July 31, 2006

Scenes from 'Four Gays and a Wedding' (aka No Man is an Island)

The bride, matron of honor, and the bridesmaids...oops! Wrong wedding! Hinahanap pa ang groom. (Moi, Tito Mon--wedding coordinator extraordinaire, Erik, Jun)

The real bride and groom--Des and Blaine (center)--with Marianne (far left) and moi. Yummy ni Papa Blaine no?

IT might as well have been called "The Wedding of the Year." And yet it was no high society affair although a number of the guests were Cabinet Secretaries, central bankers, and even a possible presidential candidate (who even came with his own photographer in tow--tacky). It was really a gathering of friends who were at the Ilustrado on July 30, to bear witness to our good friend and long-time journalism colleague Des, getting married to her cyberlove Blaine. (Who woud've thought with Des' background, she'd get married to an American? Haha!) By the way, it was also Des' birthday...so happy h-bomb!

The gang with Des and her mother-in-law, Susan in the fabulous flowy lilac dress (center). Teka... bag ko yan a! (From left: Dinah, Rocel, Mang Ato, moi, Tito Mon, Erik, Donna, Jun, Marianne)

It was a simple and intimate affair that only true friends could really appreciate. No long boring blessing ceremonies (but a very memorable intro by officiant, Bro. Diwa), short (well most of them anyway) funny accounts about the bride and groom, abundant food, great music. For those of us who were there, that wedding will be a good story to tell over and over again. Congratulations and best wishes to the couple!

Take a bow Kler and her cleavage. (And hostess with the mostest!) Na-insecure na kaya si Des? A befuddled Blaine with a 'this-people-are-weird' look. At far right, Iris, wedding coordinator assistant #1. Huy, nasaan si Fil?

More pics to come! Please feel free to leave your comments guys. No violence please.

* For your wedding coordination needs, please call MON LOZANO at cell. no. 0917-854-3356. Photos courtesy JOEY REYES. Flowers by JOEY GARALDE. Thank you to DEO DIPASUPIL of the San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra for the wonderful string quartet. Cell. no. 0919-355-6625

July 28, 2006

Rainy-day fare in an island

AT the height of a downpour a few weeks ago, I thought about how much I would kill just to have a steaming bowl of kansi from Island Chicken in Boracay. Island Chicken is one of my favorite restaurants on the resort island because of its value-for-money dishes that smack of home cooking the Negrense way. I had to satisfy my craving with a bowl- and-a-half of champorado instead and some tuyo (dried herring) on the side. (Personally, I prefer some crispy dilis or dulong, dried local anchovies or silver fish, respectively.)

So when the call came to attend Island Chicken’s branch opening in Quezon City, you can just imagine how I salivated for joy! For my gang of foodies, it was an event not to be passed up for anything in this world. And what perfect timing for its owner, the Bacolod-born Niña Bustamante, to set up an outlet right smack in the newest food center in the metropolis, off the Tomas Morato and Timog restaurant row. This is an area where almost all day and all night, people are just looking around for new places to eat uncomplicated delicious meals that won’t burn a hole in your pocket. And if you can throw in a bottle of beer with it, so much the better!

Island Chicken’s outlet on Scout Borromeo isn’t hard to miss with a lit-up signage of a chicken just above it. The area is basically a quiet neighborhood with lots of available parking in the compound behind the outlet. The restaurant itself is small and cozy with benches and tables outside the main dining area. What is impressive is the restaurant’s ventilation and chimney that keeps the smoke away from the dining patrons and the neighbors. That means you won’t end up smelling like chicken inasal yourself when you leave, unlike in some grill joints.

The specialty of the house, of course, is chicken inasal (Ilonggo for “grilled”) in whatever part you desire—hita (thigh), pecho (breast), paa (drumstick), atay at baticolon (liver and gizzard), pakpak (wings), etc. The chicken parts—all fresh and not frozen, mind you—are marinated in a secret sauce whipped up by Niña’s specially-hired Negrense cook, and then grilled to perfection. Every bite is a delectable treat to the senses—succulent tender meat with a delicious aroma to wake up every sleepy bone on your body any rainy day. Dip your inasal in sinamak (the Negrense’s native palm vinegar) or toyomansi (calamansi with soy sauce) and crushed siling labuyo (small local red peppers), and eat it with garlic rice smothered with thick inasal drippings with some atchara (pickled green papaya) on the side. I swear, it is the next best thing to hot sex! (In photo, from left: mango shake, inasal na paa with garlic rice and atchara, grilled bangus, iced tea)

What will make your meal even more of a delight, especially amid these pouring rains, is a hot bowl of kansi (the Negrense version of nilagang baka or beef broth soup, soured with some batuan, a small green fruit with a big seed that is indigenous to the Visayas). The kenchi (beef shank with bone marrow) is boiled until the meat and ligaments are so soft, they fall off the bone. If you find yourself stupid-drunk one of these nights, try a bowl of kansi to gradually warm you up to sobriety…perhaps even long enough to again engage your friends in a few more rounds of beer.

Top off your substantial meal with some leche flan (caramel custard), mildly sweet to cleanse your palate, or—my personal favorite—the best buco pandan (coconut and pandanus/screwpine leaf gelatin) in the world. (That will soon be included on the menu.) The gelatin is just so soft and the creamy custard underneath so tasty, one order is simply not enough.

