December 29, 2006

Happy New Year!

To all my gay (and non-gay) friends, have a great 2007!

Here's a hilarious MTV from Michael V. to entertain you through the New Year celebrations. (I swear this guy is a frikking comic genius!)

Cleaning house

Something Like Life
Dec. 29-30, 2006

ONE of my favorite shows on cable TV is Clean House. It entertains me to no end seeing how couples or families with their messy homes have such gut-wrenching reactions to letting go of their stuff. Often the items the Clean House gang wants the homeowners to get rid of are nonproductive, nonessential and totally worthless products that only clutter up the home.

Of course, most of the featured homeowners beg and plead with the show’s host Niecy Nash to let them keep their stuff, perhaps out of sentimental reasons, with some even resorting to stealing back their belongings already tagged for the yard sale. Often Niecy has to bargain and negotiate with the homeowners, promising new bedroom sets or new office furniture just so they let go of their “precious” goods, which no longer have a place in their homes’ new aesthetic direction.

Every year or so, I try to Clean House myself by throwing out stuff from my cabinets or donating items that have been gathering dust in the attic to people who can use them. Last October, I finally threw out papers I had been hanging on to for almost 20 years—like old college class cards and projects, reading handouts, notebooks from when I was still a cub reporter, newspaper clippings and documents I had based my long-ago stories on.

There were also so many articles of clothing I’d been keeping all these years and if it weren’t for the Guimaras oil spill victims, they probably would still be tucked away from view in my closets. Like many women, I was hanging on to clothes I wore 10 pounds ago in the foolish hope that I’d still be able to wear them someday.

Of course some of them were not just from my “thin” period but shirts or dresses, bags and shoes I probably bought on impulse and, like most women, just kept them around without actually using any of them. So as Linda Coopersmith says, if you haven’t worn an item for three years, chances are you never will. So away with those size 8 dresses, pencil-slim pants and never-been-worn shirts and skirts! Begone, unused bags and boots! Hopefully, others less fortunate will find some use for you.

Cleaning out my cabinets is for me a way of letting go of the irrelevant things in my life. It seems that as I’ve gotten older, I long for the simple uncomplicated lifestyle and only want to keep the few items truly essential at this stage of my evolution.

It is the same way with relationships and the other nonmaterial aspects of our lives. When we are young, we spend our time “accumulating” people, some of who may turn out to be really good friends while the others, just brief encounters in our journey through life. But as we grow older and our tastes and lifestyles are refined, there is a need to purge and lighten our load. We need to discard the unnecessary baggage in our lives and surround ourselves with those people who have only enriched us with positive experiences.

Sometimes we still hang on to these relationships which no longer have any place in our structured lives… a spurned lover who keeps hanging around desperately trying the friendship route for a change; an abusive lover who keeps battering us physically and emotionally, diminishing our spirit; a relative who has latched on to us for financial support instead of trying to find work; even a friend who has only used us for the connections to the right people we offer.

Who among the people we know are really important and vital to our existence? How many of them have actually contributed to our growth as human beings, and how many of them are now just plainly toxic and have kept us from achieving our dreams?

With the New Year upon us, perhaps it’s time for us to clean house...not just physically but perhaps emotionally as well. Good healthy relationships are the only things actually worth keeping. Everything else is just plain clutter.

(My column, Something Like Life, appears every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)

December 26, 2006

Bus riders get gifts from Secret Santa

SPOKANE, Washington - A woman hopped aboard buses, greeted passengers with "Merry Christmas" and handed each an envelope containing a card and a $50 bill before stepping off and repeating the process on another bus.

She did it so quickly that descriptions of the woman varied among surprised Spokane Transit Authority passengers on several routes Thursday, The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported Friday.

"She kind of kept her head down. I don't remember ever seeing this lady before," said bus driver Max Clemons.

"I had a young man in the back of the bus. He looked like he was going to start crying. He said in broken English, 'She don't know how much this will mean to me at Christmas,'" Clemons said.

Read the rest of this heartwarming Christmas story at GMANews TV, Dec. 24, 2006.

December 22, 2006

What's your favorite Christmas tradition?

Something Like Life
Dec. 22/23. 2006

IS it just me or can you smell it, too? I don’t know, but there’s just something superspecial in our carbon monoxide-laden air these days that gives me an extra high, with just a few days to go before Christmas. Sure, we’re all probably tapped out right now, having exceeded our Christmas budget again…or suffering a splitting headache from the vocal contortions of the blind woman with the mic outside the mall…and maybe a bit frazzled from managing the maze of pasilyos at the tiangge and shoppers meandering like they were walking under the moonlight in Luneta!

But gee…Merry Christmas! It’s a wonderful holiday that should be celebrated throughout the year (sans the traffic). Let’s take some time to reflect on the birth of the Christ Jesus who has made all our blessings possible. And for that, we should offer our grateful hearts to Him and share the bounties of the season with all. As my gift to you dear readers, here are some friends to share their thoughts on their favorite Christmas traditions. Happy Christmas to you everyone!

Mayor Jojo Binay, Makati City

When I was still in high school (I was living with an uncle’s family then), I was supposed to go out with my cousins and my barkada. May karnabal pa noon, at ’yon lang ang pinaka-happening ng mga panahon na ’yon. I really wanted to go but I begged off, saying I had lots of books to read. The truth was, I didn’t have any money. This experience encouraged me to establish a tradition of gift-giving, especially to indigents in our beloved city, and treat them with free entertainment during Christmas/New Year.

Gov. Say Tetangco, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas

Besides family reunions, what’s my favorite Christmas tradition? Ah, it’s the golf circuit; I play with friends between Christmas and New Year. We’ve had one scorekeeper all these years, and only he knows how the tallies of wins and losses are made...but that has never seemed to bother any of us. We let him have his way, all in the spirit of friendship and camaraderie that fills the Christmas air.

Jimmy Bautista, president, Philippine Airlines

My favorite Christmas tradition is the Noche Buena, when after going to Mass all family members, from grandparents to grandchildren, dine and drink together and exchange gifts and pleasantries. When my parents were alive, we made it a point that my family and my sisters’ families spend Noche Buena in our parents’ home. It’s like our annual reunion and everybody, especially the kids, looks forward to it.

