Can the new mayor of Manila unite with street vendors, at the root of whose poverty are landlessness and rural underdevelopment, instead of chasing them away?

Previous pronouncements indicate Isko Moreno can. He has made a progressive stand on Arroceros Park, not only refusing its demolition, but calling on the development of more green and open spaces independent of the interests of mall magnates. He has made a progressive stand on the reclamation of Manila Bay, refusing to surrender it to foreign and local big capitalists too willing to sacrifice our fishermen and our safety on the altar of profit.

Most importantly, he has repeatedly made a progressive stand on the peace talks between the National Democratic Front and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines. In doing so, he acknowledges that the 50-year old civil war is borne not of senseless terrorism but of systemic social, political, and economic inequality. The root causes of war must be addressed if we are interested in a #JustPeace.

Coming from the ranks of the urban poor, Mayor Isko is no stranger to the debilitating impact of inequality. He wears his roots like a badge, proudly giving firsthand accounts of poverty, lack of access to opportunities, discrimination.

And so we ask: Why is the good Mayor taking against street vendors their own poverty, why does he aggravate their lack of access to opportunities, why does he discriminate them through clearing operations that disregard their livelihood and living conditions?

Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo shares with peasant mass organizations the analysis that many of our compatriots come to the city in search of better opportunities and living conditions they have been deprived of in the countryside. In spite of the fact that majority of our population is made up of the peasantry, seven out of 10 Filipino farmers remain landless. Bulk of the urban poor are products of rural dispossession, with parents and grandparents hailing from peasant families, farming and fishing for a lving.

The backwardness of our agricultural industry—maintained and exacerbated by the hacienda and plantation systems—comes with violence. Landgrabs don’t take place peacefully. Territories are taken by force, whether they be ancestral lands or farms tilled by generations of locals and settlers. What had been seized by colonizers was passed on to compradors and domestic landlords through oppressive and exclusionary agreements, and these compradors and domestic landlords further the territory they have already acquired through treachery by replicating the violence of the colonizers: with armed violence. 

Martial law in Mindanao is one such infliction of violence to further the interests of compradors and landlords, as is Memorandum Order 32 with its anti-peasant killing spree in Negros, Samar, and Bicol. The deployment of goons, security personnel, and paramilitary forces in cahoots with the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police is another instance, terrorizing any peasant organization staking claim on a patch of land that long should have been granted to them.

It is this violence that drives peasants away from the countryside to become workers in the city. But because what our land yields is designed for export—that is to say, for the gain of compradors, domestic landlords, and the transnational corporations they serve—the country also has little access to our own raw materials to begin the process of national industrialization. Detached from any basic industries we are yet to develop, jobs are the mercy of foreign capital, pulling wages down and abolishing security of tenure. Through contractualization, union-busting, the disregard of workplace safety, abuse becomes normal. Labor laws, crafted with loopholes by bureaucrats who themselves are compradors and landlords, are not just routinely violated; the very violation of laborers becomes law.

Dispossessed in the countryside, peasants come to the city looking for better opportunities. But here they find the same dispossession, the same violence. We would like to think this is not what the new mayor wants.

SAKA stands with KADAMAY-Manila and Kadamay Metro Manila in urging the mayor to revaluate his office’s conduct of its clearing operations in Divisoria and Plaza Miranda. These operations put the lives of his own constituency at risk with their utter disregard for their livelihoods. Telling them to transfer elsewhere—to designated sidewalks, for instance—won’t cut it, especially if those sidewalks are already overflowing with other vendors who need them as much as pedestrians do. 

/ Photo by Raymund Villanueva

If, indeed, he is serious about safeguarding the interests of the poor, then prior to their dispersal a proper relocation site must have been built or made arrangements for. A city does need its public markets after all. The vendors themselves must have been consulted, their concerns taken, their interests considered. As in any demolition, a dialogue must first ensue, a public consultation held to arrive at solutions both parties can live with.

As creative workers who also live and make a living in the city, SAKA stands with the mayor in envisioning an orderly Manila. The vendors themselves share this vision, as does Kadamay. But there is no order in displacement, there is no order in the curtailment of rights. 

There is no order in disenfranchising the already disenfranchised.

We urge Mayor Isko to dialogue with the urban poor and learn from them like he used to. Ask them what they need—because the order he desires, the urban poor desire, too. All we ask is to put this order in the service of the working class.

We also urge Mayor Isko to continue calling for the resumption of peace talks. First on the agenda is #FreeLandDistribution. This is what gives way to national industrialization, to the improvement of the agricultural industry; this is what puts an end to rural dispossession. With rural development comes opportunities in the countryside, allowing cities like Manila to decongest. With national industrialization comes better labor conditions for the working class, pushing fewer and fewer to the precarity of peddling wares in the streets.

Defend the urban poor’s right to the city! Defend every worker’s right to work with dignity!

Push for national industrialization! 

Push for genuine agrarian reform and the free distribution of #LandToTheTillers!

Featured photo by Stitch (flickr)

SAKA - Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (Artist Alliance for Genuine Land Reform and Rural Development) is an anti-feudal alliance of art and cultural workers that support and advance the peasant agenda of genuine agrarian reform, rural development, and food security.