July 28, 2007

New look!

Hello friends! It was time for a change so here's a new look for my blog. Hopia like it :-)

La Salle spirit

These shirts are so panalo! I'm gonna get myself some. For purchases, click http://animoism.multiply.com

Congratulations to the kids behind this enterprise. Makes me so proud to be a La Salista.

Animo La Salle!

July 27, 2007

Are you having a toxic day or just being OA?

Something Like Life
July 27, 2007

I FIRST heard the term “toxic” a couple of years back to describe one’s extremely busy day, when one had absolutely no time to attend to anything else except work. (This, of course, from someone who had 1,000 and one “genius” ideas, not one of which has taken off from the drawing board.)

Do you find yourself running around like a headless chicken from one job assignment to the next, or rushing from one meeting to another, in a valiant attempt at earning more income, commissions or fat bonuses?

When I look at most 40- or 50-year-olds these days, many of them in executive and managerial positions, they appear far too obsessed with their work. They juggle all their tasks—this, despite having a number of staff or assistants at their beck and call—that they hardly have time for friends outside of work. Call them up and they’re either in another meeting or driving to another company event, their usual opportunity to network with colleagues and potential clients. Text them and they won’t respond ’til the next day, and probably call only when they finally remember they need something from you. Even e-mailing these workaholics will get a response days later unless you are offering them a work opportunity, in which case they will not only e-mail back but actually call!

You try to understand their situation because they’re trying to support a family, right? After all, no matter what the President says in her Sona, we live in economically challenging (or is it challenged?) times, when even the appreciating dollar has no effect whatsoever on lowering the prices of good and services in the country. (How can it when we still have a 12-percent VAT to pay on top of the purchase price?)

So many of these executives take on more tasks to secure a brighter future for their kids. But the truth is, all that work may actually be keeping them from their families. A number of studies show the growing number of teenage pregnancies and of kids going into drugs. Not just marijuana. But actually lethal stuff like “ice” or cocaine. Where are these kids’ parents? They’re out working, shaking hands over golf or a company party, or in yet another meeting.

I know one guy who doesn’t even respond to e-mails from his kids until a week after. (The kids told me they e-mail because they can’t even catch dad on his cell.) But are these executives really working for their children’s benefit or for their own self-aggrandizement? I know all the fluttery puffed-up feelings one gets for being constantly recognized as a “workaholic.” “Busy” or having a “toxic” day has become the new badge of honor for the working man or woman of the millennium.

Even if loaded with tons of work, there are ways to deal with these intelligently without forgetting there is a life outside the four corners of your office. Eugene, a veep in an accounting firm, goes to the company office in the morning where he holds meetings or signs papers until lunchtime. At about 2 pm he takes off for his managerial consultancy where he has his own set of meetings with partners and clients. By 6 to 6:30 pm, he is out of the office and on the way home to hopefully catch dinner with his family.

Once in a while, he does go to dinner meetings or cocktails, “but only when it really can’t be avoided.” Not all the cocktail events you’re invited to are important anyway. Sometimes you just see the same faces, many of whom are just a phone call away during regular hours, he explains.

“It’s all about time management,” Eugene stresses, when I ask him how he manages to keep both his official and unofficial work from clashing into each other. It’s easier said than done, of course. In this high-tech world we live in, it’s sometimes difficult not to take on too many tasks. It takes discipline to prioritize which phone call, text message, or e-mail to answer, he says. “But you have to set the limits for your colleagues. My business partners know they can talk to me only after lunch. My mornings are totally for the office. And hindi pwede na every minute na lang, sasagot ka ng text or phone call. That’s what secretaries and assistants are for!”

Don’t be afraid to set limits for your bosses also. They should know that your office life ends at 6 pm and you would rather be home with the family by 7 pm, instead of out entertaining clients. If your boss doesn’t understand that your priority is with your family, then maybe it’s not the right company for you. No one has to be made to choose between his work and his family.

