Batac vendors take a hit after Marcos' burial at the LNMB

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Batac, Ilocos Norte (CNN Philippines, September 10) — Marilyn Agapay is an empanada expert, if there ever were one.

An empanada maker at the Batac, Ilocos Norte's "empanadahan," where the pastry is baked, the 51-year-old has been in the business for 22 years.

Making the city's trademark snack is second nature to Marilyn, who learned the craft decades ago when she started working for the original Batac special empanada stall, Glory's.

And as the longest-serving cook at Batac's Riverside Empanadahan, she loves the job so much, she's passed the trade on to her children.

Tucked at the corner of the city plaza, the Empanadahan houses the first stalls to sell the famed Ilocos snack — known for its crunchy orange shell and longanisa filling.

But sales have gone down for Marilyn and other empanada vendors at the compound. They said since President Ferdinand Marcos' burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani last year, business is no longer the same.

Read: Marcos buried at Libingan ng mga Bayani

From the 30 trays Marilyn used to sell on a peak day, she and her co-workers now make, at best, more than 20.

Jenny Boquerente works opposite the "empanadahan." At 29 years old, with two children, she sells lomi and miki at Triplet's Foodhouse to make a living.

At 5:30 a.m. Sunday, on the eve of Marcos' birth anniversary, she and her boss Rhea Reynon opened shop, awaiting customers.

She usually starts work at 8 a.m. but she went to work early in anticipation of Marcos supporters, whom they expected to troop to Batac for the celebration.

But half an hour in, they served a steaming bowl of miki to a solitary customer.

In the next two hours, people — a few policemen and some locals — trickled in, one by one.

"Mas malaki talaga yung diperensiya. Mas marami nung last year kaysa ngayon. Mga ganitong oras marami na pong kumakain. Marami nang nagdadatingan na turista, supporters," she said.

[Translation: There's a huge difference. There were a lot of people last year compared to this year. A lot of people were eating at this time then. Tourists would arrive.]

The difference is also palpable for other vendors, who have been used to the deluge of customers.

When asked how much things have changed in the past years, Jenny Boquerente, who also used to sell empanadas answered, "Sobra [Very much]."

Marilyn also recalled past days when tourists lining up would reach the streets.

"Noon halos pila pila yung mga taong pumupunta diyan," she said. "Ngayon po wala po silang dinadalaw."

[Translation: People would line up then. Now, they have nothing to visit.]

Fewer visitors

But with Marcos' body gone from the mausoleum, vendors notice less and less tourists passing through the city.

Batac mayor Albert Chua acknowledged city tourism has declined since last year.

Visitors to the Ferdinand E. Marcos Presidential Center last January to May 2017 have slipped to 33,135 compared to 131,168 during the same period last year. The center, which includes the now-closed Marcos mausoleum, is Batac's most famous tourist site.

"Admittedly there was a decrease of local and foreign tourists, but at the same time we have started and tried already to fill the vacuum by putting up some tourist destinations," he said.

Chua said the city government is looking into other areas and venues for the local tourists and foreign tourists.

The city also wants to promote other Batac heroes as a means to get its tourists back.

The mayor added, businesses like the Empanadahan remain healthy despite the decrease in visitors.

"There are a lot of businesses coming in simply because there are still places to see here in Batac," said Chua.

The provincial tourism office said it has plans in line to revive Batac's tourism.

"We're having some concepts for development, one of which is the 'Heroic Ilocos' theme for the parks in Batac," Ilocos Norte Tourism Office head Ian Raquel said.

"We have several parks in Batac and we have other outsanding Batacenos who have made really great contributions," he added, referring to Gregorio Aglipay and Artemio Ricarte.

He said with the unveiling of a new Marcos monument at the city plaza, they hope tourists will find a new reason to visit the small city.

"I think these things will help improve (tourism)," Raquel said.