Sun.Star Cebu <> Thursday, January 17, 2008
BY LINETTE C. RAMOS & NANCY R. CUDIS, Sun.Star Staff Reporters
FIVE days before the feast of the Sto. Niño, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña gave orders to confiscate the wares of erring vendors at the back of the basilica, using “the full force” of the police.
Osmeña got upset after learning that the vendors went beyond the pedestrian railings and sold their Holy Child images on the road, aggravating the heavy traffic in the Basilica del Sto. Niño area.
Worse, when the Squatters Prevention, Elimination and Encroachment Division (Speed) personnel asked them to return to their stalls, the vendors reportedly lashed out at the team.
Some irate vendors also allegedly threw garbage and buckets of water reeking of urine at the Speed personnel when they were apprehended last Tuesday afternoon.
When he learned about the incident yesterday noon, Osmeña immediately called police officials and ordered them to confiscate the goods sold by vendors who are not in their designated vending sites.
“Use the full force of the police. Confiscate all their materials and don’t return these to them. Tell the police it’s my order,” he told a City Hall official over the phone.
The mayor declined to say who received the instructions.
He also called Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) Deputy Chief for Operations Pablo Labra II and gave instructions for the clearing operations.
“Use the riot police if you have to. Keep all their materials in the police headquarters and don’t return them. Teach them a lesson once and for all,” the mayor said.
At least 13 owners of stalls illegally put up beside the basilica, on the D. Jakosalem St. side, were surprised by the arrival of the Speed team, this time backed up by the police yesterday afternoon.
Contrary to what happened Tuesday afternoon when stall owners ignored and resisted Speed’s instructions to clear their area to give way to pedestrians and traffic, the owners found themselves transporting their Sto. Niño statues to their service jeepneys, while Speed workers helped them tear down their stalls.
The demolition, which started at 1:30 p.m., lasted for more than two hours.
During that time, the whole block was barricaded and motorists prevented from passing by the demolition area.
At least 20 Speed workers were at the site, with at least 10 members of the City Traffic Operations Management, 15 from the Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Bureau (CIIB), and 27 from the Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat).
The Speed and the police were particularly concerned about stalls that extended beyond the railings or the covered spaces built for them.
The first 13 stalls beside the basilica use makeshift materials, mostly wood and tarpaulin. They are members of the Sto. Niño Sidewalk Vendors’ Association (SNSVA) led by Amora Basan.
They have occupied their lots since 2004.
After the City Government built some 60 concrete stalls to be rented out, owners of these 13 stalls were warned to vacate the lots to pave way for pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
“They’ve been warned a hundred times already. Mga gahi man og mga ulo og mga badlongon. (They’re stubborn.) Last Tuesday, they pushed away our security,” said Speed chief Vicente Mercado.
This prompted them to seek the assistance of the Cebu City Police Office.
City Hall consultant on urban poor Gerry Marquez said that the “illegal” stalls have long been tolerated and the owners seemed to have taken advantage of the government’s tolerance.
When Speed workers started tearing down the stalls, Carlito Oberez, Jr., son of SNSVA’s vice president Carlito Oberez Sr., started a commotion when he tried to block a Speed worker.
With the possibility that Oberez Jr. might be armed, Labra took control of the situation by asking him to stay calm.
While the son hysterically shouted for his mother, members of CIIB and Swat escorted him to a police car and to the CCPO.
Labra said they have to arrest him because he tried to resist the government’s efforts to neutralize the area.
“Dili mi gusto mo-babag sa gobyerno. Hangyo lang mo og tarong kay panginabuhi ra ni amo (We don’t mean to stand in government’s way. But please just ask us,
because this is our livelihood you’re dealing with),” said Oberez Sr.
Another unidentified man also started a commotion by breaking glasses. The police began to enclose him, and his family and friends quickly guided him away from the scene.
At least three stall owners, members of the Basilica United Vendors and Photography Association (BUVPA), were also reprimanded for creating an extension to their government-approved area.
“Kinsa man pud motan-aw sa sulod nga mora man mi og prisohan sa railings (We look like prisoners behind these railings),” commented Remedios Capuyan, 35, a BUVPA member, along with 24 other stall owners.
With owners pleading to handle their things carefully, Speed workers confiscated materials and several Sto. Niño statues, which they lugged into their trucks. These will be transported to the CCPO headquarters, where stall owners can reclaim them.
Joy Amora, one of the 13 stall owners, said they have not been warned nor given notice of the demolition. Crying, she said she does not know what to do with the statues she bought with borrowed money.
“Ambot asa mi ani ron. Wa man gyud mi taga-i og relocation site sa Mayor. Sa-on na lang kaha ni nako og bayad sa among utang sa among kapitan sa barangay (I don’t know where we’ll end up. The mayor didn’t provide us with a relocation site. I don’t know how I can pay back our barangay captain),” she said.
While an onlooker said she felt sorry for Amora and her fellow owners, she also observed that the police kept the demolition peaceful and commented that the move will ease pedestrian traffic.
Filed under: Cebu City Politics