Sometimes I think people who keep themselves overly busy all the time are trying to avoid issues in other parts of their life. They don’t want any quiet time to reflect on their relationships with their spouses, their children, or their parents/siblings. Perhaps they feel that without all that work, they just don’t exist, and therefore are not validated. Work becomes an escape for them to avoid critical issues they should address in their lives.

I remember an older friend complaining to me a few years ago that she and her husband no longer had sex as regularly as they used to because both of them were extremely tired working to the bone to fund their kids’s future college education. And even when they did have that one stab at doing the nasty, it also felt like work. When I asked why she didn’t talk to her husband about it, she bitched, “We don’t even have time for sex na nga, how can we talk pa?” But I asked her if the lack of sex was really due to their being overworked or were they overworking to avoid the sex? Perhaps there was a deeper reason aside from the kids’ college fund that set them off on frenetic workdays. I sensed her brain silently clicking away as she pondered this, but she merely shrugged her shoulders in reply.

So when are all these things that we do in the name of our family actually work? Are you really having a toxic day or just being OA?

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

Third ambassadors’ tour brings in 650 Fil-Am tourists, foreign investors

By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo
BusinessMirror, July 27, 2007

THE Third Ambassadors’/Consuls’ General Tour of the Philippines brought in not just eager Filipino-American tourists but also foreign businessmen looking at possible areas of investment in the country.

About 650 Fil-Ams, including a significant number of Caucasian– Americans and Canadians, were in the country from July 14 to 20, attending business and investment briefings, treated to sumptuous dinners and lunches of Philippine dishes, brought to several shopping trips, as well as entertained in various resorts and tourist destinations outside of Metro Manila.

In an interview with the BusinessMirror, Philippine Ambassador to Washington, D.C. Willy Gaa said the demand for slots in this year’s tour was overwhelming.

“So far [the tour group] has really been increasing in numbers since its start three years ago. And this year we even had to put a cap on the number of applicants for the tour. [The biggest increase came from] California, specifically, Los Angeles.... We, in fact, had more on the waiting list. We had problems with the accommodations already,” Gaa said.

In previous tours, only the Makati Shangri-La Hotel was booked for the participants, but this year, even the Peninsula Manila hosted a number of the delegations.

A number of the participants were first-time balikbayans, according to Gaa, with their Americanized children in tow, while there were some who had joined a previous tour.

Investment possibilities

Philippine Ambassador to Canada Jose Brillantes noted the growing number of American/Canadian tourists who have joined this year’s tour but also have business interests in mind.

He said that of the 68 members of the Canadian delegation, “10 of them are businessmen. They’re here for the tour first, but after, they have meetings set up with their counterparts. They’re going to look into investment possibilities, ranging from manpower recruitment to mining.”

Canada, where about 400,000 Filipinos live and work, is a major investor in mining around the world. Brillantes declined to name the investors pending closure of their deals with local businessmen.

Megaworld Corp., a property development company owned by Andrew Tan, apparently reaped the most benefit from the tour this year with the balikbayans sinking in their hard-earned dollars into several condominium units.

Angela Cortes, senior sales director of Megaworld, disclosed that the company received many inquiries into its township development called McKinley Hill, a 50-hectare property in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig.

She said she was optimistic she would close P50 million in sales by the tour’s end, as several of the Fil-Am buyers already “signed up for three units in Tuscany Private Estates and seven in Stamford Residences.”

She said a number of the buyers were ready to pay her “in dollars [cash]…. With the response we got from them [the balikbayans], we hope to hit the P100-million [sales target for the tour]. We expect more inquiries after their busy tour here.”

The Philippine Ambassadors’/Consuls’ General Tour is a brainchild of Albert del Rosario, conceived during his stint as ambassador to Washington, D.C. It was designed to encourage more Fil-Ams to visit their home country and spread the word on its business and travel opportunities.

The annual tour, begun in 2005, is a joint effort by the Departments of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Tourism, and Trade and Industry (DTI).

Participants from the US mainland paid at least $1,949 for a basic tour package from July 12 to 17, which included roundtrip airfare, four-night hotel stay (twin-share), three meals a day, including a special lunch and visit to Malacañan Palace, as well as city and day tours.

