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Mantika ng Kahapon: An investigative report on the streetfood vendors of Burnham Park

March 12, 2012 12 comments

by Joana Danielle Sanidad, Micah Jemima Quirimit, Kezia Marris Guerrero

For Andrea (not her real name), a university student here in Baguio City, going to Burnham Park every afternoon is not a hobby but, a routine already. At 5:30pm, her favorite carts are already out on the streets selling her favorite past-time food—street foods.

Upon arriving, the vendor—Kuya Ryan (his real name)—would greet her with a smile. Andrea had been his customer since her freshman year. She would then pick up whatever she feels like eating for that afternoon.

Kulang pa nga sakin ‘to e, (Actually, this isn’t enough for me)” says Andrea, holding out a bowl full of fishball, kwek-kwek, and squidballs. “Mga tatlong round pa ng ganito, hehe, (About three more rounds of this)” she adds.

Andrea is just one of the many students, people, who find street foods delicious and won’t also mind if these are clean or not. These street food carts are located almost everywhere. At first glance, you wouldn’t really think that something wrong is going on in these carts, until you look closely enough to notice.

 
Closer look on this business

Street food vendors in Burnham Park, Baguio City do not have business permits and sanitary permits but are still allowed to be in operation and are not restrained by the local government, thus, giving them the chance to market their goods to the people around the city. There are certain laws implemented by the government which are made to ensure the safety of the public when it comes to the food that they are consuming.

According to Presidential Decree No. 856, Code on Sanitation, the health of the public is prioritized subject to protection and promotion. First section of the decree states matters regarding sanitary permits which business establishments, specifically food vendors and handlers are required to acquire.

Sanitary permits are necessary in ensuring the public that the food establishments, or any place where food and beverages are served, manufactured, processed, stored or sold, that they are patronizing are clean. Also, these sanitary permits must be posted in a noticeable or visible area in that certain food establishment. These are some of the laws under Section 14 (Sanitary Permits) of Presidential Decree No. 856.

Almost all of the street food vendors that are around Baguio do not have the necessary permits for operation. One would not find a sanitary permit posted on any of these street food vendors’ food carts.

There are two officers who are in charge of screening applicants for business and sanitary permits and of releasing those permits from Baguio City Hall. The first one is Cristio A. Lagyop, Permits & Licensing Officer of Baguio City Hall. Regarding the securing of permits of street food vendors, he said that there are no special permits issued to them and that; first, they must get an endorsement from Burnham Park since it is where they are located.

Another officer from Baguio City Hall, Mr. de Guzman, the Division of Health Head, was asked about the street food vendors and how their permits are released and processed. He said that permits are not released for the street food vendors because they have no permanent structures which are a requirement when you are asking for a sanitary permit. Vendors who have permanent structures or those who have distributors can apply for the necessary permits that they need in order to have their businesses legalized. He mentioned that these vendors should go to different agencies and establishments to be able to have all the requirements they need to apply for business permits.

For every law abided for the food handlers in the decree stated, there are also laws provided for the law enforcers in disciplining the food handlers/vendors. They shall be the ones to inspect and prevent the marketing of food which are already not consumable and edible for the consumers. They are also responsible for checking the unsanitary environment and tools used by the vendors. And most of all, they are responsible for enforcing the laws stated in the Presidential Decree No. 856, Code on Sanitation, these are according to Sec. 33 (Responsibility of the Local Health Authority).

Until now, these vendors are still out on the streets selling street foods to the people. They have been there for a couple of years and they have been operating even without the necessary permits that the law is requiring. Consumers’ health are put to danger because food inspections are not conducted and the environment these street food vendors are situated is not checked.

Time-Consuming or Money-Wasting

These street food vendors are not allowed to station themselves out on the public until 5:30pm. Reasons for this weren’t stated but, if they go around about before the given time they are arrested by the police. This was an agreement made between the vendors and the police.

