December 29, 2007

Brothers, sisters, children

Familial reflection. The cast of the compulsively watchable and thoroughly affecting Brothers & Sisters, the US series seen on local TV that holds up a mirror on the highs and lows of life with brothers, sisters, parents and children.

Something Like Life
Dec. 28, 2007

OVER the Christmas holidays, in between the massive gorging on roast turkey and stuffing, spaghetti, lengua con setas, fruit salad and the subsequent leftovers (love it!), I found myself seriously hooked on watching the first season of Brothers & Sisters. It got so bad that I almost went on leave for this Friday’s column just so that I could finish watching the DVD.

But as I watched more and more of it, and laughed at all the antics of the amusing, yet gritty, characters in this lovely TV series, and also got my heartstrings tugged while seeing each of them go through the pain and agony of discovering upsetting realities in their relationships with one another and those outside their family, I ended up thinking the show was actually a good topic to write about as we go into the New Year.

For those who still haven’t started watching this series (it airs weekly on Studio 23 and on Star World on SkyCable), Brothers & Sisters is a story of the rambunctious Walker family, headed by Nora (brilliantly played by veteran actress Sally Field), who has just lost her husband William (Tom Skeritt) to a heart attack. In this family are her five very mixed-up adult children who include a working mom having marriage problems with her husband (Rachel Griffiths); a bleeding-heart Republican (Calista Flockhart) sleeping with her just-divorced senator-boss (Rob Lowe); a son shooting blanks (Balthazar Getty) who’s asked his brothers to donate their sperm; a commitment-phobic gay lawyer (Matthew Rhys) dating a soap-opera actor who doesn’t want to come out of the closet; and a recovering drug addict (Dave Annable) who’s a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Sounds like great TV, right?

Well, it gets better. Nora finally meets Holly (Patricia Wettig), William’s mistress of two decades whom she has actually known about for years and outs her at a family party, much to the shock of her children, who thought she knew nothing of the affair. To make matters worst, William actually fathered a child, Rebecca (Emily VanCamp), with Holly, and three of Nora’s children including her brother Saul (Ron Rifkin), are conspiring to keep her from knowing this truth as well. Oh, and did I mention that Saul is dating Holly? Such supersweet sordid stuff!

There is no question that this family is out of whack, like most families we know I suppose. We are formed by our relationships and experiences within our own dysfunctional families, which eventually impacts the way we react to situations or relate to the people around us.

While the initial episodes seemed convoluted because of its multiple plots, the TV series has evolved into a witty and intelligent piece of writing. It’s pure soap opera, only a tad more intelligent. It has touches of Dynasty only with more heart, and sans the flashy clothes. (Nora and Holly’s kitchen fight scene, it should be said, doesn’t hold up a candle to Krystle and Alexis slugging it out in the water fountain.) With its characters now well-defined by their own inner strengths and vulnerabilities, one cannot help but be taken by this show. The stories are familiar yet annoying, because it mirrors a lot of our own experiences.

Who can’t relate to the emotional turmoil one feels when he or she finds out that their father actually is no saint? Or the confusion over falling in love with the wrong people constantly? Or even having a mother who says the wrong things at the wrong time. (At the hospital just this week, as she was getting her blood pressure checked at the ER, my mother chatted up a diabetic who was eventually admitted. In true un-PC fashion, my mother tried to wish her well by blurting, “I hope nothing happens to you!” Good Lord! Let the ground swallow me up now!)

Despite the myriad of characters in the series, each one is allowed to develop and shine in one episode after the other. All the roles are superbly filled by some of Hollywood’s often underrated actors. Well, except for Flockhart. She still acts and sounds like the ludicrous Ally McBeal in this new series, minus the imaginary dancing baby. Nope, no Emmys or Golden Globes for her, that’s for sure.

The series also tries to tackle current issues, such as the rise of juvenile diabetes (working mom Sarah and husband Joe discover their young daughter Paige has the condition after she falls into a coma) and teaches how the life-long affliction can be ably managed. The writing has become tighter despite the many roles that have to be acted out and the various topics tackled.

As I kept watching each episode, I often snickered at how I found myself in some of the characters’ often outrageous behavior, especially when it comes to relating to one’s significant other. It was also entertaining to watch how the Walker siblings relate to one another in the same oddball way as I relate to my own, although my siblings and I aren’t the type to actually share secrets with one another like the Walkers often do.

In a similar fashion as the Walkers, while we may have a family to lean on especially during moments of weakness and vulnerability, individually we each have to come to terms with our own emotional baggage in order to preserve—or, at worst, let go of—our bonds with our siblings, parents, friends and lovers.

As 2008 approaches and I start counting my blessings, what I am most thankful for is having a family that’s tough and fired up with an indomitable spirit. We are bound not only by our common grief over loved ones lost, but also because we’ve actually dealt with our own insanities and self-preservation issues to be able to handle one another on a less hysterical level.

I suppose they call it emotional maturity… when we accept that we can no longer change our parents or siblings just to become some postcard-perfect family living in a house with a white picket fence.

We come to accept certain truths about one another and let go of the situations that we have no power to change. We realize that it’s all the foibles and imperfections that make us and life with one another more interesting. Like, who wants a mom who says the proper thing each and every time, huh? Boring!

Happy New Year to all!

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

December 22, 2007

Something more to Christmas

THIS morning I received some good news about a friend's husband who had been suffering from cancer. She says that due to a radical new medical treatment, his health has improved tremendously in just a span of two weeks -- his lumps have decreased, and some have totally disappeared.

Of course, I know in my heart that some higher power is at work here, too. A number of his friends and family have been storming the heavens with prayers, asking for his healing. It's one of those situations when we realize who really is in control of our lives.

This development comes at a time so close to Christmas making us all remember it's real meaning. Pangs sent me this video, his Christmas gift, which I also would like to share with all of you. This is in part to give thanks to our friend's healing, and to remind us all that there is something more to Christmas than just the presents and the food at Noche Buena.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you!

Keep the faith.

December 21, 2007

100! and counting...

Something Like Life
Dec. 20, 2007

THIS is my 100th column for this super-excellent business newspaper.

I never would have thought I’d have enough discipline to do this every week and talk about a topic which matters to us most: our relationships. After all, I’m more a politics and business kind of girl who usually rants over the latest insane idea of the government, despite my having turned more to lifestyle writing.

When my editor first proposed to me the idea of writing about relationships, I was amused. I think I asked him if everyone else had turned him down before he finally approached me. Frankly, I thought the topic was very limiting and felt I’d run out of ideas each week. Besides, who would want to read about falling in love (and out of it), dating, adultery (woo-hoo!) week after week? Besides what right did I have talking about romance when I’m currently unattached, except to my Mac?

But as Gerard spelled it out to me, relationships do not only mean romantic love and its many configurations, but also the bonds that tie us to our work colleagues, our bosses, our family, our friends and, yes, even those who are within our periphery who may not be any of the above but who still make our lives work, such as our secretaries, assistants, househelp, etc. (A couple of months back, for example, a few people told me how they enjoyed my piece on finding the right househelp, and sympathized with my plight.)

Helping me through this weekly commitment of column-writing have been my friends, some of whose life stories have also made it to the pages of this section. Well, what are friends for if you can’t mine their experiences and regurgitate them for public consumption, eh? Seriously, I just love my wonderful friends, some of whom have been closer to me than my own family, and I’ve shared some of their own stories with you, so you already know just how much I have learned from them, too.

'The Entourage' (foreground, from left): Fil, moi, Donna, Marianne, Tita Nel; (back, from left) Tito Mon, Pinky Poo, Badang

So this year, as I give thanks for the great opportunities that have come my way and to my fabulous readers, I’d like some of my dearest friends to take center stage and talk about their favorite Christmas gifts. This is my “Entourage” — the people who have been around especially when things weren’t going so great in my life. It hasn’t been an easy year for me and my family, but I’m glad I have these splendid guys and gals to hold me up and lift my spirits. This is my own little way of saying thank you to them and hoping that all their Christmas wishes come true. (Okay, I didn’t bother to ask the rest because they don’t believe in Christ-mas anyway…heathens! I still love you guys, though.)

Fil: Back in 1987 when things weren’t that big, Larry (my life partner) bought me a 29-inch Sony TV which had surround sound. Big TVs weren’t in fashion yet then. But it was the biggest gift he ever bought me. Until now it’s still working!

Tito Mon: I was five years old and my mom gave me a bicycle. We lived in the province then and we weren’t rich. So it was something big for me already. Also, I remember that same Christmas, my ninang (godmother) gave me a basketball. The ball fell down the stairs and out into the compound’s ground. I ran after it and the German shepherd of my neighbor clawed at me. I was given 24 anti-tetanus shots!

