BY JOHANN ARPON
They were able to protect their picket line but the vendors of the Tacloban City market knows that it was a temporary victory and that they are in for a long struggle. Meanwhile, they have reconstructed their picket line and candles continue to light their nightly vigil. They are convinced that their hope for a better future depends on their united stand.
In underdeveloped countries like the Philippines, it has always been the poor that suffers the brunt of the rush for “development. The same could be said of the urban poor whose dwellings and place of livelihood has been repeatedly offered in the altar of “development” as sacrifices. Such is the case for the urban poor in Tacloban City under the leadership of Mayor Alfred “Bejo” T. Romualdez (brother of former First Lady Imelda Marcos) who earned the ire of the urban poor for the series of demolitions of urban poor communities as well as the eviction of small vendors, denying them of their source of livelihood.
This sad reality is again being experienced by members of the Kahugpungan han Gudti nga Magtirinda (KAGUMA or Association of Small Vendors), Quezon Boulevard Small Vendors Association (QBSVA) and Tarcela Vendors Association (TVA), all member-organization of the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap-Tacloban City Chapter (KADAMAY-TC or the Mutual Help Association of the Urban Poor ).
It all began last January 6, 2006 when members of the QBSVA & TVA who are plying their ware beside the market road were evicted. Then by January 31, members of KAGUMA, who were occupying Annex B Building that was scheduled for repair and renovation, were also evicted and their stalls demolished. The vendors though surprised did not offer much resistance because they were assured that they will be allowed to return once the repair has been completed.
But Market Superintendent Cesar Salipot, who is under the Office of the City Mayor, hinted in many occasions that the evicted vendors will not be allowed to return.
This alarmed the vendors who filed different resolutions, petitions and manifestos to concerned government agencies including the City Council. The City Council conducted a series of hearings on the issue and came up with a committee report condemning the “Gestapo-like raids, evictions and demolitions” conducted by city government personnel at the Tacloban Supermarket. It then passed resolutions favoring the vendors. One such resolution directed the Committee on Market to convene and give due course to the petitions. Another resolution strongly recommended to the City Mayor, pending submission of the appropriate recommendations of the market committee, to restore the status quo ante in favor of the vendors. It also passed a resolution urging the City Mayor to implement the previous ordinance granting security in the workplace to vendors in the city. But these were not acted upon.
The vendors tried to hold a dialogue with the Mayor. One such protest-dialogue was held last April 17 at the Mayor’s office. But Mayor Romualdez arrogantly dismissed the demands of the vendors. It was reported that the Mayor said, “waray ako labot ha iyo. . . bahala kamo magkamatay . . nagmeyor ako diri para ha iyo kundi para han bug-os nga Tacloban” (I have nothing to do with you . . . I don’t care if you die . . . I became a mayor not for you but for all the people of Tacloban). These statements of Mayor Romualdez were confirmed by Nilda Fiel, David Solayao and Rosita Olino who were present during the dialogue. When they pressed the mayor to implement the resolutions of the city council, he allegedly challenged the councilors to first become a mayor themselves so that they will be the one to execute the laws.
Left with little option, the vendors occupied the Annex B Building, which is still being renovated, on the evening of May 7 and held a nightly vigil thereafter. They vowed not to vacate the said place unless they will be given formal assurance from the city government that the place will be reserved for them.
One night, members of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) confiscated their candles. Around 9:45 am of May 18, 2006, a composite team of the PNP from the police station in the supermarket, the Bike Squad and the SWAT forcefully attempted to break the picket line but the vendors stood their ground and formed a human barricade. A scuffle ensued resulting in two vendors arrested, 13 injured, with one hospitalized.
Emelie Solayao, a vendor, was literally picked up by a policeman thrown to the ground. Norberto Cabornay was pushed against a post, punched and stepped on when he fell down. Also the women who were at the frontline complained of being intentionally touched on their private parts by the policemen. They also complained that the policemen were carrying high-powered firearms during the scuffle.