In our previous column on the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), we took issue with the call of Manila Rep. Joel Chua that the metro-wide agency be abolished.
Why so? Because, he said, it has disrupted the lives of Manila residents through heavy-handed demolition of homes, clearing of roads and sidewalks, and traffic management and enforcement, apart from wasteful spending of billions in public funds with nothing to show for it.
We argued the MMDA should not be abolished and replaced by the Manila Mayors Council as the lawmaker proposed since the mayors as a body cannot do both the policy-making and implementation of metro-wide programs as the MMDA is under the Office of the President.
What we’re saying is the MMDA be retained but instead should refocus its efforts towards responsive but compassionate management of urban challenges.
What the MMDA is doing right now is following to the letter the executive order issued by Rodrigo Duterte in 2019 to clear Metro Manila roads and sidewalks of all obstructions.
That presidential order was apparently based solely on the study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) that monumental Metro Manila traffic congestion exacts a heavy toll on the whole economy to the tune of several billions of pesos daily in wasted fuel and lost productivity.
But the all-out war on road and sidewalk obstructions unleashed by the Duterte order essentially follows the all-out war on illegal drugs he told the police to undertake shortly after taking office, with bloody results.
Duterte’s draconian decree gave the MMDA and local government units carte-blanche authority to form teams accompanied by police to regularly swoop down on streets with heavy vehicular and human traffic and proceed to clear them with basically the same fervor that the police, on the president’s authoritarian bidding, moved to launch a violent war on drugs starting in 2016 that led to more than 6,000 officially acknowledged deaths.
The clearing operations in Metro Manila have not only targeted illegally parked vehicles on roads and sidewalks, but also disrupted the informal economy that sustains many poor households.
These operations also target vendors of food and various merchandise, from clothes to houseware and tools, which are loaded onto trucks headed to unknown destinations.
The poor vendors play a cat-and-mouse game with City Hall almost on a daily basis as the raiding teams suddenly appear and start grabbing whatever they could lay their hands on, as we narrated in an earlier piece.
This almost-daily occurrence in Metro Manila cities, which are usually uploaded by vloggers and available for viewing on YouTube, is what has made Congressman Chua fuming mad, as his constituents may have sent many complaints to his office and asking for deliverance from MMDA’s high-handedness.
What’s clear is that the MMDA’s clearing operations and traffic management in various cities tend to be too oppressive and target basically the poor and the already disadvantaged sectors in society.
By taking away parked vehicles and imposing hefty fines on their owners, and even confiscating wooden carts used for ambulant peddling on city streets by those trying to make an honest living amid the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, the MMDA is practically making the poor sink deeper into poverty.
What the MMDA should do is to re-orient its mandate towards helping the sectors that need help the most.
This requires full respect for the economic and social rights of metro residents, particularly those in the informal economy, even as government must continue to ensure law and order in city streets.
Should the heavy-handed road and sidewalk clearing operations by the MMDA and some LGUs be challenged in court?
Yes, as these deprive mainly the poor of the opportunity to earn enough to keep body and soul together on a daily basis.
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.
But why are LGUs intent on keeping the poor from earning an honest living through micro-entrepreneurship or selling goods on the streets and sidewalks?
The economic damage inflicted by Duterte’s iron-fisted order to clear city streets of micro-businesses, small shopkeepers and ambulant peddlers since 2019 has in all likelihood already contributed to increased poverty incidence in this country.
The Marcos administration should review the scorched-earth policy that has proven to be cruel and heartless towards the poor and the powerless and instead help them surmount their economic difficulties.
What is needed is compassion toward those already hard up and unable to stand on their own two feet amid rising prices of basic commodities.
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