Marianne: Everyone knows I love vinegar. A couple of years ago, a publicist gave me different kinds of vinegar—red wine, tarragon, malt, balsamic, sukang Iloko, etc. I really appreciated it because I wasn’t even close to her but she took the effort to choose these vinegars in nice different bottles and arranged them in a gift basket. It may be ordinary to some but I liked it because she put a lot of thought into the gift, which is something that you don’t expect from most publicists, right? Napa-bilib ako sa kanya! Someone actually paid attention to what I wanted! (Anyone who can guess who this publicist is gets a special prize. No help from Marianne, please.)

Jun: I was 11 years old, I received a doll dressed as Santa Claus. It was a gift from my favorite kuya who died from bangungot in December also, three years after he gave me the doll. It was the best gift I received because I guess it was his way of telling me that it was okay for me to be gay. He was 24 then, and it was his first job, he bought my doll from his first salary. Of all my brothers, he was the one I was closest to, and he was the only one with an open mind to what I was, what I am. That’s why I don’t enjoy Christmas that much since he passed away.

Donna: Just last Sunday I received a Tommy Hilfiger watch from a really good friend. It’s lined in pink with Swarovski crystals. I really wanted that watch. And although it’s not really that expensive in terms of watches, it was expensive for my friend to buy it. The last time she gave me an expensive item was several years ago. But it’s not really the price that mattered; it’s who gave it.

Ted: I must’ve been nine or 10 years old and our “Santa Claus” got a bundle from his huge Christmas sack and called out my name, “To Teddy.” I walked up to him, got the bundle, ripped open the wrapper and couldn’t help letting out a delighted yelp, “Santa’s finally got it right!” when I saw what it yielded: all the titles of classics illustrated comic books I had written on the Christmas wish list which I and all my cousins in the maternal family compound I grew up in Bacolod were asked to make before Christmas Eve. A Tale of Two Cities, The Prisoner of Zenda, Robinson Crusoe, Man in the Iron Mask, Huckleberry Finn, War of the Worlds, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Rip Van Winkle, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, etc.

Jun the fabulous, now based in Hong Kong.

Francine: Getting married two days after Christmas Day was the best Christmas gift I received…next to the sofa my husband (Peter) bought me today. Peter and I actually wanted to get married on Christmas Day but we wanted our friends around to share the day with us. People would still be nursing a hangover on the 26th, so we decided to hold it on the 27th. And also now (will be a good Christmas) because we have a baby, it’s his first Christmas. We just moved into a new house. We brought in a cypress tree from the garden into the house and decorated it with lights and Christmas cards. So we’re going back to trying to find meaning in Christmas. We want to make it more meaningful again, especially for us as a family.

It’s funny that as I was interviewing my friends for this piece, most of them had a difficult time remembering the outstanding gifts they received over time. I did, too. I sort of remember the food I ate more than the gifts. (But now that I think about it, the best Christmas gift I probably received was a dainty gold bracelet from an old boyfriend. He had come from Bangkok, where he attended a conference, and didn’t give me any pasalubong. Nagtipid ang gago — the bracelet was my pasalubong and Christmas gift rolled into one. What was interesting was that when we split up, the bracelet also broke…but then, of course, it’s 24k kasi. Confession: I still have the bracelet, repaired, which I still wear sometimes.)

But I guess as one gets older, the material stuff doesn’t really hold too much meaning for us anymore. We’re not as impressionable anymore as when we were little and all gifts were the best. These days, it’s the thought that counts, or whoever gave the gift that lends it some meaning. The fact that someone actually remembered and took time out to give us a present is quite heartwarming, more so if it comes from someone we really have great affection for. (Of course, if anyone gave me the stuff that was on my Christmas wish list published a couple of weeks ago, I will love him or her forever.)

So, with a gentle reminder to keep the Excedrin, Lomotil, Alka-Seltzer, apple juice and tomato juice on hand, my friends and I wish you all a Merry Christmas!

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

December 19, 2007

Santa stories

Letters to Santa increase despite e-mail

GENEVA - Text messages, e-mails and social networking are challenging traditional mail but Santa Claus at least is receiving more and more old-fashioned letters, according to the world's postmen.

The Universal Postal Union said on Tuesday that letters to Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, continue to grow at a clip that will top the 6 million notes sent in 2006.

Spokesman Laurent Widmer said it was too soon to estimate a final tally because many letters are sent in the final week before Christmas, or even after the holiday. But checks with union members showed the number of letters was increasing.

"Santa has over five million helpers round the world to answer his mail and deliver the millions of greeting cards, parcels and letters that circulate during the holiday season," the group representing 191 countries said in a statement.

The letters, often addressed simply "To Santa, North Pole" might normally be regarded as undeliverable and marked "addressee unknown," the union said.

But many national post offices reply, including those of France and Canada which each received more than 1 million missives to Father Christmas last year, it said.

In 2006 Finland received letters from 150 countries, representing 90 percent of the letters received by Santa Claus in Finland. The U.S. Postal Service has been answering Santa's letters since 1912. And in Canada, Santa has his own post code -- HOH OHO.


Santas flex muscles before big day
Reuters video

December 17, 2007

The importance of being Ernest

I'VE never met Ernest Santiago. But growing up, I often read and heard stories of his famous disco, the Coco Banana in Malate, Manila. I saw photos of his glorious parties and the veritable who's who in Manila's cafe society and fashionistas (the term had yet to be invented then) who went there, and had a grand time often in costume, dancing with the latest Studio 54 disco sounds pumping in the background. For what some would probably call a buddding babaeng bakla then, I was furious at not being old enough to go out and have fun as Ernest and all his friends did. It was the iconic bar of the 1970s which defined the era when everyone just had a great time with no thought of the consequences.

I also recall passing by his atelier in Remedios Circle with his brand Santiago de Manila on his wall, whenever my family and I would eat in the area. He was Manila's foremost fashion designer in his day, and brought the terno, a traditional Filipino dress, to the modern era in its flamboyant oversized dimensions. Whenever his fans speak of Ernest's designs, they will often mention his show-stopping creations for people like Imee Marcos who wore such a modern Maria Clara at one film festival (herself another babaeng bakla, of course). I loved his designs because I sensed a kindred spirit, a rebel against all traditions our family and society forces on us. Tired of fashion designing, he turned to interiors.

In the last couple of years, Ernest's name was constantly popping up in the newspapers' lifestyle sections again after he opened his restaurant Cafe Gallery 83 in Pagsanjan, Laguna and helped found the Viaje del Sol, which led tourists to the wonderful sights and sounds of Laguna and Quezon. He was also building a resort in Quezon which I remember making a mental note to visit with my travel buddies. Last Holy Week, as my friends and I were on our way to Paete, we drove by his restaurant in Pagsanjan, which looked nondescript from the outside, but which I hear served the most fabulous home-cooked meals, sometimes lovingly prepared by Ernest himself.

Early this year, a glossy society magazine held its anniversary party and its editors asked Ernest to dress up the hotel function room like his legendary Coco Banana. While not a lot of people were in costume as the parties and shows in his infamous bar as before (when one gets to a certain age, it makes him tentative and conscious of his appearance), everyone obviously had a grand time.

I wish I had known this great man because his life touched mine in so many, albeit vicarious, ways. He may have died a cruel death, but he lived a fabulous life that people will speak of and remember forever. Greatness endures. This story from the Philippine Star and Inquirer about Ernest's life and times. (Photos from Manila Standard/MST web sites.)

December 15, 2007

On wearing a Barong Tagalog

Director Quentin Tarantino, a recent Manila visitor, announces a nominee to the 65th Golden Globes Awards (above). At right, QT with actors Ryan Reynolds and Hayden Panettiere.

NOT bad, not bad at all.

Acclaimed film director Quentin Tarantino donned the Barong Tagalog for the 65th Golden Globes nomination ceremony yesterday. (To those still living in a bomb shelter somewhere, QT was just here in Manila sometime October which was how he acquired a barong.)

Of course, he just had to wear his sneakers with it, which kinda threw off what would have been a really distinguished look for him. But then, if he had worn leather shoes, the look wouldn't been trademark Tarantino. At least he wore a white T-shirt underneath. Coolness.

A lot of foreigners like the barong because it lends them the right elegance they need for any formal gathering without being so constricted the way the traditional American business suit does. Besides it is light, cool (in an airy sort of way, not cool as in kewl), and easy to pack.

Anyway, this was great exposure for the Philippines' traditional menswear. So huge props to QT for putting his mark on it.

(Photos from AP and Reuters, via Yahoo! News)

Loveless on Christmas?

Something Like Life
Dec. 14, 2007

YOU have just renewed your membership to SMAP (Samahan ng Malalamig ang Pasko). Every time you hear the song “Pasko Na Sinta Ko” played on the radio, you want to go out and shoot your neighbor’s dog. Okay, so you don’t have a boyfriend this Christmas. What are you going to do, short of hiring your gardener’s macho dancer-son as your boyfriend to present to the relatives for the Christmas Day reunion?