Niña says she is presently experimenting with some other items, like pork ribs, to add to her menu, which also includes other nonchicken fare like bangus belly or blue marlin. We had a taste of the grilled ribs and even if I normally shun pork, the tenderness of the flavorful meat, again marinated in some special sauce, was just too tempting to resist. Vegetarians beware!

The bottom line is your bottom line—and I’m not referring to your butt. One order of inasal na pakpak (three wings to a stick), for example, will set you back a mere P80, while an order of kansi, just P230. Comfort food at the right price. Who can beat that?

• Island Chicken is at 33 Scout Borromeo, barangay Laging Handa, Quezon City, two corners away from the Boy Scouts rotunda if you’re facing the ABS-CBN complex. Island Chicken is open from 12 noon to 2 am daily.

(Originally published in Business Mirror, Life, July 28-29, 2006.)

The ‘unconventional’ Ms. F

MY friend F is getting married on Sunday. In fact, this will be her third wedding of sorts, although it is really just her second marriage. When we were much younger and much more foolish, F had gotten married to A, a likable guy who I remember as being wasteful when he cut off the ends of the onions close to the center for the nilagang manok he was cooking for all of us one chilly weekend up in Baguio.

The entire gang liked A enough and was one of the very few boyfriends among those of us who had any whom we actually got along with. Here was a man who felt confident enough to hang out with our various, often offbeat personalities, and could jump into our conversation with no hesitation. The other girls either didn’t want to introduce their boyfriends/husbands to us, or their men were suicidal, and two of our gangmates had been gay all along and hid that fact. Ergo, we never met their lovers either.

Most of us were surprised that F got married. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, she exchanged vows with A quite hilariously, hesitating to make that final “I do.” Among us, F is probably the most unconventional. In terms of careers, while she is a journalist like most of our friends, she was actually trained in computer programming.

In our younger days, F had the amusing habit of taking the bus going home to Muntinlupa as soon as she saw it coming, conveniently forgetting that she had an appointment with one of us, her friends, in some mall somewhere. There would never be any apologies. As her friends, we were supposed to understand. (But heck, people do change. F now keeps her appointments.) She could also be quite tactless that I remember looking down into my sheaf of papers after she made a joke about my boss, a Cabinet secretary, over losing his job right to his face! I didn’t know whether I should’ve hidden under the table or just ran away.

But F has no patience for small talk, for incompetent people, for the petty little dramas that most of us go through in relationships with other people. I guess that’s why I get along with her. She can be frank and honest without actually meaning any malice. She isn’t burdened by feelings of guilt for having perhaps unwittingly hurt someone. It’s not that she doesn’t care; it’s just that unlike most of us, F doesn’t carry much emotional baggage the way most of us do, affecting all our relationships. She is just that comfortable in her skin. And if people have any problems with that, she’s not the one who’s going to lose sleep over it.

Despite this departure from what is considered “normal,” it is she who is apparently the most traditional among us. She got married ahead of us all, and had a baby with A. I have no doubts that she loved him, but we disdained talking about romantic stuff so I never pried. After seven years, however, they parted ways due to rather conventional issues but are still friends. In fact, she has invited A to her wedding. I apparently have the dubious honor of baby-sitting him at our reception table. F says she allowed A to bring his new girl to the wedding, which perked me up since I would have loved to size her up, but—too bad—the girl passed on the invite. Perhaps she isn’t quite ready to meet someone as formidable as F. Darn! And I thought I’d be entertained.

F met her second husband, B, online. (She is actually the second friend of mine who has met Mr. Right through the cyber highway.) B, who is younger than her and an American, finally came over to the Philippines to see F in person. The rest is history as they say. Why we Filipinas are no longer content with our Filipino males is a topic for another column. Anyway, F and B got married before a judge in May, the day she received her annulment papers. I have met B only once before and he looked like a decent responsible guy. I trust F that she knows what she is getting into.

On Sunday F and B will be married again, this time in a grand fashion in an upscale restaurant in Manila. Again, for my unconventional friend, this is another stab at tradition none of us can figure out why she would go through. She will be walking down the flowered aisle in a white gown and heels amid a garden setting. B, whose immediate family has just flown into town, will be dressed in a barong Tagalog. There will be a classical string quartet playing at the wedding and at the reception. But, hang on, there won’t be a religious ceremony because bride and groom are atheists or agnostics, whatever. There will be a “blessing” of sorts by a Christian layperson but there won’t be any mention of God, Allah, Goddess, or any Supreme Being during the ceremony. Don’t look at me, I don’t get it myself. And, no, she hasn’t registered for gifts. Actually, some things don’t change.

A few more days before the big day, the only sticky issue is deciding how she will “storm to the altar,” as F puts it. She doesn’t want the traditional wedding march and has toyed with the idea of marching to the theme from “Clockwork Orange,” which, for those who don’t know, is Purcell’s music for the funeral for Queen Mary—the reason I balk at the preposterous idea. I actually suggested the theme from “Jaws”—sort of a heads-up for B and his family. Or maybe Handel’s Queen of Sheba…. Hmmm…. Anyhow, by the time you read this, I hope we have been able to choose something appropriate. If not, it’s not too late to e-mail me some suggestions, you guys!

