Wenceslao: Street vending

Candid thoughts

GOVERNMENT has been clearing streets of obstruction following an order from no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself. The clearing is earnest in the country’s major urban centers like the cities of Manila and Cebu. Partly because of his earnestness and partly because of the work of his political strategists, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno shot up to national prominence partly because of this campaign.

The clearing is being monitored by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), one of whose officials visited Cebu recently, praised city officials and expressed the hope that the clearing campaign would be sustained. But I doubt if that would happen considering reality and the solution offered.

This reminded me of my talk years ago with Edwin Jagmoc, who had just been elected city councilor. One of the subjects of that talk when I bumped into him in Fuente Osmeña was sidewalk vending. I had hoped Jagmoc, being an activist representing the informal settlers, would articulate the logic of sidewalk vending and help look for a win-win solution to the game of “hide-and-seek” sidewalk vendors play with City Hall.

Sidewalk vendors exist because they serve a need. I would like, for example, city officials to stand incognito on the sidewalk at the corner of Colon and Legaspi streets when food stalls sprout there at night. Don’t look only at the “hated” sidewalk vendors that play mouse with the city demolition team’s cat but at the hungry workers and tired dating couples spending whatever money they could spare there before finally riding on PUJs with stomachs filled.

That scene is replicated everywhere, even in Fuente Osmeña where glossy fastfood establishments and stalls dominate and where the now expensive Larsian is situated. Sidewalk stalls that offer hot water for cheap noodle packets thrive there. Daytime, stalls filled with items like fruits and sell items like candies and cigarettes thrive because passersby cannot buy these on retail or cheaply in department stores. Then there is the matter of smuggled items like DVDs, socks, cheap toys etc.

Government officials must note that the metropolis is actually a merger of two worlds, one for the rich and the other for the poor. The rich see sidewalk vendors as mere obstruction, but the poor see them as budget savers. One of my favorite groups of old, Tavares, already articulated this in the song “Hardcore Poetry” with the line about ramshackle homes: “It depends on who is looking at the tenement wall, whether he’s coming home or passing through...”

I am not even talking here about the sidewalk vendors themselves, many of whom defy government diktat about sidewalk vending just to earn a bit and survive. How often did we praise, say, youngsters who make it through college despite being poor and overlook the fact that whatever money some of them got from their parents the latter earned through sidewalk vending?

Find a correct balance. That is my plea to government on the matter. Those you call obstruction are not mere stalls; they’re people with stories to tell.


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