Well, first of all, make sure you pay him at least a thousand bucks. Just kidding!

I know a number of people who have husbands, boyfriends, or family who still don’t feel the Christmas spirit at all despite the grand day being just 11 days away. (A friend’s status on his Facebook profile reads “Holidying”.) So I can just imagine what it must feel like when one is all alone with no one to share a special romantic gift over the holidays. It is true that this is the time of the year when suicide rates spike up as people either don’t have money or don’t have loved ones to turn to. If you let the Christmas blues get to you, you will likely feel empty, wretched and miserable.

I, for one, have always been thankful that, despite some years when I have to cough up my membership dues to SMAP, I still have my family around me. It will be a bit different this year, primarily because my father had just passed away, but I know we will all pull together to make Christmas still meaningful despite his absence. Having kids around helps as their wide-eyed innocence and belief in some bearded fat man in a red suit bringing them gifts just makes us work harder to make the holidays extra-special.

There is no reason, however, to feel lonely on Christmas just because Prince Charming seems to have lost his way trying to find your house. (Baka na-traffic.)

Focusing on other people instead of yourself eases the loneliness. If you become self-absorbed and keep obsessing about your loveless plight this season, you will likely need more than a bottle of Paxil to lift your spirits.

You can:

Spend the day in an orphanage. Bring some buckets of greasy breaded fried chicken or cartons of sweet spaghetti to share with these unfortunate souls. Or ask donations from friends for used toys or children’s clothes to donate to the children. Seeing these kids’ faces light up from sheer joy at the goodies you’re bringing is a feeling so precious that you will forget, however temporarily, how depressing (you think) your life is.

Visit a home for poor senior citizens. Next to orphans, old people whose own families have abandoned them are the most pitiful creatures imaginable. After giving their lives to their families, they are cast aside like used plastic bags. People who are forgotten need someone to talk to. I find it a real learning experience to just sit down and listen to seniors tell stories about their youth. It’s better than any reality TV show (or telenovela) and you get a history education to boot.

Spend Christmas Day with orphans. (Photo from

Invite others for a Christmas get-together. Whether your friends are alone like yourself or have families, ask them to come over for a meal and some merriment. If you want to slave over a hot pot the whole day just to forget how alone you are, then go ahead and do the entire menu. If your friends are up to it, then go potluck and ask them to bring some special dish. Christmas is all about sharing. For sure, you will all be closer to one another when you all come down with intestinal flu. What fun will it be for all to investigate whose dish caused your brains to run out your ass.

Okay, so you can be a little self-absorbed, too.

Splurge on yourself. Plan the entire day around the most important person in the world. You. Whip up a really delicious meal from a recipe you’ve been dying to try. Relax and book yourself for an entire day of pampering and wellness at your favorite spa. Go watch a Christmas movie or rent your favorite video (except those goo-goo Meg Ryan romantic comedies) to watch at home. If watching a video isn’t your thing, settle down in bed with a nice pot of tea and read a good book while your favorite music plays in the background. God knows you haven’t had much time to read except magazines, or the news online, during the entire year that you’ve been stressed at work.

Indulge. Go ahead and buy yourself a great big Christmas present—like that 40-inch Plasma TV set you’ve been ogling every time you pass by the appliance store. Or perhaps the new MacBook Pro with the 13-inch screen and 2GB memory. Sure, these items are expensive but, hey, they’re gonna last longer than a boyfriend! So go use that credit card and swipe away. It’s zero-percent interest anyway.

Go on a holiday trip. Who says you have to stay at home in this country on Christmas? Right now, go online and start surfing. What destination have you been wanting to travel to all these years? This is a good time as any to go there. And, hey, just think of the cultural education you’ll be getting. Try another country’s Christmas traditions for a change. It doesn’t have to be as far as Alaska (but on second thought, you might have better luck getting a boyfriend there, like Marian Frisk in Men in Trees). Check out New York Times’ 53 places to go to in 2008. There are a lot of exotic countries just within the region that really look like exciting places to visit (e.g., Laos, the Maldives, Lombok in Indonesia, Barossa Valley in Australia, and—believe it or not—Iran).

Go to church on Christmas Eve. There’s nothing more uplifting than to join others in celebrating Christ’s birth, which is the real point of the holidays anyway, and not just maxing out the credit card to buy everybody gifts. Most churches these days celebrate Christmas Eve Mass with some play on Christ’s birth with the neighborhood kids as the main characters, or feature an honest-to-goodness choral group that has endlessly rehearsed the traditional Christmas carols in harmony or other sacred arias. These traditions just make Christmas Mass more extraordinary and inspiring.

While shopping malls have all but eroded the real meaning of Christmas, try to remember that the season is all about giving love and joy to all, and making peace with others. It is also the time to count your blessings and realize just how lucky you are. You may not have Prince Charming by your side, but you’re healthy, are able to eat three meals a day, have a roof over your head, and good friends (or family) around you.

You have every reason to be happy.

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

December 13, 2007

Holidays take over

THE holidays have taken over my life, thus, the relative slacking in my blogging these past couple of weeks.

There was much last-minute shopping to be done, wrapping of gifts, and I had to help coordinate the food, refreshments, and gifts for our gang's Christmas party this Saturday. In between all that, I still had to write my stories for the different publications I work for, squeeze in an appointment with my dermatologist, as well as a checkup with my doctor.

Well the good news is...I'm done. As in I've officially completed my shopping and all those nice people on my Christmas list will have gifts this year. Their presents are all wrapped, the bows have been tied, and gift tags inscribed with my most heartfelt dedications. I intend to send out all of these gifts (except those of my family) by next week. So get ready kiddies!

With regard to my checkup...TADAAAH! my blood sugar is normal. Yay!

Because diabetes runs in my family, I've had to monitor my glucose level at least once or twice a year just to make sure I don't go the way of my elders who have become insulin-dependent. Thank God I'm not really a lover of sweets (except for certain times of the month, ehem), and aside from pigging out on Cyma's Skolatina for the last couple of weeks, I've really stayed away from the sugary stuff. I suppose it helps that I've been using Splenda for the last couple of years in my coffee, tea, even in my champorado.

(The worst really is taking the fasting blood sugar test. You can't eat nor drink water for nine hours before the test. And I drink water a lot...right before going to bed, when I wake up to go to the bathroom, and upon waking up in the morning. So it was extreme torture not to have some midnight snack or a drink of water before bedtime. The next day, I had to bring a big bottle of water with me to the testing clinic, and as soon as I gave my blood — this was at 8:30 am — drank like I had just traveled through the Sahara desert! I felt that parched. Ugh. Also hungry. Thank God there was a Pancake House nearby where my mom and I could eat our breakfast. I had the Salisbury steak and garlic rice. Not a great combination actually. I had to order the potato salad instead. Yum.)

Aside from my normal blood sugar level, my cholesterol levels are all in check, even my triglycerides, uric acid, and creatinine levels are within the reference values, so the doctor gave me a clean bill of health. Well, almost. I had my blood pressure checked and it was 130/90, slightly elevated (my normal BP is 110/80). So he told me to exercise. Hay!

Well, I must confess, I've been remiss in my yoga practice these past two weeks (due to the weekend bazaar shopping sprees), so I'm not surprised my BP has risen. Then again, my mom was with me at the doctor's so that could also be the reason for my higher BP hehe.

Anyhoo, I'm really thankful for my good health (and my mom's too). I think this is the best Christmas present anyone can receive.

December 07, 2007

When Cora met Ike

Something Like Life
Dec. 7, 2007

ONE of Hollywood’s all-time favorite romantic comedies is When Harry Met Sally. Released in 1989, the film’s hook is simple: “Can men and women just be friends?” As we find out in the movie, Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) are friends for the longest time. They meet up over the course of so many years, each in a relationship, broken up, setting the other up for a date, but still remaining very platonic friends. Then when Harry goes over to Sally to comfort her after she grieves over her ex-boyfriend getting married, they end up having sex—and the most awkward morning after ever.

They don’t speak for a while until New Year’s Eve when Harry goes to a party that Sally is leaving, and declares his undying love for her. The film closes with both characters talking to the camera, as if being interviewed; they are now married. So this is what happens when best friends fall in love with each other.

Well, when Corazon de la Paz (née Santos), one of the most accomplished women in the accounting field, and currently president of the Social Security System (SSS), first met Enrique “Ike” V. Bernardo, a retired banker, they were both in their teens and studying at the Rizal High School in Pasig City. They were classmates from second-year to fourth-year high school, and vying for the school’s top academic honors.