Why do they settle with this kind of business when they can get permits and have their stations permanently positioned? According to Section 14 of Presidential Decree No. 856, there are fees that permit applicants are supposed to pay when having issuance, renewal and noting of certificates. The amount of the fee depends upon the capital that the business used for the operation. Ideally, one food cart gains P1000.00 a day from street foods which cost P5.00 – P25.00 per stick. The operators would still subtract the money they would use for gas and lard from that P1000.00. P200.00 would go to the person who was in charge of that cart that day. This could be one of the reasons why they would rather settle with having no permits and have a certain time when they can start selling street foods than get permits, pay taxes and get lesser profit.

Street Food

Street food vendors are referred to as the people who sell fishballs, squidballs, kwek-kwek, and one day olds who are located in most places where people would most likely go. These vendors use cooking oil repeatedly which is dangerous to the consumers’ health. University of the Philippines Baguio Clinic Physician Leila Jara said that anything that is heated up can produce chemical reactions. When cooking oil is repeatedly heated up for cooking street foods, chemical reactions take place which produce toxic chemicals which can be harmful to the health. In addition to Jara’s statement, a licensed doctor based in Japan, Dr. Akihito Kaga, MD., said that it is not healthy for people to consume foods cooked with overused cooking oil. Unhealthy fats and salts could be obtained from overused cooking oil. These unhealthy fats can cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and obesity while the unhealthy salts can cause kidney stones and bladder stones.

Photo 1. Street food: fish balls, chicken balls, kikiam, one day old

(http://my_sarisari_store.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/03/26/dsc_0495ccc.jpg)


 
De Guzman was also asked about his opinion on the sanitation of the foods being sold by the street food vendors. He said that the public is not sure on how they store and prepare these types of food, they might get typhoid fever, or the ingestion of food which is contaminated or which have salmonella virus. If the people really want to eat these types of food, he said that they should be the ones preparing and cooking these in their respective homes to ensure their safety and sanitation.

When asked about his opinion on overused cooking oil, he said that the cooking oil should only be repeated twice. He mentioned that when cooking oil is more than twice, the oil should now be used for other purposes like fuel for vehicles, and for advertising techniques.

To guarantee that the food handlers are free from any kind of disease that may harm their customers, health certificates are issued to them. Examinations are conducted to test whether these food handlers who are applying for sanitary permits are free from infectious diseases. These are according to Section 15 of the same Presidential Decree (Health Certificates).

Health certificates are only issued to the vendors or food chain/establishment employees who are complete in the sanitation requirements that are necessary. Street food vendors do not have this certificate mentioned because they are vendors with no permanent structure (ambulant vendors) and they do not have plans on making this as a permanent business.

Ambulant Vendors & Food Handling

These street food vendors use kitchen utensils to be able to cook the foods that they are selling while they are on the streets. The foods they are selling are raw ones. Some may be cooked but some customers ask them to reheat the food that they are buying. Ambulant food vendors are prohibited to sell food that requires the use of utensils according to Section 32 (Special Provisions), e. (Ambulant Food Vendors) of Presidential Decree No. 856. Also, the only kinds of food that they are allowed to sell are bottled food drinks, biscuits and confectioneries.

Clean working garments must be worn by food handlers, like prescribed caps and hairnets, especially female food handlers. Some of these street food vendors do not wear the working garments recommended by the law while they are out on the streets cooking their customers’ foods. They are also unable to wash their hands before they cook and one could see that their hands are really dirty.

According to Section 19 (Food Handlers) of Presidential Decree No. 856, health certificates are required for every food handlers before they get employed. Food handlers are also required to wear clean working garments, specifically caps or hairnets, especially for female employees, in addition to that they are required to observe their personal hygiene, and lastly, wash their hands with soap and water and dry them thoroughly.

 Ryan Ramos is a street vendor for 2 years now. He was under a supplier/handler for one year and has been handling his own for one year now. Ramos’ handler is named Danny Panimbatan. When asked whether his supplier had the necessary permits, he said that there was none. Ramos also said that when he was able to have his own cart of street foods, he wanted to apply for permits but the Baguio City Hall did not let him get his own.

Ramos, when asked about the cooking oil that he has been using, he mentioned that he does not exactly overuse it. What he does is that he adds new oil to what he has recently used. He buys 2 kilograms of lard then mixes it to the oil left from the last time he fried street foods.

