May 30, 2006

Pinoy Pod

I just discovered Pinoy Podcast by the San Francisco Chronicle and I think it's really great to listen to Flips in the US talking about the good things of being Pinoy. Last week's podcast was an interview with Joey Ayala and his Tagalog lyrics on the Star Spangled Banner. (By the way, according to Joey's liner sheets from his CD 12 Love Songs, the US national anthem was actually based on an Irish pub song! Who knew?) In this week's podcast, listen to Rex Navarette's account of performing during the state of emergency in February at SM North Edsa, scuba diving with GMA (well not actually with her...) at Tubbataha, and his mom who provides inspiration for a lot of his jokes. Now how cool is that?

Cabalen alert!

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Tuesday ordered the closure of the commissary of restaurant operator Cabalen Management Company Inc. for allegedly dumping waste water in a drainage system in Project 4, Quezon City. (From the ABS-CBN News web site, May 30, 2006)

If Cabalen owners can do this to the environment, imagine how they prepare the food in the kitchens of their outlets. Yuck! Thank God I'm not a fan of Capampangan cuisine! Seriously, the Department of Health owe it to taxpayers to inspect all restaurants and check them out for cleanliness and health risks. That intestinal flu you blame on overeating could actually be due to the improper handling of food in a restaurant's kitchen. Eww!

May 29, 2006

What were they thinking of?

With panic withdrawals reaching about P30 billion from trust funds, the so-called UITF, why is the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas slow to act on the problem? A suspension on sales of the product is called for and greedy banks should be whipped for taking advantage of many unsophisticated depositors. I spoke to one of the tellers in Banco de Oro who admitted that their bank saw a stream of UITF depositors clamoring to get out. Some opted though to invest in the safer time deposit. Imagine how many retired school teachers or public servants probably invested in the UITF, mostly using their lifetime savings?

Of course the affected banks are blaming the BSP for precipitating the panic withdrawals by announcing that the public should be careful about investing in such products. Aside from warning the public, maybe the BSP should have already used its fabled "moral suasion" to stop the banks from selling the product. Rules on UITF investments should be tweaked to favor depositors and not the banks which are already making money off us by offering high interest rates while giving us low deposit rates. One percent per annum? That's ridiculous compared to the 18% interest on loans they charge! As in everything, it is the ordinary Pinoy who suffers the most.

May 27, 2006

A Tale of Two Mothers

Their children figured in the most publicized rape and murder case in recent national history. Both of them are grieving---one for two dead daughters, the other for a son on death row.
(Originally published in Metro Magazine, Aug. 2005; Photos by Erwin Lim and courtesy of the Larrañaga and Chiong families)

*Blogger's note: The Department of Justice on May 26, 2006 has recommended the commutation of the death sentence of Paco Larrañaga and six others convicted of the Chiong sisters murder.

Bank chismis

Though panic withdrawals by trust fund depositors are a hot item in the banking community these days, I would rather choose to talk about juicier topics. When this publicist was still connected with a bank, she did nothing except promote herself in press and photo releases in her quite laughable pursed-lips-forehead-towards-the-camera poses. She had such an easy life by paying other people to write her press releases while she went on doing her own thing on company time. She even managed to find time to get married to an ex-drug addict. (Now what did an ex-boyfriend of hers say about the union? "Once an addict, always an addict.") None of the journalists who covered the bank as part of their beat liked her because she didn't know quite well how to relate to them...considering she was in "public relations." It is amazing how she managed to escape internal audits considering the amount of padding in her budgets and expenses. I suppose her bosses were just too stupid to investigate matters which were labeled under "PR expenses," considering how they try very hard to protect their bank's most sacred name. And we hear that while this publicist has now retired from the company (we surmise because she wants to have more time with her husband whom she is financially supporting as well), she still managed to land the account as its external PR. Amazing how this woman can get away with murder.

May 26, 2006

To live by faith

I’m not usually accustomed to discussing spiritual matters and one’s relationship with God except with close friends. But all the fuss about the film The Da Vinci Code and the unbelievable pronouncements of some clergymen—those who should know better—have lit a flame under my seat. So here’s my story.

(To read on, click blog title. Originally published in Business Mirror, May 26-27, 2006; Something Like Life comes out "almost" every Friday.)

May 25, 2006

Soul Patrol! Soul Patrol!

