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PATEROS: Preserving and Protecting
the Indigenous Skills

In the smallest town of Metro Manila originated one of the unique delicacies in the world, the balut. Balut is an incubated egg of a mallard duck with developed embryo of 17 to 19 days. The most delicious balut is the "balut sa puti" which is incubated for only 17 days so the duckling has not formed any feathers yet and the white part is still small and not so hard.

Balut-making is considered the major tourist attraction in Pateros. This age-old industry comprises 23% of the Pateros industry.

Balut is one of the indigenous and original innovations of the people of Pateros. Among other indigenous skills of the people of Pateros are shoemaking and manufacturing of the "alfombra slippers."

Manufacturing "alfombra" slippers comprises 27% of the manufacturing industry in Pateros. Balut-making is considered the major tourist attraction in Pateros. This age-old industry comprises 23% of the Pateros industry.

One of the biggest balut-manufacturing businesses in Pateros is owned by the couple Linda and Andy Concio, who both grew up in Pateros. They started their balut business in 1976 in Barangay Ususan, Pateros when Mrs. Linda Concio stopped teaching in an elementary school in Makati and decided to concentrate on balut-making. She learned the skills from her husband's family who is one of the original balut-makers in Pateros.

"Our lives became better from making balut. My salary as a teacher then was 230 pesos a month while with the balut business, I earned more than 230 pesos every week," said Mrs. Concio. They started their balut-making business with a capital of ten thousand pesos.

Although balut-making is still very profitable, the Concios are already experiencing a drastic weakening of the industry. "For the last years including last year, we were able to sell 100 thousand eggs a week. But this year, it is already the peak season and we cannot even sell 50 thousand eggs in a week. This is very frightening. I am afraid that the Pateros balut-industry might suffer the same fate as the Pateros shoemaking industry" said Mrs. Concio.

The name Pateros came from the Tagalog words "Pato" which refers to the mallard duck which lays the eggs for balut, and "Sapatero" which means shoemaker. But now, Marikina is the town recognized for manufacturing shoes, not Pateros.

"During the old days, shoemaking is the livelihood of many families in Pateros. But now, the industry is gone and the indigenous skill of making shoes was not preserved. The same is happening to the Pateros balut-industry. There used to be more than 50 balut-makers in Pateros. Now we are very few and only the bigger businesses survived," said Mrs. Concio.

"The traditional way
of making balut is
a special talent passed on through generations in Pateros. Our elders mastered the skills
of finding the right temperature,
and blending the heat and coldness to produce the perfect balut."

She said that the shoemaking industry in Pateros probably died down because there was no cooperative or any mechanisms to control the prices of the shoes so that the local industry will not be defenseless against shoe manufacturing industries in other towns.

She noted that the presence and capacity for mass production of balut-makers in other towns threaten the Pateros balut industry. "There are already balut industries in Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, Ilocos, and even in Canada and Los Angeles, when before only the Pateros people have the skills to make balut." she said.

Mrs. Concio said that despite the competition, those in other places will find it hard to match the high quality of balut made in Pateros. "The traditional way of making balut is a special talent passed on through generations in Pateros. Our elders mastered the skills of finding the right temperature, and blending the heat and coldness to produce the perfect balut," she said.

Mrs. Concio believes that even with the presence of egg incubators, invented and introduced by people in Tarlac, which makes it easier to produce more balut, the Pateros people's manner of making balut makes it special. "In Pateros, we prioritize quality, not mass production. The real secret in balut-making is to segregate the best balut from the second-class balut and the bad balut. We could never bear to sacrifice the quality of the Pateros balut because balut-making is our way of life," she said.

In the traditional way of making balut, the duck eggs are placed in a cylinder called "taong", covered with mud which is mixed with "ipa" or rice husk. Then they are arranged into cubicles and mixed with ipa to produce heat. After 12 days, the balut-makers peek into the balut to check the embryo and to segregate the eggs good for making balut and those which are not developed (penoy) and the damaged ones. Those which developed embryos are called "mamatong" and will be incubated for more days to become balut. They are placed under mosquito nets cut into squares of one by one meter called "tikbo". Sometimes they burn rice in the taong to produce more heat.

Pateros Mayor Rosendo Capco advocates for the traditional process of balut-making. "The best balut are the ones made through the traditional process. It is not only delicious, the traditional balut-making process is a tourist attraction in Pateros. That is why we are trying to inspire the balut-makers to adhere to the traditional way. We motivate them by explaining the potential of tourism as a balut-marketing strategy to boost the local balut-making industry. "

"...Many residents of Pateros became businessmen, lawyers, professionals, etc. because of balut-making. We must promote our local products and industries to empower our people to improve their lives..."

The Pateros Balut Festival is a new activity initiated by the Knights of Columbus of Pateros and the Daughters of Mary Immaculate in coordination with the municipal government to revive the local balut industry. Mr. Concio is the chair of the committee on the balut Festival. The event is held every first Saturday of February, the day before the Town Fiesta.

"Through the Balut Festival we promote the image of Pateros as a producer of the best quality balut in the whole world," said Mrs. Concio. Every ticket entitles the bearer to two free balut and a drink. There is also street dancing. A Balut Cooking Contest is held during the festivities. Each barangay has an entry of adobong balut, apritadang balut and duck delicacies like kalderetang bibe and fried ducks.

"The streets are closed during this event. Even the OFWs from Pateros intentionally go home to witness the Balut Festival and the Pandangguhan (traditional dance competition) in Pateros every February," said Mrs. Concio.

"We also encourage the balut-makers to maintain the good condition of their balut processing business. When tourists come to Pateros, we tour them around the balut businesses in our town to show them the traditional way of making balut," said Mayor Capco.

"Today, the Pateros economy rapidly improved as seen in the number of commercial establishments and banks in our town. Many residents of Pateros became businessmen, lawyers, professionals, etc. because of balut-making. We must promote our local products and industries to empower our people to improve their lives," he added.

Mrs. Concio said that the municipal government could study the feasibility of placing a duck-raising industry in Pateros so that the balut-makers can acquire duck eggs at cheaper prices and, therefore, sell their balut at lower prices, too.

"Since we started our balut business in 1976, there were no duck raisers in Pateros anymore. We get our duck eggs from suppliers in Batangas, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, and Pampanga. Those in other provinces can sell their balut for 5 pesos or 4.80 pesos because the duck eggs are accessible because there are duck raisers in their province. We cannot lower our price because we get eggs from other towns so the operation cost is higher," explained Mrs. Concio.

"I believe it is possible to revive duck-raising in Pateros even if there are only few rivers in our town now. Nowadays it is possible to raise ducks like chickens, meaning without water, and they can eat duck feeds now unlike before where we need shells, shrimps and fish from the river to feed the ducks. We can look into that and on how to make duck-raising on land sanitary," Mrs. Concio added.

This article first appeared in Pinas, Ang Bayan Ko, The Nationalist Weekly October 20-26, vol 1 no 7 page 12.

© Roja Salvador

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