Updated August 31, 2002
Street vendors, besieged by a war declared by Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Bayani Fernando to clear city sidewalks, convened a historic summit yesterday at the University of the Philippines church in Quezon City to establish the Metro Manila Vendors Alliance (MMVA).
"He is depriving us of our only honest means of livelihood," said Melly Auza, 50, a leader of the 6,000-member Baclaran Christian and Muslim Vendors Association. "We have to fight to survive."
Auza, who sends three children to private colleges, said she and her husband Onie have been unable to sell their wares for a month now because of Fernando’s campaign.
Auza said she sells shoes and umbrellas at a stall near the Light Rail Transit station in Baclaran. She supplemented income from vending by running a small eatery.
She claimed business has become bad since the MMDA began a crackdown on street vendors.
One moment, her stall is open, at another, it is hurriedly closed down because of MMDA enforcers on the prowl. At times, she and her husband have to hide at nearby malls and department stores while an MMDA clearing operation is underway.
"Lately, however, the guards at the mall have been throwing us out," she said. "We later learned that the MMDA chairman had asked the department store owners to keep us out."
The MMVA, convened under the auspices of the militant group Sanlakas and its urban poor ally Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Maralitang Lungsod (KPML), drew vendor groups from 24 areas in the metropolis.
A joint manifesto issued by the MMVA at the end of the day-long summit said the MMDA, instead of carrying out a "policy of annihilation," should work in hand with local chief executives and the national government to organize vendors, support their cooperatives and involve them in joint socio-economic projects.
While admitting that they have wittingly or unwittingly violated laws and regulations, vendors insisted that they were forced by circumstances.
"For poor people like us, sidewalk vending is an economic necessity not a travesty of laws," the vendors said in the manifesto. "We are not criminals. We find it more detestable to see our government selling all its properties to foreign and private corporations than to see ordinary people selling their merchandise in the streets at a bargain price."
"If the government can afford to talk with armed rebels in the hope of ending the conflict, why can’t they do the same with vendors," it said.
The vendors warned that if Fernando remains undaunted in his terror tactics, "we have no other recourse but to fight back."
Some vendors did not make it to the summit, like those from Cubao and Gracepark in Caloocan, where MMDA enforcers swooped down on their stalls yesterday and hauled their wares unto trucks.