Well as I predicted, Taylor Hicks won this year's American Idol. Americans just love a good show...and Taylor just gave it to them night after night. Not really good of voice, but what a performer. He just enjoyed himself immensely and the audience could relate to that. (My favorite was Mandisa--now that's a voice! And Chris Daughtry--good consistent performer who, despite his rocker roots, could slow it down and put on the grooves.) Poor Katherine McPhee...all that Boston Conservatory training gone to waste. She tried to put on all the seductive moves for the voters because she knew she couldn't rely on her formal voice training and coaching from her mom to win the contest. Guess her dad must really be crying now! (See May 18 post)

May 24, 2006

Fil-Am porn star runs for Nevada governor

Our time has arrived all ye Pinoys out there! Click a load of this baby! For campaign contributions, copy and paste this URL on your browser to get to mimi's campaign web site.

Who's afraid of a national ID system?

A couple of days ago, I was at Equitable Bank paying some bills. While waiting for my turn, I overheard a teen-ager trying to open a savings account. The bank manager asked her for an ID and she produced her student ID. Mr. Manager then asked if she didn't have any other ID with her like a passport or her birth certificate. I don't know about you, but I don't go around town with my passport or birth certificate. Lucky me I have an SSS ID to show proof of my existence in this world. But going back to the teen-ager, well she was told she would have to return with either of those IDs. I understand that the bank, since its brush with the whole Jose Velarde issue, as well as goverment's own anti-money laundering laws, only wants to protect itself from unlawful use. I just think if we had a national ID system in place, this kid didn't wouldn't have a problem opening an account--a remarkable feat in itself considering how kids these days hardly have any pocket change. Leftists think the government will just use the system to clamp down on their activities. Well I say we just need a uniform proof of identification, that any entity, government or otherwise, will when you encounter a medical emergency, get a passport, enter buildings, claim government or private pension benefits, buy liquor or cigarettes, enter moviehouses with restricted patronage, applying for work, etc. It can show whether you're an organ donor, what allergies you have, people to contact in case of emergecies, etc. It's just one ID for everything, instead of us fumbling around in our bags or wallets, looking for one. Sure the system can be abused, as in any system, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. Besides, I think if you don't have anything to hide, you shouldn't be afraid of a national ID system.

Oh Soozy, we miss you!

The Pinoy blogging community is still talking about the disappearance (or deletion) of Soozy Hopper's blog. "Confessions of Soozy Hopper" was such an entertaining read, as she (actually "they," as there were lots of writers and contributors) exposed the nasties among the high society or may I say, "feeling high" society? Snort! snort! The wanna-be's you often read about in lifestyle columns penned by who else? but them, just went up in arms over this blog. Rumor has it, one of the targets complained to about the vicious attacks on their person/s so the site had to delete it. Talk about sticks and stones! Oh poor Soozy, we all miss you! But I'm pretty sure she will surface somewhere soon, nastier than ever. Speaking of one of Soozy's targets, I don't even know how that guy got to be editor of a publication! Please naman, know the difference first between "further" and "farther" before working for a magazine! What's your address? Lemme send you a nice little book called, "Elements of Style" by Strunk and White! Oh the horrors!

May 22, 2006

RP gov't bureaucracy

Click on the link above and find out just how many government agencies, bureaus, task forces and divisions there are out of Malacañang. Actually this is a list of the government links but it gives you a pretty good idea of how big the bureaucracy is. In the meantime, I was just told of another office...get this, the Presidential Task Force on Economic Affairs and Constituency Empowerment! Waste waste waste...

Trust funds/mutual funds alert!

I got a text message recently from a bank president who warns people to think twice about investing in trust funds. Several investors have apparently seen the NAV or net asset value of their investments fall... "Kawawa naman the small unsophisticated investors. They were misled and misinformed by some careless and irresponsible banks who mis-sold the UITF," his message said. UITF stands for unit investment trust fund, which replaced the common trust fund sold by banks previously. It's basically a pool of funds that banks use to invest in bonds or stocks, and everyone in that pool shares in the earnings or the losses on the investment. "And the way GS (government securities) prices are going, there is no guarantee that the yield will be better than savings deposits. In fact, there is no guarantee that the principal will be intact," he adds. Ouch! According to this bank exec, investors have to stay on top of their money and know when to liquidate or add to the pool instead of relying on the say-so of their banker. He says banks still don't have enough infrastructure to keep you abreast of what's happening to your money.Basically all you get is a report at the end of the investment period and apprised of how your money did. The same is true with mutual funds which also are invested in bonds. When interest rates go up, the value of the bonds drop. So ask your banker/insurer what your current NAV is. If it's below 100, it's time to liquidate people! These days, even the old 1% savings account will do. For high safe returns, go for the time deposit.

May 20, 2006

I love SM!

