Amelia Street in Bacolod City used to be like the Wild West in the post-Marcos era.
It was, to habitues and those who frequent the place, a semi lawless place where even policemen had problems keeping the peace at a time when Bacolod was still recovering from a slump of the sugar industry.
At a time when democracy under then President Cory Aquino was being rebuilt.
And the insurgency, feeding on the seething discontent carried over from the Marcos dictatorship, still had followers and believers.
The supposed roots of discontent allowed Communist assassins to rampage even in the urban capital of Sugarlandia as civil officials, cowed by the so-called “red political power,” sometimes looked haplessly on.
Amelia was one of those streets where Red armed assassins and Communist cadres used to travel on with impunity.
During those days, Eddie “Ed” Guillem was a student in one of the universities near Amelia, known for the throng of sidewalk vegetable vendors who sell anything from aromatics (lamas in Hiligaynon) like garlic and onions to semi-rare produce like abalong or yam leaves used in dishes like pangat, a favorite coconut milk-based dish.
Ed had his share of marching in the streets as a student leader in a university near Amelia.
Sometimes, at night, he can be found inside a carinderia, the poor man’s food stall, slurping down on linaga nga perpilya or pork intestines cooked to tender perfection in a broth soured with batwan – a sour fruit ubiquitous in kitchens in the Visayas.
Most of the time he eats with vegetable or dried fish vendors, sometimes teachers and students, but more often than not capping the day with them with a swig or two of rhum poured into a Nescafe coffee glass container with diamond patterns.
That structure where the carinderia was had long been gone. On its lot now stands a building with emerald green glass and the letters ETG in aluminum-style build up.
“We used to rent the place; when we were able to save enough money, we bought the lot,” Ed tells DNX on the day he opened his Bagsakan by Edd’s, an online vegetable ordering and delivery service.
“Bagsakan” in Filipino refers to a place where goods are delivered, possibly derived from the way coolies or laborers allow sacks to fall (bagsak) to the ground.
Katrina Vera T. Guillem is succinct about it.
When asked why their vegetable business has endured, she answers: “our motto had always been – quality and price can never be compromised.”
Katrina or Kat, who holds a degree from an American university, is now managing director of ETG Corporation.
And yes, she is one of Edd’s daughters.
Building from scratch
“We started from scratch, we had no capital,” Ed says, recalling the early days when he and his wife started their business.
To Ed, it was not a choice.
It was “providential.”
As if by destiny, Ed’s wife, Tina, knew some suppliers in Manila while she was working in the Binondo branch of Metrobank.
These suppliers offered to consign produce like onions, garlic, mung beans which Ed, who was renting a room at Libertad, sold vegetables on the sidewalk outside the public market.
Ladlad-himos, which loosely translates to “display and gather,” is a vending style that only requires pieces of sacks or plastic to be laid on the road.
On these are placed the produce, often sold at lower prices than those inside the market.
The vendor sits on a low stool or a chair with no protection from the heat, dust or vehicle exhaust.
There, too, were the frequent police operations against illegal vending that often end up with the vendors losing a day’s or several days worth of income.
Ed recalls this went on for years until he decided on what was then a novel idea: to have a bagsakan where fresh produce from the market can be brought.
With the middle-men cut out of the equation, fresh produce can be sold at lower prices, benefitting not only the consumer who gets lower-priced and fresh vegetables, but the farmer as well who gets to supply a steady demand.
For more than two decades, Ed and Tina continued to expand their business, branching out to major cities in the Visayas like Iloilo, Cebu, even to Puerto Princesa in Palawan.
While his lot continued to improve, Ed continued to think of the street vendors because he could still see them everyday, sometimes still being subjected to clearing operations by the police.
He decided to upscale his bagsakan.
With his building done, Ed expanded the bagsakan to occupy the entire ground floor of the building, had toilets built and CCTV cameras installed.
“Here, they can sell without fear of being caught, they have security and they have toilets,” he says, sounding content that he had done something for those he used to sell with on the streets.
With the COVID pandemic still raging, Ed decided to put the bagsakan online.
The concept is simple: the first bagsakan in the city will be the first to go online to deliver fresh, quality produce to its customers.