Seriously, I am looking forward to F’s wedding. (My only request is that this be her last, as I am gradually outgrowing good dresses for such occasions.) Aside from giving us the opportunity to see a lot of old friends again under more joyous circumstances, as we last saw them at a wake, it drives home the point that it really is never too late to fall in love again and be happy with just one person for the rest of your life. It gives many of us single women some hope that we will still find Mr. Right out there, if we just have some patience. (Maybe all we have to do is get into those chat rooms!) But you can’t rush love. It will find you if the time is right and when your heart is ready. Sounds corny, I know…but love often is.

(Originally published in the Business Mirror, Something Like Life, July 28-29, 2006)

July 27, 2006

Well it's about time soldier!

GI in Subic rape case undergoes DNA testing
By Tetch Torres

A BLOOD sample was taken Tuesday from one of four US servicemen accused of allegedly raping a Filipina last year after the presiding judge dismissed an appeal by a defense lawyer not to subject his client to DNA testing.

"The only thing that can stop [us from] taking [his] blood sample is if he will admit [that] he had sex with the complainant," Judge Benjamin Pozon of Branch 139 of the Makati City regional trial court said.

Following Pozon’s order, the Philippine National Police-Crime Laboratory, led by Senior Inspector Teresa Bodo, got a blood sample from Lance Corporal Daniel Smith to determine whether his DNA profile would match the one that was found in a used condom and on the underwear of “Nicole,” the court-appointed pseudonym for the victim.

Smith has been accused of allegedly raping “Nicole” inside a moving van at the Subic Bay Freeport, a former US Naval base, on Nov. 1, 2005 while Lance Corporals Keith Silkwood and Dominic Duplantis, and Staff Sergeant Chad Carpentier cheered. (Originally published on INQ7.net on July 25, 2006. Click blog title for the rest of the story. In photo is Lance Corp. Smith courtesy of Phil. Star web site.)

THERE ARE just more important issues than Gorilla's State of the Nation Address last Monday. Why listen to lies anyway? This Subic rape trial in itself, speaks of the true state of the nation. Without the help of caring private lawyers and an enlightened Makati court judge, as well as militant women's organizations, this case would've gone away without Gorilla even having a hiccup. Just remember how her crochety Justice Secretary wanted to let off the three other Marines easy despite allegations that they were laughing and cheering on the primary suspect, Smith, as he was banging "Nicole". This and other previous government stumbles (such as not arresting the suspects and jailing them immediately), show how Malacañang chooses to maintain its somewhat fractured ties with the US government than keeping this case alive.

And like I said in a previous post, if these Marines have nothing to hide and strongly believe they are not guilty, then giving up some of their precious blood for a DNA test should not be a problem. That was just bad public relations on their part for their lawyers to even announce that they wouldn't participate in a DNA test. Guilty or not, perception is the key. These guys badly need a good publicist. In fairness to the accused, I have yet to make up my mind on whether they are guilty or not. What is important is to hear all the evidence first, histrionics aside. And that's why it is vital for the four Marines, especially Smith, to give their DNA samples. If not for Nicole's sake, but for their's.

What is also important is that this case not be forgotten as soon as coup rumors are instigated by the powers that be in Malacañang. I have no doubt that those guys up there are gleefully fomenting the rumors themselves so that the citizenry forgets the real issues of the day. Frankly, it's pathetic the way Malacañang keeps harping on the coup. It just exacerbates Gorilla's weakness and plunging popularity.

By the way, give a listen to this week's PINOY POD interview of Irwin Ver, son of the infamous Marcos henchman, Gen. Fabian Ver. This is his first interview in a long while and he speaks about the day they found themselves in Hawaii instead of Paoay (it really was not a joke guys!) and not being at the bedside of his dying father.

July 23, 2006

Do you know who your friends are?

ONE of the pieces in the New York Times’ Sunday Magazine last weekend caught my eye. It was entitled “Confidant Crisis” and talked about how Americans, in a 2004 survey, said they confided important matters only to two “core” confidants. Apparently, this was a drop from three in a 1985 survey.

Who would’ve thought considering Americans are among the friendliest people in the world? Sure, we Filipinos are friendly, too, but we only smile a lot. Americans actually chat you up. It can range from a simple “Good morning!” from a couple of senior citizens you pass by while jogging, or having an entire conversation in an elevator about why people don’t talk in an elevator. Both of these actually happened to me while I was in the US and in a Tokyo hotel, and as I was still in my Pinoy mode, they were kind of unnerving, initially. And by the way, who invented Friendster and MySpace, two of the most popular “friendship” sites on the Internet these days?

But the NYT piece discusses that despite the gabbiness of Americans and the institutionalization of these popular Internet sites, Americans can still make a distinction between real friends and just ordinary friends. And that they value deep and lasting bonds over otherwise shallow relationships. Having two confidants don’t make a case for social isolation.

Which brings me to my friend M. He is one of the chattiest people I know, to the point that he can actually hog a conversation. I think I am one of his best friends but I don’t feel the same way. He is just too self-absorbed that I notice when I do the talking, his eyes dart everywhere else and becomes impatient as he wants to get in a word edgewise. And he always forgets stuff that we’ve talked about. Maybe it’s just an early onset of Alzheimers or ADHD. But he considers everyone he meets or knows, whether it’s just a new acquaintance, or an old friend, a friend. He tosses around that tag “friend” like there was no tomorrow, even if I know they don’t feel the same way about him.