Just some of the shops now open at the second floor of the Mall of Asia. This place was made for shopaholics!
Water fountains at the entrance, designed to feng shui specs I suppose. Notice the curves of the facade. Sexy!
Ground floor of Mall of Asia. People look happy and excited! What a mall culture we've become.

I couldn't help but snap away inside and outside the Mall of Asia using my trusty Treo 650. What can you do? I love department stores. I practically grew up in SM (and Rustans). Blame it on my mother who used to lug me around every Saturday to the old Makati Commercial Center just to blow my father's salary. Hahaha! I'm not complaining of course. Pwede ba, nakinabang din ako? Truly I love SM--it's got everything for everybody. Foodies will also love going to the Mall of Asia because there are just so many dining outlets to choose from! Of course you have the usual fastfood joints and budget restaurants found in most SM malls. But there are also a lot of fine dining restaurants that have found a place by the bay. What's cool about this is that they actually do face Manila Bay so after a long shopping day, you can relax and have some antipasti and red wine at Grappa's or rounds of rum/coke or mojitos at Mojitos, al fresco of course, and watch the glorious sun setting over the horizon. Fabulous! And wait 'til you see the IMAX! Huge screen and 600 seating capacity. Over the top talaga!

Mall of Asia...Wow!

Huge doesn't begin to describe the Mall of Asia. I was there this afternoon for its launch and man! my feet hurt! I went started going around at 3pm and ended at 7:30 pm and I don't think I even saw everything. Those who want to lose weight should try that mall for exercise. Seriously, I think I lost 10 lbs just by going up and down and walking around. There are still a lot of stores that aren't opened, especially the high-end name brands, so if you guys intend to do some full blast shopping, wait until about July. But guess what store was so crowded today? Surplus Shop of course! Everyone was there! From the sosyal matronas and officials in business suits to the masa were rummaging through the piles and piles of seriously inexpensive clothes. The line was so long at the cashier I gave up. It was nice to see family patriarch Henry Sy just seated outside Hypermart with some friends and family members having some merienda. Boy, the man can really totally retire now that his Mall of Asia has opened. I mean, how can he ever top this?
(Panoramic photo courtesy of SM)

A 'Da Vinci Code' That Takes Longer to Watch Than Read

Like I said, so much ado over nothing. And what's up with Tom Hanks' hair? Ron Howard's greatest achievement is playing Richie Cunningham on 'Happy Days!'

May 19, 2006

Manila bans Da Vinci Code!

Que barbaridad! What in heaven's name were these Manila petty politicians thinking? Oh right, politicians don't have brains, only big mouths! Such guardians of morality decency and religion! The film already carries an R-18 rating which already guarantees less moviegoers. And do they think by just banning it, the Manila residents won't watch it? They'll go to Pasay, Makati or Quezon City instead where the theaters there will rake it in. And not to mention give more taxes to their respective mayors! How can you expect the Philippines to prosper when you have narrow minded petty politicans running the government? And what about the separation of Church and State? My question is, did they even watch the film? For all you know, their citizens won't watch it anymore because most critics have already dissed it. Too long a story for such a short book. And if you haven't read the book, you'll likely get lost in the plots subplots and countless flashbacks. Too much ado over nothing! Hay naku, what can you expect from a city run by a former Bayanihan propsman? It's bad enough they have those giant sputnik lights along Roxas Blvd. now they even have multi-colored lanterns along Nagtahan Bridge. Really distasteful! Hoy councilors, kung wala kayong magawa, magsabit nalang kayo ng ilaw!

Breast milk is best...but not for this mall

I was breastfed as a baby. It's no wonder that I never really got sick with any major illness common to kids. In fact, I only got mumps and chicken pox when I was already an adult. What a bummer!
Scientists long ago have already proven the importance of nursing your baby. Breast milk provides your little one with a lot of important antibodies to fend off infections, helps boosts her IQ, makes her less susceptible to food allergies and more. And in a poor country like the Philippines where infant formula is so expensive, it makes sense for mothers to breastfeed their children.
But what's this we hear about an upscale mall in Makati disallowing breastfeeding? As the story goes, a single mom who was breastfeeding her baby was approached by one of the mall's security guards then told her to breastfeed in the rest room instead. To which, the feisty lady replied, "Ikaw ba pag nagugutom sa CR ka kumakain?" The last time I looked up the term, "security guards" are people hired to secure the premises of their employer from thieves and other possible attacks. Now unless that mom was filching something from a store while breastfeeding her baby, or had a bomb hidden in her boob, the "sikyo" had no business telling her where to nurse her baby!
Actually I'm not surprised at the behavior of this mall's guards. Wasn't it only a few years ago when they beat up some kids accused of petty thievery? Barbarians!