From July 17 to 20, optional tours to major provincial destinations were made available to the participants at an additional cost, ranging from $349 per person, twin sharing, to $764 per person.

The visit to Malacañang on July 16, and the photo opportunity with President Arroyo, proved to be the tour’s highlight. “I’ve visited the Philippines a number of times,” said one long-time Fil-Am resident of New Jersey, who requested anonymity, “but this is the first time I’ve ever been to Malacañang!” She said she hoped to have her eldest daughter enroll in a local private university by next year.

Even Dr. James Stadler, medical director of the Guam Memorial Hospital, who joined the tour with his Fil-Am wife, Virginia—a nurse and member of the Guam Symphony—described the visit as a “once–in–a–lifetime experience” to meet President Arroyo.

(President Arroyo greets Filipino-Americans visiting the Malacañan Palace as part of the Third Ambassadors/Consuls General Tour of the Philippines from July 14-20. Photo by Rhoy Cobilla)

But GMA disappoints

However, there were a few who had joined the previous tours, like Eloise Baza, president of the Guam Chamber of Commerce, who were disappointed and wondered “why the President did not give any speech.” No official explanation was given for this, but a DFA source told BusinessMirror that “it is now the President’s official policy to give only one speech a day.” At noon that day, the President had already spoken before participants of the 2007 Corporate Social Responsibility Expo at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza.

In the previous tours, President Arroyo had managed to whip the tour participants into frenzied clapping as she outlined the accomplishments of her administration and encouraged them to invest in the country. Last year, she even pushed the Fil-Ams to support her campaign for Charter change.

This time, the President merely exchanged a few pleasantries with some members of each tour delegation as she sat throughout the souvenir photo-taking with Executive Secreatry Eduardo Ermita, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, and Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila.

Before the photo opportunity with the President at the Rizal Hall, the tour participants viewed the various historical items on display at the Palace museum and then had a lunch of native Filipino dishes catered by Via Mare at the Heroes’ Hall.

Baubles, bangles and beads

On July 14, the DTI urged the tour participants to invest in the Philippine countryside during a business briefing at the Forbes Town Center, a major business/residential development of Megaworld and the Bonifacio West Development Corp. at The Fort in Taguig.

During the same briefing, Bing Limjoco, president of the Philippine Franchise Association, spoke of the opportunities in investing in local franchises. She also noted the success and continuing expansion of Jollibee Foods Corp. because of franchising, edging out the US-based McDonald’s Corp. in the local fast-food business.

The tour group was also treated to a discussion of the local jewelry industry by Cecilia Ramos, owner of Ricel’s Jewelry and chairwoman of the Meycauayan Jewelry Industry Association Inc. Meycauayan, Bulacan, is envisioned to become the center of world-class fine jewelry in the Philippines, she said. Bulacan has long been known as the site of the country’s best manufacturers of gold jewelry, exporting millions of dollars worth of products to the world market.

Even before Ramos’s speech, however, many tour participants were observed checking out the gold and silver jewelry for sale at the ground floor of the Forbes Town Center. Nancy, a Honolulu-based Fil-Am, expressed particular interest in buying some pieces on exhibit. According to Ramos, the price of Philippine gold jewelry is 30- percent to 60-percent lower than those made in other countries like the US, Italy and Saudi Arabia.

In the evening of the same day, the tour group feasted on dishes from the Mindanao region during a welcome dinner hosted by the Department of Tourism at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza. A fashion show was also held featuring the Muslim-inspired creations of veteran Filipino designer Toni Galang, whose clientele include Fil-Ams on Guam and the mainland US. He is well-known for his intricately designed wedding gowns. The tour participants also lapped up Muslim accessories on display at the hotel.

‘Something new each year’

On July 15, the different delegations separated for day tours to Corregidor, an island off Manila Bay, which became the headquarters of the Allied forces in the Pacific and the temporary seat of the Philippine Commonwealth during World War II; Villa Escudero, a resort featuring man-made waterfalls amid a vast coconut plantation; and Tagaytay to get a glimpse of the world-famous Taal Volcano.