I’m an Aquarian. To me friendships are very important. I value them even over intimate relationships with men. In fact, I’ve realized over the years that the reason I feel bad about an ended relationship with a man is that I lose a friend and a confidant, and not really because I miss the holding hands or the sex. When I’d go out on dates or hang out with my man of the moment, I’d usually have friends who tag along. I am fortunate that most of my lovers have been understanding and don’t mind chilling out with my friends. (So pardon me if I can’t relate to women or gays who suddenly forget all their friends once they’re in intimate relationships. I’ve known women who absolutely refuse to even introduce their boyfriends to their friends. To me that just means that they’re probably ashamed of their men, or worse, their friends.)

But unlike M, I make a distinction between real or best friends, ordinary friends and mere acquaintances. As I sit here writing this piece, I am thinking of how many real honest to goodness friends I have. Those who are willing to go to the bat for me, maybe take care of me if, God forbid, I get some terrible fatal illness and I’m all alone, or perhaps take a bullet for me if by some weird twist of fate, I get targeted for a rubout. (Sorry, that’s just The Sopranos talking in my head.) In the same manner, I am thinking of who among my friends I’m willing to do those things for.

I guess I’ve compartmentalized my friends into certain categories. Yes I have the “core confidants” –two women I tell my whole life story to, my problems and issues, and who know all my hang-ups and pet peeves in life. They take me for what I am in the same manner, I do them. I will go out of my way to help them and even if I don’t, they will understand why I didn’t or wasn’t able to.

They are women I will be able to stay up yakking the whole night with or just listen to their problems on the phone over and over again. And yet if I fall asleep on them, they’ll forgive me. We don’t see each other every day or talk to each other four times a day like Oprah and her best friend Gayle, and yet when we are together, it’s like we only saw each other yesterday.

But are they my bestest of friends? I realize that those two still don’t know some of my deepest darkest secrets and only an ex-boyfriend of mine actually knows all of them. So fudge. I must find that guy and have him shot pronto! But seriously, after a few sad experiences with some so-called best friends, I’d rather not give everything of myself anymore and keep a few good places inside of me just for myself. Would I take a bullet for those two? Maybe. But spill all my guts? Maybe not.

Then there are the good friends--people I like hanging around with. Sometimes I would tell them my life story but leave out other matters not relevant to them. These aren’t necessarily life-threatening issues, just stuff I’d rather not talk to them about because these don’t belong to their sphere of experiences. These are people I just like laughing with and having a good time with. They are usually people I’ve also worked with but over the years, I’ve become close to them and seen them at their best and worst, and the same thing goes for them with me. I can live with them in a retirement home when we’re old and grey, but I definitely will not take a bullet for them.

Of course, there are the acquaintances. People I’ve just met or have known for a long time but who I’m friendly with. Normally, I would not have any patience for them. Maybe they’re just here to provide me some amusement in this lifetime or help me work out my karma. I can’t help it that they’re around me. They just are. But I like them enough. No bullet. I will probably pull the trigger. Joke!

“Friend” is a tag I don’t take lightly. To be a friend or to call one a friend infuses that person with some superhuman strength over you. What they do matters to you and what you do matters to them. It gives that person insight into your entire being and the power to make your life happy, or a living hell. But friend that you are, you will endure.

(Originally published in the Business Mirror, Something Like Life, July 21-22, 2006. Photo from www.kalioglou.sweb.cz)

July 22, 2006

Sightings...at Island Chicken (aka Trapped in the '80s)

IT was like we were in a sequel of another Bagets movie. My friends and I were enjoying the yummy inasal na manok (grilled chicken) and steaming bowls of kansi served up at the launch of Niña Bustamante's Island Chicken in QC. Seated at a table nearby was the Bagets gang--William Martinez, his wife Yayo Aguila, Ramoncito Gutierrez, and Herbert "Bistek" Bautista, now vice mayor of Quezon City, Iza Calzada (daughter of that long ago dancer Lito Calzado...gee and I thought he was gay!), and a few others who were probably in the Bagets movies too. (I don't know, I never watched those flicks which apparently were the toast of the entire bagets crowd of my day.) I am told the good vice mayor returned the next day for lunch with 20 other people in tow. And they all paid for their meals. Sort of a buena mano for the restaurant. Nice move, Bistek. I'll make sure to have you on my ticket in the next election...if there is gonna be one. (In photo is the inasal na paa, or grilled drumstick, with garlic rice and atchara, or pickled green papaya.)

Also in attendance at the launch last night was Chiqui Hollmann, erstwhile host of Disco-rama and now happily married to Prandy Yulo, managing director of Hella Phils., makers of those car headlights. I met Prandy while he was doing his public service stint at the Department of Agrarian Reform under then secretary Philip Ella Juico. We sat talking about another former DAR official, Jesli "Jing" Lapus, who became Tarlac congressman and is now Education Secretary. Our verdict on Tito Jing's appointment? He has the brains and the management skills to run the department. We just hope he doesn't fall under the clutches of his former colleagues at the House of Representatives who became the bane of former Undersecretary Mike Luz's existence.