May 18, 2006

The Top 10 Relationship Questions

You’re dating a new hot guy, or currently in a steady relationship with a guy you think you’d like to spend the rest or your life with, or maybe you’ve just broken up with your boyfriend of five years. There are still a lot of questions keeping you up in the middle of the night. And no matter how many times you talk to your girlfriends or gayfriends, asking them the same questions over and over again (which they patiently answer over and over again because, hey, that’s what friends do), you can’t calm down. Your mind is reeling, you feel anxious, maybe even panicky, and you hope that the answers in your head are wrong.
Herein I think are the top 10 relationship questions that we women always torture ourselves (and our friends) with.

1. Is he going to call? Or should I call him? The first date went well. You both clicked. And you’d like to see him again. Honey, if he doesn’t call, don’t take it too personally. He just may not be into a steady dating frame of mind yet, as I gathered from my talks with a lot of young men these days. Many of them are just trying to make a name for themselves in their chosen profession, so they’re not really in a hurry to tie themselves down to just one girl. Then again, he might just be looking for a different kind of girl and you don’t fit the bill. So it’s best to adopt the same attitude as men do and move on. Should you call him? Hell no!

2. Should I kiss on a first date? If the date went well, a peck on the cheek would be nice before saying goodnight. But if you feel the chemistry really flowing, then you could consider some tongue action—but only if he makes the move first. You don’t want to scare him off, do you? Leave it at that and let him want to see you to get a taste of more.

3. Should I have sex on a first date? It helps to be clear about your objectives for the guy. If you’re just in it for the fun of it, then be my guest. I realize that sometimes you just want to go with the momentum of a great date. But don’t expect him to say “I love you” after. More often than not, he won’t. No matter how many times you do it. Now if you strongly feel that he could be the father of your kids someday, then it would be best to hold back until you get to know each other better. Who knows, he might have insanity running in his family? Seriously, men like the chase. But whatever you decide, please practice safe sex.

4. Does he love me? He’s nice and sweet to you. He’s thoughtful. Never fails to call you, always picks you up from your work, takes you out to dinners frequently, and showers you with lots of gifts. But not once has he said the “L” word. Honey, just in case you don’t know it yet, men are idiots when it comes to expressing their feelings. And they absolutely hate talking about the relationship, where it’s at or where it’s going, along with all the other stuff that’s important to you. I guess you will never know until he actually gets down on his knees and proposes to you. In the meantime, you could consider the truism that “actions speak louder than words” and be content basking in his undivided attention.

5. He’s asking for a cool-off period. Is it over? If he wants to have a cool-off period, you know he is having doubts about spending any more time with you. It may not be over just yet but realize that it is heavily tilting toward that conclusion. In the meantime, go out with your friends and flirt with other men. Men are territorial by nature, so if your boyfriend has any feelings for you left, knowing that other men are hitting on you could make him realize a thing or two.

6. Should you date during the cool-off period? Absolutely! A lot of people may disagree with me but, hey, why should my girlfriend sit around and wait for her boyfriend to snap out of his stupidity? If he wants her, he knows where to find her. In the meantime, enjoy your freedom and go out. Moping and waiting for him to call won’t serve any useful purpose, except drive you crazy.

7. We broke up. I know he still loves me. Will we get back together? You’ve been listening to Barry Manilow again? Heck no! Move on, girl!

8. How do I know he is The One? Many married people I’ve talked to all agree that you will know if he’s The One. You’ll feel it in your bones, in your guts, in your loins and, most important, in you heart. Nothing stupid like “He completes me.” Because you should be a whole person to begin with. Like you’re already happy and satisfied with your life but having him around is a nice bonus.

9. He’s married but we’re very much in love. Is he going to leave her? Not in a million years, honey! Especially if he has children with her. Either be content being a mistress and not complain if he isn’t with you always, or enjoy the fact that he isn’t with you always. Imagine all the wonderful things you could do—you’re in a steady relationship and yet you can go out and come home late, or have your friends over for dinner, go on vacations and so on. Enjoy your freedom. And, no, getting yourself pregnant won’t make him leave her either. He might just end up resenting you later for making him lose touch with his other children. Live your own independent life and just be there for him when he needs you.

