shopping Center, should tap this tradition by putting up a “Wattah, Wattah” park. The park should have water sprouting from the top or from underneath, and they should let people, especially kids, have fun by getting wet in the park. 

WATER PLAY. Kids play with water sprouting from the ground in an alley in between shopping establishments at Manly Wharf in Sydney, Australia, on October 25, 2019. Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler

Many countries already have such water parks where people are allowed to get wet. The Philippines’ tropical climate is ideal for water activities. Malls such as Bonifacio High Street have water parks but these establishments generally do not allow kids to play with the water.

2. Greenhills Mosque

Ortigas Land should work with the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos and the Moro traders in Greenhills on building a mosque, not just a prayer room, the Greenhills Masjid, which is located in a parking building. 

Greenhills is the best place to promote the culture and traditions of our Moro brothers given that many of the traders there are Maranaos. Both Ortigas Land and the Moro traders have gained from the growth of commerce in Greenhills. A significant number of these traders have become wealthy. They drive SUVs and live in upscale homes. 

It’s time for Ortigas Land to give back to the community by allocating a space that will showcase Islamic traditions and practices. The mosque doesn’t have to be big, but it should be visible to the public, unlike the existing 500-square-meter prayer room. There are several beautiful Catholic chapels on top of some of the malls in Metro Manila that can serve as inspirations for a Greenhills Mosque that the country can be proud of. The Grand Mosque (Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid) in Cotabato City (see photos below), designed by Filipino firm, Palafox Associates, is an example of Islamic architectural beauty.

Filipinos pay too little attention to the business opportunities that the Islamic world offers. It will be good for the Philippine economy if it can get more Muslim tourists and increase trade with Islamic countries, especially by tapping the huge halal market

Related to this, Greenhills can be marketed as a symbol of religious tolerance. It is one of the few places in the Philippines where a Catholic chapel exists very close to a Muslim prayer room as well as one of the centers of a Christian fundamentalist group. 

The Catholic Church’s Chapel of the Holy family is the most visible in Greenhills as it stands at the center of the shopping center. 

At the fourth floor of V-Mall (formerly Virra Mall), is the Greenhills home of the born-again Christian group, Victory. It has 7 services every Sunday. 

Except for an incident in 2004 when some Greenhills residents opposed the expansion of the Masjid, there has been peace and harmony among those who live and work in Greenhills.

San Juan City government can urge schools and religious institutions to have field trips to see this symbol of religious tolerance. It can also include a side trip to the Iglesia Ni Cristo’s former central office in F. Manalo Street. These trips should explain how understanding and accepting various faiths advances peace-building.

3. Funko Pop Museum

Greenhills should seriously think of putting up the Philippines’ largest Funko Pop Museum. It is already the go-to place for Funko Pop collectors in the country. V-Mall and Shoppesville are well-known for stores that sell Funko Pop and other collectibles. 

The Funk Pop museum should be Instagrammable and allow shoppers to have photos taken with their favorite Funko Pop. It should also have a Filipiniana section, given the growing number of Filipinos and Filipino creations recognized via Funko Pops. The collection should include Jollibee, Darna, Bella Poarch, Jose Mari Chan, UAAP teams, and Mickey Mouse in Barong Tagalog

Other sections can include Disney, Marvel, DC Comics, Star Wars, Barbie, Harry Potter, K-pop, J-pop, athletes, plus well-known singers and celebrities. 

DISNEY. Then-Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat (2nd left) presents Mickey Mouse Funko Pops in Barong Tagalog with Ban Kee Trading, Inc. CEO Eric Bautista (extreme left), Funko Funatic Philippines founder Nikko Lim (2nd right), and then-DOT Assistant Secretary for Branding and Marketing Communications Howard Lance Uyking in May 2022. Department of Tourism
4. Chinatown food hall

San Juan City is essentially a “Chinatown” since many Chinese-Filipinos live in city. Among the best schools in the city are Xavier School and Immaculate Conception Academy, which have many Tsinoy students and alumnae.

The city, however, does not have a small picturesque Chinatown that offers Chinese cuisine. Greenhills should establish a food hall that houses all kinds of Chinese food such as Cantonese, Taiwanese, Szechuan, Fujian.