The reason behind this could be the amount of money that he could save if he chooses to reuse the cooking oil. In here, the safety of the consumers is sacrificed just so these vendors could gain more profit.

Conclusion


Photo 2. Fish balls being soaked and cooked in overused cooking oil

(http://media.photobucket.com/image/street%20foods%20kwek%20kwek%20fishballs/AGP3/eclavumblogspot/kwek2.jpg)


Kwek-kwek, squidballs, fishballs and other street foods taste really good and they can fill one’s stomach at a very low price. These street foods can give people satisfaction but, as consumers, you should know the risks of eating such foods. These can sustain people’s energies for quite a while and they could save a lot from buying these foods instead of other foods but these could also cost people a lot of money once these people get sick due to the dangers of such kind of foods.

As for the vendors’ practice of overusing cooking oil, consumers’ health are put to risk without them directly knowing it. It might be because of the profit that they might lose or gain if they follow the correct ways and process of having a legal business. For a day, they will only get a small part of the money that they have earned for a day, still considering all the bills that they have to pay.

It’s Your Best Friend on a Platter

March 12, 2012 14 comments

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An Investigative Report on the Operation of Comiles Eatery II in Baguio City

By Christian Co, Ma. Arianne Fatima Gapac, and Hannah Kim

It was another chilly afternoon in Baguio City. Mang Louie (not his real name) was driving around Marcos Highway looking for passengers. Cold and hungry, he decided to enter Comiles Eatery II for his occasional “ulo ng aso,” the specialty of the house.

Upon entering the eatery, he saw Mayor Domogan seated at a table. This was not the first the time he had seen government officials in Comiles, as he had seen policemen and even judges on other days.

For Mang Louie, eating dog meat is a pleasurable habit as it makes him feel warm and energized. However, he eats dog meat dishes only from time to time to avoid high blood pressure.

“Malinis naman yan… basta niluluto. Siguraduhin mo lang na walang gudgod (scabbies),” said Mang Louie. He is not bothered by rumours of sanitary issues concerning rabies. “Kasi niluluto na rin nila kahit may gudgod.”

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Photo 1. Located below the ground level, Comiles stands among local eateries and sari-sari stores.

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Photo 2. Three streamers mark the entrance of the eatery.

“Basta Baguio, aso agad yan,” he said.

Mang Louie is one of the many customers who patronize Comiles and its dog meat dishes. Located at the underground level of an unpainted, cemented building, the eatery seems inconspicuous except for its large banners with the name COMILES EATERY II displayed outside. Able to accommodate around 50 people, the eatery is mostly visited by men. The employees, mostly female, would not serve dog meat unless asked for. There is no menu displayed, and the counter usually contains pork, chicken, and vegetable dishes.

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Photo 3. The counter usually displays pork, chicken, and vegetable dishes.

Comiles under scrutiny

In spite of its popularity among Baguio locals, Comiles Eatery has been put under investigation by the Philippine National Police (PNP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), ans Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) such as the Animal Kingdom Foundation (AKF) under the International Wildlife Coalition Trust (IWCT).

Together with the PNP, Charles Wartenberg, President of the AKF, carried out a raid in Comiles in January 2010 wherein five people were arrested and 8.4 kilos of dog meat were confiscated. In Wartenberg’s published online report entitled “Licence to Kill,” the defendants acknowledged that they were selling dog meat but strongly contended that they should not punished. The defendants argued that “the law is based on one whole dog,” and that they served only parts of a dog. They also claimed that any virus of a rabid dog can be eliminated in the cooking process. They finally reasoned that the practice of eating dog meat is “customary and socially accepted.”

These reasons appear very questionable and irrational. For the defendants to say that they must not be punished for serving only parts of a dog is senseless. Dog meat is still dog meat even when they are in pieces. Does anyone expect a dog, a domesticated animal, to be served lechon-style on a large tray? There is no point of escaping the law with the matter of proportions or sizes, for stealing bread is the same as stealing cash.

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Photo 4. The spare parts of man’s best friend on a platter served in Comiles eatery.

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Photo 5. Chicken served on the right, dog meat dish on the left.