10. He’s cheated on me but he says he’s sorry. Should I accept him back? Tricky question. Maybe if it’s just once, stick to the relationship and give him another chance. We all make mistakes. Forgiveness is a huge part of making any relationship work. And if you’re married and have kids, there is more reason to stay together. I still believe that most kids grow up better adjusted when raised by two parents. Now if he’s a habitual cheater, then leave. He’s making you miserable, so stop being a doormat. “Hard” isn’t even close to describing what you will go through in the next few months, but just think about it this way: not many people get a second stab at happiness.
So live and love, people!
(Originally published in Business Mirror, May 19 issue, Something called Life by Stella Arnaldo)

RP tourism industry experiencing growth

BORACAY ISLAND, Philippines — Orlando Sacay, a long-time resort owner in Boracay Island, reputed to have the best white beach in the world, has seen the popular resort island come a long way. From only a few huts and cottages in the late 1970s, Boracay now boasts four-story concrete buildings and by next year, will be home to the popular Shangri-La Hotel and Resorts chain.
Sacay’s resort, Waling Waling Beach Hotel, is one of the more famous on the island with guests coming from as far as Europe and the U.S. It is also playground to Manila’s most elite families. The hotel, with its 29 beachfront rooms, is almost fully booked the whole year round, with guests willing to pay $120 to $260 per night.
But with the steadily growing numbers of tourists on the island, led primarily by locals and Korean travelers, he sees a shortage of rooms very soon. Sacay, who is also president of the Boracay Foundation Inc., a group of hotel and resort owners on the island, has even built another villa-type resort, Sitio Waling Waling, just a few hundred meters at the back of his hotel, to answer to the growing demand for rooms.
According to a landmark study, released in March by the International Finance Corp., the investment arm of the World Bank, there was an estimated 2,847 rooms in Boracay in 2004 — 85% of which are in small hotels, 10% medium-sized (30-60 rooms), 2.5% large hotels (more than 60 rooms), and one with more than 100 rooms. The study, however, could not determine the hotel occupancy rates because of the lack of accurate data.
But the study does show an annual average increase in tourists by 12.79% from 1996 to 2004, “significantly higher than the overall growth rate of visitor arrivals for the whole country.” As of end-2004, about 430,000 people visited Boracay, from 340,000 the year before.
“I still need more rooms. But IFC thinks that Boracay can take more tourists with the same number of rooms, conclusion — quality rooms are in short supply,” Sacay said in an exclusive interview with the Journal.
The tourist numbers are primarily driven by locals, accounting for close to 70% of total Boracay visitors, said Sacay. Until five years ago, tourism was driven mostly by foreigners. However, increased availability of cheaper transportation such as the roll-on, roll-off barges or RO-RO project of the Macapagal government which connect the Batangas City port to Caticlan, the jump off point to the island, have encouraged even Filipinos in lower income levels to go the island, he said. Flights to Kalibo, the capital of Aklan, and Caticlan have also risen tremendously over the past years with six airlines now serving the route from Manila and from Cebu.
Still, foreign visitors have also accounted for the rise in arrivals to the island, up an average of 18.4% annually for the period, while the entire country only saw a 1.09% rise annually, according to the study. As such, there have been discussions among the government and private sector about upgrading either the Kalibo or Caticlan airport to service international carriers.
In the last three years, a number of new establishments have sprung up, mainly boutique hotels which cater to mid-priced travelers. The largest so far is Hotel Seraph (100 rooms), which cater to Koreans. Aside from Shangri-La Resort, which will add 200 rooms, there are also other resorts and hotels nearing completion. Among them are Discovery Shores of Discovery Suites (60 rooms); Balaihara of Fairways and Bluewater (150 rooms); expansion of Boracay Regency (80 rooms); Boracay Mandarin (48 rooms); and Real Mariz (48 rooms), totaling 618 new rooms for the island by the end of 2007.
Despite the constant bad rap the Philippines gets in the international market — for example, the U.S. has issued travel advisories regularly against traveling to certain parts of the Philippines — the tourists are still coming. Last year, tourist arrivals rose by 14.5% to 2.62 million, from 2.29 million in 2004, according to DOT data. Ironically, Americans, led the pack at 528,493 (20.1%); followed by Koreans, 489,465 (18.7%); Japanese, 415,456 (15.8%); Taiwanese, 122,946 (4.7%); Chinese (excluding Hong Kong residents), 107,456 (4.15). The rest come from Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Malaysia.
Guamanians, who fall under the Australasia/Pacific category, saw an 8.5% rise in arrivals to the Philippines last year at 37,249 from 34,326 in 2004. The total numbers exclude Filipinos working or living overseas still holding Philippine passports but include Filipinos who already hold passports of their countries of residence.
In a press statement on April 16, Ace Durano, DOT secretary, predicted that tourist arrivals would hit three million by year end. He said he is basing his optimism on the latest tourism statistics showing that “almost half a million arrivals were recorded during the first two months of the year, posting a growth rate of 17% against the same period last year.”