“He’s from Pasig and I’m from Pateros. He was No. 3 in our class. I was No. 2. The guy I was being paired off with was the No. 1. But wala naman noon kasi we were still very young. ’Di ko nga pinag-interesan ’yan [Ike] nung araw. ’Di ko na ’yan inambisyunan nung araw, kasi gwapo s’ya,” Cora jokes. More seriously, she adds, “My friends were from Pateros kasi—and also because we were competitors in school.”

(HER friends and colleagues insist she is now “glowing.” But Cora de la Paz-Bernardo says, “I’m always glowing!” before letting out peals of laughter.)

Here in Manila, Cora worked up her way to the top of her field, heading up the distinguished accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers (formerly Joaquin Cunanan). She married Wenceslao de la Paz, chairman of the National Power Corp. and presidential adviser on energy affairs until 1992. They have one daughter Cristina, 28, now studying Theater Lighting Design in London.

Alone in a big house

BUT in 1995, de la Paz passed away after struggling with a rare type of cancer. Cora says, “It was not too difficult to accept. I believe in the afterlife kasi. I had a happy marriage. So I felt that we were still going to see each other again someday. I prayed that kunin na s’ya kesa mag-suffer pa s’ya ng matagal. There was no cure for that cancer at the time. I felt that I have been lucky to have been given a life with him. I learned a lot from him.”

Cora’s work and her frequent travels kept her from being lonely. She also occupied her spare time with golf. “So I wasn’t depressed,” she says. The only time she felt ill at ease was “when I was all alone in our big house in Greenhills on the second floor. My daughter was away, studying abroad. I didn’t want to stay in the house. My husband had bought it and we lived in it for 10 years.” She moved to a smaller house, near Manila Golf and Country Club in Forbes Park, Makati, where she still lives today.

For his part, Ike lived abroad for 30 years, working as an expat banker in Hong Kong and Jakarta. He married Angelina Pineda, with whom he has two sons: Ricky, now married and living in Chicago; and Radi, who works here in a telecommunications firm.

Ike and Cora only saw each other once in 1998, when he was home for a visit. He had sought his old classmate to ask if his son, who was then coming home from the US for the summer, could work for her accounting firm in the interim. Unfortunately, there were no summer-job openings then, Cora recalls. Still, both promised to play golf, their favorite game, next time Ike was around in Manila. Somehow, that didn’t pan out: when Ike was here, Cora would be hard at work or abroad.

Then in 2002, Ike returned home to Manila to retire with his family. “It was not until our class reunion in January 2006 that I saw him again,” Cora recalls, and together with another friend, they agreed to play golf on weekends.

Just golfing buddies

SADLY, Ike's wife died in November 2006 after a brave bout against the Big C. “He was so devoted to her. He took care of her,” Cora says. After his wife passed away, his old high-school classmates, including Cora, helped him through his grief. But it was only this year that he resumed playing golf with Cora and their friend Joe. “After our game, we’d go to the nearby eateries and eat a lot of food from Laguna Lake. That’s what we have in common, mahilig kami sa kanduli, sa ayungin, maliliit na hipon.”

Cora insists that the relationship was all very platonic then. “We were very good friends. ’Di ko nga alam boyfriend ko na pala sya,” she guffaws. She just noticed that after a few months, Bernardo no longer brought along their other golfing buddy to their weekend games. He made excuses, such as being unable to call Joe because the latter didn’t have a cell phone. She then got used to playing golf without their third wheel “until at some point, he just proposed. I said, ‘Kaya pala ’di mo na sinasama si Joe!’

('I never thought I was missing anything in my life anymore'.)

Cora says she can’t really identify that specific point in time when everything just fell into place for her and Ike, romance-wise. It just flowed naturally. They were golfing buddies, best friends, then they were holding hands. “It wasn’t planned. I didn’t even think of it. Besides, I didn’t dare presume that there was something between us. It just happened. Basta mabait sya. He’s a very gentle person. He could be very sympathetic and would take my side even when I’m being attacked in the media. He would always say, ‘Remember, as long as you’re doing the right thing, the silent majority is behind you.’ Ayun, he’s always there to guide [me] and advise [me]. And he has a sense of humor.”

A party of eight

SO without the fanfare and grand announcements that usually accompany weddings, Cora and Ike, with eight other people standing as witnesses and guests, including the priest, got married at 4 pm at the Twin Hearts of Jesus and Mary Church in West Triangle, Quezon City, on October 7. The reception for the small wedding party was held at the cozy and intimate Lemuria restaurant in Horsehoe Village. “There was just a short period wherein we could get married,” Cora says of their quite hectic schedule leading up to their wedding. “The next day, we had to leave for the States!”

A lot of people, including Cora’s closest friends, were surprised. Some were hurt, of course, feeling they had been left out of the loop. When she informed the SSS board that she was “going to hyphenate my name,” the directors thought they were just about to receive their wedding invites. “Sabi ko, tapos na,” Cora bursts into laughter.

Asked for a wedding photo, Cora says she had asked her husband if she could give us one, but he demurred, joking, “’Wag na, sweetheart, baka hindi na ako makapag-jeep n’yan!” Seriously, though, Cora says Ike does take the jeep when he goes from his condo in Rockwell to the Makati City Hall, where he pays his taxes. “He says it’s more convenient for him to take the jeep because it’s a short ride and there’s no hassle of parking. He’s been away for so long, so all these things are new to him. It’s like an adventure. He lines up at the bank. He tells me he wants to go through the process of how things are done [here].”

In a week’s time, Cora will be moving into Ike’s three-bedroom condo, which is currently being renovated to accommodate the new lady of the house. She says she’ll still keep her house in Forbes for her daughter and siblings who come home from the States from time to time.

Doesn’t she feel uncomfortable sharing a bed with another person after 12 years of having it all to herself? “’Di naman. It comes naturally eh. Na there’s someone...very caring naman....I never thought I was missing anything in my life anymore. But now he’s here, and you feel so cared for. ’Yung me yayakap sa ’yo. Kasi I grew up with a loving father. I grew up with a feeling of continued reassurance that you will always be protected.”

Asked if she had any advice for the lovelorn (like me!), Cora says, “Take each day as it comes. If it happens, kung talagang nandoon, just enjoy each other’s company. Don’t have too many expectations. Live a simple life as you can.”

After listening to Ma’am Cora tell her love story, and giggling through most of her narration, I can only say, “Nakaka-inggit!” I kidded her that she was lucky to have loved not once, but twice already, while there are so many single women like me who have yet to find that special person we would want to spend our life with.

But it also gives me hope. If it’s meant to be, love will happen, no matter how young or old one is. (Though I hope it doesn’t arrive when I’m 90, with my hair and teeth falling out, and too senile to remember I even have a beating heart!)

As Ma’am Cora and I part ways, I remember a quote from an upcoming book by author Norman Mailer, who recently passed away. I share it with her:

“It struck me that everyone I knew, including myself, was always looking for love. ‘Ah, if I could find love, it would solve my problems.’ Some years ago, however, I found myself saying to my children, ‘Don’t go searching for love. Love is not a solution but a reward.’ So long as you go searching for love directly, you will fail, because love is a grace and you don’t pursue grace.” (Norman Mailer from On God: An Uncommon Conversation, as quoted by the New York Post)

December 06, 2007

Eastern Promises...bleah

PANGS wanted to watch a movie today and he said the reviews of Eastern Promises were good. Okay, I said, who's starring in it? He said Viggo Mortensen. Whoa! Sure! Lesgow. Pant pant

So we met up in Trinoma...we were probably about 10 people in the entire theater. Not promising. Okay, I thought maybe the film's just too artsy fartsy and high brow for most of the moviegoers at Trinoma. (So now you know why the mall is so goddamned ugly. Ayala Land certainly didn't pull out the punches in designing this one. Like where's the pay lounge with the automatic flushing toilets? They think too low of the people in the Quezon City area.)

Anyway, back to Eastern Promises which also stars another favorite character actor of mine Armin Mueller who plays the godfather of one of the Russian mafia families living in London. That's his day job. At night he is a restaurateur and a good cook. Cute. In fact, he's the only character I liked in the entire film.

The plot was too predictable. The film draaaaaaaging, fact the only time I actually sat up straight was when Viggo's character, Nikolai, tried to fend off burly Chechnya types from another mafia family, NAKED. Yay! This is what I call action. Kicking, punching, knifing....blood everywhere! And seeing Viggo in the buff. Pant pant again. Now it gets interesting. NOT!

The film goes back to the same ho-hum pace. Ending was predictable as well. Dang. I thought, P140 was way too much to pay just to see Viggo's pitutoy.

December 05, 2007

Balat sa pwet?

WHILE this piece from the Visayan Daily Star seems to be the usual PR job, it's still interesting to read how top cop Geary Barias, now NCRPO chief, seems to be hounded by calamities everywhere he is assigned. The paper notes:

"A month after he assumed command of the National Capital Region Police Office in Metro Manila, Barias was confronted with the Glorietta incident and the Batasan blast, which were recently followed by the Makati stand-off, involving detained Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and former Vice-President Teofisto Guingona, among others.