Lance Gokongwei, president, JG Summit Holdings Inc.

My favorite Christmas tradition is decorating the tree with my wife Jay, my daughter Hannah and my son Jacob. Basically, we use the same ornaments every year, but this year Hannah, who is four years old, added a Dora star on top of the tree. I love seeing my children’s faces light up as they watch the tree disappear under all the lights and colorful decoration.

Fritz Kahler, general manager, Alegre Beach Resort

Back home in Austria, our Christmases were mostly white, with a large freshly cut fir tree set up in our living room, beautifully decorated and lit by real beeswax candles, which altogether created that very special Christmas scent. My father then would walk through the house on Christmas Eve with pieces of hot coal from the fireplace on which he put some incense, which further enhanced the atmosphere. Christmas out here in the tropics is a bit different but we’ve kept some of the traditions. We always have a natural “Christmas tree” which could be a local bush or small tree “adapted” by my wife Cynthia and decorated with ornaments we’ve collected from the numerous countries we’ve lived in. We have real beeswax candles from back home which we light on Christmas Eve.

Macel Fernandez-Estavillo, legal counsel, Yuchengco Group of Companies

My dad would make wonderful paella that he’s famous for, my mom and aunt would make chicken salad and potato salad, and we’d eat at 12 midnight after our 10 pm Mass. When my sister Andion is in town (from Berlin), she’d sing Christmas carols during Mass (our family’s gift to Jesus). Now that it’s our first Christmas with our baby Javea, we’re hoping to start our own traditions, too. We got a trinket for the tree to celebrate Javea’s first Christmas, and hope to get one each year, so that when my husband, Karlo, and I are old, we’ll have a tree filled with trinkets for each year. We’re excited to be spending Javea’s first Christmas in Berlin with family, including Andion’s baby Jeffrey Jr., who is celebrating his second Christmas.

Nilo Cruz, managing director, HP Philippines

After Simbang Gabi on Christmas Eve, we’d stuff ourselves during Noche Buena with home-baked Chinese ham, pasta, fruits and French garlic bread, downing it all with either hot chocolate or freshly popped champagne. It’s gift-giving/opening until the wee hours. On Christmas Day, we visit relatives and friends, and in the evening we call those who are abroad. We also sponsor an orphan through our parish-church project during the holidays.

Ruby Gan, co-owner, Schu

We usually start our Christmas shopping when the school break starts. My sons Martin Francis and Raphael and I would scour the malls and shops armed with our lists. This is also the time when they would choose their Christmas cards for the rest of the family members. This time of the year, I tend to spoil my sons because I try to get everything on their lists. But hold your horses! These are not long lists—only about two to five items between the two boys, and they’re not really that expensive. On the 24th, after the 6 pm anticipated Misa de Gallo, we celebrate Christmas Eve with a nice dinner, usually at the Peninsula Manila, dressed in all our finery. Then at exactly midnight, we would open all our gifts!

Prandy Yulo, managing director, Hella Phils.

As a born-again Christian, I attend a Christian service normally before midnight of the 24th in our local church where we remember the birth of Jesus as told in Scripture and focus on the reason for the season, the coming of the Messiah. After congregational songs of worship and prayers, we proceed to the reading of Scripture. The highlight of the service is our pastor’s sermon on the significance of the season. My family would then spend some time after the service in fellowship with our churchmates, then go home to sleep.

Joey Bermudez, president, Chinatrust Commercial Bank Corp.

On Christmas Eve, we always hold a talent contest where we—my wife Ester, my kids Miggy, Anjo, Jeff, Gabby and Christine, and myself—perform individually with the househelp as our audience. The househelp also act as judges and they select the best performers. Of course, we give the househelp their Christmas gifts before they do their judging chores to ensure that they will be neutral. I have never won in any of these contests.

* * *

At no better time of the year can we give of our hearts to the less fortunate among us. I would like to enjoin all to remember the Guimaras oil-spill victims, whose futures are not as secure as most of us in this Holy Season. You may send your donations, either in cash or kind, to:

c/o Land Bank of the Philippines Guimaras Branch
Account Name: Provincial Government of Guimaras
Account No: 1922-1000-35

c/o Lette Teodosio
Cell-phone Nos.: +63919-225-3262, +63928-231-3193, +63915-7854-035

(My column, Something Like Life, appears every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photos from BusinessMirror.)

Personal Fortune: Back Onboard


By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo
Special to BusinessMirror

MY favorite memory of Avelino L. Zapanta, recently appointed president and chief executive officer of Southeast Asian Airlines or Seair, took place in Guam. He was still Philippine Airlines (PAL) president then, dressed casually in shorts and a shirt, sneakers, and leaning on the side of our tourist bus, which had broken down while touring the island.

We were a gangly bunch of catty journalists on a familiarization tour as part of PAL’s reinstatement of its service to the island. Despite the heat and long time it took for us to get picked up by another bus, we were hardly irritated as “ALZ” went around, entertaining us with his stories, and gamely posing for photos with us.

It is exactly Zapanta’s personal touch, or people skills, that helped him implement massive cost-cutting measures meant to keep PAL afloat. It was a time when relations between labor and management were strained. Groaning under a weight of debt, which ballooned due to the Asian financial crisis in 1997, as well as a pilots’ strike, PAL briefly shut down in September 1998.

Appointed president in 1999, he oversaw the rehabilitation of the flag carrier, which finally broke even in March 2000 for the first time in six years. Zapanta retired in August 2004 confident that the airline was in better shape to carry out its refleeting and expansion.

In the two years he had been away from the limelight, Zapanta wrote a book on the airline industry, 100 Years of Philippine Aviation, and is currently working on another book on the same topic, this time with a global perspective, for publication hopefully by next year.

He has also been teaching airline management classes at the University of the Philippines Asian Institute of Tourism and the Philippine State College of Aeronautics three times a week, his students benefiting from his real-life experiences of working in the industry for 40 years. (He joined PAL in 1966, but worked also at Pacific East Asian Cargo for a time. “Seair is actually my third airline already,” he says.)

The respite gave him more time to spend with his wife of over 43 years, Nicole Lavides, his six grown-up children (Titus, Tugaris, John Rado, Avelino Jr., Ma. Salome, and Ma. Silvana), and his caboodle of 13 “beautiful, handsome, pretty, nice and sweet” grandchildren—which begs the question, why leave the comforts of retirement?

