Occupy the sidewalk

Sidewalk vendors have always been a site to behold in the panorama of Philippine society. Although we cannot claim that this phenomenon is endemic or indigenous to Filipino culture and society, the persona of the sidewalk vendor is omnipresent within and in the very fabric of Filipino society. We see these sidewalk vendors along the street as we leave our homes. We pass by them as we wait for our ride to work. They are in the vicinity of schools, in the compound of churches, inside cemetery grounds, parks and amusement centers. They may be located on top of overpasses, or in underpasses. In fact, the term “sidewalk” has become blurred because these vendors have occupied not only sidewalks but literally the streets.

When we say society is dynamic it simply means that every actor has the freedom, the right and the responsibility to participate in mechanisms that help run things. Governance, economics, market plays, and the overall scheme for the order of things are neither selected nor elected responsibilities; nor are these monopolized rights by the privileged few or the tyrant majority.

Each actor has a role. Everyone must participate in order for society to progress and to develop.

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

Rapid urbanization in political and economic centers in the Philippines has acted as a funnel to a stream of migration of both skilled and unskilled workers from the rural and even off-urban areas of the archipelago. The promise of good pay and better living conditions, which ultimately will not be necessarily true for some, is the usual plot to the story of every migrant who leaves the province for the glitz of the urban jungle.

Perhaps the most conspicuous representative of the urban informal sector is the sidewalk vendor. These sidewalk vendors are there everywhere you go and that is even an understatement. In Quezon City alone recent records show that there are about 10,000 to 12,000 sidewalk vendors (IMC 2004). In Cebu City, a vendors’ organization boasts of at least 10,000 registered members (Birondo 2004).


A sidewalk vendor is a testament to the Filipino spirit of entrepreneurship in spite and despite the numerous odds in pursuing livelihood in a very competitive environment like these urban areas. The fact that these vendors are able to tap into a network of producers, manufacturers and even bootleggers proves their resiliency amidst competition against bigger and more established stores with bigger capital.

As these entrepreneurs in the urban informal economy prosper they are able to increase their purchasing power and they go out of the scope of their sector to participate in the formal economy either as producers or distributors of goods or consumers. In both cases, their success in the urban informal economy would have made them as empowered actors.

Geddes (1998) talks about social cohesion referring to the “reconciliation of a system of organization based on market forces, freedom of opportunity and enterprise with a commitment to the values of internal solidarity and mutual support which ensures open access to benefit and protection for all members of society.” Although this definition was given in the context of events that happened in Europe, the term may well be a point for discussion as we seek ways to enhance participatory process in any society – in our society.

Social cohesion means there is freedom of opportunity and enterprise allowing open access to benefits. As long as the practice of the freedom of opportunity and enterprise does not disturb “internal solidarity” within the society then any form of practice of such freedom by any actor would be true to the spirit of social cohesion. Any actor invoking the freedom of opportunity and enterprise while promoting “internal solidarity and mutual support” must not be labeled a nuisance to society.

When, due to multiple and changing factors, an individual or a group are barred from the normal exchanges, practices and rights of modern society, the individual or a group is then said to be socially excluded (Percy-Smith 2000). These changing factors may be in the form of new development or growth policies and programs by government, changing socio-political conditions and realities or even due to market forces. For example if a government shifts its economic policy to one based on information technology, then workers who do not have any knowledge or training in information technology will be excluded, unless they adapt to the new policy and the resulting economic environment.

Enhancing the participatory processes that governs the relationship between sidewalk vendors and the regulator-authority will result to the economic inclusion of the sidewalk vending industry and actors involved in it. Ultimately, this will lead to social cohesion.

The urban informal sector until now remains incognito for lack of sufficient data to identify them and their space. Consequently, the urban informal economy suffers the same fate. Thus, the potential of this sector and its economy remain untapped. The human, financial and social capitals that reside in the urban informal economy, specifically in the sidewalk vending industry are likewise ignored as a result of this form of exclusion.