In other parts of the Philippines, hotel operators are also scrambling to establish more facilities in response to an expected influx of both foreign and domestic tourists. Among these are Clark field in Pampanga, a former airbase of the U.S. Armed Forces, and Cebu City in Eastern Visayas. Suprisingly, despite the increase in tourist arrivals, Metro Manila is not anticipating any room shortages.
Quoting figures from the regional DOT, Marco Protacio, general manager of Waterfront Hotel Cebu, said there would be a shortage of rooms in Region 7 (Eastern Visayas), which includes Cebu, in anticipation of five million tourist arrivals by 2010.
From January to September 2005, 1.09 million traveled to Region 7, 69% of which were local tourists, while the rest were foreigners. Last year’s figures were 11% higher than the same period in 2004. Of the total, Cebu accounted for 840,000, up 10% from the previous year’s 764,000.
Cebu has always been the favorite venue for out-of-town conventions for Filipinos as it sits almost in the middle of the two major island regions of the Philippines — Luzon in the north and Mindanao in the south. It is also fairly accessible via sea or air, and its international airport is probably the busiest after Manila. In the last two years, for example, Cebu has played host to the annual Advertising Congress, the largest gathering of advertising companies in the country.
Protacio, who is also president of the Hotel Resort Restaurant Association of Cebu, told the Journal that there were a total of 105 hotel and resort establishments in Cebu as of January, contributing 6,194 rooms. This accounts for almost 75% of the total rooms available in Region 7, which also includes Bohol, a growing popular tourist destination especially among foreigners.
Fourteen standard hotels, he said, account for the largest number of rooms in Cebu at 1,420; followed by three deluxe hotels at 1,018; then 14 economy hotels with 959 rooms. Two first class hotels account for only 729 rooms.
Like Boracay Island, the hotel shortage appears to be among the first class and deluxe establishments, going by the recent openings of hotels and the expansion of existing resorts.
In October 2005, the Hilton Cebu Resort & Spa opened its doors with 246 rooms on Mactan Island, which its management called an historic event. Speaking at the grand opening on Oct. 26, 2005, Koos Klein, president for Hilton International Middle East & Asia Pacific, said, “Today marks a milestone for Hilton. It not only sees the return of the Hilton brand to the Philippines after 17 years, it also signifies the launch of the very first Hilton Worldwide Resort in one of Asia’s preferred tourism destinations.”
April saw the reopening of the Cebu Plaza Hotel, renamed Marco Polo Plaza Cebu, and now owned by Federal Land Inc. of the Metrobank group. The reopening of the establishment after three years of absence, added 335 rooms to the local scene. It was previously owned by Pathfinders Holdings Inc., the same owners of Philippine Plaza located at the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex in Manila. Metrobank foreclosed on the property when Pathfinders failed to pay its 900-million peso ($17.31 million) debt.
Another new hotel expected to be completed this month is the Park lane International Hotel with 250 rooms, while the others being constructed are additional rooms for existing first class and deluxe hotels, said Protacio. These are: Cebu White Sands Resort (75 rooms), Costabella Tropical Beach Hotel (66 rooms), and Maribago Bluewater Resort (51 rooms), for a total of 192 rooms expected by year end.
In Clark field, north of Manila, foreign tourists are boosting hotel occupancies. It is now running close to “80% on a regular basis,” according to Victor Jose I. Luciano, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the government-run Clark Development Corp.
He told the Journal, “Before, occupancy rates here ran on peaks and valleys. For instance, during the weekends, occupancy was higher…. In 2003, the average was 50%, 2004, the average was 65%, and 2005, this has gone up to 80-90%. Obviously, there is now a shortage of hotels in Clark.”
He attributes the increase tourist arrivals due to the influx of Koreans —which according to the DOT, has already dislodged Americans as the No. 1 tourist group to the Philippines this year — followed by Singapore and Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. Over the years, direct flights from the latter countries have boosted the tourist numbers in Clark. There are 46 passenger flights a week at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, “offering the most competitive rates,” flying directly to Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kota Kinabalu, Taipei, China, Macau and Thailand.
“At the same time, Clark has positioned itself to be a venue for meetings and seminars of corporations based in Manila,” Luciano added.
With the jump in tourist arrivals to 120,000 last year from only 40,000 in 2004, a number of hotels is expected to be completed by year end to complement the projected rise in arrivals in the next following years. Among the hotels undergoing construction are Raffles Hotel (250 rooms), Fort Stotsenburg Hotel (250 rooms), and Fontana Leisure (60 rooms). “Smaller hotels are now being added outside Clark area,” said Luciano, to catch the overspill of arrivals inside the former U.S. airbase.
Metro Manila’s hotels, while recording decent occupancies, will not likely see any additional rooms built within the next few years, primarily because there is no need for them.
Helmut Gaisberger, general manager of Mandarin Oriental, Manila, a premier hotel in the business district of Makati City, said he doesn’t see any hotel shortage in the city. “That the hotels have been enjoying high occupancies does not mean that we need additional rooms in Metro Manila.”
He said Mandarin is recording an average occupancy rate “in the high 80s (%), similar to those in previous years.” Like most deluxe hotels in Makati, business travelers and conferences make up the bulk of the hotel’s business. MBJ