Even the music last night was so very '80s, I actually thought the still good-looking William Martinez would get up and do their Bagets dance when "Just Got Lucky" started playing. Or "Build Me Up Buttercup"! Those were really fun fun times, the big hair-do's nonetheless. But wait...was that Johnny Walker Black and Lipovitan the Bagets Gang was drinking? Ewww...how totally uncool. Didn't anybody tell them uppers and downers don't mix? Hic!

Another interesting person I met last night was Mikaela Bilbao, owner of Mikaela salon at The Fort, and Philosophy along Pasay Road. I've been going to the latter since my hair stylist Mel transferred there. Very nice interesting place where you can get high on the fresh oxygen! hehe! As for Mikaela, her personal struggle while making her way in Manila away from her muy rico parents in Bacolod is a story worth telling over and over again. She told us that while trying to establish herself here, she even experienced living in a squatters' area. Kudos to this very gutsy girl! (In photo is the kansi, the Negrense's version of nilagang baka but soured a bit with some batuan, a small green fruit native to the Visayan region.)

Island Chicken is a personal favorite of ours whenever we are in Boracay. It offers just simple delicious comfort food that even the likes of businessman Choy Cojuangco and society chef Binggoy Remedios patronize it. The chicken inasal marinaded in a secret concoction of sauces and spices is really too delicious beyond words. And your tummy, not to mention your wallet, will be glad. A good substantial meal for P100 is very difficult to find these days. Oh and if you find yourself stupid drunk, drop by Island Chicken and order the kansi. It will surely wake you up (and get you through a few more rounds of beer hahaha!). I'm glad Niña (second from right among these jokers) brought her restaurant to Quezon City. Coming soon is her delivery service.

Island Chicken is at 33 Sct. Borromeo, two streets down from the ABS-CBN compound or from the Boy Scouts rotunda wherever direction you're coming from. It's open from lunchtime until 2 am.

July 21, 2006

It’s my funeral and I’ll serve ice cream if I want to

ROBERT TISCH, who ran the Loews Corp., had a marching band at his memorial service and a packed house at Avery Fisher Hall, all orchestrated by one of New York’s most prominent party planners. Estée Lauder’s had waiters passing out chocolate-covered marshmallows on silver trays. At Nan Kempner’s memorial, at Christie’s auction house, guests received a CD of Mozart’s Requiem. Ms. Kempner had wanted a live performance of the Requiem, but the logistics — full orchestra, chorus and soloists — were too much.

At a time when Americans hire coaches to guide their careers and retirements, tutors for their children, personal shoppers for their wardrobes, trainers for their abs, whisperers for their pets and — oh, yes — wedding planners for their nuptials, it makes sense that some funerals are also starting to benefit from the personal touch. As members of the baby boom generation plan final services for their parents or themselves, they bring new consumer expectations and fewer attachments to churches, traditions or organ music — forcing funeral directors to be more like party planners, and inviting some party planners to test the farewell waters. (Originally published in The New York Times, July 20, 2006. Click on blog title for the rest of the story.)

I FOUND this piece so hilarious because only a week ago, this was exactly the same thing I had written about in my column in the Business Mirror (Something Like Life). When I think of my funeral, I think of a New Orleans Mardi Gras. Don't mourn for me. Celebrate my life! Since BM's Archives is out of whack, am reprinting the column in its entirety below. Enjoy!

Defying Death

DEATH has a way of giving us pause in our busy barely surviving existence. It literally knocks the wind from under our feet, grabs our shoulders and shakes us from our reverie of an otherwise contented (or so we think) lives.

We stop and think of our own mortality but try to give some levity to the situation to keep us from getting all depressed.

When a dear friend passed away last week, I started looking for the contracts on my life plan and cremation plan. No I don’t have a life insurance which some young people mistakenly buy first, since I don’t have any children anyway, which is the point of buying such a plan. (I am sure I will get grief from friends who are in the insurance business about this point of view.)

Anyway, I bought both life and cremation plans a year after my first brother passed away in 1995. Both plans were supposed to have been sitting in my parental units’ safe deposit box, which were among the documents I had turned over for safekeeping when I worked abroad. Unfortunately, I only found my life plan policy and to this day, I am desperate that the contract on my cremation plan is missing.

At the wake, we discussed why having a life plan was important. Our friend didn’t have one because he didn’t believe in it, probably superstitious too, and so his family had to find one to ease the cost of having a wake and burial for him. Fortunately, a donor was found. One 30-something friend of ours commented that it was “too early” for her to get a life plan. But after my brother passed away suddenly at 36 of an aneurysm, one kinda gets the feeling that Death isn’t going to accept an excuse that one’s too young if he ever decides to comes knocking at your door. So I got the life and cremation plans when I was 30.

This piece isn’t about selling life plans. It is really a piece on making your family sleep safely and soundly, and perhaps extending your power over them and your friends into the after life. Haha. Seriously, for single women like me who have to stay out late sometimes to work or get a story, and you have retired parents who still think you’re a baby, getting a life plan is a way of putting your affairs in order. It gives everyone the assurance that once you’ve passed on, and heaven forbid that it happens while you’re young, you won’t give any headaches to the ones left behind. Think about it. A decent coffin these days costs at least P30,000, without a service. A cremation is P35,000. Build in a 10 percent inflation rate every year, and who knows how much funeral costs will have ballooned by the time you keel over.