The integration of the urban informal economy may be the needed “shot in the arm” that may add vigor into our domestic economy. In order to do this, we need to study the following: the socio-political-economic mapping of the urban informal sector and the urban informal economy; the spaces between the informal economy and the formal economy where transformative strategies can be pursued; the socio-political-economic mapping of the sidewalk vending industry and the enhancement of participatory processes involved; and a system on how to integrate the sidewalk vending industry in the formal economy.

21 Replies to “Occupy the sidewalk”

  1. Sidewalk vendors contribute to a problem created by misuse of public walkways and roads. I take “benefit and protection for all members of society” to mean that during an individuals pursuit of “life, liberty and happiness” he should not be allowed to infringe on the rights of others, yet this is exactly what happens when vendors cause congestion on walkways and roads. Taking a two lane road down to one lane just so you can sell fish from your cart causes more damage to the overall economy than the income you have generated. Restricting the flow of pedestrians causes many to abandon the sidewalks and walk in the streets which is not only dangerous but restricts the flow of goods being transported, among other things.

  2. I was and am never irritated by the side walk vendors in Cebu (island).

    Here in my country you need a permit to sell stuff in public streets. Why? An educated guess is bec any street shop will need to pay rent or mortgage. And the permit is also needed so that the local government can control the number of street vendors and that they will not become an irritation, annuisance for the public. It may become a mess when too many street vendors roam the streets, parks, roads and what not.

    But again I was never agitated or irritated by their presence on the streets of Cebu City or anywhere else in Cebu.

    1. Try walking on the skybridge that crosses EDSA from SM North. Half of the walkway is filled with vendors that have spread their wares on banig mats. Same thing happens in Baguio City. I don’t have a problem with sidewalk vendors either as long as they’re not creating a nuisance. One of the biggest hindrances to the economy is poor transportation. Public roadways and sidewalks should be viewed primarily as tools for commerce, not “free-for-all” zones.

    2. I could suppose that them sidewalk vendors in Cebu are well-supported and well-disciplined, but sidewalk vendors they remain.

      1. @ImpalerTriumphant,

        They never bothered me. But when ever my partner and I were roaming the streets of CC (Cebu City) I prefered to walk behind her or in front of her (and not next to her) bec then I could see the “danger” (of obstacles) much easier. I once was nearly decaptivated by a low hanging cable across the side walk. I am 6’3″ (190 cms) and the cable was hanging close to my neck. I nearly didnt see it coming. But the vendors are there and easily to spot. You cant miss them actually.

        1. Whoa, that was a close call with the cable, man. I guess Cebuano sidewalk peddlers have permits and all, like back there in your home country. Here in Quezon City, the vendors are just getting started with all those papers. But even before, they have taken two, three lanes of Commonwealth Avenue and three-fourths of both four-yard sidewalks, and so every person has to walk on a single, shoulder-pinching file. As a commuter and as a customer, they irritate me with their lack of respect for the public space! I haven’t been in Cebu, Robert, but I imagine it to be like in La Union and Bulacan, where they clean up their own mess and remain courteous to people’s ears and space.

        2. @Impaler Triumphant,

          “Whoa, that was a close call with the cable, man. I guess Cebuano sidewalk peddlers have permits and all, like back there in your home country.”

          It really was a very close call. It instantly made me furious that I didnt see the cable/wire. Probably I was too occupied with other things.

          “Here in Quezon City, the vendors are just getting started with all those papers. But even before, they have taken two, three lanes of Commonwealth Avenue and three-fourths of both four-yard sidewalks, and so every person has to walk on a single, shoulder-pinching file. As a commuter and as a customer, they irritate me with their lack of respect for the public space! I haven’t been in Cebu, Robert, but I imagine it to be like in La Union and Bulacan, where they clean up their own mess and remain courteous to people’s ears and space.”

          So far I never bought anything from a street vendor although I guess all products are trustworhty and not poisenous (lol). Even at night time the vendors displayed/display their stuff in a proper way. And again, it never irritated me. Maybe I was lucky being in Cebu City and not elsewhere, like in Manila or …..