(Originally published in Marianas Business Journal, May 15 issue.)

The Next American Idol

I am putting my name on the line and predict Taylor Hicks to win the coveted prize on American Idol. He's not that good, except that people just happen to be taken by his cheesy, karaoke performances. Perhaps they remind him of themselves, when they're all drunk and have nothing better to do. It really should have been Chris Daughtry, ladies and gentlemen. Or Mandisa. The only good thing about this year's American Idol is that no cowgirl singing the blues is gonna win again. Hey! How come we Asians aren't allowed to vote anymore in this competition like previous years? I'm gonna miss Simon Cowell...

Spoon Wars

What a cultural disconnect! So much fuss over proper dining etiquette. I remember the first time I went to an upscale restaurant when I was a child...I didn't even know what to do with all those spoons, forks and knives lined up on the side and top of my plate (which kept on being changed by the way!). And tell me, do I use a teaspoon or a small fork to eat cake? I don't know. Anyway, I eat with a fork and spoon at home, unless I'm having crabs or prawns, then I do it "kamayan" style. I only use the knife and fork routine in high-end restaurants, and of course chopsticks in Japanese and Chinese restaurants. Speaking of "kamayan," I find it amusing that a lot of Pinoys, so as not to appear "barbaric" go so far as to eat chicken or pizza using their knives and forks! That's not barbaric, that's plain stupid! Who taught them this? There is a restroom where you can go and wash your hands, people! In the States, you see Americans heartily eating chicken with their fingers. And so too Italians use their fingers to eat their pizzas. Well of course in Canada, pigs use spoons. It's a strange world we live in...

Spoon wars
First posted 08:49am (Mla time) May 14, 2006
By Michael L. Tan

MANY of us will remember the way we were nagged by our elders about the polite way of holding our spoons. But hey, most of us were never told the spoon was only for soup and dessert. For Filipinos, and most Asians, spoons were the greatest invention ever. Throw away the knife and the fork but never the spoon, which we use for soups, desserts, vegetables, even to cut meat. To read on, click on blog's title.

