Baluan Balut Park at Night

Like most artists during the pandemic, Zendee Rose Tenerefe lost her livelihood. As the world stood at a standstill, gigs and live shows vanished. She and her mother Jinkee considered just going back home to General Santos City. Yet doing so felt like walking away from her dreams and everything she worked hard for. Throwing in the towel was never a quality of a “Heneral”, as GenSan residents are fondly called.

Rather than calling it quits, she adapted.

Zendee learned to leveraged her social media presence. One of her viral hits was her parody song “Gala” based on Sarah Geronimo’s hit “Tala”. And then came a life-saver — social entertainment apps, where her followers could send e-cash tips.

Fast forward to the present; Zendee overcame adversity and is thriving. Her Tiktok followers grew to 12 million and she was awarded Top Talent in 2021’s Tiktok Awards. She currently hosts TV5’s Digiverse, the online spinoff of “Sing Galing”.

 “A Heneral never quits. I want my kababayans to be proud of me.” said the singer who first tasted fame in 2012 when a video of her singing in a mall surfaced and went viral. She later performed for the “Ellen DeGeneres Show”.

Like Zendee’s experience, her hometown shared the same struggles brought by the pandemic.

But a Heneral always rises above the challenge.

In the middle of General Santos City’s Baluan Balut Park stands a gigantic egg structure, symbolizing every Henerals’ courage and grit. When faced with overwhelming odds, a Heneral can turn even the tiniest of opportunities into giant breakthroughs to defeat adversity.

Zendee Rose Tenerefe

Opened to the public last December 23, 2021, Baluan Balut Park is the brainchild of South Cotabato First District Representative Shirlyn Bañas-Nograles.

“Cong. Shirlyn would always stop by for her favorite balut. It was during those frequent visits that she noticed the plight of our vendors in the pandemic.” Baluan Barangay Captain Armando Diamante said.

At Baluan’s Foundation Day, Congresswoman Bañas, along with husband Danny Nograles, first approached the idea of turning the barangay plaza into a tourist attraction.

“Kap, nami gid ni i-develop imo plaza.” Nograles eagerly shared.

(Kap, your plaza is ideal for development.)

That lightbulb moment led to a series of meetings and dialogues with multiple sectors of the city, barangay, the DPWH and DENR. With unanimous approval, preparations were immediately underway for what would be Congresswoman Bañas’ flagship project during her first term in office.

Initially, barangay officials thought the project would only include lighted pathways around the plaza with a fountain as its centerpiece. 

“I only asked Cong. for a pathway and fountain with lights for the kids.” Kap Armand said in Ilonggo.

Zendee Rose Tenerefe

Congresswoman Bañas, however, knew it had to be something bigger and, more importantly, sustainable.

“We wanted to build an iconic landmark for the city and at the same time provide permanent livelihood for our constituents.” said the amiable lawmaker from General Santos.

“Our desire is for the park to become a catalyst for economic activity and development in this part of the city. We also hope to decongest our main business district by drawing more people here.” Congresswoman Bañas related in an interview.

“Let’s give the people the service they deserve.” she added.

Since the park’s opening, demand for the popular pinoy delicacy has skyrocketed that more supply is now brought in from adjacent South Cotabato, Iloilo province and as far as Pateros.

More than 120,000 eggs have been sold to date and average daily consumption is steadily rising.

For the balut vendors of Baluan, the Balut Park was God answering their prayers. By God’s grace, their once uncertain future now holds plenty of promise.

Miralyn Constantino, a mother of four who has been selling balut for more than a decade, turned emotional as she described her experience.

Shirlyn Banas

“During the pandemic, we could only sell about 3 trays, 5 at most. It was barely enough to get us by. Now we are able to sell 10 to 15 trays of balut on any regular day.” Miralyn related.

“We are extremely grateful to Cong. Shirlyn for putting up this park and giving us the chance to sell here.” Miralyn said as she tried to hold back tears.

A number of balloon and toy vendors have also set up shop in the park.

For Rodel Tibog, a balloon seller from neighboring Lagao, “Ang laking tulong talaga ito samin. Dahil dito may pang araw-araw na kameng hanap buhay, dito namin kinukuha.”

“I want to thank Congresswoman Bañas for fulfilling her promise to the people. We will support you.” Rodel says with a smile.

Selling and consumption of alcohol are also strictly prohibited inside and around the park’s premises.

“Everything comes from God.” Kap Armand affirms.

“I am truly grateful to the Almighty for blessing Congresswoman Shirlyn Bañas with the wisdom to come up with the idea for the Baluan Balut Park. We are truly blessed to have her.”

Apart from being known as the Tuna Capital of the Philippines, General Santos in partnership with Congresswoman Bañas and TESDA is poised to become a key player in the balut industry of the country alongside balut giants Pateros and Bulacan.

Officials are now working to launch the first Balut Festival in Mindanao to showcase this booming industry in the region. The city is aiming for a world-record for the largest number of balut consumed within a given stretch.

Keep an eye out for Zendee and General Santos as they move forward to the global stage!

Source: Manila Bulletin (