Over a hearty Japanese dinner, we had a freewheeling conversation with Zapanta, who discussed his return to where “the action” is, Seair’s expansion, several aviation issues, and on being—gasp!— a videoke king.

What made you return to the industry?

Of course, I thought the pace of life I’d create when I retired was something I would very much desire. And indeed it was a very easy way of life, out of the rat race and all, not knowing after two years, I kind of missed the action. Because at this age, in almost perfect health, and with the [airline] industry growing, multiplying in leaps and bounds, I was kind of attracted to go back. Fortunately here is Seair on the verge of expansion. And they were looking for an honest-to-goodness president for the airline and so somehow, a headhunter got to me, and I readily accepted it.

Did your family support your decision?

All the way! Perhaps they saw that I was kind of missing the action. Sila mismo naninibago na. They were used to my being out of the house all day ’til evening. Then after retirement, every day I was just at home writing. And then I would be with them at meal times.

Did you ask permission from PAL chairman Lucio Tan before accepting the job at Seair?

No, only from Jimmy [Bautista, PAL president], because I was a consultant of PAL until last month so I had to tell him. As a matter of fact, when I submitted my biodata to the headhunter, I told Jimmy: “There’s a likelihood I might be taken in by another local airline.” I needed to be back in action and obviously I cannot go back to PAL. He said, “Okay lang, pare, ayos lang.” Kumpare ko naman si Jimmy.

I can’t say for sure what Mr. Tan feels, but I think it’s okay. Our routes are different from one another. We don’t duplicate a single air service of Philippine Airlines today, but I cannot tell for the next month and the month after.

Whoa! PAL watch out? What particular experience are you going to bring from PAL that will be useful in Seair?

Everything. All my 38 years of experience. The experience I’ve had will be useful at this particular stage in Seair’s growth. The challenge is how I can help convert Seair into a major player in the industry.

I think it’s going to work out well because all I have to do is to work with Iren [Dornier, Seair founder] and Nikos [Gitsis, cofounder], and they’re both good and very nice guys. Wala akong problema.

What steps are you going to take to become a major market player?

We will be coming up with specific brand products that Seair will eventually market out there. Of course, the current operation is a very successful product brand…these are leisure air sectors that are being operated to the most exotic tourist destinations. We fly to Baler [Aurora]; Clark; Manila; Busuanga, Taytay, Puerto Princesa, El Nido, Cuyo islands—five points in Palawan—and Camiguin. I haven’t even been to some of those places! From Cebu, we fly to Cotobato City, Zamboanga City, then Tawi-Tawi and Jolo. We fly seasonally to Batanes, Sandakan [North Borneo] and Siargao.

Then we’re opening another product line—a partnership between Seair and Tiger Airways. It’s our low-cost operation and for this, we will be acquiring two Airbus 320s. Initially, we’re planning to operate it, from Clark, to Singapore, Macau, Cebu and Davao. Then we’re looking at other points in the region for eventual expansion: Inchon or Busan in Korea, Okinawa [Japan], Kaoshiung in Taiwan.

Can’t you offer these regional flights from Manila instead of Clark?

We are helping in the development and progress of the DMIA [Diosdado Macapagal International Airport]. Seair is the first and only Philippine carrier based in Clark, Pampanga. We are placing our bets on Clark. That will be the eventual gateway.

But that Clark gateway plan has been in the works since President Ramos’ time!

Events will catch up in Manila because there is no room for expansion there. An A380 cannot operate in Naia [Ninoy Aquino International Airport] because of its very limited facility. It’s already been established that when an A380 lands and takes off from Naia runway 0624, nobody can use the taxiway. If there’s an aircraft on the taxiway there’s going to be a wing tip collision! At the DMIA there is unlimited space because it used to be a military airbase. There are two parallel world-class runways there, which can be independently used.

When are you acquiring the A320s?

As early as February 2007. It’s a lease arrangement with Tiger Airways [a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines]. We chose Tiger as a product because the brand name is already established and has a high name recall. So marketing-wise it’s got all the advantage. Basically it’s an interlining arrangement, we feed traffic to one another. There will be an additional 18 pilots and 36 flight attendants earmarked for the A320.

How do you describe the tourism market now? Are the tourists more budget conscious?

No matter what you do, no matter what generation, the reality of market segmentation is there—meaning that there will be always those on the high-end and on the low-end. Those on the high-end, no matter how you bring your price, they would want to be identified as the best, the highest quality, and they’re willing to pay the price. The reality is always there. And of course, there are those who are price-conscious. And again that’s a reality.

So where is Seair positioning itself?

We have the high-end product through the Seair special domestic connections. We are coming up with the Tiger brand for the low-cost low fare, no-frills operation. We’re addressing the entire range of the market. Not a bad marketing strategy huh?

Of course they will help us in marketing our flights, and we will also use their distribution system, to enhance our sales.

Do you think Cebu Pacific’s Go Fares have unduly disrupted the pricing structure of the market? Some airlines say those low fares are unsustainable without any subsidies from Cebu Pac’s parent firm.

No, it has a positive effect as far as the industry is concerned. When Cebu Pacific started in 1994, Philippine Airlines was prepared for it of course. Ang totoo, tuwang-tuwa kami sa kanila. They were expanding the market because they were capturing the surface travelers from the ships and buses who were starting to fly on their low fares. So our philosophy then, “let them do their job,” because those markets they were creating will eventually develop an appetite for the higher service. And eventually they’ll be flying PAL, they’ll be flying the business class. Teka, why am I talking about PAL? I’m supposed to be talking about Seair!

Old habits die hard? So what’s the biggest challenge of the local airline industry?

The biggest challenge will still be the shortage of mission-critical skills because the availability of pilots and mechanics in relation to the number of aircraft that has been purchased by the airlines didn’t dovetail. Hundreds of aircraft have been added and yet no pilots and mechanics have been earmarked for those.

The low-cost carriers aggravated that problem because before, airlines would buy big aircraft so the demand for pilots were not that huge. Now smaller planes are being bought, and by the hundreds. So the requirements for pilots and mechanics have multiplied.