Doing Mongkok in Boracay

I thought it odd at first to find a Mongkok Dimsum and Noodles all the way in Boracay Island.
I’ve seen it at Power Plant in Rockwell, Makati, with long, long lines of people, waiting to get their tables. I haven’t eaten there myself, always put off by the thought of queuing for a table.
But there I was at D’Mall D’Boracay, hungrier than I’d ever been after a long wait at the Manila airport for our flight out to this beautiful island. I had been looking forward to get a nap first, if the flight had left on time, but no, we had arrived just as the noontime sun decided to shine in its glory. So I was mad as hell as well. Sleepy and hot and hungry. What a perfect combination for lunch.
Thank God, we were expected by the manager Rhoi so it was easy to get a seat. But the lunchtime crowd was fast picking up. Why should I be surprised that this place would be any less popular here than it is in Manila? I was hardly coherent and competent but there I was tossing out the orders off the menu like the rest of the group.
Mongkok thankfully, didn’t disappoint. From the appetizers to the dessert, I was packing it all in. Everything was just frightfully delicious. I was sure to return and have my senses knocked out of me again.
No wonder the lines were long at the Power Plant, I thought. Bite after bite, I half-gloated that at least I didn’t have to burn my ass on a chair just to get a table. Heeheehee (Evil laugh ala Wanda the Witch)
There are 32 choices for Dimsum alone at Mongkok. We ordered the Mongkok Siomai, which was juicy and tender. The Scallop Dumpling just rolled off my tongue with nary a taste of the salty sea. But my favorite was the Salad Shrimp Puff. The shrimp was just tasty and plump inside the crispy crust. Not so thick as most restaurants are wont to coat their shrimps. It was just the right crunch and contrasted perfectly with the softness of the shrimp. Although it was served with mayonnaise as a dip, I opted for sweet chili sauce that gave the dish just the right kick. The rest of the dimsum, of course, was best savored with soy sauce, calamansi and chili oil.
For our main course, we chose among the Chef’s Specials (22 items in all)--the Lemon Chicken, Salt and Pepper Squid, Scallop and Broccoli, and Yang Chow Fried Rice. The Lemon Chicken just had the right tartness but was overall, a sweet dish. The chicken parts were in good-sized pieces, and almost fell off the bone, boosting my overall enjoyment of the dish.
The Salt and Pepper Squid was a smash! I don’t know how Mongkok’s cooks did it but the squid was just soooo tender. No chewing gum, rubbery feel here. I took one bite and the meat separated with ease. This gets high marks from me as a perfect dish. The salt and peppery flavors just played off each other, neither one overpowering the other.
Even the Scallop and Broccoli was quite a treat as the meat was as plentiful as the broccoli tops. Notice how other restaurants just overwhelm this same dish by having too much broccoli that trying to find the scallops would be like digging for Yamashita’s treasure! I just loved the broccoli because it was cooked just right. It was not too well-done to the point of squishy but not too uncooked that it threatens an amoebiasis attack. The tops were just firm but did not clash at all with the softness of the scallops.
I apologize that I can’t say much about the Yang Chow Fried Rice because to me, rice dishes are just accompaniments to the main viands. Despite its chock-full embellishments, the fried rice was not too heavy to confuse the palate that you were eating a main course as well. Although I’m sure some people would just be happy to just order that one dish and have their appetites satisfied. I of course, am more complicated than that.
For dessert I had the Black Gulaman with Lychee. This was the only dish that I had to protest to manager Rhoi. In this dessert, Mongkok puts some almond essence, which unfortunately, is too strong it overpowers the delicate taste of the dessert. With my face contorting into a bleah!, Rhoi asked the waiter to bring me another order without the essence. This time, it was perfect. What a refreshing ending to a delicious, hot and fast meal.
Since it opened last August 8, Mongkok Boracay, a franchise of the popular restaurant in Metro Manila, has obviously been doing brisk business. I was in the area in the afternoon and late evening and there were still a lot of people.
Juan Elizalde, a co-owner of the Mongkok Boracay says he and his partner Paolo Occhionero, wanted a Chinese restaurant at D’Mall primarily because there was none. All the other restaurants in the area where Italian, Japanese, grilled seafoods, lechon manok etc. “We felt that Mongkok would be a good addition to the mall…. We thought Chinese, being one of the more popular cuisines in the world would be the better option to go into.” The Boracay outlet is the first outside Luzon.
Elizalde says Mongkok Boracay has the same menu as its branches in Glorietta and Power Plant. They are not allowed to play around with the dishes or diverge from what is offered in the menu. “We get most of the ingredients from their commissary--except for the meats which we buy locally from the Visayas—and from their partners-suppliers.”
What is noteworthy is that Mongkok’s dishes do not choke under the usual thick MSG-boosted sauces as most Chinese restaurants are wont to do with their food. Everything is simple and straightforward but with a comfort-food appeal. You can eat their dishes anytime of the day, under any situation, alone or in a group, but most especially, when you want more bang for your buck. Looking at the prices, and with my normally ravenous appetite, I think I would be happy with about P400 worth of food. That would include one dimsum (4 pieces), one Chef’s Special, and plain white rice. I would also have some left over to take home for a lazy-to-cook day. Definitely great value for money.

*Mongkok Boracay is located at phase 4 of D’Mall, Boat Station 2. Tel. No. (036) 288-5978. Photo by Jovel Lorenzo
(Originally published in Business Mirror, May 5-6, 2006)

Pinoys in Palau 'illegal'-envoy

Man-made beach at Palau Pacific Resort...where the late JFK Jr and has-been actress Darryl Hannah stayed in. Remember years back, there was a photo of them at the NAIA while enroute to Palau. Sweet days gone by...

Welcome to my world!

Being a journalist for some 15 odd years, I have met a lot of people, covered a lot of events, and seen so many places...all of which have enriched my young life. Having written about these in various newspapers, magazines and journals I've been connected with, I am publishing the pieces here to share them to a wider audience out there. So sit back and enjoy. Oh by the way, that's a photo of the sun rising behind a rock island across my hotel balcony at the Palau Royal Resort Hotel. Palau is a fabulous place to go to if you dig nature and tropical fish. And by God! Palau has a lot of em!