SHAFAQNA – There is a small “halo-halo” outlet in Sultan Kudarat’s seaside Lebak town helping sustain almost unnoticeably the solidarity among local Muslim and Christian folks for three decades now.
The “R. Alarcon Snack Haus,” known for its delicious halo-halo at only P50 per serving, is now an icon of the resilience of local entrepreneurs, having lived through previous armed conflicts and the religious animosity among the culturally and spiritually pluralistic Lebak residents in decades past.
A Filipino dessert, halo-halo, supposedly spelled “halu-halu, according to the Commission in Filipino Language, is made up of shaved ice, milk and glazed fruits, served in a bowl or tall glass.
Its ingredients include boiled kidney beans, custard, ice cream and sweet jam made from purple tuber yam called “ube” in most Philippine dialects.
Karim Ahmad, a Muslim driver of a passenger motorcycle called “habal-habal” in local dialects, said he and some of his Visayan friends, mostly his regular passengers, always find time to while away time at the establishment.
Ahmad said he and his Christian friends feast on halo-halo while talking about their plans for their children, about their story-worthy day-to-day experiences and about everything good friends usually talk about.
“We don’t talk about religion. We exchange jokes and laugh loudly while consuming halo-halo,” Ahmad said in Filipino.
The establishment’s caretaker, Lulin Ampatid, an Ilongga from Esperanza town southeast of Sultan Kudarat province, said the halo-halo business of the Alarcon family started in the 1970s, when Lebak was yet a small settlement of fisherfolks, peasants and timberjacks employed by big logging firms operating in densely-forested hinterland jungles nearby.
“This was first established at one spot in the municipal market, but was transferred outside when a fire destroyed the market in the 1980s,” Ampatid said.
The establishment is now located across the street at one side of the Lebak Agora municipal market.
“Our customers here are Muslims, Christians and Lumad people. Most often, when we are full, they join together in tables, which is so nice to see,” Ampatid said.
Local officials said they are so fascinated with how the establishment has been helping foster camaraderie among Muslims, Christians and the Lumad sectors in Lebak.
The latest to have discovered the delicious halo-halo sold at the roadside refreshment hangout were long-time friends Haritah Ala Biruar, a Muslim, and Maria Theresa Talan-Chua, a Catholic.
Biruar and Chua are both from Cotabato City, more than a hundred kilometers north of Lebak. They travelled to the town all the way, passing through Maguindanao’s North and South Upi towns, just to taste the best-seller Lebak halo-halo.
Now in their early 50s, Biruar, personnel officer of the Regional Legislative Assembly in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Chua, a senior staff of the regional office of the Department of Trade and Industry in Koronadal City, are friends since their adolescence.
They both told The STAR they were amazed with the distinct taste of the halo-halo served to them, made up of fruits and Durian pulps mixed with finely shaven ice, topped with powdered milk instead of ice cream.