Some carriers are complaining that they are losing their pilots to the higher-paying foreign airlines. How are you going to deal with that issue?

I heard PAL has already increased its pilots’ salaries. We will go along with the industry trend, which is to calibrate all the salary levels, kasi ’di maiwasan ’yan. And of course, they will have to be made to appreciate the value of their own airline by fostering a well-knit close, almost family-like relationships. We will have constant dialogue.

Is Seair considering an employees’ stocks option plan as way to make them “appreciate” the airline?

That can also be considered, because part of the plan of the existing stockholders [Dornier, Gitsis and Tomas B. Lopez] is to expand the capital base of the airline for future expansion, so there will be more Filipino investors that will be attracted into the airline.

Are you considering an initial public offering to widen the Filipino ownership of the airline?

That’s always a possibility but we will have to be able to register attractive levels of returns for three consecutive years. So we will have to wait for that time. But we will work very hard in order to achieve that. [Revenues are projected to grow to P1 billion by yearend from P600 million in 2005.]

What’s your timetable to achieve this continued profitability?

Every year there will be gradual growth and development. The two A320s can virtually double the capacity of Seair. Remember, it’s a 180-seater aircraft against the 32-seater Dornier 328 and 19-seater LET-410 aircraft.

We will add more domestic routes. When we operate the A320 for the Manila-Cebu route, we will upgrade the Dornier 328 and introduce a linkage between Palawan and Iloilo. There is a high familial affinity between both provinces as many Ilonggos migrated to Palawan.

Seair has been operating for 11 years, since 1995. This year we will end up with a positive income.

Do you have any plans to change your turboprop fleet?

No. How can we change them when the domestic airports have not caught up with the march of technology and aviation? We have 13 aircraft—nine LET 410s, and four Dornier 328s. They are modern aircraft.

Some politicians in Pampanga are pushing open skies in Clark to supposedly bring in more tourists. Has your stand on a liberalized aviation policy changed from when you were at PAL?

The modern trend is to liberalize in order to really help improve our tourism even the economy. It cannot be denied that it’s been accepted globally that tourism is the biggest industry in the world today because of its multiplier effect. And those who have liberalized their skies have become successful, like Singapore, for example.

But if you have open skies, there must be reciprocity. We have to get the same benefits in return. Di naman makikinabang ang Seair doon kung i-open ang Philippines, then the same privilege is not available to us. Seair is on the verge of expansion, where are we going to fly?

So will you keep on teaching?

I intend to finish the semester [until April]. I have about 80 students. Perhaps I will just maintain one subject because I will lose a lot of time. But it looks like the attitude of Seair’s owners is for me to continue with my teaching because it helps in the promotion of the airline. So I’ll play it by ear.

How do you spend your leisure time?

I don’t have any except for that one hour of brisk walking and calisthenics every morning. I’ve lost 30 pounds—no more beer belly. Basically I take out my wife on Sundays, to church, then with some two or three young kids, we go to the mall, we eat or watch a movie.

Every now and then, we have parties on the third floor of our home in Taytay, about 20 minutes away from Makati when there’s no traffic. On the fourth floor is my gym. But on the third floor is where we get together especially when someone has a birthday. We have food, beer and sing on the videoke.

Really? What do you like to sing?

Madalas kong banatan simple lang, ’yung “A Certain Smile,” “Portrait of My Love,” “Perhaps Love”…. Every now and then, nagma-“My Way” din. Pag hawak ko na mikropono, nobody would dare take it away from me. Hahaha.

(Personal Fortune is a magazine published every Friday by the BusinessMirror. Photos by Nonie Reyes, BusinessMirror)

December 15, 2006

The 40 Richest Pinoys (Dang! I'm not on the list again!)

According to Forbes Asia

(Payungan kita, Pa.)

1. Henry Sy - $4.0 billion
2. Lucio Tan - $2.3 billion
3. Jaime Zobel de Ayala - $2.0 billion
4. Eduardo Cojuangco - $840 million
5. George Ty - $830 million
6. John Gokongwei - $700 million
7. Tony Tan Caktiong - $575 million
8. Andrew Tan - $480 million
9. Emilio Yap - $350 million
10. Oscar Lopez - $315 million
11. Enrique Razon Jr. - $285 million
12. Andrew Gotianun - $280 million
13. Enrique Aboitiz - $275 million
14. Alfonso Yuchengco - $225 million
15. Menardo Jimenez - $210 million
15. Gilberto Duavit Jr. - $210 million
17. Ramon del Rosario - $205 million
18. Felipe Gozon - $180 million
19. Beatrice Campos - $160 million
20. Luis J. L. Virata - $150 million
21. David M. Consunji - $145 million
22. Bienvenido Tantoco Sr. $140 million
23. Betty Ang - $115 million
24. Manuel Villar - $110 million
25. Mariano Tan - $100 million
26. Rolando and Rosalinda Hortaleza - $90 million
27. Oscar Hilado - $85 million
28. Vivian Que Azcona - $80 million
29. Manuel Zamora - $75 million
30. Magdaleno Albarracin - $73 million
31. Jesus Tambunting - $70 million
32. Frederick Dy - $65 million
33. Tomas Alcantara - $60 million
34. Lourdes Montinola - $50 million
35. Salvador Zamorra - $45 million
36. Antonio Roxas - $40 million
37. Wilfred Steven Uytengsu Sr. - $38 million
38. Philip T. Ang - $35 million
39. Marixi Prieto - $30 million
40. Manuel Pangilinan - $25 million

(Click here for the full story. Henry Sy photo from Forbes web site.


Something Like Life
Dec. 15, 2006

DESPITE the fact that Christmas carols have been playing in shopping malls since October, it only dawned on me that Christmas 2006 is just right around the corner when recently I saw a big red ball sitting in a bread basket next to the fruit basket in my mom’s dining room.

It was my dad’s quezo de bola, a staple in every Christmas as far back as I can remember. Sorry San Miguel, but no Magnolia cheese balls for my dad; this was a real Edam cheese ball from Holland. He has long given up on Marca Piña or Pato, which have lost their bite. Papa discovered years ago the nutty mature goodness of Dutch Master (try it!). And no Christmas is complete unless there are one or two red balls sitting in our dining room.

