At Large

Celebrating the Filipino family

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Thirty-five years ago, when Jollibee opened its first outlet in what was once an ice-cream parlor in Cubao, no one could have predicted that it would grow into the country’s largest fast-food chain. When I first laid eyes on this original outlet (I am a certified Cubao girl, having grown up just a few blocks away), I was initially impressed that it looked like an “American” soda fountain. (McDonald’s had yet to open here.)

But not even its most avid customers could have predicted how big Jollibee would become, especially how it would not only hold its own against “McDo,” but also dominate the local market and then lay tracks abroad, with 87 branches in countries like the United States, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Brunei.

This year, to mark its current milestone, Jollibee highlights the importance of the family, underscoring the important role of the family in our society, and featuring families of all permutations—nuclear, traditional, extended, intergenerational, blended, and even separated by distance, as with those of our overseas Filipino workers.

In fact, it has even introduced an innovation that bridges the distance between OFWs and their families at home. Through the Internet, a Filipino abroad can order Jollibee food items for delivery to his or her family, presumably wherever there is a Jollibee store nearby. And so through the magic of technology, even OFWs can imagine themselves, together with their family members, visiting a Jollibee store, which among Filipinos has become part of everyday—or every-weekend—experience.

To illustrate, the firm’s marketing head Albert Cuadrante introduced its latest TV ad, showing families gathering in a Jollibee store with soundtrack sung by Sarah Geronimo on the theme “Dito ang sarap maging pamilya (Here, it’s so nice to be family).”

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Here are some interesting Jollibee facts: Chickenjoy is by far its best-selling, most popular product. The firm has no stores in China because it chose instead to buy out popular fast-food chains based in the mainland as a business strategy. It will cost a potential franchisee about P15 million to open a Jollibee store. And, according to Cuadrante: “We are far from saturating even the Philippine market.”

He has an interesting story to tell when asked what was the most profitable branch in the chain (“It’s about 50-50 between company-owned and franchised stores,” he told the Bulong Pulungan at Sofitel). Though he wasn’t sure about which store earns more than the others, he called attention to Jollibee’s remarkable performance in, of all places, Tuguegarao. “Well, it’s the only fast-food place in town,” Cuadrante said, though the patronage of Cagayanos speaks volumes about Jollibee’s overall popularity.

Cuadrante asks everyone to keep an eye out for the other family-oriented activities that the firm will launch to mark this anniversary.

Indeed, the 35th birthday often marks one’s initiation into early middle-age, a time when one has to slow down and acknowledge the march of time and accumulation of years. But for Jollibee, the milestone seems to mark a renewal of energy and recognition of where its roots and identity lie—the Filipino family.

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He can very well be called “the volunteers’ volunteer.” Philippine Red Cross Chair, and UNA senatorial candidate, Dick Gordon is now on his second term at the helm of this “super-NGO,” but he has been a Red Cross volunteer since he was 22, which means he has been associated with it for 40 years. Not even his previous stints in the Senate interrupted his involvement with the Red Cross, an involvement inspired by his late mother, former Olongapo Mayor Amelia Gordon.

At a dinner, Gordon played a show-and-tell of new directions being taken by the local arm of the Red Cross. Once associated only with disaster rescue and relief, the Philippine Red Cross, said Gordon, is now involved in providing housing—temporary and permanent—to communities devastated by disaster or threatened by natural calamities.

The Red Cross, he said, has also been involved in community planning and design, including building schools and livelihood centers for the communities it sponsors.

Also part of the extensive menu of services: health and medical clinics, water safety facilities and devices, and medical assistance for individuals in need.

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WHAT distinguishes the Red Cross, though, is its decades of work tapping volunteers for blood donations, which are then either sold or provided for free during emergencies or for less urgent medical procedures.

Gordon is proudest of the system he helped put in place in which a “living blood bank” is created in a community, with the blood type of volunteers recorded and ready for tapping whenever a disaster or need occurs. The Red Cross, he says, also guarantees the safety of every bag of blood it provides, adding that the fees it charges for handling, including storage, are then cycled back to keep the blood donation program “flowing.”

Elected senator in 2004, and serving as tourism secretary in 2001-2004, Gordon surprised a great many people when he decided to throw his hat into the ring for the presidential race in 2010. One would think his defeat in those polls would have turned him off electoral politics for good, but Gordon says he has many more advocacies to pursue, and ideas he wants to put in place if the country is to truly live up to its current promise and potential.

Still energetic and exuding optimism and confidence, Gordon promises to bring a new energy to the Senate. Perhaps, if elected, he can bring added sheen to the rather tarnished reputation of the Senate, an institution in need of rehab.

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