Businessman Frank Shimizu, president of Ambros Inc., the wholesale distributor of Budweiser, as well as Bristol Myers, Kimberly Clark and Mead Johnson products in Guam and the Northern Marianas, said, “It’s my first time [to join the tour] and it won’t be my last. . . . We went to Corregidor and it was an eye-opener. Anybody who wants to learn about World War II, I recommend that they go see Corregidor.” Shimizu was in town with his wife Fermina, the aunt of Guam’s First Lady Joann Camacho.

The most enthusiastic among tour participants appeared to be Atty. Alexander Modaber, the US Public Defender for Guam, who had joined the two previous Ambassadors/Consuls General Tour. Of his third tour, Modaber said: “They’ve added something new and each time is a new experience…. Everybody had a great opportunity when they had different trips to the various regions in the Philippines. So it’s a tremendous opportunity to see the Philippines, to see the culture and to see the things outside of Manila. Of course, what’s amazing, too, is you get to go to the museums and just learn so much. There’s always something new to see. You can always take something out of it.”

Aside from the visit to the Palace museum, the participants also toured the National Museum for Philippine artwork, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Money Museum for its coin collection, and the Metropolitan Museum for its precolonial gold exhibit.

Originally from Las Vegas, Modaber said he’s looking for investment opportunities in local condominiums “and eventually retire in the Philippines.”

The tour group was also brought to major shopping destinations in the metropolis, such as the Mall of Asia of the SM Group along Roxas Blvd., and Tiendesitas, a bazaar in Pasig City.

July 26, 2007

Jollibee tests new restaurant concept

Since it has already saturated the local fast food service market, Jollibee Foods Corporation, headed by Tony Tan Caktiong, President-CEO, is now testing the market for a new restaurant concept patterned after the roadside eateries or "karinderia" that is popular with the masses.

The firm said it is testing TIO PEPE’s Karinderia which serves Filipino food at very low price points, aimed mainly at people in the work force in urban centers. The pilot restaurant is located in Edsa Central. (from Manila Bulletin, July 25, 2007)

I don't want to steal the thunder from Tony Tan Caktiong for making Jollibee the number one fastfood chain in the Philippines. It should make every Pinoy proud that it is only in the Philippines where a Filipino-owned fastfood firm has beaten the mighty McDonald's brand, and at same time, has given jobs to a lot of Filipinos.

But must Jollibee, under the guise of business expansion, invade the provenance of thousands of carinderia owners, people in the informal economy who are just trying to help support their families? I don't want to begrudge Mr. Tan Caktiong his profit margins, but I think this carinderia plan is a step in the wrong direction for the Ernst & Young's world entrepreneur awardee.

July 21, 2007

The ‘Manang’ Diaries (With Apologies to Francine)

Something Like Life
July 20, 2007

INSPIRED by my colleague’s piece on her experience with her son’s nanny, I am moved to write about domestic help and our relationships with them. And also because we have a new girl staying with us.

I remember growing up with domestic help – we called them “maids” back then – who spoke English clearly, were clean in body and around the house as well, and had enough common sense to react appropriately in any given situation. They often stayed with the family until they got married, and had that now-elusive quality of malasakit, or concern, toward their employers and their children.

Almost everyone I know has one or two favorite memories of their family’s domestic help. Perhaps this is due to the fact that these helpers, if they stay long enough, often turn out to become part of one’s family as well. Although they perform household services, they are treated the same as one’s next of kin and, in some celebrated cases among the upper crust, even inherit more money than their employer’s own children because of their undying affection and loyalty.

(Remember how Will & Grace parodies the relationship between employer and maid with Karen and her Rosario always throwing sarcastic lines at each other, tormenting each other with their cruel and unusual treatments, but actually can’t live without each other.)

To me, the househelp were ate or manang out of respect as they were much older than me. (It was ate, as well for a gay househelp – much to the chagrin of my father whom I suspect was a tad homophobic, and also because he tired out his lungs calling for “her” while it took her forever to use the rest room out back. I remember ate fondly for wearing red shorts around the house, which she cleaned to an almost Tide-sparkling white perfection!)