No sooner had the quezo de bola been purchased when the parol and the blinking colored lights were already up, the Baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph displayed prominently in the belen, and three Christmas trees in different sizes ensconced in their rightful place. Suddenly the living room throw pillows were all covered in red (my mom’s sofa is a bleah green but somehow the combination comes together this time of the year) and fat Christmas candles were all over the house. On the screen doors hung bountiful and colorful Yuletide wreaths.

Over the weekend I began downloading Christmas wallpapers for my iBook (, trying out which would best fit my personality and mindful of where we live. (Um, nope, no snowy country cottage themes with smoke rising from the chimney for me. Maybe someone should come up with Filipino Christmas wallpapers.) I finally settled on a close-up of a Christmas tree with silver trimmings and red bows. It’s real pretty! I also downloaded MacLampsX (, which installs Christmas lights around the border of the computer screen. It’s fun because you can design the lights yourself and decide how to string ’em up on your desktop screen.

And before writing this column, I earnestly searched the Internet for web radio stations ( so I could add them to my playlist and stream Christmas music all day long. Yeah, I know. It’s over-the-top, cheesy even, but I just couldn’t help it. I’ve been bitten by the holiday bug!

By the way, the most hilarious Yuletide song I’ve heard by far is Elmo ’n’ Patsy’s “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Hahaha! Laugh your holiday hearts out at

* * *

I know many people think the holidays are stressful but I’ve learned to deal with it over the years. First of all, I shop early. All that Yuletide stress is often brought about by that almost desperate last-minute search for the perfect gifts for the special people in your life. And sometimes, for the not-so-special people whom you need to suck up to anyway, which makes the search for gifts even more stressful.

Malls and tiangges are jam-packed already this time of the month, no matter what day or time you go. Jostling, pushing and shoving can’t be avoided. (Be careful of the salisi gangs at the Ayala malls.) Parking is a hassle but if you don’t bring your car, you will be at the mercy of rude cabbies.

So next year, make your Christmas list early. And perhaps trim it a bit. These trying times, I don’t think anyone with an inch of sensitivity on his person really expects humongous presents. One newspaper columnist told me years ago that he didn’t mind receiving only Christmas cards. It was enough that people remembered him during the holidays. And shop slow so you can give each gift more thought. You don’t have to buy everything in one go.

Buy a few gifts every payday beginning October, which I think is a reasonable month to start shopping. It will be a little easier on your wallet as well, as your expenses will be spaced apart, giving you a little breathing space from payday to payday.

Be disciplined about your gift-giving. Set a fixed budget. You cannot go over this amount even if your son threatens to stop going to school unless you buy him the latest PlayStation console. Priority should always be your family and your closest and dearest friends. Do not include the cute guy you just met at the tennis court yesterday. Besides, he should be the one giving you a gift, no?

So you want to suck up to the boss, eh? I am truly ambivalent about this because I think the boss should be the one giving us a gift. Aba, our work makes his job so much easier! But if you truly feel the need to give him a gift, then go ahead. It need not be outrageously expensive, which some of us tend to do in our desire to upstage our colleagues at work. It should be simple, thoughtful and sincere. (Please be more creative naman than the Purpose Driven Life. My poor brother-in-law, for example, received three copies last year!)

But it’s really the little people at the office or at home who deserve our gifts. Take up a collection among your colleagues to buy something extra special for the manong janitor. Persuade your fellow homeowners’ association members to contribute to a common fund for the subdivision guards or gardener. The househelp we depend on to take care of us and the rest of our family members, toiling over heated stoves, handwashing the laundry and cleaning out our toilets daily, will also need an extra dose of, ahem, loving from us this season.

It’s all about sharing, folks!

(My column, Something Like Life, appears every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Cartoons from and from another web site I can no longer trace.)

December 09, 2006

Stick it to 'em, RC!

Renato "RC" Constantino, Jr. at the anniversary of People Power at Edsa, Feb. 24, 2006. (Photo from Red Constantino's blog)

HURRAY for RC Constantino for calling House leaders "serial rapists" to their collective selfish face! It may not have been the proper place and time to do so as it was a press conference, but it had to be said nonetheless. The truth hurts you asswipes!

It's time you administration congressmen start paying attention to what the public really wants. Con-Ass, my ass! Who said we wanted constitutional reforms? All we want is for government corruption to stop, a thriving economy, higher wages, and peace and order. Con-Ass, Cha-Cha, Con-Con or whatever scheme you want to use to amend the Constitution will not give us economic and political stability.

Mickey Mouse Ears and his colleagues should stop using the poor economy as an excuse to push Cha-Cha. You only have yourselves to blame with your screwing around with economic legislation, or at worse, sitting on them. The only reason you want to amend the Constitution is for you to perpetuate yourselves in power and for you, JDV, to finally get a shot at being the Malacañang resident.

Toward the end of his statement at the press conference today, Mickey Mouse Ears said all they wanted was to leave a bright future for the youth. Well the only way that can happen is for you to move over, JDV! You are the ass among your fellow cons in Congress. You and your ilk should have already been put out to pasture eons ago. It's time for the young people, to lead the country out of the frikking mess you and your fellow senile old coots in Congress and in the GMA administration put us in. Alis jan Mickey Mouse!

(Footnote: Whoa Vic Agustin! Now what was that business of throwing water at RC Constantino's face? Is that how a "kept man," as you like to call yourself, moving around in the circles of the alta de sociedad, is supposed to behave? I like you and your column, but man, that behavior was just outta line! Tsk, tsk, tsk.)

• More on the Con-ass/Cha-Cha/Con-Con debate from GMA News TV and Dong Puno.

December 08, 2006

Portrait of a gentleman banker

'Tio Paeng' (left) and 'Gov. Cutie' at a book launch last year. (Photo from BusinessMirror)

Something Like Life
Dec. 8, 2006

IT was a text message I had been dreading to receive. But exactly at 3:49 pm on November 30, I received the sad news that former Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor Rafael B. Buenaventura had left this earthly domain for his true home.

“Tio Paeng,” as all the banking reporters fondly called him, had been in and out of hospitals over the past few years. He had valiantly fought the attacks on his person and position while at the helm of the central bank, but his bout with cancer was his most difficult battle of all.

