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There are no more patos in Pateros

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By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

It was a rare person who did not receive some sort of salted egg-flavored item over the recent holidays — salted eggs, particularly salted egg chips, being one of the hottest food trends both here and abroad. But amid all the fuss surrounding the salted eggs arose a question: Where is Pateros in this craze? After all, Pateros is known as being the place where salted eggs and balut (boiled fertilized duck eggs) come from.

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It turns out that it is nowhere near the center of the current food fixation.

Pateros — the last remaining municipality in Metro Manila — may have gotten its name thanks to all the patos or ducks behind its most famous products, balut and salted egg, but the name does not seem to apply anymore: the pato of Pateros no longer lives there. And, the balut industry that has always been associated with Pateros “has been dwindling,” said its mayor.

Pateros Mayor Miguel F. Ponce III told BusinessWorld in an interview at the City Hall on Jan. 24 that the demise of the ducks in Pateros started in the early 1970s or ’80s when the Pasig River, which is connected to the Pateros River, for all intents and purposes, died. “Lahat namatay (they all died), because the ducks needed water,” he said.




“While we still have our balut industry, it seems to dwindle in number also,” Mr. Ponce said. “Our eggs are coming from the neighboring provinces, wala na kaming pato kaya wala na kaming itlog (we have no more ducks so we have no more eggs),” he said.

Further, he said Pateros is not widely associated with salted eggs, but claims that “Pateros was the pioneer in putting salted egg on bibingka (rice cake)” He added: “When it comes to trends, like you said, chips, there is also a limited market for Pateros for salted eggs.” He said the local government has no plans of taking advantage of the food fad.

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DEATH OF THE SYMBOL
Like Marikina, which is known for its shoes but has long been struggling to keep the shoemaking tradition alive, Pateros, it seems, is experiencing the same dilemma.

While the pato is dead, its balut and salted egg industry is still alive but struggling. Lining the street that leads to the Pateros City Hall are a number of small egg stands. One of them is a small cart with the grand name of “St. Martha’s Balut Industry,” owned by a Pateros native Jessie Damasco. He said the local vendors get the eggs they sell from neighboring provinces like Bulacan, Laguna, and Nueva Ecija, which have rivers and rice fields fit for raising ducks. He buys his eggs from Bulacan. He sells his balut for P12 each and salted eggs for P10. He said he used to sell 6,000 duck eggs (fresh, balut, and salted) in a day, but now he can only sell 500 pieces a day. “It depends on the occasion,” he said in Filipino.

An egg vendor for the past 10 years, he said he used to have a bigger store but was forced to move to a smaller stand because of the decrease in demand. He said he noticed that fewer and fewer people are investing in making and selling balut and salted egg — at least, in Pateros.

“Once the people who used to sell eggs started to make it far and have improved their way of life, they start to invest in other business ventures. Why would they stay as egg vendor?,” he said in Filipino.

A few steps away from Mr. Damasco’s cart is “Joel’s Balot,” another small egg store. The overseer said they also buy their eggs from Bulacan and Nueva Ecija, which they sell for P10 and P7.50 per piece for balut and salted eggs, respectively.

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WHERE THE DUCKS ARE
The Pateros vendors blame the rise of industrialization for the fall of their duck egg sales. But in the outskirts and nearby provinces, the industry is booming.

Ang original talaga, Pateros, pero siguro hindi na sila kasing productive (the original was really Pateros, but they are no longer as productive),” Norberto Capistrano told BusinessWorld in a phone interview. Mr. Capistrano owns the FelNor duck farm in Pandi, Bulacan, which is home to 5,000 ducks that produce 3,800 eggs every day. FelNor — which is a combination of his and his wife’s names (she is Felenomina) — has been producing fresh duck eggs for the last five years. Mr. Capistrano said he sells his eggs to suppliers from all over the country at P7.30 per piece. The suppliers, he said, usually have their own incubators and make their own balut and salted eggs.

He said the provinces of Pampanga, Laguna, and Nueva Ecija produce duck eggs, too. These provinces all have vast rice fields which are ideal environments for raising ducks. Duck eats paros, a kind of snail, found in rice fields, he said.

