Should Manila rid its streets of ‘squeegee boys’?

Photo credit (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)Apparently, Manila isn’t the only city to have drivers complaining about people who wash drivers’ windshields during lulls in traffic and demand payment for their ‘services.’ The Italian city of Florence is also struggling with it. The difference is, unlike Manila, Florence has passed legislation to rid their streets of these ‘squeegee men.’

Florence Mayor Leonardo Domenici issued a decree forcing these squeegee men off the streets, claiming they were hindering traffic, inconveniencing pedestrians, endangering themselves, and abusing drivers, especially women. Squeegee men caught plying their trade would be fined and detained for possibly up to three months.

Domenici’s measure has been met with mixed reactions, with some praising the mayor acting on a problem that was becoming very real in many large Italian cities, comparing him to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for trying to improve the quality of life in little ways, and others saying he was going after the wrong people, and that being a squeegee man in itself wasn’t a crime.

In Metro Manila, a similar ‘squeegee man’ phenomenon crops up during the Philippines’ rainy season. During rainstorms, teenagers and prepubescent boys ply some major Manila roads, lugging rags pails filled with water and powdered laundry soap. (Some popular squeegee centers: Quirino Avenue, Sucat Highway, and Roxas Boulevard.) During traffic stops, these squeegee boys splash water on the windshields of motorists and demand money before washing it off.

I’m inclined to agree with the mayor that ‘squeegee boys’ put themselves in unnecessary danger with this seasonal trade. Given their age and physical structure, it certainly isn’t safe for them to be walking the streets in the rain. Then, there is also the issue of their invasion of many drivers’ personal space; many motorists see it as a serious affront when their cars are splashed with soapy (yet dirty) water and haphazardly washed, when they did not ask for said service. Is it right that these young boys should face the ire/road rage of these drivers for a few pesos, even if this money is earned somewhat opportunistically? Many Filipino drivers see them no differently from other beggars on the street.

Nevertheless, I can see how some quarters would defend these boys’ right to eke out some kind of living, especially if their situations don’t allow for much earning elsewhere. Some drivers probably would appreciate the cleaning, especially after a strong rain leaves their windshields opaque and muddy. Perhaps, despite the dangers posed by the practice, it might still be a better idea to have the boys earn money this way rather than squander their time in equally dangerous, more frivolous activities?

What do you think? Should Manila rid its streets of ‘squeegee boys’?

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