Those of us who had a special affection for him would often ask his successor, Gov. Amando “Say” Tetangco, for any updates on his health. (Ever the wit, Gov. Paeng bestowed on Say the title “Gov. Cutie,” after one of my pieces; he also reveled in his nickname “Tio Paeng,” despite its, ahem, lusty undertone.) For a while, we heard he was doing better and some of us crossed our fingers that he would maybe be well enough to make it to our friend Des’s wedding. Alas, it was not be, and his frail health prevented him from being with us at the joyous occasion.

To be frank, Gov and the senior banking reporters didn’t always have a sunny relationship. There were some personal issues in the past which had their roots when he was still president of PCIBank. Eventually, wounds would heal and the frosty relationship would thaw. To his credit, Gov tried to reach out to those hurt among us the most, and tried to repair the damage that had been done.

I had another personal brush with Gov’s humility back when I was an editor at Manila Standard. After a particularly scathing editorial I had penned on a banking fiasco, the outspoken governor uttered the immortal line, “No one reads Manila Standard anyway!” to the banking reporters. Of course, the telephone lines burned immediately as the mischievous bunch reported to me what the governor had said. He became an even more favorite target after that.

Of course, as the Gov only knows only too well, life is too short to hold any grudges against anybody. So, over a few glasses of red wine at the BSP’s annual bankers’ cocktails, we buried the hatchet, so to speak, without even nitpicking the issues between us.

Later, he would become one of the most avid fans of my former paper, not just because we had supported his stay at the central bank, but because we actually respected the independence of the institution, even when others did not. The Gov would never forget to show his eternal gratitude to those who had backed him in his quest to defend the institution he headed. He would text his thanks, or call personally to express his appreciation for the stories written.

And yet he knew how to draw the line between friendship and his professional responsibilities. It was a quality I admired in him as I practice this myself. There were times when he may have sacrificed relationships for what he called “the greater good.” Only his real friends understood and didn’t take him to task for these sacrifices, which he needed to do to make an objective decision on important banking issues.

Despite the rarefied air that he often breathed (he was a permanent fixture in society magazines), Gov. Paeng was very accessible. While still at PCIB, he was the only bank president who came to the phone and gave me, a new banking reporter then, the time of day, this even before meeting me in person. At the BSP, he virtually revolutionized business journalism by making announcements on interest-rate policy via text messaging.

No matter how late it was, or wherever in the world he may be, he would answer our questions via SMS. Sometimes, he would return calls himself on the way to a meeting or some engagement, often sacrificing short private moments to make sure he touched base with us. I remember my cellphone being filled with saved text messages from him, important quotes that I used for the pieces I would write. No issue was too tiny for him to respond to…even if it was only some chismis.

His management of monetary policies aside, it was probably the Gov’s lovelife which engendered the most discussion. His relationship to painter Marivic Rufino was ardently whispered about even though their long relationship was no secret. The women gossiped about it because, well, they were women, while the men did their thing, too, perhaps envious of Gov’s good fortune.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’ve always believed in second chances. And for someone like the Gov who was, ahem, no spring chicken, to be able to pledge his undying love to another person at that stage in his life was something wonderful. To be in your 60s and in love! Gov. Paeng was truly blessed.

There was no doubt that the Gov was enamored with his lady love. It showed in his glowing face, and in his relaxed demeanor. Even in his clothes. I bumped into the couple once while having dinner at L’Incontro and it amused me that, like teenagers, they were both dressed in red.

Gov. Paeng would often jokingly count the years, down to the days and seconds to his retirement. It was as if he couldn’t wait to finally step down and spend his remaining years just quietly at the side of Marivic.

I never got to see the Gov finally get his wish, as there was no formal turnover of his post to Say, a professional central banker. Gov was in the US by then dealing with his illness. When he finally made his first public appearance at a central bank affair, a book launch, he was already feeling the ravages of the disease. He had lost weight and his hair. But ever the dapper dresser, his head was capped stylishly by a beret. And as the photos from the affair show, he was obviously pleased for Say, who was just positively beaming beside him. Gov. Paeng respected talent, and he knew Say was the right man to inherit his job.

While most people will remember Gov for his illustrious banking career, I will always remember him as a kind, decent, witty and gentle man who to the end, still thought of others. He didn’t want flowers, only donations to the Philippine General Hospital’s institute for indigent cancer patients. In his passing, he wanted to give life to others.

( This is the correct version of my column, Something Like Life, which appears every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)

December 07, 2006

Voices. . . How JDV chooses to honor's daughter KC's memory

"I truly sympathize with the minority in the House and admire them for their never-say-die spirit. Out-talked, out-numbered, outmaneuvered and out-voted, they still persist in fighting to preserve the Constitution and save it from the very obvious attempt to ram the ploy, so fittingly called "Con-Ass" through the people's throats. Speaker Jose de Venecia has declared that he will have it by December 15. Why that date? The eve of the Christmas Season, the day before the Misa de Aguinaldo? Is he marking any special occasion? By the way, isn't that the anniversary of the fiery death of his daughter in their own home?"

- From Twinkling by Ninfa Leonardia, Visayan Daily Star, Dec. 7, 2006

(JDV photo from

December 06, 2006

Updating blog template

Hi guys! I'm testing out a new look for the blog. It's going to be a little funky over a few days, so please bear with me.


Site manager

December 01, 2006

In a class of his own

BusinessMirror Editorial
Dec. 1, 2006

IT has often been said that being head of the central bank is one of the loneliest jobs in the world, mainly because he must at all times be independent.

One joke says you have to do nothing but count all that money and gold in a fortress, knowing you’ll never own it, but you’re always expected to be ready to say how much you’ve counted on any given day.

It is thus no surprise that in the US, Alan Greenspan projected exactly the kind of distant image that fits this vision of a gnome, no matter that as a professional jazz saxophonist in his younger days you’d have expected him to be—well, warmer. Greenspan rarely talked to people at the peak of his power at the Fed, but when he opened his mouth, just a word or phrase could shake up markets around the world. Whether or not he deliberately cultivated that Sphinx-like mien because he thought it was necessary to succeed in his difficult job, only Mr. Greenspan knows.

