Lunes, Setyembre 21, 2009

Fuel for the Fire - a congressional speech on vendors


a privilege speech
2nd District, Iloilo
August 21, 2002

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues:

He was a little man. Possessed of articulacy, some say of charismatic authority, distinctly mad and ruthless. Because the world moved a slight too unhurriedly to stop this little man, he succeeded in gassing over 30 million men, women and children, forcing them to die slow, agonizing deaths in concentration camps and gas chambers.


They called him, the F├╝hrer, Mr. Speaker, and - no matter how we labor to consign him to the darkest, most debased annals of human history, the horror and anguish he inflicted on human scourges collective memory to this day.

I bring to mind recollection of this tyrant, his brutality and the gas that was his number one accomplice - on a day when I should be extolling a Filipino hero whose voice of freedom was stilled on the tarmac 18 years ago. But that Filipino martyr will not rest, Mr. Speaker, if we allow abomination to afflict the people whom he said were worth dying for. And so speak today, I must.

For the tyrant's menacing hoard of gas seeps through time - and thanks to kerosene placed in overeager hands, we have the making of a vile, hideous and despicable Filipino holocaust.

I speak, of course, of the much-publicized campaign of the Metro Manila Development Authority, or MMDA, to rid our thoroughfares of hawkers by pouring kerosene on the wares of street vendors.


The purpose of dousing bangketa goods with kerosene is to destroy them so that they cannot be -re-sold. Perhaps, the newly appointed MMDA Chairman explains, inflicting economic losses will discourage hawkers from returning to their self-appointed stations.

In fact, MMDA Chair Bayani Fernando, admits to cringing at the sight of these goods being wantonly destroyed. "Kinikilabutan" is the word he employs.

With good reason, Mr. Speaker, with good reason. Dahil nakakakilabot talaga! Mass destruction of commodities, particularly food, at a time of widespread hunger and even wider-spread poverty, is an act of inhumanity. It assaults sense and sensibility. It is madness. Nay, it is treason!


A hawker or street vendor is an honest Filipino trying to eke out a decent living in these hard times. In all likelihood, he cannot afford the steep rentals imposed on the stalls where we would like to see him ply his trade. That bilao of used clothing or fish or assorted fruit and vegetables is probably all he has to his name.

And by the way, let us not forget that by foregoing excessive rent and thus keeping his prices low, this street vendor is providing public service to a people with diminishing - and still diminishing - purchasing power.

The MMDA calls this street vendor an anarchist who must be stopped, even if they resort - as resort they have - to harsh, pitiless measures.

But what price, oh crusade against anarchy, if we can fan the flames that now reside in the heart of every poor, maligned, hungry and angry Filipino - and yet succeed only in escalating anarchy to insurrection? Have we become so disposed to adding fuel to the fire and driving the less-fortunate to lives of desperation and criminality?


The end, Mr. Speaker, simply does not justify the means. You can't just say street vending is bad, and then proceed to gas the vendors' wares rapaciously. This kerosene-dousing method is ugly, obnoxious, abhorrent and insensitive. It is a method that violates, and violates willfully, the sacrosanct principle that governance is for the people.

I cannot simply believe that a man of renown compassion like the new MMDA Chairman would countenance such barbarity. I can only theorize that he is anxious to address his new assignment with the zeal and dedication that has characterized much of his career as a public servant. Perhaps, it is his people that have become overly-zealous.

To be sure, the Honorable Chairman can say - and with much conviction, "I do not like dousing goods with kerosene, but it is my job." It is a claim that has been echoed through time, like so: "I do not like sending Jews to the gas chamber, but it is my mission."

Government authority cannot be dismissed with the hackneyed, "Trabaho lang, walang personalan," - for governance is a personal business, Mr. Speaker, which can only be conducted with the consent of the governed. Let no one in this august chamber, in the MMDA and throughout the length and breadth of government forget this truth: governance can only be conducted with the consent of the governed.

And so I must make an appeal in earnest today. Surely, we must not turn a blind eye to such depravities as crime, corruption and terrorism. If we must turn a blind eye, Mr. Speaker, then let us do so to matters of the stomach, which is what this kerosene-inspired holocaust amounts to.


Let us tread the path of sobriety, Mr. Speaker. This is a country that freedom has shaped, anchored as it is on open discussion and consensus-building. Let us endeavor to sit down, respect each other and hear each other out. Kerosene is not the balm we require to soothe wounds we have needlessly inflicted - dialogue and collective effort is.

Let us stop fixing the blame and start fixing the problem. If the problem is steep, commercial rent rates, then let us address it. If the problem is the sheer number of vendors, then let us find mutually acceptable solutions to it, such as issuance of free but color-coded permits, among others.

Mapayapang palitan ng kuro-kuro, hindi gaas, ang tugon sa problema, Chairman Bayani. Surely, a bayani like you will neither countenance disrespect nor wanton destruction of property nor undignified, ugly and obnoxious methods such as this.

I, therefore, move to refer the matter concerning the MMDA's extreme kerosene-dousing tactics for immediate joint investigation by the House Committees on Human Rights, Justice and Public Order and Security.

Thank you, distinguished colleagues. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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