IT LOOKS like the current global pandemic has forced sidewalk vendors in Cebu City to take responsibility for their actions.
For years the government turned a blind eye as pedestrians were forced to take to the streets because they could hardly maneuver themselves through the throng of vendors that had taken over the sidewalks, especially in the downtown area.
Don’t get me wrong.
I’m not saying sidewalk vendors shouldn’t be allowed to make a living. Oh no. But I always had the feeling they were taking advantage of their situation to justify their total disregard for laws everybody else had to follow.
First of all, they were squatting on public property. They might have paid the City Government for the right to do so because that was what they did when they handed over money to collectors from City Hall every day before the health crisis, but it didn’t change the fact that they were still encroaching on public space.
I’d witnessed it many times when I used to go to my favorite DVD stall along Colon to buy pirated movies. What I meant was when I used to frequent the country’s oldest street to frown upon the blatant display of illegal merchandise. Seriously, who would think of buying four discs for P100 when they could get the original for more than P500?
Anyway, sidewalk vendors shouldn’t blame the health crisis for their plight. After all, they knew their days were numbered when President Duterte came up with a directive to clear all public roads, which included sidewalks, of illegal obstructions last year.
Despite the “ban,” many stayed put, pulling at the heartstrings of city officials who couldn’t bear to see them suffer and lose their votes in the next election.
Of course, everything changed when the novel coronavirus pandemic struck.
There was no getting around a potentially fatal disease and sidewalk vendors knew that. So when the city was placed on enhanced community quarantine at the end of March, which shut down many businesses and restricted the movement of residents, sidewalk vendors, around 1,200 of them, disappeared.
For the majority of them, they lost their only source of income.
Some were able to return to the streets after restrictions were eased when the city was placed on general community quarantine (GCQ). More so when the quarantine status was further downgraded to modified GCQ in September.
I’m sure things haven’t been easy for them in the last six months or so. Understandably, many have been raring to make a living again, prompting them to propose health measures that they’ve promised to implement if they’re given the go signal.
Unfortunately, as one official reminded them, that decision is not entirely up to the City.