Sidewalk vending: A cat-and-mouse game in Cebu City

By: Delta Dyrecka Letigio August 18,2019 - 08:25 AM

Manang Emma prepares her sidewalk banana cue stall near a university in Cebu City. | Delta Dyrecka Letigio

CEBU CITY, Philippines — “Mao man gyud ni among kinabuhi. Papahawaon mi, mohawa mi. Ig taod-taod mobalik ra pud mi. Mura mig iring nga way padulngan.”

(This is our life. If we are asked to leave, we leave. After a while, we go back. We are like stray cats with nowhere to go.)

This is how Manang Emma, describes her life as a sidewalk vendor, who sells banana cue, along P. Lopez Street in Cebu City.

Selling banana cue has been the only way she knows how to make a living.

Manang Emma, who is now 52 years old, says she has spent 40 years of her life as a banana cue vendor.

Read more: Labella to PROBE, market authority: Intensify cleanup drive in markets, streets

When the city’s Public Restoration, Order, Beautification and Enhancement (PROBE) team cleared the streets of vendors in their area for two consecutive days — or on August 2 and 3, she had no choice but to stop. But after a few days, she set up again her makeshift stall in the same area.

The PROBE team has intensified its street clearing operations after Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella  instructed the team to remove unauthorized stalls in the city’s streets as part of the 60-day deadline that President Rodrigo Duterte has directed all cities in the Philippines to do — clear the streets and return the sidewalks to pedestrians.

Read more: Mayors told: Clear roads in 60 days

The city government says that street and sidewalk vendors can no longer stay in these public places because they obstruct traffic and can put pedestrians’ lives  and even their own lives at harm’s way by getting hit by a motorist.

Yet for Manang Emma and the other sidewalk and street vendors in P. Lopez St., they say they are willing to take that risk just so they can earn an “honest living.”

Manang Emma says selling banana cue on the streets is her only means to survive, having known no other way to make a living.

Banana cue are displayed on Manang Emma’s stall and ready for her student customers in a Cebu City street. | Delta Dyrecka

A lifetime of banana cues

As a child in the 1970s, she learned to vend banana cue at her mother’s  makeshift stall, also along P. Lopez St. 

She and her four siblings grew up among the line of banana cue stalls in the area, she says.

Selling banana cue and sometimes other merchandise on the sidewalks has become a family trade and has been passed on from her mother’s generation to hers.

Manang Emma recalls that she also sold merchandise such as cigarettes and candies on the streets of Colon in order to help her family.

She never reached high school because her family could not afford to send her to school.

In 1988, Manang Emma got married, and she and her husband had three children — three sons, who are now 29, 27, and 14 years old.

Sidewalk vending has become the primary livelihood of Mamang Emma as she and her electrician-husband raise their three children.

But then, in 2010, tragedy struck their humble yet happy home when Manang Emma’s husband passed away because of kidney failure.

As the family’s sole breadwinner, she has focused on selling banana cue alongside her mother. She also sold cigarettes and candies on the city’s streets to provide for her three children.

When her mother died in 2017, Manang Emma took over the stall she left in P. Lopez Street, and she and two of her brothers would take turns in selling banana cue as a tribute to their mother, who had kept the spot for over five decades.

To Manang Emma, selling banana cue in the streets is survival to her family and a way to achieve her dream for her youngest son — to send him to college.

Although her two adult sons are working and support themselves, she still has a 14-year-old junior high school, whom she needs to provide for.

“Unta lagi mapaeskwela nako siyag college. (I wish I can send my son to college),” says Manang Emma.

She hopes she can achieve her dream of at least sending her youngest son to college — a dream which has not fulfilled with her two older sons because of financial constraints.

Like her, her two elder sons also only completed elementary schooling.

The eldest is a trisikad (tricycle with sidecar) driver while the second son works as a kargador  (laborer) in Carbon market.

This dream is also what makes Manang Emma return to the same spot where her mother sold banana cue.

