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 â€œsidewalkâ€ 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.
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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 vendorsâ€™ 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 â€œreconciliation 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.â€ 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 â€œinternal solidarityâ€ 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 â€œinternal solidarity and mutual supportâ€ 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 â€œshot in the armâ€ 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.
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