Tell it to SunStar: Strategy for street vendors

WE RECOGNIZE the significance and good intentions of Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Memorandum Circular No. 2019-121, enjoining local government units (LGUs) to reclaim public roads, which are being used for private ends and in the process, rid the roads of illegal structures and constructions. But, we must point out that the same DILG Memorandum Circular encouraged LGUs to “develop and implement strategies that will address the displacement issues caused by the clearing of roads.” Thus, we call for the formulation of that comprehensive and long-term strategy, because as of today, it appears that the Cebu City government has none.

We cannot just bulldoze our way out of this problem of street vending. If we are to do something about street congestion caused by street vending, let us do it right. Simply clearing our pavements of vendors and transferring them somewhere off their traditional natural markets into designated “vending zones” will not solve the problem.

Without the support of research and multi-sectoral and stakeholders participation, we will not truly solve the problem and things can quickly come back to the way they were once the issue is no longer discussed in the media.

You are asking for specific solutions, I know. One thing I know is that the solution is not simply taking advice, solicited or unsolicited, from private businesses, organizations and individuals whose voices are already amplified by their middle- and upper-class influence and access to the levers of power. It’s easier to blame street vendors as the primary cause of traffic problems and street clogging, for example, when, in fact, traffic in Cebu has worsened primarily because of the growing number of private sedans and SUVs on our roads. I urge this administration to walk beyond the paved oval tracks where self-interested groups elbow their way for attention. Walk down into the dirt tracks where the voices of the informal sector can be heard.

I don’t pretend to have the expertise of an urban planner in dealing with the street vending problem. But I do have the credentials of a community organizer in my long years of experience working with the urban poor and civil society. With that I can tell you that solving problems in urban planning always involves stakeholders participation, in this case, including the street vendors. The solutions I proposed involve the following measures: a) Research on the socio-economic situation of vendors; b) Regular meetings and consultation with stakeholders including street vendors; and c) Comprehensive plan that will identify natural market areas for vendors; designate proper areas like near markets, public parks and side streets as certified place for vending; offer training programs organized regularly for vendors about health and hygiene, business and accounting skills etc.; and help the vendors organize themselves and police their own ranks to maintain order and cleanliness on the streets and proper hygiene.

These solutions recognize the important role that street vendors play in the city’s informal economy.

In the words of Kyoko Kusakabe in a policy written for International Labor Office in as far back as 2006, street vending “can be a sponge that absorbs large numbers of surplus labor, especially women.”

“Their market base consists of a mass of consumers who welcome the accessibility to inexpensive goods and services that they provide. To be sure, some studies have shown that when urban management policies allow vendors to conduct their trade, positive impact results on several fronts: on poverty, employment, entrepreneurship, social mobility, and peace and order. Economic and social resources are democratised, including between women and men.”

Street vendors create employment for those displaced by the lack of it in the countryside or the loss of it in the city. Street vending helps most of our city’s lower middle-class and poor to fight poverty.

Then why are we treating them like some age-old dirt to be cleaned off the streets and sidewalks? Why don’t we have a clear and viable alternative livelihood or better places for them to make a living? Street vendors are people, not problems.

Street vendors do not deserve our castigation. They deserve our recognition. Reaching out to them should not be mistaken as tolerating their transgressions. It simply is the means to harness their creative potentials to contribute in the well-being of our city. Negotiation is not leniency but is a recognition that each side to an issue can contribute to its resolution.

This current drive to clear our roads and public spaces of street vendors and placing the vendors in places unilaterally designated for them by government, reflects the age-old fallacy of most governments in developing countries—that mistaken belief that in order to solve the problems caused by the informal sector we must try to expand the formal sector, instead of trying to help the informal sector through reforms that are grounded and fit for their sector. (By Alvin M. Dizon, Cebu City Councilor)


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