"In his six months as regional police director of Western Visayas, Barias confronted an oil spill in Guimaras and the bombing of Silay airport in Negros Occidental, and the accidental explosion of the ammunition dump at Camp Crame , while serving as director of the Headquarters Support Group."

Hmmm...that's one heck of a giant balat sa pwet, huh? Heaven help us if he becomes PNP chief.

(Barias photo from GMA News TV)

December 03, 2007

Je t'aime... moi non plus (I love neither)

OVER the weekend, I read Vanity Fair's piece on the late Serge Gainsbourg, a French songwriter/singer (and actor and director) who was adored in his native country for the purity of his songs, the loveliness of his spirit, and his gorgeous women...notably Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin (who designed and inspired the Hermés Birkin bag).

While I knew of BB and Birkin, I really haven't heard of Gainsbourg until I read the VF story which included interviews of his daughter, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, as well as Misses Birkin and BB. Gainsbourg passed away in 1991, and his house had remained shuttered to the public until Charlotte allowed VF access to it. The story is an interesting read and piqued my curiousity further about the man. I've already downloaded his "Best of" 2-CD torrent and am enjoying his songs, despite not understanding a word of French. (But then songs of love cut across all languages don't they?)

Anyway, here's a video of Gainsbourg and Birkin's love song Je t' non plus which became controversial because of Birkin's ummm, whisperings. It was subsequently banned by the BBC, journalists called it lewd, and the Vatican even issued a statement denouncing it. If you listen to it, it actually sounds tame by today's standards. It was first recorded by Gainsbourg and Ms. BB, but when they broke up, Ms. BB asked him not to release the song as a single. He instead recorded it with Birkin when they hooked up. Btw, this song inspired the Donna Summer hit...Love to love you baby. Yeah disco!


If only making love was all we ever did.

November 30, 2007

Libre ang mangarap di ba?

Something Like Life
Nov. 30, 2007

BEGINNING tomorrow, December 1, we have exactly 23 days to get our Christmas lists in order, subtracting the friends we haven’t seen for ages or adding new ones to the list (including new bosses for the proverbial sipsip gifts), and getting all our shopping done before the clock strikes midnight to herald the Christ Lord’s birth.

I’m almost done, having eliminated most of my lovable and understanding friends from my list and pleading poverty again this year, but I still need to get in order the gifts for the godchildren (with a plus-one courtesy of Iris this year).

After having had a less-than-productive shopping expedition with Fil at the International Bazaar at the PICC, I’m looking forward to a three-day shopping extravaganza at the St. James Bazaar in Alabang beginning today. Hopefully by this Sunday, I would be all done with my gift-buying, allowing me to concentrate on my own needs next. After all, I’ve toiled, sweated and run around godknowswhere, just to earn honest decent wages from my writing, so it’s time I get some rewards in return.

And I do have a lot of dream gifts for this Christmas, not that I can afford them all. But perhaps I can take a cue from the wildly popular video/book The Secret and focus all my positive thoughts and energies on these gifts. I shall visualize receiving these wonderful goodies and, for sure, most of them will be handed to me effortlessly. And, nah, I’m not going to wish for any of that “peace and goodwill to all men” crap that everyone unabashedly says when the klieg lights and cameras are switched on in their direction. I’m all pure materialism this year.

My 10 dream gifts this Christmas are:

Ananda in the Himalayas

1. A 10-day free stay in all the best spas in the world, with complimentary massages, body treatments and yoga instruction. These should include Reethi Rah in the Maldives, Banyan Tree in Phuket, the Ananda in the Himalayas and, just for kicks, the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort in Santa Barbara, just because Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens stayed there and tried to get an extreme makeover.

2. A monthlong cooking, eating and drinking tour of Tuscany, Italy, preferably, of course, with some gorgeous hunka-hunka burning love I’ll probably meet over there. Who knows, I’ll probably move there permanently. Think Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun, right Francine?

3. The freakin’ P3.2-million, 103-inch Panasonic plasma TV everyone’s been talking about. While I have no room in my mother’s townhouse to put it in, I can probably have it installed in the garage and watch all first-rate, still-to-be shown-in-local-theaters movies on DVD. Of course, I will have to charge my neighbors P200 each if they want watch the movies with me. That P3.2 million will be paid up for in no time. Uh-huh, I’m so smart, aren’t I? Don’t you wish we were friends?

4. Full-course lunch or dinner at French Laundry with chef-turned-TV host/book author Anthony Bourdain. I saw a long-ago episode of Bourdain’s TV show where he and his chef buddies dined at what has been called one of the best restaurants in the world, and everyone looked like they were having fun with the tasting menu alone and the wine just flowing. This time, I’ll do the eating and Bourdain will provide the laughs (along with the credit card to pay the bill). We will have fun roasting that perennially perky fake cook Rachel Ray! Ooof! What the hell was Oprah thinking?

French Laundry's Atlantic Halibut (Photo from

5. Majority ownership in at least one hugely profitable listed firm, like SM Investments, PLDT (yeah, even if Smart Communications is ever so slow to release my new phone under my retention policy) or Globe Telecommunications (just to get back at Smart), JG Summit Holdings and Metrobank. There are other companies that are attractive but I’m still too busy plotting the takeover of the other firms. Besides, I don’t want to appear too greedy…duh.

6. My own vineyard and winery in New Zealand, which produces some of the most exciting wines in the world these days. I had the good fortune of touring the Villa Maria Estate years before NZ wines were introduced in the local market and marveled at the modern processes used to produce its award-winning wines (large steel barrels in place of oak, and screwcaps instead of corks). I shall become the best world producer of award-winning Pinot Noirs, Shiraz and Sauvignon Blancs.

7. The Jodie Ankle Boot from Louis Vuitton, which, I swear, is the most fabulous ankle boot ever! Made of canvas and calf leather, the brown boot just looks oh-so-comfortable even with its four-inch heel. I like it also because the LV monogram detail is subtle, unlike the ones on those fake LV bags available at your friendly tindera in the Greenhills tiangges. I especially love the metal rivets and tiny buckle detail. I stumbled on the Jodie after dreaming about a pair of LV boots, which set me off googling photos of LV boots one entire day.

8. The untitled 1954 oil on canvas by HR Ocampo displayed in the function room of the Bank of the Philippine Islands named after the artist. Or perhaps Pablo Amorsolo’s portraits of the Women of Rizal hanging in the BPI chairman’s office? Yes, some art for Christmas may be good for the soul, and will undoubtedly also raise one’s market value in the eyes of envious friends. And you all thought I was shallow!

Lake Como, Italy (Photo from Student Brittanica)

9. A house in the Southhamptons or maybe in Lake Como in Italy where all my friends and I can play all day. There’s nothing like exchanging gossip over cocktails with Vera Wang, Renée Zellwegger, and George Soros at the Hamptons abode, or having dinner with gorgeous George Clooney and his Ocean 12 buddies at my lakeside retreat. Of course, my friends will have to pay for their own airfare and land transport to get there. Sorry, darlings, no such thing as a free lunch!

And last but not the least:

10. Tony Leung. Need I explain?


THAT'S how most people felt about the serial coup plotters' caper yesterday. Parang, ano na naman ba yan?! I don't really understand why Trillanes and company actually thought people were going to join them in their idiotic cause when they weren't successful the first time around. Remember 2003 boys? Then they said they were ready to die for their cause and all that crap, but what happened? they surrendered. Then Trillanes had to cry to his mommy to get him out of his predicament. The poor woman had to go Malacanang and beg the Presidentita not to harm him!

This time around, Trillanes and his group said they decided to give up because they didn't want the media covering them to be hurt. Lemme tell you guys a thing or two about journalists who were covering yesterday's stunt. I know most of them, have covered the field with them...they are all battle-hardy journalists who have been to war-torn areas in the country. They have risked life and limb in the name of covering a good story.

Yesterday was no different. They chose to cover the coup-lang sa pansin rebels, because it was their job. If anything had happened to them in the event that government troops had attacked Trillanes and company, no one would have blamed the government. They put their lives on the line in the name of a scoop, an enterprising story, and public service. The media's presence just provided a convenient excuse for Trillanes' group to stop their foolishness. I'm not surprised many of the Magdalo soldiers, those who stand co-accused with Trillanes for the 2003 coup attempt, didn't join him this time around. Once burned, twice shy.

We are all aware of the Presidentita's illegitimacy, her and her husband's corrupt bent, so too her henchmen, but a coup would not solve these problems. C'mon, didn't you think things would change when Marcos and Estrada were booted out of power? Corruption got worse. For a young democracy such as ours (compared to 'older' countries like the U.S., for example), the path towards real honest and competent governance is often, and will continue to be bumpy. We just have to keep trying. Perhaps things may change a bit with someone like MAR Roxas as President in 2010.