As a child with parents always out of the house, one tends to be attached to the househelp. With no one around, I would sometimes sneak off to eat with them (which is how I learned to love tuyo/daing and sinangag) or hang around with them watching the afternoon soap operas or a Nora Aunor flick (which is also probably why I am an Ate Guy fan to this day). In fact, I remember bawling my eyes out after I saw the Superstar “die” then slowly walk up the steps to heaven in a swirl of clouds and hallelujah choruses. I can never live that crying fit down and to this day, I am teased by my family about this sordid episode.

Except for one or two bad eggs and the occasional run-ins with my aging grandmother who was used to overseeing household operations like an office manager, most of our domestic help, including nannies and drivers, had pleasant relationships with my family. I remember Christmas especially, because it was a big thing for all of us and the househelp were also given their presents, usually pretty clothes or bonuses, in reward for their outstanding work and loyalty to the family. They, too, would share in our Christmas feast, except for the queso de bola which most of them found nauseating much to our amusement.

But those who grew up with domestic help surely will have already noticed that the quality of those now in their employ no longer measures up to those who performed such excellent services 10 to 20 years ago.

It just seemed that overnight, there were no longer any intelligent, hardworking and caring domestic help to hire. With the economy in crisis after crisis, I assume many of these girls from the provinces turned to other employment opportunities to make a faster buck and keep their families afloat. If these girls didn’t become prostitutes in Malate and Ermita, they went on to become dancers in Japan or worked as domestics/nannies in Singapore, Hong Kong and the Middle East.

According to the owner of an employment agency for domestic help, stay-in, all-around domestic help are paid a starting salary of P3,000 a month up to P6,000, depending on their level of skills and intelligence. Some of those in the upper bracket can speak English, have worked abroad, and know their way with a computer or have taken baking/cooking lessons. She said that she even had an applicant with an international driver’s license, o ha?! I began consulting with the employment agency after I found it necessary to have someone to stay with my aging parents, considering that my work often takes me out of the house and even out of the country.

But if you think about it, what is P3,000 worth these days? It isn’t even enough to pay for a househelp’s basic necessities, much less the baon for her children if they are at school. In comparison, domestic helpers are paid about HK$6000 in Hong Kong, or about P37,000!

So I’m not surprised about the dearth in good househelp these days. The employment agency already brought in three applicants for my mother to interview and they were either DUH! (you know the kind, glazed look and all?), had a touch of arrogance for having worked abroad already, or just didn’t return.

Right now we’re trying out a new girl – the sister of a former househelp – who needs the work to support her toddler. She is an unwed mother, which would probably explain her often-unsmiling face. I don’t have any major complaints about her, but I just find her a tad depressing because of her overall demeanor.

Her sister was at least very biba and knew how to make us laugh, especially my brooding parents. Unfortunately, she can’t live with us full time as she is utterly devoted to her growing children. My only beef about her was she often took shortcuts when cleaning the house. But she was alert and had a happy disposition, and truly had become part of the family. When my father would realize that he had mistakenly blamed her for some error not of her doing, he would quickly apologize to her – and this from a family not exactly quick with apologies among ourselves.

My mother, on the other hand, is going nuts teaching her sister the rudiments of cleaning a household. In the first place, my mother has very little patience – big wow that she never became a schoolteacher. Coupled with this is the seeming lifeless response of the new girl. I try to mitigate the difficulties in the new relationship between employer and househelp by patiently re-explaining my mother’s instruction to the new girl, but I look into her eyes and I wonder whether she is actually there. Does she understand what I’m saying or is she still rueing about her future without the man who got her pregnant and had left her to her own devices?

At times like these, I wish we didn’t need househelp. Abroad, alone, I was perfectly content doing my own laundry, cleaning my flat and cooking my own meals. But I only had a 60-square-meter home then and not living in a three-floor townhouse, with other family members to think of like I am now.

