BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – Early today, 1 July 2020, around 9am, a few people gathered outside a small refreshment, not even 50 square, along a main thoroughfare here.
The atmosphere was festive. Green, red and white balloons representing the official business colors hung outside and inside the store, and a giant red ribbon was placed outside the entrance.
It was to be cut later.
Rhazel Sarabia, operations manager of the Chong chain of stores, was busy tending to the guests, two of them pastors, the lot owner and a few close friends as she glanced at the refreshments post the blessing.
Inside the open kitchen, where diners can see their meals being cooked, employees in green collared shirts with their names and the Chong logo on it, watched the flurry of activities, their hairnets on (part of sanitation requirements), masks on their faces.
This is the 14th branch of Chong, a truly local round-the-clock tapsilogan or eatery that serves budget meals for common folk, the masses, the hoi polloi to the snobbish elite.
Tapsilogan is from tapsilog, a portmanteau for tapa, sinangag at itlog. Tapa is Filipino for dried, cured beef, sinangag is for fried rice and itlog is egg. The meal combinations popularized here by Chong always end in LOG – from cornsilog (corned beef) to tocilog (tocino) to hotsilog (hotdog) longsilog (longganisa) and bangsilog (bangus) and the pioneering baconsilog.
The naughty ones would joke the only meal missing is “kaplog,” or kape, pandesal at itlog though the word itself refers to a prostitute.
Chong now employs scores of employees across its 14 branches in Bacolod City, a more than thousandfold increase from its start of only one outlet at the Goldenfields Commercial Complex, the former premier nightspot in this city of more than half a million.
Among the litany of dedication led by Pastor Reuben Macaya was a line “for the benefit of people through its service to humankind,” Macaya intoned.
The congregation answered in unison: “we dedicate this place before you.” Among those bowing their heads were the four employees of the branch, those lucky enough to have kept their jobs in the food amd service industry that had been taking a beating here since the series of quarantines over two months since this March.
“We rotate them in two shifts,” Rhazel tells DNX as curious people on passing jeepneys craned their necks to look at the festooned store, drawn by the loud music playing from two speakers mounted outside.
Later, inside, Bernabe Sibug, a councilman of Village 7 and an associate of Julio said the branch will not only provide clean, affordable food to its customers but can also provide local employment in the face of the crisis brought by the COVID.
“Nonoy (Julio’s nickname) and I have been talking and he believes he has to help people in whatever little way he can through his business,” he said.
Julio is no stranger to poverty, having grown up a polio victim in Mandalagan village to a mother who raised them singlehandedly after his father passed on.
He took on various jobs, from selling fruits to having his own flower garden and even did landscaping. In college, he finished a degree in Political Science as a working student. He knows hardships.
He does not understand it, he says but he was able to live through it. At Chong, a substantial number of employees are single moms, a few relatives, those who need help.
To Julio, a believer of the Scriptures, help does not come in the form of dole outs but in providing people a means to earn, teaching them how to fish instead of giving them fish or, in the case of Chong, a bangsilog.