Anyway, let's hope this weekend turns out to be more quiet and peaceful.

November 29, 2007

What the eff?! Coup na naman?! (with update)

I woke up this morning ready to read today's news on the national income accounts to see how the economy did in the third quarter and what do we get? another frigging coup attempt! Geezus Trillanes get a grip! (Notice how the coup plotters have upgraded their taste from Oakwood to Manila Peninsula. Well Spices is a good restaurant, I hear.)

This is all really the Presidentita and her henchmen's fault you know. If they only had allowed Trillanes to take his place in the Senate and voice out his grievances there, he wouldn't have chosen this path. Coup-lang sa pansin kasi.

I am against the Presidentita too, but naman, so close to Christmas're disrupting our lives! I'm not sure if you really have the support of the people, despite Trillanes having been elected as Senator. The public voted for the opposition candidates and that's how they have spoken. But to actually go out there again and fight it out in the streets...when it's raining at that, it's a weekend, everyone wants to enjoy an extra day off tomorrow...I'm not so sure. All the conditions for a successful coup aren't in place.

UPDATE: I hear the foreigners billeted at The Pen are slowly trickling out of the hotel with their luggages in tow. Will they transfer to Oakwood (now called Ascot), I wonder. Trillanes is appealing to the guests to stay but I can just imagine the terror they must feel. They're on pleasure or on a business trip and they get caught in a rained-out coup. It isn't very comforting to see uniformed soldiers you know. (Word is most managers of The Pen were on a team-building seminar in Tagaytay when Trillanes and company took over the hotel, and are now scrambling back to return to Manila. What bad luck ey!)

And I know that tomorrow there are other businessmen flying in from the States and from around the region for the Hush Puppies Asian regional conference. Last I heard, the organizers are trying to book the conference and the different delegations in a venue far far away from Makati! What a nuisance for these businessmen to have to deal with this political problem. The U.S. Embassy has already issued an advisory to its citizens to stay away from Makati. Haay!

Thing is, Trillanes and company would be more credible if they held their coup somewhere else instead of a 5-star hotel! Ano sila, nagpapasarap? I got text jokes saying Trillanes and company are probably holding their Christmas party at Nielsens! If they went to someplace like Sosing's for instance, along Zobel Roxas, they would have probably gotten the immediate support of the masses (and who knows, probably even the colegialas in St. Scho.). Who wants to go rally on a group of soldiers holed up in the bastion of Spanish and Chinese mestizos? Nge.

Changina, the bazaar at St. James better not be cancelled this weekend. I'm not done with my Christmas shopping yet. And yes, there are more important things than joining a coup. I'd rather face down an angry mob of coup plotters for not supporting them, than my furious godchildren without their gifts!

Onli in da Pilipins!

November 27, 2007

GMA orders review of all foreign-funded projects

By Christine Avendaño, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Inquirer, 11/27/2007

MANILA, Philippines — With the World Bank still not moving to lift its suspension of deliberations on the $232-million soft loan intended for Philippine road projects, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has issued a string of instructions to ensure that foreign-assisted and funded projects would be free of irregularities.

The instructions, which include a review of the road projects covered by the suspended WB loan, were contained in Administrative Order No. 210.

Cabinet officials, meanwhile, snubbed Monday the Senate probe of the suspended $232-million WB loan, due to corruption, as they pressed for more time to prepare their defense.

(The rest at GMA orders review.)

* * * *
THIS is of course, another face-saving measure for the Presidentita's guilt-wracked administration after having been humiliated by the announced suspension of a World Bank-financed project due to corruption allegations.

I'm amazed, however, that as NEDA Board chairman, the Presidentita seems to have forgotten that those reviews are actually in place in several departments in the NEDA. If I recall correctly, every year, for instance, there is a regular meeting between the Asian Development Bank and key NEDA staff to review projects that have been financed, amounts that have been disbursed so far, in an attempt to pinpoint possible causes of delays or blockages in certain projects.

I have no doubt that the same evaluation meetings are also conducted regularly with the World Bank and other donors such as the governments of the U.S., Japan, Korea, Spain, and the like. After all, these multilateral agencies and donor countries are not the types to just overlook where their taxpayers' monies are being spent, so a close watch on the activities of their beneficiaries are in place.

Whether the same kind of monitoring system is being implemented for ahem, China-funded projects, is anybody's guess though. But of course, since the emasculation of NEDA by this sitting president, who knows if tight controls on foreign funded projects are still really in place.

November 26, 2007

MAR ROXAS in 2010 (with updates)

SO there, I'm supporting MAR Roxas for President of this crazy republic of ours in 2010. There isn't any other intelligent choice is there? (Sure there's also Manny Villar but he's still playing coy about his presidential ambitions. Don't be fooled, we hear his biography is currently in the works, despite his pronouncements that he isn't thinking of 2010 yet.) Besides my family, and the clan we belong to, have been Liberal Party supporters for the longest time.

(My mom and dad, for instance, were very active in the campaigns of MAR's father, the late Gerry Roxas, back in the day. Gerry Roxas was senator from 1963 until Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, always a topnotcher in the elections. In 1965, Roxas ran as Vice President to Diosdado Macapagal's Presidential bid, and lost by less than 30,000 (!) votes to Fernando Lopez, the slimmest margin in Philippine electoral history. Btw, I had the privilege of interviewing former VP Lopez at the old Benpres building in Pasig sometime in 1989, when I was just starting my career as a journalist. )

To be fair, MAR may have not been in fighting form much during his helm as Trade and Industry Secretary (and sometimes he has selective memory about the people he meets), but I've seen him change and become more outspoken and palaban in his positions and statements, now that he is Senator. He performed extremely well during the ZTE-NBN deal hearings, asking very insightful questions. Also, perhaps with his background as an investment banker, MAR can place his bets on better economic policies and investment schemes for the Philippines. From the Sick Man of Asia, the Philippines has no way to go but up right? And yet under the Presidentita we've seen the country sinking further, and no amount of GDP figures can change that fact. That 7% GDP hasn't been translated to more jobs and higher wages for us has it?

With his family's decent background, I have no doubt that corruption will not taint MAR's tenure. I'm sure he's still earning lots from financial investments he's made before he became a politician that he doesn't have to go into el cheapo corrupt activities like you-know-who, just to sustain the lifestyle he's long been accustomed to. He's a smart chap, let's hope he picks only honest, competent, intelligent technocrats to be part of his Cabinet. (Neric Acosta for DENR Secretary for example.) There are a lot of qualified people out there just waiting for the right person to head this country before agreeing to serve the public.

Only thing that I (and many of MAR's supporters) are having a problem with is his, ehem, love life. Not the nicest girl in the world, and definitely very ambisyosa. Hon, those pearl earrings are just way too large!

But then MAR really doesn't have to get married does he? Maybe we should have a bachelor heading up the country for once so he can focus more on the job of governing the country instead of keeping his family and relatives happy. Besides, all marital alliances are for the purpose of perpetuating one's genes into the next generation, and MAR already has got that job done. A First Lady can just be an annoying distraction. Look what happened to Marcos. Besides, it's not like MAR is creating a precedent. Tita Cory was "single", a widow, when she assumed power in Malacañang.

Anyway, here's a clip from GMA News TV re: MAR's election as president of the Liberal Party, following in the footsteps of his late father, and grandfather, Manuel A. Roxas, president of the Republic, and founder of the LP in 1945.

Btw, I think it would be infinitely simpler and less chaotic if the country returns to the two-party system, much like U.S. Let's just have the LP and the Nacionalista Party field candidates to narrow down the choices for our kababayan, and weed out the incompetents and the plain greedy ambitious types.

After all the Presidentita and her husband's spine-chilling antics, it's time all politicos put the needs of the Philippines first, before their own interests. So Loren, please run for VP nalang?

UPDATE: Btw, I think Ping Lacson would make a good VP to MAR. Natakot ba kayo bigla? I'm serious. First of all it would be foolish for Lacson to throw his hat in the presidential elections considering that he (and you too Loren) doesn't have that much funds compared to MAR and Manny Villar. And having more than two presidential candidates would just split the votes and the country might just end up having another minority president like FVR was. But just imagine, MAR will take care of the economy and Lacson will handle the security issues. Whip those corrupt cops in line and rid our country of terrorists! If only Lacson can tame his ambitions for the country's good. O di ba Dream Team?

Let the games begin!

International Bazaar day

This was the scene at the International Bazaar at PICC last Sunday.

