“Illegality will never solve the problem of political lawlessness.” Emanuel Celler
By Alex P. Vidal
EFFORTS to clear the sidewalks of Calle Real in downtown, City Proper with vendors almost succeeded in 1989 and in the early 90’s when no less than then Mayor Rodolfo “Roding” Ganzon led the campaign to eradicate the “eye sores” that blocked the way and occupied almost 80 percent of the space intended for shoppers and pedestrians.
Ganzon created a city hall task force to deal with the problem, but when the task force failed to totally drive away the vendors, the mayor personally settled the matters by his own self by literally kicking the fruits and other items displayed in the sidewalks by recalcitrant vendors.
He was like Hercules cleaning the Augean stables. The only difference was the king of Elis did not retaliate against Hercules, while the vendors hauled Ganzon, touted as the “prince of the Timawa”, to court for “harassment and abuse of authority.”
Ganzon was so decisive and ruthless that even in the sidewalks of Iloilo central market and Iloilo terminal market, he kicked the obstacles and fruit stands like a FIFA World Cup ball and toppled the grapes, oranges, apples and mangoes to the ground.
For awhile, defiant vendors, who had earlier tried to resist by firing diatribes against Ganzon in radio interviews, decided to cool down and stayed away from Calle Real sidewalks for fear of another wrath from the city hall soccer player.
“The law must be applied to everyone—rich or poor,” boomed Ganzon, then the No. 1 enemy of the late President Cory Aquino.
Ganzon, whose favorite quote was Abraham Lincoln’s “God must love the poor, He created many of them,” justified his gung-ho approach on the problems with illegal vendors by insisting that they destructed the flow of business in Calle Real because aside from blocking the sidewalks, they also paralyzed businesses in nearby and adjacent shops that paid taxes and operated with valid business permits.
Ganzon had neither fear nor hesitation to deal with illegal vendors with iron hands because “I wanted to be fair with everyone, including the Filipino-Chinese traders who operated legitimate businesses in Calle Real.”
His number one radio critic, the late former city councilor Melchor Nava, called him “Iloilo City’s Hitler.”
Ganzon, with all pun intended, replied by ribbing Nava: “Akig lang ining si Melchor Nava sa akon kay pati ang baligya sang kirida ya sa sidewalk gin pakakas ko man (Melchor Nava is just mad at me because I removed from the sidewalks the items sold by his mistress).”
Nava said he had no mistress who was an illegal vendor. Irked, he challenged Ganzon to a fistfight in his blocktime program over the defunct DYRP Radio Tagring.
When Ganzon and Nava accidentally met in the demolition area of squatters at Brgy. Rizal Estanzuela, City Proper several weeks later, Ganzon, surrounded by bodyguards that included his tough son, Freeman, loudly confronted Nava about his braggadocio: “Oh, ano?” (What now?)
“Wala na to meyor ah. Politika lang ni ang aton ya hehe (Forget about it, mayor. This is only politics),” Nava quickly replied smiling.
When Ganzon was suspended from office for 60 days, Vice Mayor Mansueto “Mansing” Malabor, took over the reigns of the city hall and pampered the sidewalk vendors.
Egged by then Cory’s executive secretary and now Senate President Frank Drilon to “stay put” during a tense city hall standoff after Ganzon refused to step down and defied the suspension order meted out by then Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Luis T. Santos, Malabor was supported by vendors with ax to grind against Ganzon, tagged during his heydays as senator as “the stormy petrel of the south.”
In Malabor’s three full terms as city mayor after Ganzon, sidewalk vendors were back with a vengeance! They mushroomed with alacrity in every nook and cranny in downtown, City Proper; many of them built shanties and wooden stalls to store their unsold items. They became unstoppable.
When the Filipino-Chinese community called his attention to the “growing” number of illegal sidewalk vendors in Calle Real, Malabor refused to touch the vendors, a powerhouse sector of voters, with a ten-foot pole.
In others words, he pampered and tolerated them. They were mostly “poor” and they delivered votes that gave him overwhelming mandates in every mayoral contest.
Pro-sidewalk vendor Malabor massacred the “elitists” Nene Consing and Victor Facultad in two successive mayoral jousts. Malabor’s populist stand on the sidewalk vendors issue bore fruits.
The “victorious” sidewalks vendors remain to be the kings and queens of Calle Real until today under Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog.