“If the government really wants to uplift us from our impoverished conditions, why did it have to wait for an Apec? They could have helped us long before.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
RIZAL PARK, Manila – Along Roxas Boulevard in Rizal Park (Luneta) and near the Philippine International Convention Center, vendors stood behind newly-made white stalls, a far cry from their tattered, makeshift stores.
They were spared from government clearing operations of hawkers and homeless street dwellers, and were instead part of government’s “dressing up” for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit. But the vendors said this does not cover the bitter truth that they suffer lack of security in their livelihood.
“My earning is just enough for my survival here. Every day, I live trying to evade being arrested or having my goods confiscated,” Pedro Denum, 49, a vendor at the Plaza Salamanca in Manila, told Bulatlat.com in Filipino.
Denum is among the beneficiaries of the “Balik-bahay, Sagip Buhay” project of the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) in the National Capital Region. The stalls were provided to vendors like Denum under the condition that they would not alter its structure and that they would not sleep in it.
As a vendor of more than 10 years, Denum expressed doubts whether their new stall would in any way help them. But he remained grateful since it would save them from running from authorities that crackdown on street vendors, at least for the next three months.
Urban poor group Kadamay assailed what they referred to as government moves to “sacrifice” their livelihood “to show the Apec delegates that we are not a poor nation.”
“In case the Aquino government failed to notice, a day without vending is already a big burden to our families. A week without vending is sabotage already,” Gloria Arellano, Kadamay national chairperson, added.
Dangers of eviction
But not all street vendors were provided stalls. The likes of 57-year Nicanor Locaberde and wife Lonisa, 47, were not beneficiaries of the project. The makeshift store they have along Taft Avenue also serves as their home after their house in Parola, Tondo was destroyed in a fire last year.
“We only go there to take a bath and change our clothes. But we live here,” Lonisa said, pointing at their kariton (pushcart). The couple lives along Taft Avenue with their 12-year-old son.
The couple had hoped they would become beneficiaries as it would augment their livelihood, at least for the next three months. But they realized that at the end of the day, it still boils down to how much they earned so they could buy food for the next day.
On good days, the couple would earn at least P400 to P500 ($8 to $10). Most of the time, however, they only get P200 ($4). A big chunk of their earnings would go to “lagay” or extortion to keep local authorities from badgering them, which, they said, is nearly good enough to pay rent if they had a decent stall.
Kadamay-Manila chairperson Waston Veñegas, who is also a vendor himself, said the government has no right to evict vendors who created their own means to survive. He said the government has failed to provide them with decent-paying jobs.
Most of the vendors in Rizal Park and neighboring streets were former contractual workers who got tired of moving from one job to another every six months, Veñegas said.
Meanwhile, Veñegas said vendors along Pedro Gil avenue were unable to sell along the streets since preparations for Apec began.
Plight remain the same
Former policeman Jerome Pagunsan said he was left with no choice but to become a vendor in Rizal Park. He could not find a job after he was dismissed for earning the ire of his officials who learned of his “activist days” back in college. However, being a vendor also made him become a full-pledged activist because of the plight they face, for the sake of raising their family.
“I have experienced getting my store demolished and be deprived of my livelihood. Worse, authorities looked down on us, as if we have no space in this society,” he said.
Unlike those who have bigger capital, Pagunsan said they live on a hand-to-mouth basis. The closest his small store at the heart of the park could get to a popular grocery chain is the fact that it is painted green.
He referred to the “good-looking” stalls as mere “propaganda” of the government for the Apec summit. He said this would “look good” in the eyes of the foreign delegates. But after the Apec, things are bound to return to normal.
What’s in store for them in Apec?
Though vendors Bulatlat interviewed were able to “sell” during the Apec summit, all complained that they hardly earned anything, because there were very few people on the streets. The Philippine government declared non-working holidays in Metro Manila, cancelling both work and classes through Proclamation 1072.
Authorities also closed several roads leading to and near the vicinity where the Apec was held, causing heavy traffic for ordinary Filipinos, while delegates were free to pass via their special lanes.
All these preparations for Apec would benefit the Filipino people in the end, said government. But Locaberde expressed doubts on whether the Aquino government has their best interest at heart. He added that no one from among their ranks represented them in the international summit, and even those who claim to be from the small and medium enterprises are in a different league from them.
“If the government really wants to uplift us from our impoverished conditions, why did it have to wait for an Apec? They could have helped us long before,” he said.
Meanwhile, vendors are feeling the crunch of slow sales since the Apec summit began.
“Kahit magtinda ka, kung walang tao, wala rin,” Denum quipped. (It is useless to sell because there are no buyers.)
Denum said he will try to abide by the policies of the DSWD if that means that their deal would be extended for another three months. But for now, he said he will focus on selling more goods as another day of losses means another day of hunger, with or without Apec.