Gem of thoughts

The Philippines is known for the government’s habit of window dressing the surroundings to keep the so-called “eyesores” away from the sight of foreign state dignitaries. Further, her citizens have the custom of sprucing up fast and crazy beating the deadline towards the much awaited day of the VIPs’ arrival, especially if the guests are major economic partners. What if the guest is the topmost leader of a global state, such as the Vatican? The eyes of the whole world is on where the honored dignitary is.

Four months to the apostolic visit of the “unpretentious” Pope Francis, the “Pope of Mercy”, talks spread like wild wind that another big storm is about to happen. It is not the natural calamity nor the “typhoon” that Papal Nuncio Giuseppe Pinto envisions the Pope’s coming is going to be among faithful. Such is the kind that is transforming the physical looks of places where the Pope is to tread his feet on here in Tacloban City and Palo, or perhaps in other places he is also to visit in the Philippines. In an interview with abs-cbn news, Tacloban City Mayor Alfredo Romualdez disclosed how the government keeps up with the necessities of the preparation from sprucing to widening of road to repair of the tarmac, where the Holy Mass of the Pope will be celebrated.

“We are fast-tracking the airport kasi sa tarmac gagawin ang misa. Ang gusto ng Pope ay mismo sa ground zero at gusto niya open air. So the most convenient ay sa tarmac area. By that time it should be able to accommodate 700,000 to 750,000 people. We are also careful in security. Pero flexible pa yan dahil pagdating ng January tag-ulan talaga sa Tacloban. So we are careful and we are praying that we have a window na magandang weather during the visit,” Mayor said as quoted in the interview. The report added that aside from the airport, the Tacloban local government unit is also busy preparing the sites around it. The mayor added saying, “Nagwa-widen ng road, tumutulong ang DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) — they are widening the road. That’s one. Pangalawa, sige ang linis namin ng mga debris. Pinapaspasan din namin ang mga debris na makakasagabal sa daan at tao. We are trying our best. We are doing it as fast as we can.”

Mayor Romualdez talked of the debris. Did he not mention about the filth in the streets, such as those that his government is supposed to take charge of – the collection of garbage? Try visiting towns in Davao, especially Tagum and Davao City. Or not too far maybe the outskirt towns of Tacloban City towards the western coast especially. What would you notice? Right! No stockpile of garbage milling in the streets. Interior roads and streets are noticeably free of the unsightly tiny pieces of trash.
Yes, Yolanda caused a change in the ability of the city government to look after each barangay’s literal mess. But the happening of the supertyphoon that outrageously ravaged the City, especially the City proper, is not a perpetual excuse. Perhaps, it is a matter of giving cleanliness a priority, especially that this is a flagship undertaking of his wife, the former-actress businesswoman Tacloban City Councilor Cristina nee Gonzales. She is an advocate of clean and green environment as an imperative in nation-building.
What about the sidewalk vendors? Noticeably, vendors in the sides of streets meant for pedestrians are obstructed by sidewalk vendors. Here in Tacloban City, where sidewalk vendors abound, tiny litters likewise exist, which are called “eyesores.”

One tourist from Mindanao could not help but contemptuously comment that the City is “so messy, filthy and smelly, no wonder am having terrible headache when I come over.” Could this kind of comment be singular or exclusive to this guest, who is a politician from General Santos City? His identity is immaterial because, anyway he does not belong to PNoy’s “Tuwid na Daan” team. In fact he is an admirer of the Marcoses and of then first Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, a close kin of Mayor Alfred.

He is so right. Compare the sidewalk of Davao City and Tagum City alone with the sidewalk of Tacloban City and the big difference could be seen. The sidewalk vendors do not occupy the road not even an inch. They are all in the sidewalk but neatly placed and really neat all around them. Is it because the vendors and the local residents are disciplined or is it because the local governments in both cities aforementioned are strict in the implementation of the anti-littering local ordinance? The politician from Mindanao answered the latter as reason.
There are words scooting across that the Pope will possibly step his foot on Sto. Niño Church, the worst hit church edifice in Tacloban City, being located just around a hundred meters from the shoreline. The 10-12 feet high storm surge smashed into the walls of the edifice creating an unimaginable consequence (but miraculously saving the altar and some icons of saints and the Sto. Niño). The twister-type wind of megastorm Yolanda ruined the roofings of the church edifice and even the Sto. Niño Parish rectory. The Php30 million-worth repair of the SNP church edifice and rectory is underway and hope to be done by January in time for the Papal visit.

There are sidewalk vendors at the main entrance of the church edifice, around ten or a dozen of them. Their number is not a wonder because the church is obliquely across a populous public school in the City. According to the buzz, there is a proposal to remove these sidewalk vendors only for the visit of the Pope, as part of window-dressing the city. As usual, this move is drawing mixed reactions. Some favor, some do not, while others think of the repercussion it gets on the stance of the local church to remove these permanently situated sidewalk vendors from where they are lawfully earning their living only for a show.

As could be recalled, there was a time that the government tried to eradicate the city of all sidewalk vendors, they being obstructions to the traffic flow and the pedestrians as well. They were positioned at the bus terminal in downtown area. Years later, they returned. Thanks to the edgy political rivalry in the city. The sidewalk vendors found allies in the person of the anti-Romualdez administration. Thus they returned to the sidewalk and mushroomed even more due to toleration. Therefore, weeding the sidewalk vendors from the streets could be another challenge to the administration of Mayor Romualdez should politics get in the way once more.

Mayor Romualdez however was quoted in same interview that he is “not at all worried if Tacloban will not be in tip-top shape by the time Pope Francis arrives saying, ‘Ang pagkakaalam ko the Pope is very down to earth. He is mainly there to give hope and to uplift spirits of people… Ayaw niya magarbo. He really wants to be with the victims and with the poor.’”
So this is it. If the Mayor decides that it is good to have the sidewalk relocated to window-dress the city for the Papal visit, this move could be more appreciated if the sidewalk vendors remain relocated and none will be allowed to sprout in the sidewalks anymore for good because this is essentially the ideal set-up. Or else, let them stay if they do not contribute to the eyesores in the streets and do not obstruct the flow of traffic at all.