Like any new relationship, this one we have with our new househelp will need patience and understanding. Maybe even more so than the usual. It will mean extreme pakikisama to make sure she will agree to stay with us for a long time. This is going to be a very looong month for me.

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

July 20, 2007

Vitamin C pills don't combat colds – researchers

LONDON – Vitamin C supplements are practically useless in a bid to avert colds, researchers concluded in analysis published Wednesday.

Branding the widely-held belief a myth, they found that only individuals under extreme stress, such as soldiers and marathon runners, benefited at all from the supplements.

They were 50 percent less likely to catch a cold if they took vitamin C daily, the Finnish and Australian scientists said.
(Click on blog title to take you to the news link.)

Now you're telling us!

I've been taking Vitamin C supplements (Ascorbic acid) for years...sometimes as high as 1,500 mg during the cold season. All I know is, if I stop taking those pills even for two days (sometimes I forget or am too busy with assignments), I'm sure to get a cold.

I'm pretty sure chicken soup will be next on these researchers' list of myths.

July 15, 2007

Email manners

The thing I detest the most since the invention of the email is the explosion of spam and forwarded mails. While spam can often be controlled in webmail clients by adjusting your email settings, it is almost a hopeless situation when it comes to forwarded mail.

Not a day goes by when my inboxes in my various webmail clients don't contain some forwarded mail. If it comes from a relative or friend, syempre I can't categorize their email address as spam unless I'm willing to risk missing the chance that they will actually send me a real personal note containing their own thoughts, expressions, feelings and ideas, right? (Asa pa ako.)

What I don't like about forwarded mail (aside from them being usually idiotic jokes, boring anecdotes of other people, or chain letters which say you will receive some good news the minute you forward the same email to other people!) is how the sender usually exposes your email addresses to other recipients. Parang, kilala ko ba 'yang ibang tao na pinagsi-CC mo? Don't these frequent forwarders see the BCC feature on their email composer?

To those who still don't know what it is, BCC means Blind Carbon Copy. It is a means to send email to multiple recipients without exposing their email addresses especially to people who don't know them. It's a privacy issue, okay? Think about it, do you want me to send your cellphone number to 20 other people without asking your permission? It's the same thing.

So I gently remind these frequent forwarders that I appreciate their email but to please use the BCC feature on their email next time. Some will email back that they promise to do so, but lo and behold! another one will again send her forwarded mail with all the recipients listed and exposed! Ang tigas ng ulo da vah?

Syempre I don't want to be rude naman. But for those who really don't get it, I send this link Thanks.No which has helped reduce my number of frequent forwarders. When all else fails, I just categorize the nutheads' email address as SPAM so whatever they send me will end up in spam/junk folder. Or I automatically delete the mail. Sorry nalang kayo, ang kukulit nyo e! (Believe it or not, one person actually asked me why I wasn't responding to her forwarded mail. Hello? Hilo ka ba?)

Personally I think people who keep forwarding mail just have too much time on their hands. (I know one who does this about three times a week!) They're probably bored with their own insignificant lives that they have to forward mail to make them feel like they're doing something worthwhile in the world. Why don't you just volunteer to build a home for the poor kaya? Or save the whales! Maybe help stop climate change?

But if they think it's a way for them to keep in touch with their friends and relatives, then they're dead wrong. It's an annoying habit that should be done away with. I mean, why don't they just write a real personal note telling the recipients how they're doing, da vah? I'd rather read an email from my buddy who tells me about the recent restaurant he's visited, or an email from a friend who makes kwento about her latest boyfriend conquests. At least even if we don't see or talk to each other everyday, we're still updated about each others lives. That's keeping in touch!

So read my lips kids...forwarded email is JUNK! Stop mailbox pollution!

Dating with Kids

Something Like Life
July 13, 2007

A FRIEND who lives in the province e-mailed me last week after he had read my previous columns on dating. Gene – which is not his real name, of course, or he would kill me – brought up an interesting issue in his note. He was anxious about his own dating situation.

