BACOLOD, Philippines – The city government of Bacolod shut down at least 15 restaurants at the famous “Manokan Country” on Monday morning, October 3, due to unpaid rent that collectively reached more than P7 million.
But the pall that fell over the city’s MassKara month was short-lived as a compromise agreement between the tenants and the city government allowed the big stalls to reopen by dusk.
Councilor Celia Flor, the head of the city council Committee on Markets, told Rappler, “they (tenants) made compromise agreements for monthly payments to a maximum of two years.”
“As they were able to submit their notarized compromise agreement to the city administration before 5 pm, the City Legal Office advised its enforcement unit to allow them to re-open,” she added.
Tenants interviewed by local radio stations as enforcers closed the stalls protested that Mayor Albee Benitez’s deadline for payment fell on a Saturday, September 30.
Benitez had said that the city would close the stalls of those who have not paid their debt to the city on Monday, October 3.
The closure also came as a surprise to some tenants who told local news outlet XFM 96.7 that they had already arranged a compromise with the city government – to pay a certain amount and pay the balance of their arrears by December.
Saj Marie, the granddaughter of one of the tenants, confirmed this is in a Facebook post. “When it was being discussed na, they were told to pay an x amount and they will be given until December to pay the full amount. Nangita paagi akon Lola to find the x amount and she did pay it,” she wrote.
“Manokan Country,” is part of the city’s 1.7-hectare property at the Reclamation Area, which is owned by the clan of Mayor Benitez, on the side of his late mother, Betty Bantug Benitez.
It has been an attraction for tourists for decades, a long row of spartan restaurants serving the city’s famous authentic, coal-grilled chicken inasal.
The arrears of each tenant are between P500,000 to P600,000, which have not been settled for several years. The monthly rental fee in Manokan Country is P2,800.
Only three of the 18 stall owners settled their arrears ahead of the September 30 deadline of the City Legal Office (CLO), which served the notice to pay in August.
Rey Demisana, team leader of the City Legal Enforcement Unit, told reporters the city gave the stall owners all the consideration, adding that the penalties for the delinquency had been condoned twice.
According to Demisana, the closure is based on the violation committed by the stall owners under the city’s tax ordinance and their failure to settle their obligation to pay their dues.
Only four restaurants, Aida’s Manokan, Velez, Nena’s Beth 1, and Umbao, continue to operate.
Demisana told reporters the tenants of the closed stalls can still re-open if they act fast and give the City Treasurer’s Office promissory notes.
Some tenants told XFM 96.7 Bacolod that their appeal for a grace period until December 2022 had been approved.
Local business leader Frank Carbon, chief executive officer of Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry, expressed sadness, saying that the “Manokan Country” has been an attraction, especially during the three-week MassKara Festival, which kicked off on October 1.
“One of the reasons why people come here to Bacolod was for the food – the chicken inasal,” he said.
Carbon said he recognizes that the stall owners are at fault for not settling their debts for a long time.
But he pointed out that the city government could have given them consideration for humanitarian reasons, noting the public’s low purchasing power now and businesses have been clobbered during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our hearts go out to them,” Carbon said.
He said that a stall may have an average of 10 to 15 workers, who may lose their jobs after the closure. That doesn’t include the chicken farms that provide the restaurants the raw product.
The city has just emerged from a long stretch of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which at its height in 2020 had left half the city’s work force jobless.
It was only in March 2022 that the city government relaxed health protocols to allow for 80% capacity in business establishments.
“For example, they were given six months to settle the unpaid debts…the stalls could generate income during the MassKara and the Christmas season,” Carbon said.
The MassKara Festival is an almost month-long festival that draws tens of thousands of visitors to the city. Most tourists find their way to the “Manukan” stalls even with bigger, standalone versions in buildings on the city’s main streets.
“They were not able to settle their debts even if they have income, how much more if they don’t have an income? If they were given an allowance, the city might be able to collect that unpaid money,” Carbon said.
He added, “Personally, I would ask the city to reconsider and give the stall owners at least six months.” – Rappler.com