The food hall should be designed like a mini-Chinatown, with structures such as pagodas, lanterns and other Chinese symbols that would be attractive for selfies, such as this Instagrammable spot (below) at the entrance to Lucky Chinatown mall in Binondo, Manila.

Ortigas Land can also take a cue from Araneta Center’s Palenque, a food hall that houses Philippine cuisine from north to south, including a Chinese restaurant – Chicken Fandian – that started in Binondo. 

Long time coming: Palenque offers Philippine regional cuisine from north to south

Long time coming: Palenque offers Philippine regional cuisine from north to south
5. Basketball exhibition

A long time ago, there was a small basketball-themed restaurant in the former Crossroads Arcade (now Greenhills Promenade). It also had a display stand with lots of basketball memorabilia such as toys and keychains.

Given that San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora is a former college basketball player of the De La Salle University (DLSU), he should urge Greenhills to put up a museum/exhibit area with standees of famous basketball players both in the UAAP and the PBA, and even celebrities who play hoops such as Manny Pacquiao, Daniel Padilla, Donnie Pangilinan, Gerald Anderson, and Zanjoe Marudo.  

PBA veteran James Yap, a longtime resident of San Juan and now a city councilor, should urge his colleagues in the league to join in this endeavor. He should even put up an outlet of his barber shop as a possible centerpiece, plus a small café. 

Other San Juan residents who should have standees in the museum are Philip Cezar, a former San Juan mayor, Don Allado, Ervic Vijandre, and Paul Artadi

There can also be displays of famous shoes worn by NBA and PBA players in the hall. 

6. ‘City of presidents’

Greenhills can also tap San Juan’s stature of being the “City of Philippine presidents.” Three presidents have had San Juan as their residence, led by its longtime former mayor, Joseph Estrada; the late Ferdinand E. Marcos; and the late Diosdado Macapagal. 

According to the San Juan City website, the Marcos House on Ortega Street is “where the late strongman spent his days as a congressman and senator of the Philippine stand where the Marcos family stayed for 10 years before moving to Malacañang after winning the presidency in 1965.”

Estrada’s conjugal house with Loi Ejercito, which was reported in 2010 to have been put up for sale, is at #1 Polk Street, North Greenhills. 

The Macapagals – Diosdado and wife Eva – lived in a house on Laura Street, San Juan.

San Juan is also associated with the late president Corazon Aquino, whose inauguration in 1986 during the people power revolution was held in the private Club Filipino beside Greenhills Shopping Center. 

San Juan and Greenhills should put up a permanent exhibit that shows these “heritage” residences, with a side trip to Club Filipino, a 5-minute walk from the shopping complex. This exhibit can be part of a historical field trip that can include San Juan’s Pinaglabanan Shrine, Museo ng Katipunan, Musel El Deposito, El Deposito Underground, and Santuario Del Santo Cristo

San Juan City can hire jeepney drivers affected by the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program for a hop-on, hop-off route in these historic tourist attractions. 

Rethinking the jeepney phaseout from a tourism viewpoint

Rethinking the jeepney phaseout from a tourism viewpoint
7. South Sea Pearls Museum

Ortigas Land should put up a South Sea Pearl Museum that will showcase the Philippines’ pearl industry. 

It should have audio-visual presentations of the pearl production process, including information on how to determine authenticity of South Sea Pearls. There should be visuals of the producers, maps of the places where these are made, information on Filipino gemologists as well as Philippine jewelry companies. Most importantly, there should be displays of the end-products such as on crowns – or their replicas – with South Sea pearls worn by beauty queens.

MAJESTIC. The Miss Universe Philippines Organization unveils the La Mer en Majesté highlighting the Philippines’ national gemstone, the golden South Sea Pearl, on April 19, 2022 in Pasay City. Rob Reyes/Rappler

There should also be audio-visuals on environmental education given that these pearls can only thrive in clean waters. 

Even if the pearl traders in Greenhills aren’t selling genuine South Sea Pearls, there will still be buyers for low-end pearls. 

These are just a few ideas of how to bring back people to Greenhills. To make these work, the stakeholders will have to think of the benefits that will come from bringing the shopping vibe back to Greenhills: higher tax collections for the city, more revenues for business establishments, and a better life for many people who work in Greenhills. – 


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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.