As for the defendants’ claim that viruses found in rabid dogs can be eliminated due to the cooking process, Wartenberg asserts that this is scientifically incorrect. He points out to the death of four-year old Ressia Mae Edoria who died after eating contaminated dog meat in Negros Occidental on December 13, 2005, which he calls “an avoidable death.” Wartenberg holds the death certificate which states that Edoria died due to rabies as a result of ingesting cooked dog meat. However, just like Mang Louie, many people are confident that the preparation and cooking process can get rid of the diseases the animal carries. They must have not heard that dogs, along with cats and bats, are the main carriers of rabies. Also, they probably are not aware of the gravity of the effects and the heavy possibility of dog meat being contaminated or diseased with not only rabies, but, as Wartenberg said, with E.coli, salmonella, hook worms, etc.

It is undeniable that the defendants and many dog meat eaters are convinced that culture justifies the practice of selling and eating dog meat. Just as Mang Louie said, Baguio City has become recognized as the center of dog meat trade. However, the city is not exempt under the law, particularly in Section 6 of the Animal Welfare Act (Republic Act No. 8485), which states that:

It shall be unlawful for any person to torture any animal, to neglect to provide adequate care, sustenance or shelter, or maltreat any animal or to subject any dog or horse to dogfights or horsefights, kill or cause or procure to be tortured or deprived of adequate care, sustenance or shelter, or maltreatment or use the same in research or experiments not expressly authorized by the Committee on Animal Welfare.

The killing of any animal other than cattle pigs, goats, sheep, poultry, rabbits, carabaos, horses, deer and crocodiles is likewise hereby declared unlawful except in the following instances:

(1)   When it is done as part of the religious rituals of an established religion or sect or a ritual required by tribal or ethnic custom of indigenous cultural communities; however, leaders shall keep records in cooperation with the Committee on Animal Welfare (underlined for emphasis).

Restaurant eating is not equated to any religious ritual as far as dog meat is concerned. The sale of dog meat especially in restaurants is usually classified as for commercial use or plain business. Unless a religious group or sect holds a ritual which includes killing dogs and eating the slain dogs’ meat inside Comiles, it is clear that dogs should not be butchered even for the sake of eating. And so far, dog meat eating in restaurants is more of a routine rather than a cultural or religious practice.

What about government officials and policemen eating dog meat? The Anti-Rabies Act (Republic Act No. 9482) states in Section 7 that local government units (LGUs), in their respective localities, shall “prohibit the trade of dogs for meat.” They are responsible for overseeing that such operations do not exist, and yet they are also recognized as the clients of the operation itself. It is because they hold on to the idea that culture surpasses the law.

These government officials do not see that their cultural reasons plainly impede the law. Come to think of it: Comiles is still in operation since the case was dismissed due to “lack of probable cause.” In his persistence, Wartenberg promised in his report that the case would be taken to High Court under a new Baguio lawyer. According to Ms. Ivy Buenaobra of the AKF, Wartenberg will be coming on March 8 to follow up cases such as this.

Favour and legality

Comiles continues to operate in Marcos Highway and in Camp 7. Why does the city government tolerate such business? As mentioned earlier, the system of ordering dog meat was discreet; the dishes were given only upon request. When asked about her boss and the supplier of dog meat, an employee refused to reveal their names. Mang Louie is one of the male-majority customers satisfied with their dog meat dishes— from the dog head to the “spare” parts.

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Photo 6. A close-up of the “spare” parts.

As Wartenberg stated in his report from the National Meat Inspection Board (NMIB), dog meat was not acceptable for human consumption. What do the local health experts from the Department of Health- Cordillera Administrative Region (DOH-CAR) have to say, considering that they may have cultural bias as they are based in the Cordilleras, a culture-bound region?

Mrs. Roselle Bani from the Information, Education, and Communication Center claims that there is no rabies in dog meat if already cooked. Rabies Awareness Coordinator Dr. Shelly Aral also says that dog meat consumption is “acceptable” due to IP culture. Surprisingly, she also takes up the AKF’s claim about “the (dog’s) virus being eliminated in the cooking process as scientifically incorrect” as “not true” by saying that the policies against dog meat focus only on the welfare of the dog. She stresses that rabies can be acquired through handling fresh dog meat, especially with open wounds, and not through ingestion.

