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A Marawi hero’s memory lives on in this small town bakery

How two fallen soldier’s families used a business franchise grant to turn their lives around

In Purok Seppina, Barangay Del Paz, Antipolo, there is a sari-sari store named “Marawi Hero Store.” Next to it is a two-story house where Leopoldo Lolo and his family live. Leopoldo is a retired security guard and former soldier, who lost his son, Jan Michael, in the battle of Marawi. The eldest of five, Jan Michael joined the Marines in 2016, when he was just 25 years old. His grandmother, Melita Socular, helped send him to military school with her earnings from her small business.

On July 29, 2017, Jan Michael’s last day alive, he spoke with his mother. Every night, holed up in different abandoned homes in the city center, he would FaceTime his parents and tell them what he’d been up to that day. He’d been deployed to Marawi just short of five months, and wasn’t even supposed to be on duty that night. He was shot by a sniper during a brief firefight, the only casualty among four other marines who belonged to a tight-knit team and who were keeping watch together.

For his service, Jan Michael received a posthumous Kalasag Medal under the Order of Lapu-Lapu, awarded to government troops who were killed in action in Marawi. His parents, Leopoldo and Alma, went to Malacanang to receive the honor. Along with a title to a house and lot, they were given a lump sum death pension that has allowed them to open the sari-sari store.

The Lolos are just one of the families of the 166 soldiers and policemen who died in action. When the conflict ended, San Miguel president and CEO Ramon S. Ang visited Camp Aguinaldo to meet with the families of the fallen and to sign a memorandum of agreement creating a P330 million fund awarding each KIA (killed in action) family a business startup. The families were allowed to choose a business franchise from Kambal Pandesal, BMEG Feeds, TJ Hotdogs and other food cart businesses, and San Miguel Food Avenue franchises.

The Lolos were the third to set up a Kambal Pandesal, and in the six months since its opening it’s been turning a steady profit. Named Jan Michael Bakery, the store is being run by Leopoldo’s niece and younger son. Maritess, the enterprising niece, has started selling bread to the school employees and even caters for school events. After rent and operating expenses, the Lolo family can expect to earn between P20,000 to P25,000 a month.

Leopoldo Lolo (holding a red ribbon) was granted with a business franchise from Kambal Pandesal as part of the assistance provided by San Miguel Corporation to families of soldiers and policemen who died in action during the Marawi siege

Joven Lolo helps manage their family’s Kambal Pandesal franchise which they named "Jan Michael Bakery" in honor of his late brother who fought during the Marawi siege

The Kambal Pandesal franchise package includes ten days training on running the business, accounting and baking. A team of KP bakers keep a close watch on consistency and food quality. Bob Labrador, retail business manager of San Miguel Mill’s Kambal Pandesal, has worked at the company for over three decades but says he has never felt so proud to be an employee than at present. “It’s such a blessing to work with the families and to journey with them. When we speak to the families, it’s hard not to feel moved. They are all so grateful that they’ve been given this chance to open a business,” he says.

At least eight of the ten Kambal Pandesal stores run by the KIA families are doing better than the national average, says Labrador. “I’m convinced it’s because these families are working hard to honor the memory of their sons or husbands. They’re doing the best they can and want business to succeed because it’s really a gift from the fallen.”

Another of the fallen is Army Private First Class Dhan Ryan Bayot whose story of extraordinary courage went viral in 2017. Bayot was from Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay. On the second day of the Marawi siege, the Infantry Battalion of which Bayot was a member was attacked by the Maute. Only Bayot survived. Having radioed for reinforcements he was told that it would be almost impossible to rescue him because the Maute terrorists had wrested control of the surrounding passage ways. Bayot radioed again and told his commanding officer to bomb his location. His family says that he knew he was going to die, but that he wanted to take as many of the terrorists with him. It took several days to retrieve Bayot’s body.

In September 2019, two years after his death, his family opened a B-Meg dealership in Barangay Upper Pangi, Ipil. Ipil is largely rural, home to many small livestock breeders of hogs and gamefowl. B-Meg provided help in setting up the store and helping select the location. But the San Miguel’s assistance hasn’t stopped there. The next step would be to help the Bayot’s put up a 5-10 sow level piggery with the remainder of their funds, says Czerina Cruz, the B-Meg employee in charge of shepherding the start up.  

Larry Bayot has turned his mourning into motivation to manage their new business granted by San Miguel. Two years after the death of their son who they lost during the Marawi Siege, they opened a B-Meg dealership store in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay.

The B-Meg dealership store is one of the franchise opportunities offered by San Miguel in support to families who lost sons to the Marawi conflict

Army Private First Class Dhan Ryan Bayot showed extraordinary courage during the Marawi Siege. With the Maute terrorists taking control of surrounding passage ways, he told his commanding officer to bomb his location, paying the ultimate sacrifice.

Of the total 166 KIA families, over 120 have already been matched with a business. None of the beneficiaries have run into any major problems, although for some it’s been a steep learning curve, since not every family is prepared to successfully manage the financial windfall that’s come their way. But at the end of the day, these opportunities—no matter how much they earn—can’t ever hope to make up for the heartbreak of parents who’ve lost sons to war.

Jan Michael used to say that he would take care of his parents. “Balang araw may bahay kayo na maganda, may business kayo.” Joven, his younger brother, says he used to wonder how this might all happen. Half-smiling, he tells us he now knows the answer.

This article was originally published in the November/December 2018 issue of Kaunlaran Magazine and has been repurposed for World We Want.

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