Further south in Region IV is also fit for duck raising. Victoria, Laguna, a municipality near Laguna de Bay, is such an excellent area for raising ducks that it is dubbed as the “Duck Raising Center of the Philippines.” The town celebrates its annual Itik Festival in April with parades and games. (itik is Tagalog for duck while pato is Spanish.)

“Historically, duck raising all started in the town of Pateros so goes [along] with balut and salted egg processing. This kind of business was first introduced by the Chinese merchants in the early ’50s. Since it all started in Pateros, until now people always associate [the municipality] with balut, salted eggs, and itik, though in reality there are no longer existing poultry farms operating the town because Pateros it is now highly urbanized,” Rafael Cadiz, PhD, told BusinessWorld in an e-mail interview. He owns the Cadiz Duck Farm in Laguna, which sometimes supplies duck eggs to Pateros.

Cadiz Duck Farm is home to 6,000 to 8,000 itik.

These days, anyone with an incubator can make balut. “Duck raising as a business opportunity in the countryside is highly viable,” said Mr. Cadiz. In his farm, balut is harvested after two weeks of incubation while salted eggs are harvested and cooked two weeks after they are submerged in a concentration of salt mixed with water or clay soil.

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KEEPING UP WITH TIMES
Back in Pateros, reviving the industry that gave it its name is unlikely. “Our plans [to revive our egg industry] is not clear at this time because we don’t have the spaces anymore. We don’t have the body of water that is the basic component in reviving the industry. There is a difficult chance to bring it back. And even without the water, there may be the waterless duck raising, but then again, it will still require space. Iba ang amoy nito, kailangan talaga nasa (the smell is different, it is really necessary that the ducks are in) open spaces and not in residential area. But the balut industry, we can very much strengthen it,” said Mayor Ponce.

To strengthen the industry, Pateros gives balut vendors tax exemptions. “So they can devote their capital in increasing their sales,” Mr. Ponce said. The municipal government is planning to buy incubators so it can train its citizens who are interested in starting their own balut businesses.

But Pateros does not want to put all its eggs in one basket. It wants to expand.

“We cannot take the association away. We came from it and the name itself gives birth to ‘Pateros.’ But what I am saying is, my trust is on diversifying the industry because there are bigger opportunities for growth out there,” said Mr. Ponce.

A first class municipality, Pateros is mainly a residential area (91.62%), with just 3.13% of its land area classified as commercial, .39% industrial, and .88% agricultural, according to its 2005 land use classification report.

Under the current local administration, Pateros is eyeing to attract other industries like business process outsourcing (BPO). But these plans are held back because Pateros is too small — its total land area is just 176 hectares — to accommodate big building infrastructure.

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BECOMING A CITY
After the municipality of San Juan City became a city in 2008, Pateros was left as the only municipality in Metro Manila, sharing space with 16 cities (Manila, Quezon City, Caloocan, Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Parañaque, Pasay, Pasig, San Juan, Taguig, and Valenzuela). Pateros needs to satisfy three pre-requisites when in comes to population, income, and land area before it can become a city, according to the Republic Act 9009, or the act amending Section 450 of R.A. 7160, otherwise known as the local government code of 1991.

The annual income requirement is P100,000,000 for two consecutive years. This is not a problem since according to Local Bureau of Government Finance data, the municipality had a regular income of P119,977,881 in 2010; P130,022,600 in 2011; and P128,767,040 in 2012.

To become a city, it needs to have a population of at least 150,000, but Pateros only has 68,580 residents.

Pateros’ biggest hindrance is its very limited land area. It has a pending claim to Taguig’s Bonifacio Global City.***

“Of course, if you ask me, I’ll tell you BGC is ours. I believe we have a big, big chance of winning that case,” said Mr. Ponce.

But if Pateros loses its claim, the local government plans to file a bill in Congress to make it into a special charter city.

Mr. Ponce said: “I believe we should become a city by necessity. Kung mananatili kaming municipality, maiiwan talaga kami (If we remain a municipality, we will be left behind). We have the smallest opportunity… By necessity, we should become a city, even a special city. I believe our opportunity will increase.”

Read “Pateros claims BGC