In his fourth State of the Nation Address in 2019, Rodrigo Duterte announced that he had issued an order to clear all Metro Manila roads and sidewalks of all obstructions.
That presidential edict was based on estimates made by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) that horrible Metro Manila traffic exacted a heavy toll on the whole economy to the tune of several billions of pesos daily in lost productivity and wasted fuel.
Duterte’s draconian order prompted the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and local government units (LGUs), particularly the City of Manila, to deploy their latter-day civilian versions of Gestapo shock troops.
They swooped down on identified streets with heavy vehicular and human traffic and proceeded to clear them with basically the same fervor the police, on the president’s bidding, had in launching a bloody war on drugs starting in 2016 that led to nearly 7,000 deaths.
The clearing operations in Metro Manila have targeted illegally parked vehicles on roads and sidewalks.
If the vehicle was unattended, it was immediately towed to the MMDA in an impounding area in Marikina City and could only be retrieved by paying a hefty P3,000 fine.
If the driver of the vehicle was behind the wheel, the MMDA shock troops would issue a traffic violation receipt and require the driver to pay the same hefty fee within a certain number of days.
The clearing operations in roads and sidewalks also target vendors of food, mainly fruits, and vegetables, as well as various types of merchandise, from clothes to houseware and tools.
The poor vendors caught unawares by the sudden appearance of City Hall workers deputized to confiscate their goods can only send their lamentations to the heavens and mourn the loss of their livelihood.
These vendors play a cat-and-mouse game with City Hall almost on a daily basis as the raiding teams appear unannounced and immediately start grabbing whatever they could lay their hands on.
The Gestapo-like road and sidewalk clearing operations by the MMDA and LGUs should be challenged in court as these deprive mainly the poor of the opportunity to earn a living to keep body and soul together on a daily basis.
Besides, if the national government has vowed to extend full support to micro and small enterprises that make up more than 90 percent of the national economy, why are LGUs intent on keeping the poor from earning an honest living through micro-entrepreneurship or selling goods on the streets and sidewalks?
We have here a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.
The economic damage inflicted by Duterte’s stern order to clear city streets of micro-businesses, small shopkeepers, and ambulant peddlers since 2019 is incalculable and most likely has already contributed to increased poverty incidence in the country.
The Marcos administration should review this scorched-earth policy that has proven to be heartless and cruel towards the poor and the powerless and instead help them surmount their economic difficulties.