If your folks or your siblings don’t have enough finances to bury you, good luck. You are probably in for a Viking or Hindu funeral…granting your family has enough money to even buy wood and some matchsticks.

Getting a life plan is one way of deciding how you want to be shepherded into the afterlife or wherever hell hole you will end up going. For control freaks like me, it’s a way of ensuring that your instructions will be still be followed even after you’ve gone. In my other brother’s case, the one who passed away last year, we never even knew he wanted to be cremated until it was too late and the last block on his tomb had been cemented in. He didn’t have a life plan so we just did what came naturally and sealed him up good.

When my time comes, my body shall lie in state in a simple coffin which I had instructed to be donated to some less fortunate family. (Hopefully it won’t go to a fake body who will be waited on by fake mourners sitting around playing tong-its all day and night.) A girlfriend is in charge of calling some special people who have been close to me and whom I have probably tortured in the years that I have known them. And not just in the biblical sense mind you.

I have already assigned another friend to be in charge of any eulogies in case any idiots plan to speak of my goodness, sincerity and humility while I had been alive. Fat chance that that will happen but then there’s a sucker born every minute. However, I have yet to entrust anyone with coordinating the ensuing parties that will be held every day of the wake. There will be lots of singing, dancing, card games, my favorite music to be played, and only good food. This job is still open to anyone who may wish to apply although I am thinking of assigning it to a gayfriend.

After the customary three days of celebration not mourning, especially if my friends get to play their card games while they are making the usual “lamay”, my body will then be torched and any bit of bones ground up into a fine ash. My nieces and nephew are already charged with the responsibility of disposing my ashes. How that will be done I won’t tell.

We go on with our daily activities, just trying to make ends meet in this cruel unjust yet amusing world. Most of the time we really don’t have the power over what happens to us even if we try to delude ourselves that the outcome of any of our actions was certainly planned and well thought out by us. But I intend to micromanage what will happen to me when I’m gone to the minutest detail and hopefully cause little anxiety to the rest of my family. In the end, that is how I want to be remembered and nothing else.

And if you must know, I have already instructed my agent to have the policy contract on my cremation plan reconstructed as soon as possible.

It’s crazy I know. Some women plan for weddings. I plan for my funeral. Well phooey!

(Originally published in the Business Mirror, July 14-15, 2006. Photos from www.experienceneworleans.com.)

July 20, 2006

Sightings...at the Power Plant mall

YOU can’t beat the personal touch. Seen mixing among balikbayans last July 15 at the Power Plant mall's South Court was the very amiable Nestor “Tong” Padilla, president of Rockwell Land Inc. The balikbayans, participants of the 2nd Ambassadors/Consuls General Tour of the Philippines, were treated by Rockwell’s top banana to a tour of the company’s condos and newest project, One Rockwell, where its so-called “Z-units” will offer spectacular views of the surrounding cities once its East Tower is completed by 2010.

I was not surprised at all that after Tong chatted up his guests, many of them made serious inquiries about purchasing a unit at One Rockwell, which at P7 million for a two-bedroom spread, would only set the mucho-monied balikbayans back a mere $134,000. Peanuts really compared to a comparable condo unit in say, New York. Among those who made inquiries were the elderly Jeffrey Schorr, and his young pretty Filipina wife, Hannah. For those who don't know Jeff, he is the US Department of Interior's man in Saipan, Northern Marianas and who has the ear of Interior Deputy Secretary David Cohen. Looking a bit like a blond Jerry Seinfeld, Cohen is scheduled to fly into Manila in November for an Asia-Pacific invesment conference at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel. Earlier, I asked Jeff he was in town to check out the peace and security situation for Cohen, and he said, "No. But I'll surely tell him what a beautiful hotel he'll be staying in!" Ha-ha

But what really interested me was Tong’s disclosure of a new concept restaurant rising in the Rockwell area. “It’s an exciting new restaurant,” he said. “A lot of people have wanted him (the chef) to do this for the longest time.” Of course I tried to pry the secret chef’s identify out of the wily Tong, who only said the guy is a Filipino. Oh gosh, I hope it just isn’t Ms. Gaita. I love her and her food, but enough outlets already! Well, who knows, maybe Tong was just trying to throw me off the scent by saying that the chef would be Filipino and a “he.” (In photo is Tong Padilla, right, and two balikbayan guests.)

Personally, I'm placing my bets on either Oscar staple Wolfgang Puck or the smoldering Iron Chef Todd English. Last I heard of Austria’s greatest export, and I'm not talking about Ah-nold, he is supposed to open his restaurant at Gateway in Cubao in 2007. But before he does, can the Aranetas please get rid of the fishy palengke smell wafting throughout the Farmer’s Plaza Mall and into the MRT trains passing by?! What a stinker! As for the yummy Iron Chef, he was just in Manila recently scouting for a good location for one of his restaurant brands. Hmm…things are certainly simmering in the local restaurant business.

(Photo courtesy Outsource PR)

US Marines in rape trial refuse to give DNA evidence

(UPDATE) THE four US Marines on trial over the alleged rape of a Filipina refused on Thursday to submit blood samples that prosecutors claim would link at least one of them to the crime.

This as a police DNA expert stood by the findings of his examination of the condom and underwear recovered from the Filipina woman who has accused the American soldiers of rape.

