Sad realities on the re-opening of Happy Lane

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In the aftermath of the enforced demolition of food stalls in R. Papa Street in Morayta, Manila, the street that served as an income-generating spot for poor vendors and cheap eat-out place for students has become a parking lot. 

Getting improved, getting destroyed

Vendors had been planning how they can get the permits required by the Manila LGU. Several attempts over the years at securing the necessary documents did not produce concrete results. Authorities, though, have been collecting hawker’s fees regularly.

On the same day, the members of the United Vendors Alliance (UVA) assessed their recent operations and planned how to improve the quality of food and drinks.

These resulted in the renaming of the commonly known label “Hepa Lane” to a rebranded “Happy Lane.”

On October 18, vendors of Morayta, under their group UVA, resumed their operations in R. Papa Street.

They renamed the street “Happy Lane” to debunk a popular misconception that students from various universities died or fell ill from food from Morayta vendors, thus the nickname “Hepa Lane”.

In the midst of their operation and while students ate in front of the food stalls, elements of the Manila City Department of Public Service (DPS) and the Manila Police District (MPD) forcibly demolished their stalls – some of which were closed.

In videos published on social media, vendors including their children pleaded for their hard-earned stalls to be spared. Their crying only ignited the desire of DPS of destroying their livelihood.  Even students who helped the vendors secure their booths were physically harassed.

Go-to food place

Regular customers of the vendors were students, tricycle drivers, and their fellow vendors. They patronize the stalls for the affordable meals.

John Sherwin Felix, a 4th-year student of Far Eastern University (FEU), a scholar of his relatives from abroad, regularly eats at R. Papa Street. He said that he gets the most out of his limited allowance. With only two semesters left at FEU, 22-year old Felix hopes that the food vendors would be given the chance to continue their livelihood.

Vendors get the goods they sell from Blumentritt and Trabajo markets. They use disposable utensils. All materials used in the preparation are regularly washed. There may be some lapses and imperfections in their operations, just like what happens in different food establishments, but prosecuting them is not the solution.

If the government’s mandate genuinely serves the interests of poor Filipinos, we now ask:

  1. Why does Che Borromeo, head of DPS, consider the livelihood of the poor in Manila as a privilege?
  2. Why put the blame on “traffic obstruction” to poor vendors when the major cause of road obstruction came from poor traffic solutions and the lack of urban planning?
  3. Where is the concrete plan of the local and national government for the marginalized Filipinos?

Hell-bent

One reason presented by the DPS for the enforced closure of all vending stalls in R. Papa Street is the congested traffic in the area. Right after the demolition, however, the street became a parking lot occupying two lanes.

The Manila local government under Mayor Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada has began privatizing different public services including markets, public hospitals, and parking spaces.  In 2013, the City Hall passed a resolution privatizing parking fee collections to improve collection efficiency. The proposal effectively closed down the Manila Parking and Traffic Bureau so the local government could earn P40 million a year and earn from income sharing with private entities. The privatization of public markets soon followed in 2014, but was only deterred by protests from public market vendors leading up to the local and national elections in May 2016, where Erap was running for his second term as Manila mayor.

Government recognition

The government continuously destroys and disenfranchises the legitimate livelihood of poor Filipinos. While it sows terror on our poor countrymen, it seeks refuge from big local and non-local corporations that have severe irregularities in their operations. As fascist and neoliberal attacks loom, it becomes clear whose interests the government serves.

The bureaucracy earns from people’s resources. In this country where the wealth of the nation is concentrated in the hands of a select few, big businesses receive special treatments from the authorities, while the poor are prosecuted and disenfranchised. The same goes with the issue of due process and right to life in the administration-led clampdown on illegal drugs.

In a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society, right to a decent life is considered as a privilege, not a right. This orientation has maintained the decades-long suffering of the disenfranchised. Despite the efforts of the vendors to hold dialogues with the government, their plight remain unheard.

This is not only an issue of Happy Lane vendors. This issue is part of a grand socio-economic failure that disenfranchises the poor.

In the words of Nanay Doray, a 71-year-old vendor: “Sino ang gustong maging mahirap?” (Who wants to be poor?)

Forward ever…backward never

Instead of pushing the vendors away and destroying their legitimate livelihoods, the government must support them instead, help them meet the necessities it imposes, and lay down a concrete plan for the urban poor.

History teaches us that no democratic right has ever been handed on a silver platter. Rights are collectively fought for. Only when the oppressed assert their rights can their voices be heard. After all, it is the current arrangement of society that worsens the disenfranchisement of the poor and serves the interest of the privileged few.

Participate in the discourse as the vendors through UVA holds its last try of opening a dialogue with the LGUs. Join us as we assert the rights of our vendors in Morayta and other marginalized poor in Manila—the city that boasts of the motto: “Forward Ever…Backward Never.” We call on the local and national government to heed the calls of the urban poor.

We will remain firm in our stand for having the Magna Carta for Vendors approved.

Kyle Aristophere Atienza, 18, is a Communication student of Far Eastern University (FEU) in Manila. He is the current chairperson of Anakbayan-FEU and convenor of the Alliance of Concerned Students in FEU. During his free days, he regularly visits alternative film theatres

Photos by Max Santiago

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