Marites Jala has been working as a waitress at the CS Village Floating Restaurant since 1998, serving tourists looking to refuel after exploring Bohol’s natural wonders. It’s a job that she enjoys doing—she’s been at it for 23 years after all—but it was put to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A passion for serving
Jala got her start at the floating restaurant after she was referred by a cousin working there, who was about to leave to get married. “Sabi ng pinsan ko, ‘gusto mo ba mag-trabaho doon?’ Sabi ko, ‘sige.’ Kaysa mag-trabaho sa malayo, gagastos ka pa ng pamasahe. Ang dami pang gastusin. Ito, mas malapit. Siguro para sa akin yung trabaho,” Jala muses. [“My cousin said, ‘do you want to work there?’ I said ‘yes.’ If I work somewhere far away, I would have to spend on fare and other expenses. This one is nearer. Maybe the job is for me.”]
The CS Village Floating Restaurant gives guests a front-row seat to the marvels of the Loboc River, a popular tourist spot. The restaurant lazily cruises down the river, passing picturesque nipa palms, coconut trees, banana groves, and bushes. The Loctob Spring and Busay Falls are highlights as much as the dining experience at the restaurant.
CS Village originally only offered boat rides, where guests can bring their own food. “Sabi ng employer namin, ‘mas maganda pag may pagkain.’ Kaya gumawa sila ng menu hanggang sa nag-buffet,” Jala shares. [“Our employer said, ‘it’s better if we offer food.’ They created a menu until we offered a buffet.”]
She enjoys entertaining guests and tourists, even if it comes with its challenges. Like with everyone working in the service industry, Jala has her fair share of cranky guests. She takes it in stride, attributing their impatience to “sa gutom siguro.” [“hunger, probably.”]
As someone who has been working in the tourism industry for the past two decades, Jala has witnessed Bohol’s rise as one of the Philippines’ top destinations. She was there through its highs and lows, from its idyllic days when there were fewer visitors, to its tourism boom, and, now, the pandemic.
Ground to a halt
The restaurant was closed after the declaration of a community quarantine, leading 200,000 Boholanos to lose their jobs and livelihood opportunities. It was devastating for Jala, who supports a husband and three kids. Her eldest is a seaman who also lost his job, while two are in school.
“Malaking kawalan sa amin. Doon namin kinukuha yung pang araw-araw na gastusin, pang eskwela. Yun lang ang income namin sa pamilya,” she says. [“It’s a huge loss to us. That’s how we pay for daily expenses, for schooling. That’s the only income in our family.”]
The restaurant helped by giving cash assistance and filing for financial aid at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Social Security System (SSS). To supplement this, Jala took on cleaning jobs and helped her husband, a farmer. Her eldest also worked in the field.
Serving smiles once again
The CS Village Floating Restaurant reopened in December but things are still not back to normal. Prior to the pandemic, the restaurant entertained almost 1,000 guests per day. During holidays or the summer, the number can reach 2,000. Tourism numbers may have gone down during the pandemic but increased vaccinations, facilitated by the DOT, is expected to draw in more tourists in the coming years.
Jala is back at the restaurant, but the work is sporadic, depending on the number of guests for the day. She comes in once or twice a month. “Yung turista, konti na lang,” she says. “Hindi pwede yung dati na halo halo yung tao. Pag konti lang ang kailangan nilang tao, wala akong pasok.” [“There are fewer tourists now. It’s not like before where crowds can gather. If the restaurant only needs a few staff members, I don’t go to work.”]
On days she can’t serve guests, she continues her cleaning jobs, taking care of kids, and helping her husband in the field. Thankfully, her seaman son has boarded a ship this May.
Still, Jala remains hopeful. “Kung kukunin pa ko ng employer, babalik din ako. Yang trabahong yan ang nakapagpaaral sa anak ko,” she says. [“I will go back if my employer wants me to return. That’s the job that sent my kids to school.”]
She adds, “taas-taasan pa rin natin ang lakas ng loob. Babalik din tayo sa dati sa tulong ng prayer.” [“Let’s have courage. We will get back to normal with the help of prayer.”]