The dignity of earning a living comes with a price. Its amount is equivalent to how much are we willing to value ourselves as citizens of our community alongside our economic needs.
Our street vendors live each day precariously with that question in mind – balancing whether they must earn or must follow the law. They are caught in this situation not always because they want to but because it is the closest they can get to earning decently – and seemingly, there is no rule.
We are confronted with the issues surrounding the existence of vendors illegally occupying our streets today with the recent directive of the President for DILG to clear the roads. It is not the elephant in the room – we all talk about these things even in the “kapehan” for years. The real question is – do we have clear solutions in ensuring that we balance rule of law and allowing vendors their share of earning decently.
Chaos happens when leadership forces a community to bend back to accommodate infractions for the sake of humanitarian consideration because it has no plan to create sustainable solutions to help bring dignity back to people who simply wish to earn a decent living. All political play. Sadly, the pawns are our hapless vendors.
These past few months gave me the opportunity to face the problem squarely and I am sad to discover things. The vendors are usually asked to join political activities and rallies. I became aware that some of them were instructed to wear a shirt of a particular color and report early morning at radio stations where political debates will happen. I spent all night worrying about the invectives I will hear from partisan groups pooling outside the stations with no choice but to follow orders.
When the issue about concerned citizens posting pictures of Facebook of garbage from Christmas sales surfaced, the vendors were asked to gather for a meeting in a government facility and told that I was against them and the posting were my doing. They were systematically influenced to hate me even before I can even start to share what I have to offer.
In private meetings, several vendors told me they are tired of being “used” for political interests. The schemes were never ending. How we can get out of a situation where the same vulnerability of a sector is being exploited for political gains – the answer constantly evades me – except for one – a leadership that will not use them but will make them understand their value for their own sake. It is sad to see people exploit other people’s weaknesses, or twist every word and fact to suit their needs.
On several occasions, I was able to discuss things in a calmer, more friendly environment. I still remember that day when I laid down my cards – starting with the need to follow the law.
I told them – I have nothing against them personally. I know poverty very well – what it is like to simply yearn for your next meal. I told them I clearly understand their need to earn a living and I fully support that. I assured them I got there backs as long as they help me build an orderly and lawful community.
I told them all I have are my words which I honor always. Support is not an empty word – for it is fully loaded – starting with seriously rebuilding our markets so it becomes competitive even with the best malls in town. Resources to make this happen will always be there if we carefully and wisely plan.
I told them – there will be no middlemen when they need to reach me. A fully operational vendors desk will be established so I can monitor how new interventions and programs gradually impact on their income brackets. Regular consultation will be held with the objective of making sure that all vendors in the city becomes law-abiding citizens who contribute to ensuring clean and orderly public facilities.
In the course of the discussion, I needed to emphasize that I am not one to embrace or kiss anyone especially in public. That I am awkward in my ways as a politician. I do not smile often or is able to really keep my cool even in situations which require me to be angry or to cry. And I hope they can accept me.
I told them we will build win-win solutions as we go. Their ideas will be primarily considered – they will become indirect policymakers – identifying solutions for themselves without commiting any violation. I offered scholarships and jobs for their children so we can start a new generation that is not dependent solely on vending. I offered them alternative facilities which I plan to actively promote to ensure that consumer traffic is heavy in these facilities. I will create programs to add value to local products and strategies to promote them. In sum, everyone will be part of a vision they can all be proud of.
In one bigger meeting with the vendors, one of them, an elderly woman approached me as I was about to leave. With a hint of tears in her eyes she said, “Day, wala pa gid bala naka-estorya sa amon sang amo sini”. I told her, “Nay, damo pa ta estoryahan.”
My advisers have never failed in reminding me to “court” the vendors because of their sheer number – but I know I am a big headache for any campaign manager. I don’t court for politics sake – I help identify and offer solutions but that is not how politics in the Philippines work.
Today, I am reminded of the many faces of the vendors I have meet in the campaign trail as the DILG and all stakeholders begin the wave of massive clearing of roads around the country. The vendors will be the most affected. I feel sorry for them and I sincerely wish we create a more sustainable set of solutions for our city regarding their sector – one that will honor their dignity as small entrepreneurs simply trying to make a living without violating any law.
Local leaders have a mandate to fulfill and needless to say, every citizen has a responsibility to obey. The Local Government Code of the Philippines particularly in Section 16 provides: “Every local government unit shall exercise the powers expressly granted, those necessarily implied therefrom, as well as powers necessary, appropriate, or incidental for its efficient and effective governance, and those which are essential to the promotion of the general welfare. ”
I have reservations in writing these thoughts down as many will not find it palatable. But I think it is my responsibility to make our citizens aware how politics slow us down – how it hinders us from transcending problems we have faced for decades. I am sincerely hoping we can help improve the lives of our vendors and our community in general. And it is sad to see that politics always gets in the way. Hopefully, by sharing these postscripts, in my little way, I can inspire all local government leaders of this country. I am praying for courage and wisdom for all local leaders.
To a certain extent, everyone of us is a vendor. I am a peddler of hope. There is no assurance of earning from this craft – but I do it anyway. Everyone simply has a station in life.