Prosecutors have asked the lower court in Makati City to compel Staff Sergeant Chad Carpentier and Lance Corporals Daniel Smith, Keith Silkwood and Dominic Duplantis to submit blood samples for DNA testing.

The government lawyers claim the tests would help identify DNA from bodily fluid samples found in the woman's underwear after the alleged sexual assault at the former US naval base of Subic Bay on November 1, 2005.

The woman has testified that Smith lured her out of a Subic Bay bar after a night of heavy drinking and then raped her inside a rental van with the three other Marines cheering him on.

Benjamin Formoso, Smith's Filipino lawyer, told the court Thursday that the rules of court do not compel the defendants to submit evidence unless prosecutors can prove first that it is relevant to the case. (Originally published on Inq7 web site on July 20, 2006. Click on blog title for the rest of the story.)

IN the US, murderers and rapists convicted to life imprisonment or death use DNA testing to prove their innocence. In the Subic rape case, the accused Marines refuse to take a DNA test. Why? The reason is obvious. Why would the suspects want to incriminate themselves by volunteering to give evidence which otherwise would help them get off the hook? This is no OJ Simpson trial where the late Johnny Cochran had told the jury, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." For the Subic rape case, "If the DNA speaks, you must convict."

July 17, 2006

Garbage contract trashed, finally!

SC dumps MMDA contract with Australian waste firm
By Francis Earl A. Cueto, Researcher

THE Metro Manila Development Authority’s solid-waste management contract with Australian firm Jancom Environmental Corp. (Jancom) was nullified over the weekend by the Supreme Court. The decision would have cleared the way for Jancom to operate the San Mateo waste-disposal site in Rizal.

The greater Metro Manila solid-waste management committee, along with the MMDA, filed a petition against Jancom and its mother firm, Canberra-based Jancom International Development Projects Pty. Limited of Australia.

In a 23-page decision Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales of the Supreme Court’s Third Division said that for lack of approval from the President, the contract with Jancom to dispose of Metro Manila’s 8,000 tons of daily trash cannot be executed. (Originally published in the Manila Times, July 17, 2006. Please click on blog title for rest of the story.)

I thought I would never see the end of it. This long-running menace that is Jancom, whose Philippine principals have been in cahoots with several high-ranking officials of the Gorilla Macapagal Arroyo government and several close lawyer-friends of the Gorilla's mister, is now finished.

Its project should never have been approved yet it was, with the help of several corrupt government functionaries over several administrations along the way. Its $350 milllion contract price was grossly overpriced. And its technical safety and health safeguards questionable because it is an incinerator project. Still, the people behind it kept it alive largely through their connections with TC and PV. After personal cost to us financially and health-wise, I hope we can finally relax and not see this project resurrected anymore. The Supreme Court has spoken and has finally put an end to it.

The Clean Air Coalition and Bantay Kontrata groups thank all those who helped push this fight, particularly the columnists, publishers and editors who did not fear the powerful and mighty who could clamp down on their newspapers and sites. Our sincere appreciation to Solita Monsod, Alvin Capino, Jojo Robles, Conrad Banal, Ces Drilon, Mar-Vic Cagurangan, Gerry Kaimo, Bill Huang and the late Larry Sipin, as well as all the various reporters who did not get tired writing about it and the broadcasters who ceaselessly commented about it. Special thanks also goes to my former editor-in-chief, Jullie Yap Daza, who allowed me to write my heart out about this issue in the old Manila Standard, and has always supported the environmental and anti-garbage campaigns I have undertaken. Mabuhay kayong lahat!

More news on the demise of the Jancom contract here and here.

July 12, 2006

Study: RP is world's 17th happiest country

LONDON - The Philippines is the 17th happiest country in the world, according to a study published Wednesday measuring people's wellbeing and their impact on the environment.

The Philippines bested more than 160 countries in the Happy Planet Index including Indonesia (23), China (31), Thailand (32), Malaysia (44), India (62), Iceland (64), The Netherlands (70), Spain (87), Hong Kong (88), Denmark (99), Norway (115), Sweden (119), Finland (123) and Australia (129).

The index, compiled by the British think-tank New Economics Foundation (NEF), combines life satisfaction, life expectancy and environmental footprint -- the amount of land required to sustain the population and absorb its energy consumption.

The index chose the tiny South Pacific Ocean archipelago of Vanuatu as the happiest country on Earth. Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica and Panama complete the top five. (Originally published on the ABS-CBN News web site, July 12, 2006. Click blog title for rest of the story.)

Why are we still happy despite the massive poverty, corrupt government and unstable political situation? All that liquor we drink during the year-round fiestas must be anesthesizing us to the realities we live in. But then anent to my July 1 post, a study does show that money can't buy us happiness.

I still place my bets on San Miguel beer. (Segue Happy, Happy, Joy Joy theme here.)

July 10, 2006

Are US soldiers becoming more violent?

5 more soldiers charged in Iraq rape-murder case

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Four U.S. soldiers in Iraq are charged with participation in the "rape and murder of a young Iraqi woman and three members of her family," the U.S. military said Sunday.

The soldiers are "accused of rape and murder," the military said in a news release.

A fifth soldier is accused of dereliction of duty for failing to report the offenses.