“Kapila na mi gipapahawa sa una, mobalik man gyud mi. Kay asa man intawon mi padulong? Wala na gyud miy laing kapadulngan. Kung di mi katinda, mamatay mi,” laments Manang Emma.

(We were driven away many times over the years, we would always go back. Where will we go? We don’t have any other place. If we cannot sell, we die.)

Manang Emma has sold banana cue for four decades in the same spot near a university in Cebu City where her late mother had also banana cue. | Delta Dyrecka Letigio

Shoot for the moon

When CDN Digital visited Manang Emma in P. Lopez Street, she and the other vendors have been discussing about  writing a petition to Mayor Labella to let them stay in the area.

Manang Emma says that the vendors have decided to form an association to represent them and to protect the trade that has flourished in the area since the late 1940s, when a Catholic school was established there.

Manang Emma and her fellow vendors say that the school, which has turned into a university today, has been a rich market for banana cue vendors.

They claim that generations of vendors selling banana cue has become part of the culture of the place.

They say they served a purpose to the students of the university by providing them affordable food.

Read more: PROBE: Only 100 vendors will be allowed on the sidewalks of Colon Street

A woman customer, who requested anonymity, agrees with Manang Emma.

She says that during her college days, the banana cue stalls have provided affordable and fulfilling food for her.

“Nabusog ko ani (banana cue) mao na naguol ko nga gipapahawa na pod sila,” says the woman customer, who is on her way to drop off her senior high school daughter at the university.

(This has filled my stomach in my college days. That is why I feel sad that they are being shooed away from the area.)

Manang Emma hopes the mayor will realize their importance as vendors in P. Lopez, and she prays they will be allowed to stay.

“Suntok sa buwan lang ning amoa. Pero suwayan lang gud og hangyo,” says Manang Emma.

(This is just like shooting for the moon for us, but we just have to try to ask the mayor)

Racquel Arce, PROBE head, says the Cebu City government has set up some rules for sidewalk vendors to ply their trade. /CDN Digital file photo

Hope to stay

But Racquel Arce, PROBE team head, says that Cebu City can no longer afford to have more sidewalk vendors.

In an interview with CDN Digital, she says that there is a zero-growth policy for sidewalk vendors in the city, and they are no longer accepting  applicants for street vending.

However, vendors who have been selling before 2017 may have a chance to continue their trade because they can be registered with vendors association handled by the Division for the Welfare of the Urban Poor (DWUP).

Read more: Clearing operations open more spaces for pedestrians on downtown Cebu’s sidewalks

Vendor-applicants will only need to get a barangay clearance and a written consent from the establishments nearest to where they plan to set up their stalls.

The only catch is that they should be voters of Cebu City, and they are only allowed to sell for 12 hours daily.

The PROBE team may also close down stalls that violate the city rules against the use of large umbrellas or tents, liquified petroleum or butane, and of bringing young children to the stalls.

The vendors need to pay P10 to the city government for staying in a particular area. They are also required to clean up and dispose of their garbage properly.

These have given the vendors of P. Lopez hope that, maybe, they can keep their spots after all. That is if they can get the nearby university to agree to allow them to sell there and if the city government will recognize their new association.

But after all the years of running away from demolition and clearing teams and pleading to the city government to let them stay in the area and continue their livelihood, Manang Emma says she is not getting her hopes up.

Yet she still hopes the government will finally see them as human beings instead of like mice running away when the cats are there, then returning again when it is safe.

She dreams of the day when she will no longer have to run away from those clearing teams. After all, she is getting too old for the cat-and-mouse game.

“Mayor, pwede diri na lang mi? (Mayor, will it be okay for us to stay here?)”

This is Manang Emma’s parting plea to the mayor as she anticipates more clearing operations in the coming days.

But she says with conviction that no matter how may times the city government will chase them away, they will always keep coming back to the place where they can sell their banana cues.

They will keep playing the cat-and-mouse game with the demolition and clearing team because it’s the only way they know how to survive./dbs

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TAGS: Beautification, enhancement, Order, PROBE, public, Restoration, sidewalk, stall, Vendor
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