SUNDAY was International Bazaar day at the PICC. Fil and I arrived late so we found the venue pretty much filled to the brim, with a long line of patient shoppers still waiting to get in. Bumped into the late Enrique Zobel's right hand Joan Orendain, who looked very slim since I last saw her. She joked that she was wearing a whole pile of girdles underneath her slacks. Hahaha...but owww!

Joan was handling the publicity for the International Bazaar Foundation chaired by Lovely Romulo, spouse to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, who, we heard, also arrived at the bazaar. She said media entrance was free but Fil and I had decided to each pay our P100 tickets considering the event was for charity. Btw, Joan is responsible for a number of books in my library as she loved to gift them to editors. We may have had our differences in the past but as you get older, you somehow learn to let go of a lot of old hurts and irritations.

Lovely Romulo (left) and Alice Favila

Inside, we met the Romulo children, Mons Tantoco, a columnist for Phil. Star, and Lupe Romulo, whom I knew because we both worked for Manila Standard under Jullie Yap Daza. Lupe said she had been away from the country for awhile and probably had about five years worth of columns to write. But she said she no longer has a taste for society writing, and I joked that maybe it's for the best, otherwise baka ma-Malu Fernandez pa sya! Of course, Lupe is not the insensitive sort like that ex-People Asia columnist.

Also filling her shopping basket to the brim was Tita Moonyeen Singson, the spritely wife of former Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Gov. Gabriel (aka "Lolo Gabby") Singson. Tita Moonyeen surely has endured a lot of trials in her life, and so Fil and I were glad that she looked so happy and healthy. She has such a joyful spirit that is so infectious, I cannot help but admire this woman.

Escorting Tita Moonyeen, was Alice Favila, also a member of the International Bazaar Foundation and wife to Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila. For those who were also at the bazaar on Sunday, Alice was the voice announcing raffle winners. Unfortunately for Fil and I, no amount of cajoling Alice could make her call out our names. Not far behind the Tita Moonyeen-Alice parade was a dressed-down Antonio Abacan, president of Metrobank whom I thought did a good job guarding the bank's onsite ATM and filling it up with lotsa cash hehehe! Geez, there sure were a lot of shoppers withdrawing that day!

My new kooky ring

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to buy a lot of goodies from the international embassies which had their booths that day. Aside from the throng of people which made it almost impossible to move through the corridors, the prices were outrageously expensive for some items. Like there was a nice embroidered blouse being sold at the Thai embassy booth which the sales clerks said was P1,200. Also there was a beautiful necklace of gems selling for P14,000. You and I have been to Bangkok. You know exactly how much these things cost especially if you go to their Divisoria-like areas. I quipped to a fellow shopper that it was probably cheaper to fly to Bangkok and buy the stuff there than at the booth, to which she answered "Korek!"

At the Spanish embassy booth, there were also the usual baby colognes...but selling at least P50 more than what they go for at the Watson in SM. And the can of fabada which my mom and I only bought at Landmark grocery at Trinoma the day before, cost P120. At Landmark it was only P111. Same deal with the olives, olive oil, and other food stuff, Too bad there were no espadrilles being sold – last year they were a real steal at P250 a pair.

The wines at the New Zealand booth were also ridiculously expensive...selling for the same prices at Santi's! I love NZ wines (Villa Maria Estate's pinot noirs are especially excellent, and its sauvignon blancs are constant awardees in international wine competitions) but I was there to shop for bargains not support the entire government of PM Helen Clark! The only inexpensive wine I found was at the Chilean embassy booth, about P420, although it wasn't the year and the variety I was looking for. What I wanted to buy at the NZ embassy was lamb chops but due to our late arrival, were already all gone. Darn.

Yummy empanada from Polland bakery.

And yes, the U.S. Embassy was absent again this year, although Fil quipped it was probably because there was really no more "made in the USA" goods to speak of. I guess it's also because every month, the American Women's Bazaar is held at the World Trade Center, although I've been there a few times and have not seen many US goods/brands either. Geez, and to think California 2006 wines are especially superb this year and although I'm not a steak person, their certified Angus beef is still tops in my book.

But duh, what were "made in the Philippines" goods doing in the Korean booth?! You would think they would sell their beautiful leather bags and or at least DVDs of their hugely popular telenovelas! Buti pa ang Cuban embassy had CDs of their music on sale (pirated lang nga), and cigars. Of course since I don't smoke I didn't look at the boxes of Havanas on display.

Joyce's portabello mushroom dip in extra virgin olive oil with melba toast on the side. Fab dish for cocktails.

As usual, it was mostly food I brought home, infused with the local flavor and sweat of our fellow Pinoys, like the really delicious empanada of Polland bakery, the homemade Portabello mushroom dip of Joyce Aragon, some hummus from good old reliable Kashmir restaurant with some pita bread and an order of plain roti. Yummm.

I was also able to buy my pantulog – a pair of cotton shorts and top, and a night dress, for P200 each. There was also a long kurta-like gown from Turkey for P750 which I plan to shorten and hem in time for next summer's bathing suit season. (The bleached blonde tindera, however, was really kinda sungit though and absolutely refused to give me a discount for the box of baklavas she was selling for P800.) I also love my new weird ring which I bought for P250 from one of the charity organizations selling their wares at the bazaar. Thanks to Lupe for clueing me in on it, after I saw the cute thing on her finger.

All in all, it was a mildly productive shopping expedition. I just long for the good old days though when the ambassadors themselves were on hand to hawk their country's wares which could be had for reasonable prices. It was a different time in the world when shopping was still safe and diplomats could still mingle among the common folk unharmed. These days, it's all about X-ray machines and security checks at shopping venues. Tsk, tsk, tsk...


My travel/food buddies Ted and Francine...notice all the empty plates. Looks like a tornado swept away all the food.

IN the past week, I've been stuffing myself at Cyma, Chef Robbie Goco's Greek restaurant, now open in Trinoma, thank God! (I used to eat at the always jampacked Edsa Shangrila Mall outlet.) Last Thursday, it was to meet with travel/food buddies Ted and Francine for a few drinks. We haven't been three-gether for a while due to our scheduling conflicts and our residential distance from each other (Ted in Makati, Francine in Marikina, and moi in Q.C.). So it was a treat to see each other again after a long time and basically make chismis while eating Cyma's yummy food.

Thanks to Chef Robbie for the comp bottle of Lindenman Shiraz Cabernet 2006, one of the red wine varieties I truly appreciate, and for the Skolatina, the MOST EVIL! dessert ever created on this good earth! It's THAT sinfully good! It is a chocolate cake that just oozes with warm chocolate syrup when you spoon into it, and which you have to eat with the caramel syrup and vanilla ice cream served on the side. It is like the best orgasm you've probably experienced in your entire life! Mmmm....

My other personal favorites at Cyma are the Roka Salata, the lettuce salad with sundried tomatoes and candied walnuts, and the really hefty Moussaka, made from Japanese eggplant. Truthfully, I don't like eggplants because of its mushy taste. But I make an exception when eating moussaka because I just think of it as lasagna (which I love!), with the ground beef, tomato sauce, and cheese, cheese, cheese! (minus the noodles of course).

Skolatina...chocolate lava cake. Go Mama, go! Yumm...

Then last Saturday, my mom, fresh from a victorious bout at the mahjong table with her amigas, treated me to dinner at Cyma. I wanted her to taste the Skolatina as well because she is a cake nut. Here are pics of my mom digging into the Skolatina and savoring it. We could hardly move after pigging out on moussaka, the salad, and lamb gyros, yet we somehow found space in our full tummies for the Skolatina. I just wished Trinoma had wheelchairs to help ferry us out of the restaurant and on to a taxi cab. Gads, my mom and I felt so sluggish after our meal.

A piece of advice though, if you are going to order the Skolatina, do so as soon as you sit down and order your appetizers and main entrees as it takes about 30 minutes to bake. Also, for the good of your hips and blood sugar, do share it with someone.

A typical meal at Cyma would probably set you back at least P700 per person for three courses – appetizer/salad, entree, dessert. If you choose a really inexpensive main course, something less than P200, you can probably squeeze in a glass of red wine as well. Tip, bring a senior citizen with you to avail of his/her senior citizen discount! Hee-hee! But most of the dishes, even the solo size, are good enough for three people to share so it's money worth well spent.

(Cyma is at the 4th level, Garden area, of the Trinoma, North Ave. cor. Edsa, Q.C. Thanks to manager Toffee, and cheerful food servers Chriz, and Emar for taking good care of us.)

November 24, 2007

Advice to the lovelorn from Norman Mailer

"It struck me that everyone I knew, including myself, was always looking for love. 'Ah, if I could find love, it would solve my problems.' Some years ago, however, I found myself saying to my children, 'Don't go searching for love. Love is not a solution but a reward.' So long as you go searching for love directly, you will fail, because love is a grace and you don't pursue grace." (From On God: An Uncommon Conversation)

Click Page SIx for the full story.