All five are charged with conspiring with former Pfc. Steven D. Green to commit the crimes, the military said. (Originally published on the CNN web site, July 9, 2006. Click on blog title for the rest of the story. )

Is it my imagination or is there some weird psychosis affecting US soldiers all over the world? This is probably the fourth incidence of violence committed by US soldiers that I have read of in the last few months, including the infamous Haditha massacre (here), our own Subic rape case (click here for updates on the case), the attempted murder in Guam by a sailor on his comrade (here), and the killing by a USS Kitty Hawk sailor of his one-month-old son (here).

Aside from rapes and murders, US soldiers in the Pacific have been discovered downloading kiddie porn (here), beating up and robbing ordinary citizens (here), and spreading STDs...eeew! (here).

My mother, who has lived through the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, said the US soldiers of her time, called GIs, were adored because they were kind and helped the locals get back on their feet especially after the liberation of the country. (Not to mention the huge amounts of spam and chocolates they gave away.) Many of those GIs in fact, went on to college, built lives and embarked on distinguished careers. A number of them have become well respected public personalities as well. Since the Korean and Vietnam wars, however, there has been a rising negative perception of American soldiers especially abroad.

It would be too simplistic to say that war is tough on soldiers which is why some of them turn into monsters. But from what I understand, applicants to the military establishment are carefully screened by doctors and psychiatrists. And frankly, I have yet to read of any similar violent incidents or crimes perpetrated by British soldiers, for example. These recent violent incidents show a breakdown of discipline in the US military, which its officials must address it immediately. Any misbehavior by military men and women ultimately reflects on the United States government and its citizens.

(The Stars and Stripes, the US military's own publication, should be commended for reporting these criminal incidents committed by its own members. Illustration of Kenny from www.photos6.flickr.com)

July 09, 2006

More Tagalog words in Merriam-Webster...not!

Himbos, Mouse Potatoes and Bling, Oh My! Here Come the New Dictionary Entries

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Need tips on how to groom a unibrow or soul patch?

Just google it. Or get a mouse potato to do it for you.

If you're still lost, grab the latest edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary for a definition of those and about 100 other words that have made their way into its pages.

But be warned: you might come across a drama queen (a person given to often excessively emotional performances or reactions), an empty suit (an ineffectual executive), or a himbo (an attractive but vacuous man — think "male bimbo".) (Click on blog title for rest of the story. Originally published on FOXNews.com, July 6, 2006.)

Hmm...let's try out those new words in a sentence. That himbo with a phat soulpatch sure got a lot of bling! Ridiculous. Hey, William Safire, where are you when we need you?

Out of curiousity, I went to the Merriam-Webster's web site here to see whether more Tagalog or Filipino words may have been entered. Apart from the popular amok, boondocks and jeepney, also listed were abaca, adobo (although of Spanish origin, the dictionary correctly identifies it as a Philippine dish), barong (but it is defined as a Maranao knife instead of the more popularly known Filipino dress shirt), cogon, and yo-yo. With all our OFWs in every part of the world, I can't for the life of me understand why there aren't more foreigners speaking Tagalog. Hey Pinoys out there! Propagate our beautiful language and let's take over the world!

July 06, 2006

Dealing with ex-es

Do you ever think about your ex? Do you ever wonder what could have been had the conditions been right; or had it been some other place, some other time, maybe you two would have ended up together? Or had either one of you only been a bit more patient, or more understanding, or more committed, you would still be together?

(Originally published in Business Mirror, Something Like Life, March 3, 2006. Please click blog title for the rest of the column.)

July 04, 2006

'Til we meet again, Kuya

It is not easy to lose a loved one. I have had a share of grief in my past...having lost two older brothers. And now another "kuya" is gone. Kuya Larry Sipin, a veteran newsman and columnist has left this world and moved on to the next one to fulfill another mission for the Lord. He has made us laugh with his jokes and was always there ready to help anyone in need. It was a real privilege knowing him. For Fil, his dearly devoted life partner and kids, I offer prayers that the good Lord heal them and give them strength in this difficult time. See you again Kuya!

July 01, 2006

Study: Money Won't Make You Happy

Money won't buy happiness, says a group of distinguished economists and psychologists.

"Would you be happier if you were richer?" ask Princeton researcher Daniel Kahneman, PhD, and colleagues. Kahneman shared the 2002 Nobel Prize for applying the principles of psychology to economics.

Their answer: No. It's just an illusion that wealth brings happiness.

"When someone reflects on how additional income would change [their sense of] well-being, they are probably tempted to think about spending more time in leisurely pursuits such as watching a large-screen plasma TV or playing golf," Kahneman and colleagues observe. "But in reality, they should think of spending a lot more time working and commuting and a lot less time engaged in passive leisure. … By itself, this shift in time is unlikely to lead to much increase in experienced happiness."

Kahneman and colleagues' theory appears in the June 30 issue of Science. (Originally published on FOXNews.com, June 30. Click on blog title for more details.)

Well I always knew that. It seemed that as I earned a higher salary as a journalist, I had more responsibilities and was under more and more stress. Sure I could buy more stuff to fill my apartment, but thank God I realized early on that what made me really happy were the simple things...going to the beach, watching a glorious sunset, being in love (well, most of the time anyway), just eating and drinking with family and friends. I always pray that God not make me richer but give me just enough to be able to live comfortably...have a roof over my head, three square meals a day, and clothes. Money can't buy you happiness. It can't buy you love. And is not worth anything unless you have friends and family to share it with.