THEY were there. Then they weren’t. They reappeared. Then they disappeared again. And they’re coming back, if they haven’t returned already.
The vanishing act of vendors on sidewalks of Cebu City’s major streets, particularly Colon and Osmeña Blvd. and the important side arteries, happened twice in recent weeks.
The first time just after DILG, the interior-local government department, issued memorandum-circular 121-2019 last July 29. The second time, just before the last day of the 60-calendar day period given to local government units (LGUs), which was Sept. 26.
What’s going on?
Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella seems genuinely interested to follow to the letter President Duterte’s injunction to return public streets and sidewalks to the public.
Order includes sidewalks
Yes, the DILG order that followed the President’s command at his 2019 Sona does include sidewalks. Local chief executives need only to re-read the Memorandum Circular (MC) 121-19. The part that says: “To return to public use ALL PUBLIC ROADS AND SIDEWALKS that have been appropriated for private use...” (caps are mine).
Pressure from lobby groups has been persistent and loud:
 From the vendors themselves, which was expected, with the stock argument they couldn’t sell enough elsewhere and standard plea not to turn upside down their cooking pots (more colorful in Cebuano-Bisaya: “ayaw intawon mi’g kulbi sa kolon”).
 From politicians such as Councilor Alvin Dizon--which was also expected, he being allied with BOPK led by former mayor Tomas Osmeña, and Alvin’s known populist stance—and Vice Mayor Mike Rama, which was unexpected since he is allied with Labella.
“Political will” and the law
What promised to be an occasion for flexing “political-will” muscles turned into the familiar ritual of the politician yielding to “popular demand,” in this case the interest of some 100 vendors.
Mayor Labella though is not without legal refuge for surrendering to political instinct not to anger the 100 vendors and their voting relatives and openly clash on policy with his vice mayor. He can cite the DILG order itself, the part that reads: “They (the LGUs) are likewise encouraged to develop implementation strategies that will address the displacement issues caused” by the clearing operations.
Retaining the vendors but regulating the number of vendors and the size of the spot they will occupy is the strategy that Raquel Arce of Probe, with City Administrator Floro Casas Jr. and Market Administrator Jonil Matuguina, has agreed on with the mayor. Would that justify an exception to the ban that applies to “ALL STREETS AND SIDEWALKS”? It would, unless DILG means strategies that call for a total ban on major streets.
City Council’s job
One wonders if the City Council has done the job that the Cebu City Charter (Republic Act 3857 of 1964) gives the city legislature: “to regulate traffic and sales upon the streets and public places and provide for the abatement of nuisances... and obstacles.”
The mayor may ask the City Council to adopt a policy on sidewalk vending, which can express his policy of “political will with compassion.” If it already has a policy, the City Council may “revisit” it, as the same DILG memo-circular enjoins local legislative bodies across the country.
Duterte as excuse
Mayors all over, politicians all, must have realized by now that “compassion,” which gets only the votes of a bloc or sector, has been the bane of “political will,” which effectively messaged can translate into votes from the majority.
And the local chief executives could use as excuse for any perceived “harshness” the crackdown ordered by the President and DILG.