The plight of sidewalk vendors

By: Manuel “Boy” Mejorada

IT IS HARD not to feel bad for the situation that hundreds of vendors in Iloilo City who have, through decades and decades, earned their livelihood selling food, cigarettes and other stuff from makeshift stands on sidewalks, particularly in the downtown area.

Because of a presidential directive to clear public roads (and sidewalks) of illegal structures and other obstructions, these vendors are facing the bleak prospect of losing the sole source of income to feed their families and educate their children.

But the hands of City Mayor Jerry P. Treñas are tied. Any appeal to his humanitarian consideration will not get any reprieve for the vendors. Treñas has to obey the order or face suspension. The best that he can do is try to find suitable areas as relocation for the vendors, a solution that is not going to provide relief for them. One idea that is being considered is to utilize a vacant lot along J. M. Basa St. owned by the Cacho family as an open market where these vendors can hawk their wares.

The situation for vendors near the Fort San Pedro pier is even worse. Yesterday, I heard their cooperative chairman volunteer to move their structures backward from the edge of the road in order to free up space for pedestrians to use. Their group has met with Treñas, who sympathized with their plight but could not do anything.

In short, we are witnessing a social upheaval not only in Iloilo City, but also all across the country where hundreds of thousands of vendors are similarly situated.

Must the national government ease up on this directive and allow some room for flexibility?

Perhaps there is a way to meet halfway, as what the Fort San Pedro vendors are proposing. At the moment, it would be cruel to just insist on dislocating them from where they earn their living. It is a social volcano that might trigger unrest.

I think the key is adopting a scheme where the flow of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, is not impeded. In areas where the sidewalks provide enough space for vendors and pedestrians to co-exist, then maybe a compromise can be reached.

At the same time, LGUs should start to explore long-term solutions to the problem.

It’s time for the city government to consider designating certain streets that are not busy in terms of vehicular traffic to be used as open markets. There are a number of side streets between J. M. Basa and Muelle Loney that can be considered. If the vendors are well-organized, and the areas are kept clean, the open markets can even become tourist areas. We’ve seen this in other countries.

The city government might also want to institutionalize the operations of the barbeque stalls along Valeria St. that cater to customers during the evenings. One idea is for the Sangguniang Panlungsod to enact an ordinance closing down to vehicles the portion of Valeria from De Leon St. to Ledesma St. from 6 p.m. till midnight from Friday until Sunday. Portalets can be deployed in the area, and police officers assigned on foot patrol duty.

Much has been achieved by the City Government since day one of this campaign to clear the streets. These efforts by the Trenas administration deserve applause. But at the same time, our officials should not be too harsh on those whose livelihoods will be affected. Maybe the city mayor can make representations with DILG to introduce changes to soften the impact on the vendors.

Indeed, in this world, we have to live and let live.