Closer to home, one man who held a similar job, during some of the most challenging transitions in recent years, succeeded without necessarily projecting that kind of image. Like Mr. Greenspan, he was “human” enough to appreciate art, and blended well in the rarefied air of high society. But Mr. Rafael Buenaventura never came across as needing to look proud or distant to be believed.

The immediate past governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), in contrast, simply projected that quiet air of authority from someone who knew what he was doing and was determined to do what needed to be done. Whatever he did, he exuded class. Yes, insiders once said, even when he had to defend the Monetary Board position in spirited closed-door debates.

It is perhaps the best tribute to his ability as central banker that he made sure the man he mentored to succeed him would handle the job as well. In Buenaventura’s eyes, the incumbent, Governor Amado Tetangco, had even exceeded his teacher.

In this paper’s recent first-anniversary folio that included an article on Tetangco’s handling of the country’s monetary affairs in October, our reporter repeatedly quoted Mr. Buenaventura as “expert witness” to the competence of Say Tetangco. “He [Tetangco] has made good at the top and that is something that is usually not very easy to achieve on your first year on the job. Governor Tetangco deserves the award very well,” said Mr. Buenaventura. That was just less than three months ago.

On Thursday, the generous, self-effacing teacher was gone, ending a long bout with cancer. But it was obvious that he had been at peace, knowing he had left his difficult job to a very qualified student.

Both men had garnered recognition as chief monetary craftsmen from the New York-based Global Finance publication that yearly picks the best central bankers on the planet. It’s a most coveted award.

Buenaventura was awardee two years in a row, receiving a grade of “A” for 2002 and 2003; he is one of only two central bank governors to receive such a distinction. Yet in the eyes of this giant of a man, Say Tetangco had achieved something better—getting the award in less than 18 months when his mentor took all of three years to be recognized.

Wherever Mr. Buenaventura is now, such hair-splitting over awards and records would hardly matter, as we are certain it never mattered to him. What was obvious was that here was someone who felt the biggest reward lay in being able to do a difficult job.

The kudos—named by BusinessWeek as one of the 25 leaders in Asia who are at the forefront of change in their annual award for the “Stars of Asia for 2003,” cited as “Central Bank Governor of the Year for the Asian Region” by The Banker magazine, a London Financial Times publication, among others—were purely incidental to him.

Not that he was a prophet recognized only in foreign lands. Here at home, Mr. Buenaventura received from the Quedan and Rural Credit Guarantee Corp. the “Agri-Credit Achievement Medallion for Governance” for his commitment to the cause and promotion of agricultural credit. He was also named the 2004 Management Man of the Year by the Management Association of the Philippines for his “unquestioned distinction in the place of management” and contribution to the development and progress of the country.

Before the central bank, Mr. Buenaventura had capped years of successful private banking, where peers and rivals acknowledged his leadership enough to make him president of the Bankers Association of the Philippines from 1994-1997, and chairman of the Asean Banking Council from 1996-1997.

For 10 years he was president and chief executive officer of the PCI Bank and chairman of the various companies of the PCI Bank Group. During his tenure, PCI Bank was recognized many times for leadership in banking, including “Best Bank in the Philippines” (1993-1997) from Euromoney, “Commercial Bank of the Year” (1994-1997) from Asia Money, “Highest Ratings Granted to any Local Bank” (1994-1996) from Standard & Poor’s, and “among the Top 10 Leading Companies in the Philippines” (1994-1996) from the Far Eastern Economic Review. He was named Commercial Banker of the Year 1991 by Asia Money and Finance.

Before that, he also held many senior positions at Citibank.

Having steered the BSP through many years of tough reform, Mr. Buenaventura certainly left rather big shoes to fill. It’s comforting to have heard recently from him no less, that in his eyes the present chief is more than up to the challenge. After all, more reforms are still being pursued.

In a nutshell, Say Tetangco vowed in a recent speech to continue the reforms “in accordance with our mandate to ensure stable prices and a strong banking sector.” Namely: guiding banks toward full adoption of financial and monetary standards under Basel 2; and the continuing consolidation and merger of the banking industry.

The nutshell may be a tough one to crack, but if Mr. Buenaventura was satisfied with his student, then perhaps that’s enough comfort for the country he served so well.

‘Erap classmate’ almost got the boot

RAFAEL B. Buenaventura was possibly one of the most controversial central bank governors in Philippine history. No less than a president and her aides had tried, not once, but twice, to push him out of his position, never mind that he had security of tenure, and that the Bangko Sentral is an agency independent of the national government.

Buenaventura was appointed in July 1999 by a former Ateneo classmate, then President Joseph Estrada. When the Arroyo administration came to power in January 2001, as part of efforts to get rid of vestiges of Estrada’s mark on the government, the BSP chief’s post was targeted. It was an exercise in futility. Who’d have known that Buenaventura had so many friends and admirers, even outside of the banking community and overseas, who lobbied high and low for him to be retained as central bank governor? In a rare moment, the Bankers Association of the Philippines, Financial Executives Association of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, and Management Association of the Philippines, closed ranks behind Buenaventura.

Buenaventura himself acknowledged the importance of those friendships at a testimonial lunch tendered him November 17, 2002. “I have become more introspective about the importance of relationships and the meaning of loyal friendship…especially throughout the rough, tough times.” The testimonial was held in honor of his inclusion by Global Finance magazine among four top central bankers that year. He even edged out Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan in that distinction.

It seemed that the entire business community was there at the ballroom of Peninsula Manila that day, earlier roasting him and taking potshots at his monetary policies and idiosyncracies, and now giving their full attention to his speech.

Still, his job had not been easy, despite those friendships. He has had to make difficult decisions “for the greater good,” even as he assured that those decisions “are made objectively and in the interest of the country.”

Buenaventura’s retention as Bangko Sentral governor was probably the best decision President Arroyo ever made for this country, as proven by the acclaim the Philippines reaped over those years. Despite the peso dropping to almost P55 to a dollar in those years, inflation was at a historic low at 3 percent and interest rates were stable, encouraging the public to make housing and auto loans.

William Pesek, a columnist for Bloomberg, hit the nail on the head when he said that Buenaventura has “proven to be the glue holding together one of Asia’s most fractured economies.” Pesek also called Buenaventura the only “adult in the room,” which the Philippines needed the most.