November 23, 2007

A family affair

It’s a family thing. The Peñalozas having fun in their own corner of the island paradise: (clockwise, from left) Jonathan with wife Jenny; Jocelyn with husband Alfrancis Chua; and Jason (shirtless) with the rest of the revelers, including the author. (Photos by TEDDY MONTELIBANO)

Something Like Life
Nov. 23, 2007

RETURNING from a four-day vacation in Boracay, where I had a fabulous stay at the newly-built resort Two Seasons (more on that in a future travel story), I find that things haven’t changed much in Metro Manila.

There was still much discussion on who was behind the explosion at the Batasan despite the arrests of suspects, denials on corruption as the root of a World Bank loan cancellation, and the Senate investigating yet another case of political impropriety regarding the cash handouts in Malacañang (this, even if they had yet to wrap things up on the ZTE-NBN deal).

These same-old, same-old issues are the reasons why I enjoy traveling and covering lifestyle stories. Who can stand all that muck-raking and the endless news of government stealing day in and day out when there’s so much more going on in other parts of the country? Everyone needs a break, and I always thank the Big Guy upstairs for allowing me to cover functions that some may find a bit escapist and unreal—amid all the blood, sweat and gore of everyday hard news—but nevertheless are still about honest people just trying to make an honest living. I think happy occasions are still worth covering, right?

Thankfully, such events, like the blessing of Two Seasons last weekend, also allowed me to make new friends, get up close to families like the Peñalozas, the resort’s owners, who are warm sincere people trying to make a difference in their lives and their businesses.

My travel buddies and I were touched that such a family, with a long tradition of Filipino-Chinese values, could be so warm and open to “outsiders” like us. We always perceive Chinoy families to be closed and extremely protective of one another, unable to genuinely relate to people without such privileged DNA. (Well, I do have some Chinese blood, which accounts for my fair complexion and slightly chinita eyes, but this has long been diluted by the murky brown indio marriages of my forefathers hehehe.) Happily, the Peñalozas were all warm chocolatey goodness. And having been a journalist for so long, I guess I know when someone is sincere or just BS’ing me.

My travel buddies and I were especially there to interview Jonathan, the “numbah wan sun” who runs Two Seasons. Heir to the ball bearings business his grandparents started, he disarmed us by his quiet charm and willingness to share with us his internal “processes” in eventually taking over the company from his father, Victor, and wishing to strike out on his own in an entirely different direction, by going into the resort/hospitality service industry. It was evident, however, that his dad and the family matriarch, amah, were all thumbs-up for the splendid new resort after seeing how Jonathan parlayed his keen sense for aesthetics and design into another possibly profitable business. All the other uncles, aunts and cousins, including family friends, were out in full force in Boracay to lend their support to the happy occasion.

(It was also so cute to see the very chica-looking amah, all of 92 years, smiling at everyone, while sitting in a wheelchair especially designed for the beach. I was told that she still gets up every day to go to work...what a tremendous spirit, that woman.)

And thank goodness for Jonathan’s lovely wife Jenny, who has been “conscripted” into the family business. No screaming and being dragged by her hands and feet, though. Jenny told us that she is happy to help out in the family business, training the staff from all over the country. Having her join the business allowed Jonathan to remain focused on the construction and design of the resort. How she also found the time to take care of her equally wonderful kids is a feat in itself and worthy of any working mom award.

Then, there’s the pert and pretty Jocelyn, who jokingly proclaimed herself to be the “youngest” among the siblings. She immediately warmed up to us and started telling us about her business and the most important relationship she’s had. She owns a store called French Dolls at the TriNoma—and, no, it doesn’t sell dolls but clothes from Bangkok, my favorite shopping destination. Of course, the trendy clothes won’t fit large-sized me, but they’d be in my closet if I were a size 6. (Still, I couldn’t help but kid Jocelyn: “Galit ka sa matataba, ano?”)

She is also married to Alfrancis Chua, whom everybody calls “Coach,” having been the Sta. Lucia Realtors’ coach for the longest time. Now conducting basketball clinics for kids aside from other businesses, Coach—or “Chua-lai,” as sports journalists apparently call him—just made us sick to our stomachs from all the laughing we did over his hilarious stories. Yet it moved me for someone big and tough like the Coach to confess that Jocelyn was the only woman who could make him settle down after all the girls he’s had in his life (and you’d be surprised at all the celebrity babes who’ve been linked to him). The clincher of the story is that Al and Jocelyn were high school sweethearts and were oceans apart for quite a long time before finding each other again. It’s a love story that immediately elicits an “Awwww” from anyone who hears it.”

The youngest—for real—among the five siblings (sorry Jocelyn!) is crazy Jason. Having just returned from the US, where he had a swell career photographing for The Gap and Guess, Jason has come home to set up himself here in Manila and have a go at the local commercial photography business. In the short time that he’s been here, he’s snagged major covers for a lot of the country’s glossy magazines. And yet he’s such a regular guy, despite his youth. I have never been so entertained by such a sweet funny person. Still he admitted being torn between his artistic spirit and his familial obligations. It is a conflict I can only pray he would resolve to everyone’s satisfaction, especially his own.

We weren’t able to sit down and talk with the other Peñaloza siblings but from the ones we met, I have no doubt that they are equally pleasant and amiable.

Spending a short time with a close and gregarious family like the Peñalozas was a real treat for hard newshounds like me. It reminds me of what really matters in this complex and often dog-eat-dog world we live in.

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

November 21, 2007

Do you friendster or facebook? (and the phrase of the day)

OKAY, so I was sitting just sitting here transferring photos from my camera phone into my computer but I realized I couldn't upload them into another photo set on Flickr because I'm a free account user. So not wanting to spend $25 a year just to get a Pro unlimited account, I searched through the site to find out if I could delete a set of photos without erasing them completely from my photostream. Of course, there was nothing on the FAQs page nor anything in the forums advising users of solutions or alternatives to this dilemma. (Of course if you've been a long-time Mac user like me, you know that anything owned by Yahoo as well as Yahoo itself sucks.)

Fortunately, some of the guys in the forum mentioned Facebook, the social networking site, which they said allowed unlimited photo posts. Hmmm...I thought that sounded cool, although I was still wary of the social networking phenomenon which had begun with the establishment of Friendster. I've been invited a lot of times by Friendster users to join the site, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how you could call someone a "friend" without actually meeting them face to face! I've read in some newspaper stories that some users had thousands and thousands of "friends!" Then one annoying guy I don't even know just kept on emailing me to view his profile, which I found creepy. So I didn't want to join that.

(Partying at the Two Seasons resort blessing, Nov. 17, 2007. From left: Teddy, Raoul, moi, and Jenny Peñaloza. More photos at Stella in Facebook.)

Anyway, to make the long story short, I joined Facebook. It seemed a better alternative as it seemed the entire world had already joined Friendster. I felt Facebook was "cozier", if that term even applies in the cyberworld.

So this is part real, part social experiment. I want to see how many of my real friends, contacts, and regular acquaintances would join Facebook and be my "friend." I found out that among my email contacts (Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail), there were a few who were already Facebook members. I restricted the invites to only people who were my actual friends, travel buddies, and fellow foodies, as well as a few people I was interested in knowing more after the initial contact in the real world. As of today, I have 10 Facebook friends from the Philippines, Bangkok, Northern Marianas, and the U.S.... not bad considering I just joined two days ago.

But as I plodded through the list of friends of my Facebook friends who had added me to their network, I've concluded that Filipinos are still a conservative lot. Most of the friends on their own lists were people they've worked with, people who they grew up with, or went to school with, or even current companions and colleagues at work. There were only few who appeared to have "friends" the Friendster-type. I don't know if it's because I belong to a more mature generation (my youngest Facebook friend is 25 I think) who are more protective of their privacy. Only one of them had about 125 Facebook friends on the list and I knew most of these people even vicariously. His friends were surely not from Timbuktu. (Of course the downside to this is I realized creepy Friendster guy is also a member of Facebook and is one of my Facebook friend's "friend." Kainis!)

Anyway, check out my photos from my vacation last weekend at Stella in Facebook. This is my first photo album and I'm still trying to get the hang of posting, poking, writing on walls and such. It's definitely a different experience worth exploring. Enjoy!

(P.S. A lot of my earlier photos are still posted on Flickr. You can check them out at Stella at Flickr.)

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I just couldn't help but howl in laughter over this continuing saga between Manny Paquiao and Ara Mina. Hay naku, read on and forget the problems of this country for a minute!

Pacquiao tells Ara Mina: Ignore rumors about us.

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PHRASE OF THE DAY: Panty-quivering. To describe how a really hot guy makes a woman deliciously shiver down there just by his looks alone. Ex. Tony Leung, and that real yummy guy I met in Boracay. Oof! I invented this term and am patenting it starting today. So there.