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Sidewalk Vendors

You’ll often see them. You’ll buy from them. But when they become part of the news, you’ll get to hate them – some of you. They are people like us who simply wants to earn a living. They have a family to feed. This is the business they call “marangal” (dignified). And we call them…

Sidewalk Vendors

Let me define what (or should I say “who”) a sidewalk vendor is.

Here in the Philippines, there is a notion that if you’re a sidewalk vendor, you mostly likely belong to the lower class of the society. For one reason, why sell on the sidewalks or streets of Metro Manila and other cities if you can sell on approved places particularly the market. For another, selling in the street on a daily basis is a risky activity – you’re prone to illnesses, effects of air pollution, dangers from vehicles passing by, and unsafe condition of your store or shop.

In a third-world country where job opportunities are scarce for people with lower educational attainment, there is no reason to doubt that poor people will do what they can to survive.

We call it here “bangketa”, the sidewalk. And from the word itself, no question and this is the area where people pass by. In busy cities, this is full of people passing by during rush hours. In the provinces, you can’t drop a pin to the sidewalk during holiday seasons – especially Christmas and New Year. But when you look at it in a more positive way, bangketa is the perfect place to sell. Why? This is where potential customers or buyers are!

But there is a problem, really big problem!

If you’ll see in the news, in Metro Manila alone, the MMDA is really tired demolishing illegal sidewalk vendors everyday. In Divisoria and Baclaran (you can read my post about Divisoria here), for example, sidewalk vendors are thriving. That whenever authorities tell them to pack up and stop, they tend to not listen and position their stalls once again, and again. Reminders are falling on deaf Filipino ears.

But let us try to understand the deeper issue here.

According to the authorities, selling without valid business permits is against the law of the land. That’s the first rule authorities are always explaining whenever they apprehend illegal vendors. The fact that sidewalk vendors are occupying sidewalks which are supposedly for people to walk on is something many of us couldn’t really understand. You definitely heard this explanation from a sidewalk vendor whom was asked to stop selling on sidewalks:

Ito lang po ang aming kabuhayan. Wala kaming ibang pagkukunan. Maawa naman po kayo sa amin.
(This is our only source of living. We have no other means. Please have mercy on us.)

But the authorities have something to say in return.

Nauunawaan po namin kayo. Pero paano naman po ang kapakanan ng ating mga mamimili at ang kapwa nyo magtitinda na nasa tamang lugar? Bawal po talaga magtinda dito.
(We truly understand your concern. But how about the rights of the consumers and other vendors who are selling in the approved places? It is really not allowed to sell here.)

This kind of conversation just repeats, over and over again. It is an endless conversation, not when authorities confiscate the sidewalk vendor’s stuffs - everything they poses. That’s a permanent corrective action according to authorities – but is it really? During those moments, you’ll see humans crying out of frustration and desperation – they have a family to feed and yet the authorities leave them none after those series of violations.

The even more inconvenient truths are these.

Many sidewalk vendors have no permanent stalls. What they have are foldable tables, rolling carts, and containers that they can lift anytime. Some sidewalk vendors even chose to build temporary shelters on the sidewalk, even private spaces. Literally, they sleep, wakeup, cook, eat, and sell there day and night. Many sidewalk vendors are contented enough with selling candies, cigarettes, and a few other consumables by-passers may buy. Other sidewalk vendors are used to being the third-party reseller of commodities like clothes, fruits, vegetables, body accessories, vehicle accessories, and gadget accessories.

Here’s what I know more about sidewalk vendors.

Being a sidewalk vendor is a decent way of making money. Back in the old days, there is no such thing as illegal sidewalk vendors. But when cities and towns become progressive, regulations come in. Compliance must come next.

“Sidewalk vendor”, economist know this, is the natural reaction of people to the many cracks of an economic system. Where there is no source of income, people find ways – no matter what the consequences are.

Some opportunists sidewalk vendors add as high as 100% (and higher) margin to make more profits. This is certainly not surprising to you, but the real reason (you may not totally aware of) is that they do it because they will still have to pay someone in exchange of protection they get from being apprehended or be demolished. This is not at all new for many of us.

There is no regulation as to what sidewalk vendors can sell. Name it, there is the ukay-ukay (second hand clothing), mobile phone scratch-free screen protection, DVDs and CDs with pirated copies of movies and music, imported meat products, toys, street foods like kwek-kwek, isaw, and proben, and a lot more. When it comes to health and safety, there is no guarantee that foods sold by sidewalk vendors are safe for public consumption. For pirated movies and music, there has been a long battle against piracy in the Philippines that aims to eliminate this kind of selling – but the government really can’t win. If it’s about China products, this is completely fine. The issue however, is that Filipino-owned products no longer sell that much because of the China low-cost commodities. Simply state, this system is killing the Filipinos slowly.

Many sidewalk vendors go home with no enough profit to spend for their families. It is business anyway, and the unregulated competition leaves many as losers. Just imagine what can a sidewalk vendor earn from selling candies and cigarettes if two to three meters away there are other sellers selling same products. Matumal! (Poor business!)

The reality, many Filipinos were used to believed that selling in the sidewalks and streets will improve their lives. That is absolutely not true! It is the cause of conflicts, unfair business practices, and poor life outlook. I can no longer add insult to the injury here. But I am writing this for I want to introduce changes – positive changes for the Filipinos.

Sidewalk vendors, just to let you know that I am with you. I just want to help in small ways. I have a lola who’s been a sidewalk vendor for decades – with valid permit from the local barangay where she sells.

What is the right thing to do then for sidewalk vendors? We cannot leave them like this – for there can be uncomfortable consequences.

In Metro Manila, the most people and vehicle-congested city in the Philippines, thousands of sidewalk vendors are losing their hopes. Truth is, majority of them have no valid business permits or permits to sell. But why not we look at it on another way.

In some cities in the country, sidewalk vendors are given permission to sell. In coordination with the local government, there is a designated place or venue where sidewalk vendors can position their stalls – as in still in the sidewalk. Some call it “Talipapa”. During fiestas and special town or city occasions, local officers close a street and vendors occupy them. These are just on a temporary basis but somehow, this kind of programs favors the needy sidewalk vendors.

Let’s get down into the bottom of this issue.

Sidewalk vendors have repeatedly said that this is their only source of living. Shouldn’t it be that the local government have long acted upon on that line of reasoning? Where are the alternative sources of living for them?

Finally, I will suggest ways to improve your lives dear Filipino sidewalk vendors.

First, STOP selling on the sidewalks if you feel that is not making any difference on your daily lives. Second, talk to your local government officials, even high-rank politicians, and ask for assistance on how you can make money in a more acceptable way. Third, find another source of income – maybe a job. Fourth, educate yourself more and be convinced that becoming a sidewalk vendor for life will not do any good. Fifth, Philippine government, please find more ways to help our Filipino sidewalk vendors.

To all sidewalk vendors, be it legal or illegal in the eye of the law, you may continue selling for as long as you feel the need to. Who am I to say STOP if I cannot even give you a piece of bread?

Thanks for reading this post.

About the Author
I am Noriel Panganiban, an ordinary Filipino who’s aiming for good changes in the Philippines. I am blogging for I am seeking support from many who have enough and have the energy to help others in need. I want to expose the truth and the same time suggest solutions that can solve those inconveniences. Maybe, it is you who can further extend the message of this blog.

For question or concern, please contact me at You may also visit my website,, for more information about me and my causes.

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