        3. Well, I hope their courtesy lasts, man. 😀 I would be bad if I would miss it. I’m going there soon.

  3. As an urgent aside… Many “vendors” of the PNP are squatting within the grounds of the provincial capitol in Cebu. These “vendors” got their “permits” cum marching orders from BS Aquino and Mar Roxas. They are selling black, dirty politics. Remember that these “vendors” of black, dirty politics have robbed the supporters of Governor Gwen Garcia of their tents. This is robbery. The Vice-Governor who is now squatting as acting governor has applied prior restraint by censoring and closing down a TV cable station in Cebu. As a “black political supporter” of the dark powers that be, this Vice-Governor is marketing censorship and abusive police power without the benefit of a state of emergency or the declaration of martial law. No substantive and/or procedural due process has been applied to Governor Gwen Garcia.


  4. So these folks and their children and their KKK’s will become good tax-paying law-abiding citizens in the future, Pilipinas has shown the way by allow them, as they begin their entrepreneurial lives, to break laws (squatting, selling bootlegs, selling without licenses/permits) Why not, right?

      1. No VAT tax, no income tax, no P&L (profit & loss) tax? Wow, if so then I will start a business in the Philippines “today”. That is really heaven for a business man.

        In my country you always pay tax (the Dutch IRS will always find you) or you must earn your money from the black market.

        1. As much as I oppose to the government levying more taxes (ex: sin tax reform bill), I actually want these peddlers to pay a reasonable income tax. As small their revenues are, they still pose an unfair advantage to every other businesspeople who are legit and pay millions of pesos worth of tax. This sounds like unfairness, don’t you think?

          Well, uh, sorry, they kinda pay a tax for buying raw goods. The VAT. Heehee. 😀

          But meh. Income tax on them until someone convinces me not to.

  5. I suppose we could end up “going down the rabbit hole” with this topic because so many of these things are linked together. The economy and infrastructure isn’t able to support the population, the bureaucracy makes it very difficult to transact business, pay taxes, get registrations, permits, licenses, added to the notion that being poor provides another excuse for individuals to place themselves above others and disregard rules, laws and the common good. To make matters even worse, government and law enforcement “pick and choose” which laws and regulations they enforce based on political expedience.

  6. WE can’t have a perfect society but I’ll say this:

    The REAL problem is not just the Government, it is the Government AND the People(PRIVATE SECTOR). I hate to break it to some but the blame game on government(alone) is already to cliche. Why can’t the PRIVATE SECTOR ACT on WHAT CAN BE DONE if THEY TRULY CARED?(not merely for maximizing profit)

    I do see the point of the article on the “poor probinsyanos/probinsyanas” putting themselves at stake in the “urban jungle” to prosper economically and mostly end up as “sidewalk vendors”. I just have to say, if someone should tap into this sector, it should be the INITIATIVE OF THE PRIVATE SECTOR ITSELF.

    I do understand also that with our “bureaucracy”(which I agree with T4Man’s comments) and that is why it will always be a that gov’t. MUST “clean its house” in order to rat out the vermin that is taking advantage of the “loopholes” our self-vested politicos(that should be shot if needed) created for themselves and their cronies.

    One of the reasonable points why the “poor place themselves above others and disregard rules, laws and the common good.” is the fact that the ones at the top(elite) created the greatest “example” for these people to follow and that is CORRUPTION. Some out of DESPERATION, will do ANYTHING TO SURVIVE in which the elites(both in government and the private sector) can do something MORE TO HELP, given the EXCESSES(in money, power etc.) they already have.

    I am not a Socialist but I believe in equality not just merely through wealth distribution but holistically applying equality in the sense that the populace should be able to have AS MANY OPPORTUNITIES AS POSSIBLE.

  7. Hi, I’m part of this whole vendor thing scene. I’m a sidewalk vendor in Manila, we do have permits and we pay them regularly or else the local police will kick us out of our designated places in a snap. Now, for all you People pestered and annoyed by our existence, I do understand that. But if most of us have the same lifestyle and the same income as you guys do we won’t be insisting on selling our stuff along the streets. I guarantee you most of you who wrote their comments here are part of the kiddle class. We, sidewalk vendors are just trying to make an honest living, small as it may seem – it gives us small people a chance to provide our for our families. Its easy to judge that we are a bunch of squatters, or fool illiterates causing traffic and dirts the city. True at some point, now i say -just like all of you, we are only trying to survive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.