The local health experts seem to favour the practice of dog meat eating. But does favour entitle legality? License Inspector II Peter Balinag of Baguio City Hall confirms that Comiles Eatery is licensed. Yes, Comiles is an establishment with a “license to engage in business.”

A “license to engage in business” is simply a business permit that requires the following:

  • mandatory requirements of Baguio City government: sanitary permit from Baguio Health Department (BHD,) barangay business clearance, sewer certificate from CEPMO, and fire clearance
  • national requirements: BIR clearance, SSS clearance, PhilHealth certificate, PAG-IBIG
  • other requirements appropriate for the business
  • requirements for the sanitary permit include health certificates from BHD and Health Services Office (HSO) and completion of the Food Handlers Orientation (schedule: Mondays 1-5pm, Wednesdays and Fridays 8-12am)

It seems that the sanitary permit is the only relevant requirement for the case of Comiles Eatery, being a restaurant that serves exotic meat. The Food Handlers Orientation is the only prerequisite to a health certificate for the documentation of the sanitary permit. It looks as if it is an inadequate process, since attending a seminar does not guarantee safety and proper food handling skills.

How is dog meat handled specifically? Are there certain procedures for checking whether a package of dog meat is viable for consumption? No. Mrs. Regina Lapitan of the Baguio Health Department’s Division of Sanitation insists that the Food Handlers Orientation does not discuss dog meat specifically, as it is not their duty to classify meat.

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Photo 7. A male customer enjoying the specialty of the eatery.

Dogs are not food animals

“Nobody is in-charge of inspecting restaurants serving dog meat because dog meat does not fall under the city government’s classification of consumable meat,” says Dr. Mary Jane Cabradilla of the City Veterinarian’s Office. No wonder the BHD is not duly concerned whether the meat certain restaurants handle are of dogs. The City Vet’s Office is one agency that does not favour the sale of dog meat such as that of Comiles.

In contrast to the statements of Dr. Aral and Mrs. Bani, Dr. Cabradilla claims it is possible to acquire diseases, not only rabies, from eating unhealthy dogs.

Interestingly, Dr. Cabradilla calls the Animal Welfare Act as a weak law because it only focuses on live dogs (eg. transportation). She sees Comiles as “safe” from being confronted because the driver or the owner of the vehicle carrying the dogs is the one who gets sued, not the one being supplied. In a raid conducted by the NBI and the Political Animal Lobby (PAL) with Mel Alipio on several restaurants, Comiles Eatery denied that they served any dog meat dish. Dr. Cabradilla was taken back when she heard that Comiles still serves dog meat. She assumed that the employees were warned beforehand about the raid.

The city government officials are aware of the laws; however, the faulty implementation of the policies on dog meat lies in the inadequacy of the laws. The suppliers of dog meat will continue to trade as long as Comiles Eatery continues to operate and to be tolerated by government officials and health experts due to the laws. These laws, especially the Animal Welfare Act, do not specifically target or cover dog meat. The only kind of meat that can be inspected are the consumable meat, or “food animals,”  which are cattle pigs, goats, sheep, poultry, rabbits, carabaos, horses, deer and crocodiles as stated by the Animal Welfare Act.

There should be amendments of the law that would include inspections in restaurants that serve meat that do not come from food animals. By then, even those who sell dog parts and just not the “whole dog” must be punished since the parts do not belong to a food animal.

Inspections conducted in the restaurants seem to be only on the sanitation of the area, and not on the dishes sold. How will the people be assured that the dog meat is safe from diseases, aside from rabies, with these kinds of inspections? What if the dog meat served in Comiles Eatery has “gudgod” like what Mang Louie said? And why does the welfare of the dog end in its death and not when it’s in parts? The least that can be done for now is to have the food handling checked, since by now not everyone can be convinced that the dog is not a food animal. Until Mang Louie and people like the mayor start to be disgusted seeing man’s best friend served on a platter, dogs will forever and ironically be chased. #