Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada on Wednesday ordered an investigation into allegations that unscrupulous individuals have long been using his name to collect millions in protection fees from vegetable truckers and dealers in Divisoria Market.
Estrada was enraged after a group of vegetable traders told him that they each pay P2,800 every week to this group to be able to use a portion of Recto Avenue to unload their cargo.
They said this has been going on since the 1980’s.
Estrada was first elected as Mayor of Manila in 2013 and was reelected in 2016, but this problem persisted even during his first term as mayor of the city.
“My name and reputation is being destroyed here. It’s been there since the time of [former mayors Lito] Atienza and [Alfredo] Lim,” Estrada said.
Estrada called on the vendors and vegetable dealers to name those mulcting money from them.
“My office is always open to anyone,” he added.
Estrada ordered Senior Supt. Marcelino Pedrozo, deputy director for operations of the Manila Police District, and Che Borromeo, head of Task Force Manila, to look into the vendors’ claims.
Estrada gave Pedrozo and Borromeo one week to identify every member of the extortion gang and those backing them up.
“I always tell everyone to not oppress the poor who are struggling to earn a living because they are already suffering and we must help them,” Estrada said of the protection racket in Recto and Divisoria.
During a meeting with Estrada, vegetable dealers, most of whom were from Benguet, claimed they shell out P80 a day for a bogus “business permit” and P300 “intelligence fee,” aside from the weekly P2,800 fee.
In return, they are allowed to park unhampered along Recto Avenue leading to Divisoria. But since last week, the Manila Traffic and Parking Bureau (MTPB), as directed by Estrada, prohibited the vegetable dealers from traversing Recto Avenue; they were advised instead to use the side streets so as not to disrupt traffic flow.
This was an offshoot of the series of road clearing operations in Divisoria and other areas in Manila.
Dennis Alcoreza, head of the MTPB, said about 20 to 30 vegetable trucks from Benguet, Baguio, and other provinces unload their cargoes along the subject portion of Recto Avenue every night, disrupting traffic flow.
Worse, the vegetable dealers leave their mounds of trash, mostly vegetable peelings and leftovers, in the street which the city government spends so much time and effort collecting, he said, adding that the vegetable traders leave behind 16 truckloads of garbage in the street every day.
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