By Beting Laygo Dolor
Contributing Editor

The Isetann mall along C.M. Recto Avenue in downtown Manila was padlocked by the city government last week after it was found to be operating without the necessary licenses and permits.

The Mall, which also houses the Cinerama theater — once considered the biggest and most modern in the country — does not have a permit to operate. It has a simple permit to operate as a shopping center with an allowed area of 1,000 square meters, manned by 10 employees.

But city officials found that the area occupied by the Mall, department store, supermarket, parking area and smaller cinemas is about 20,000 square meters, with hundreds of employees and concessionaires.

The owner-operator of Isetann, Trans Orient Management Services, Inc., does not have a permit to lease out stalls, nor the required business permit.

The former large cinema area, now broken down into four smaller movie houses, only has a permit for one.

Mayor Isko Moreno, who was present at the padlocking of the Mall in the Quiapo district, said it would remain closed until the owners comply with all the necessary permits.

The day after Isetann closed on October 9, its owners announced they would be re-opening by Friday. This, however, was denied by the city government.

The re-opening was based on the payment of the back fees, which had ballooned to PHP4 million (US$80,000). Isetann’s owners, however, were allowed to avail of the City of Manila’s tax amnesty program.

Isetann Recto re-opened on October 11. The owners promised that all permits would henceforth be paid on time and that sales of used cell phones would be banned permanently.

The closure of the Mall, considered as one of the oldest in Metro Manila, was spurred by the earlier announcement by the Mayor that second hand or used cell phones would no longer be allowed in the city. This is due to the suspicion that a high number of pre-owned cell phones were stolen, in defiance of the Anti-Fencing Law.

Isetann’s primary market these days are the hundreds of thousands of students in the colleges and universities within walking distance from the Mall, including the likes of University of the East, Far Eastern University, University of Santo Tomas, Feati University, Philippine School of Business Administration, and San Sebastian College, among others.

Prior to the rise of larger and more modern malls such as SM, Robinsons and Ayala, Isetann was considered a favorite place for consumers to purchase goods in air-conditioned comfort.

However, in recent decades, Isetann lost favor with customers. It did not have the sprawling space offered by the bigger malls.

Also, the downtown district fell out of favor with the public. In recent years the Mall fell behind in its effort to modernize.

A few blocks from Isetann Recto, newer and bigger malls were built in the Divisoria district, as well as a handful of new residential condominiums. Those new malls do not sell used cell phones.

Isetann Recto is the biggest of the company’s malls, with smaller ones operating in Cubao, Quezon City, as well as Carriedo, Quiapo and in the capital city.

Another of the oldest malls in the city is Harrison Plaza, which closed down last month. Located beside the Manila Zoo and facing the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Harrison Plaza is being torn down to be replaced with another SM branch, considered as the biggest mall operator in the country with a handful of branches in China.