CLEANING UP METRO MANILA Of illegal vendors is not just giving the decaying city a – facelift, a body bath- pa “pogi” points. It is not just, moreover, merely a cinematic show of a “Tondo Boy” turned city mayor to show that he has the balls to effect change.

Illegal vendors in Divisoria, Recto, Soler and Carriedo have long taken over the pedestrian sidewalks meant for the public- many times spilling into the streets that belong to vehicles and public conveyances. It is simply the “rule of the few over the rule of the law” pervading.

For more than ten years, this has been Chaotic Manila on the spotlight. Tourists are afraid to see and shop from legitimate shops and dine in bars and restaurants in those areas. They fear to go for ethnic and authentic Chinese food in Binondo. They shun going to historic places like the Bonifacio Shrine, Luneta and Intramuros.

More than that- the legitimate store and stall owners in Divisoria who are mostly paying their taxes, are losing business to the illegal vendors- many of their wares smuggled (no taxes, thus cheap) and do not have the government insignia (Department of Trade) as to their passable quality and lack of toxicity.

Government loses taxes from the uncollected 12 percent VAT (Value Added Tax) and the income tax due to the illegality of their operations. The “Evil Organizers” who collect P350 to P500 a day from these illegal vendors dailyare the ones raking in millions. Anywhere, from estimates of P350-P400 Million per year based on 4,000 to 5,000 vendors- who are paying their illegal “daily” tong. Is that right?

Giving back the public sites (pedestrian lanes and streets) to the people is taking away illegal private usage of the public places back to the general public. It is as simple as that.

Besides, this practice is contributory to the nightmare that is the Metro Manila Traffic. In a recent 2015- GPS-based WAZE study- it was found out that Manila is the worst trafficinflicted city in the world with an average of close to one hour per travel – partly caused by these congested roads and lanes.

JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), on the other hand, disclosed that traffic in Manila causes P2.4 Billion daily losses (2012) and worsened to P3.5 Billion to the economy in 2015.

“Evil Organizers”, in the guise of populism, says the Manila City Hall got rid of the illegal vendors without providing an alternative site. Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno says he plans to use the empty space near the Philippine National Railway or structures to be built near the creeks to be their future selling sites. Rome was not built in a day. They have to give him time.

Former president and ex-Manila Mayor Erap Estrada and some of his kin lambasted Isko for being “pasikat lan yan” and that Moreno is not really concerned with the displaced illegal vendors.

This Populist Disguise argument is clear- that “government does not care about the welfare of the lowly people”. It is the very same argumentation postulated by those against the Rice Tarrification or the Rice Import Liberalization Law.

They want the 5-10 million rice farmers and dependents to be protected and expose the 105 million rice-eating Filipinos to the instability of supply and high prices of rice which is every man’s staple food. That does not seem right.

It is true that these “informal economy” practitioners, according to an International Labor Organization (ILO) study in 2013 constitute big income generators next to unorganized farmers and fisherfolks, which are often not formally captured in government statistics.

While we can accept that, they should be properly relocated so that they do not constitute a bigger burden on the other sectors of the economy. They should not strut around like peacocks feeling deserving of special entitlement not given to the rest.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) is one agency that is immensely pleased with the “clean up” of Dirty Manila. For one, many ASEAN national visitors still find Divisoria as a “shopping paradise” here but they get turned off by the topsy-turvy hodge-podge of illegals along the sidewalks leading to the buildings.

Moreno is a mayor who “walks the talk” since cleaning Manila was a campaign promise he made before May 2019. Asked who were responsible for the illegal vendors’ selling access and the bribes that went with their stay there- Isko in his tough but humorous way, merely says – “it is Edi and Patti who are at fault.”

“Sino yon?”. Moreno says: “ E, di, Siya at pati siya” eliciting loud guffaws from the adoring crowd who knows exactly who Moreno is referring to.

Cleaning up illegal vendors on pedestrian lanes and roads should be done as a nationwide effort -especially in crowded cities facing Manila’s similar woes.

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