He would best be remembered for helping the country finally get its anti-money laundering measure approved by the Financial Action Task Force, thus preventing untold catastrophe for the economy. Without the FATF’s approval of that measure, billions of dollars in remittances by overseas Filipino workers would probably be stuck in foreign banks.

He would also be remembered for shepherding the passage of the Special Purpose Vehicles Act which helped banks get rid of their nonperforming assets and lowered the percentage of their bad loans.

Despite his nimble management of some aspects of the economy, Buenaventura could only do so much. When the Philippines’s credit rating was downgraded two notches down in February 2005, he was crestfallen, yet pragmatic. “Despite all that we have accomplished so far, it is our lack of track record of sustainability that did it," he said in an interview. All he could do was push for the sustainability of the reforms.

Until his retirement in July 2005, the BSP was a consistent top notcher in the Makati Business Club’s Executive Outlook Survey. Its respondents credited Buenaventura for keeping interest rates low and the exchange rate, relatively stable.

(This is the unabridged version of the piece I wrote for the BusinessMirror published on Dec. 1, 2006.)

• More on Gov. Paeng from Des

Something Like Life (12/01/06)

I’M writing this column still buzzing from a sugar rush caused by the ingestion of four Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the last two weeks. You’d think that four doughnuts would have no impact on most people, but coming from a family of diabetics, I’ve tried to avoid eating sugary stuff except for certain times of the month (you girls know what I mean). I also use artificial sweeteners for my coffee, pancake syrup, even champorado. Just can’t be too careful with one’s health.

But dang those Krispy Kremes! They were just too tempting. But, of course, I attended the press briefing before yesterday’s formal opening of the flagship store at The Fort, and went home with two boxes of the sweet treats. These were promptly distributed among three households—the other two were my nieces’ who, last I heard, were supposed to have lined up at the Krispy Kreme outlet on Wednesday just to be the first in line for yesterday’s opening. The prize was to have been a one-year supply of the original glazed doughnuts. Enjoy the sugar while you’re young, kids!

I have no doubt Krispy Kreme doughnuts will be a hit here in Manila. We Filipinos just love our sugary treats. Even our spaghetti is sweet! Perhaps we need the sugar rush to make us deliriously happy and forget all our problems. Talk about collective depression. Who needs Zoloft? Gimme some doughnuts!

Or how about a banana? I had this colleague who frequently munched on bananas even while working. She told someone that it helped her fight depression, which we thought was funny because the rest of us thought that all she had to do was have sex to lift her spirits. She often proudly declared to be celibate, so what did you expect us to think? (Okay, to be fair, bananas do contain trytopan, a protein which converts to serotonin, the neurotransmitter said to regulate our moods.)

Seriously, there was a study published last year which showed that certain foods could fight depression… if you’re a rat, that is. According to Forbes magazine, a study by McLean Hospital’s Behavioral Genetics lab showed that when the rats were fed with Omega-3 fatty acids (present in fish oils) and uridine (which helps cells produce energy), they behaved just as well as the rats fed with Prozac and Celexa, popular antidepressant drugs. Note that McLean Hospital is an affiliate of Harvard University whose most popular course is Positive Psychology (see “The Pursuit of Happiness,” Something Like Life, November 3, 2006). What is it with these Harvard dudes and happiness?!

First off, I can’t imagine how depressed rats behave. Do they go off alone to a corner and cry? Or perhaps commit suicide by holding their breaths? (Oops, it’s tarsiers that do that.) So when they’re on antidepressants, do the rats happily run in those little wheels that go ’round and ’round? Hmmm….

Of course, you don’t have to throw your Zoloft away just yet. Like any study of this nature, the results will still have to be validated by actual tests on humans. If for anything, at least the salmon and walnuts will help lower your bad cholesterol levels. And the soy will ease your PMS.

Still, there must be more to depression than just a bad diet. Sure, we’ve all heard that old saying, “Eat right and feel good.” But depression isn’t simply a case of feeling sad and crying uncontrollably because your boyfriend left you. Depression often makes one feel hopeless, worthless, guilty, pessimistic and, at its worst, psychotic and suicidal. So, yes, Tom Cruise, you freak! Some people do need prescription drugs to readjust the chemicals in their brain and make them feel all right again.

Many of us may know someone who is, or has been, depressed. Sometimes, all we can do is just listen to them pour their heart out, granted that the depressed one is inclined to talk at all. We try to encourage her and point out the otherwise good things happening in her life. We coax her to try God, to pray to ease her anxieties, and get her to rejoin normal social activities. But sometimes, all we can do is stand aside and wait for her to get out of her funk by herself.

Frankly, it can be exhausting dealing with depressed people. I knew one person who was chronically depressed, so dissatisfied with her life that she’d constantly whine about, say, how her colleagues were surpassing her in their careers. And yet, as everyone else pointed out to her, she was a lucky girl who was not really wanting financially, even if she thought a higher salary was going to make her happy. Of course, there were other emotional issues that were causing her general malaise, but until she actually owned up to those feelings and be forthcoming about them, there was no way she’d get out of her funk. Mercifully, I hear that, lately, she is no longer a whiner and may have gotten her groove back.

The thing about depression is, if you don’t watch out, you might get sucked into the whole unhappiness agenda. Like, I’ve been trying to put off meeting up with an old friend whose toxicity just rubbed off on me once. There was a time when all I wanted to do was mother him and just be there to talk him through his aches and pains. Then I finally got tired of being around him. He just dragged me down at a time when I wasn’t feeling too chipper myself. I had to break the relationship abruptly to save myself. Fortunately, the opportunity to work abroad came and helped me wean myself away from his harmful psyche. We’re still friendly, but I know more than enough to keep him at arm’s length.

Of course, who am I to talk? I’ve been depressed maybe a couple of times in my life, though not bad enough to go over the edge and need Prozac. Having good friends and a supportive family keeps me from falling into a chasm of depression, enabling me to choose happiness over hopelessness. Also, praying helps me get through a lot of rough patches that otherwise can push other people into a depression. It won’t be as simple as that for those in worse conditions than I have been. And I’m quite thankful that in my case, yes, two Krispy Kremes may just give me the boost to get me out of those blues.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)