A relative of my wife used to sell items along the sidewalk of Colon St., across a bank. She was old, soft-spoken and with a ready smile. I didn’t know why she had to be out there, with the crowd and the dust when the family has land and a big house in Ronda town. But she did leave the sidewalk for good when she got ill. She’s back in the old house downed with an illness caused by diabetes.
When I was in The Freeman newspaper, work meant going home after the pages were closed near midnight, when all the establishments were closed. That was when Virgie’s makeshift barbecue stall and “painitan” on the sidewalk in front of the office became useful and profitable. Virgie became friends with everybody. She remained my friend even after I transferred to SunStar Cebu.
Virgie grew up in the sidewalks of the downtown area. Her mother was a sidewalk vendor herself. Virgie was what you call as sidewalk-smart. She had apparently seen the demolitions conducted by the various city administrations on stalls that “obstruct” the sidewalks. When former mayors got strict, Virgie calmly played the game of cat and mouse. She either transferred to a less noticed portion of sidewalks or wait it out until the city administration proceeded to another endeavor and forgot the sidewalk vendors, which did not take long.
Virgie was a member of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) and defended the controversial master Ruben Ecleo Jr. when his parricide case became talk of the town. She even hosted a dinner of barbecue for some PBMA members from Dinagat who were in Cebu to support Ecleo. I understand Virgie is still doing her thing on the sidewalks because apparently that is her only way for her and her family to earn a living.
As I noted before, sidewalk vendors have stories to tell. They should not be equated with their makeshift stalls or tables where they display the items they are selling and which people consider a bother to a smooth walk along the sidewalks. Sidewalk vendors are people, not inanimate objects. They are people with dreams, very small dreams I would say, like for them and their families surviving in this dog-eat-dog world.
That is why I am amazed at how some people reserve so much hatred for sidewalk vendors in their implementation of policy and in their criticisms. But then, it is just a matter of perspective really. If we really want to be humane in our dealings with sidewalk vendors, the first stance really is not to be immediately combative but to understand them and listen to their stories. With that starting point, we can map out a win-win solution to the problem of sidewalk vending.
I understand the pressure being exerted by President Duterte and the Department of Interior and Local Government on local government units on the matter of clearing our streets. Local government officials want to make themselves look good to the President so they want to ingratiate themselves with DILG officials. But that does not mean creative ways can’t be had that would also consider the livelihood of sidewalk vendors.