A MAN walks into a bar and asks the bartender, "If I show you a really good trick, will you give me a free drink?"

The bartender considers it, then agrees. The man reaches into his pocket and pulls out a tiny rat. He reaches into his other pocket and pulls out a tiny piano. The rat stretches, cracks his knuckles, and proceeds to play the blues.

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After the man finished his drink, he asked the bartender, "If I show you an even better trick, will you give me free drinks for the rest of the evening?" The bartender agrees, thinking that no trick could possibly be better than the first.

The man reaches into his pocket and pulls out a tiny rat. He reaches into his other pocket and pulls out a tiny piano. The rat stretches, cracks his knuckles, and proceeds to play the blues. The man reaches into another pocket and pulls out a small bullfrog, who begins to sing along with the rat's music.

While the man is enjoying his beverages, a stranger confronts him and offers him $100,000.00 for the bullfrog.

"Sorry," the man replies, "he's not for sale." The stranger increases the offer to $250,000.00 cash up front. "No," he insists, "he's not for sale." The stranger again increases the offer, this time to $500,000.00 cash.

The man finally agrees, and turns the frog over to the stranger in exchange for the money.

"Are you insane?" the bartender demanded. "That frog could have been worth millions to you, and you let him go for a mere $500,000!"

"Don't worry about it." the man answered. "The frog was really nothing special. You see, the rat's a ventriloquist."

* * * * *

So Hizzoner Morris has stopped a practice which has been making some money for the city for some time now. The practice? In a word: kuartais.

Kuartais is the practice of collecting a minimal amount from those selling outside normal areas of trade in the city market. From P5 a day, the amount could reach hundreds of thousands a month. Which is to say small change can mean millions if get enough of it.

But kuartais is tantamount to legalizing the illegal act of these vendors in our market. Sure, the city gets the millions but the legitimate stall holders there suffer (some) in the process.

Which is probably why Mr. Mayor is stopping the practice. He may want a semblance of order in the market once again.

If you haven’t been to the city market lately then you’re in for a surprise. Practically every nook and cranny of the market is filled with vendors of all types and makes. A lot sell fish along Kayang Road. There are hawkers’ spreads of wagwag clothes, shoes, you name it. Then there are other vendors who sell the knick knacks of daily living: the alamang at the corner or the tuyo at the other end; then there are the novelty items like a one-hand battery operated sawing machine, or the barber’s scissors.

They all appear very innocent, in fact the common reason for keeping them there and clogging our very narrow sidewalks is: It is better to allow them to sell than to see them steal.

Still, they are a nuisance for a lot of people because there just isn’t any room left in the market to walk on. If a natural calamity were to occur (heaven forbid, of course) in the market, a stampede could kill more people there than the calamity ever will.

So my hats off to Mr. Domogan for stopping a practice which is not only bad for the pockets of the legitimate vendor; but also for freeing the sidewalks for those who should be using them – the pedestrians.

* * * * *

Well, Mr. Mayor’s move is only half the story of course. The other half is enforcement.

I noticed a day or two after Mr. Mayor stepped into his “new “ old office, the sidewalk vendors were back to their old annoying tactics: taking up the entire sidewalk that no one can use it anymore. They have practically stamped their land claim on the sidewalk the way they strut their wares boldly, not fearing any action from City Hall. I wonder why?

Since the Public Order and Safety Division of the Mayor’s Office is no longer, these vendors have reclaimed their old perches. The POSD was quite successful in keeping the sidewalks clear of these vendors by playing the cat and mouse game with them. But now that there is no longer any POSD, the sidewalk is again the domain of the vendor.

Mr. Mayor is right to say it is not the duty of his office to keep the sidewalks free for pedestrians. It is the police’s duty to keep the sidewalk vendors running.

But it seems even the police isn’t much of a deterrent these days, or are the police going back to their old ways?