You see, Gene is very much interested in a colleague at his office, who happens to be separated from her husband. Which is not the problem actually. The sticky point is, she has two kids—aged 6 and 10—and Gene is absolutely mortified on what to do about them. So far, he and, umm, let’s call her Cindy, have just had casual lunches at the cafeteria or at the small eateries near their office. (Ano ba ’yan kapatid, Jollibee na naman?! Haay!)

He thinks she likes him a lot, too. But Gene has yet to ask Cindy out for The Big Date. You know, the one where he will have to actually pick her up from her home and meet her kids, before he can take her out to a fine-dining restaurant or a movie. Right now, all he’s done is bring her home after work, but he has yet to set foot inside the abode and meet the little monsters. What to do? What to do?

Of course, after calling him a wuss, and berating him for having no balls to move forward and ask the possible wife-material out on a real date, I did acknowledge his fears that pursuing a relationship with Cindy may bring a few challenges. It won’t be easy because there are other individuals involved whose feelings he will have to be sensitive to. But if he and she are really determined, perhaps they could make the relationship work. I told him that for all he knows, his fears could be unfounded and the kids could actually like him. Nevertheless, it’s always good idea to put your best foot forward as in any situation.

Okay, it’s the day of the big date. You’re off to pick up your lady and meet her kids for the first time. Bring a gift, why don’t you? Sure, everyone, especially the kids, will know you’re just sucking up to them, but it is a respectable gesture nonetheless. Besides, it will make you feel good about yourself if the kids do like the gift, and will also stack up the pogi points in your favor with your beloved.

Now, you don’t have to give the kids the latest PlayStation or an Xbox console as they’re not yet your stepkids, okay? It can be as simple as chocolates, or comic books, or maybe a music CD or a movie on DVD. You will have to do a bit of research on this, and find out from your discussions with your intended paramour what exactly her kids are interested in so that you can buy them the appropriate gift.

Remember, that there will always be her ex- to deal with. Good for you if your lady and her ex- split up amicably, and both have agreed to go on their separate ways and not interfere in each other’s dating habits. But if there are still lingering feelings of either love or jealousy between the two of them, watch out. You may suddenly wake up one morning with your hands and your feet tied down with weights while you slowly drown at the bottom of someone’s swimming pool.

The ex- will be your toughest audience. He will, of course, assess your suitability to be his children’s step-parent. At his worst, he will probably do a background check on you to see if you have ever been a convicted felon, a drug addict or a child molester. In short, the ex- will probably not like you, no matter how respectful you are of his relationship with his kids and his ex-wife. Just accept the fact that your lady’s ex- will never be your No. 1 fan (unless he’s Bruce Willis and you’re Ashton Kutcher), even if – or especially if – his kids learn to love you. So just keep looking behind your back, bub.

Remember that the kids will always come first. So be prepared to have your grand plans with your beloved be broken at the last minute (“Mikee didn’t tell me he has an art project due tomorrow, and we still haven’t bought the materials!”). So you spent a humongous amount of money to buy scalped tickets for a concert of her favorite singer? Forget it. There will be times when she will cancel on you because of what you will probably feel are poor excuses (“Cesca came down with the flu kasi!”). You won’t be able to do anything about this. Your efforts at planning a long-awaited dinner at the newest restaurant with the long reservation list will never stack up to the sudden problems your lady will have to deal with at home.

After the initial awkwardness of the first few dates with “mommy’s new boyfriend,” hopefully the kids will become more accepting of you (especially after you keep bringing around their favorite Yellow Cab pizzas every week). The next obvious step is to include them in your “dates” with their mom. Catch a movie, dine at some restaurant together (for sure it will be cheaper than your dates with your lady as the kids will probably choose some fast-food burger joint), go ice-skating, take them to the carnival, or even an overnight vacation to a nearby beach. These activities together will not only cement your relationship with your lady, but also show the kids that you’re not treating their mom as just a passing fancy. They will see that you are serious in including them in your life, in a bid to pursue a deeper and more meaningful relationship with the entire family. (Just mind your pocket. It will surely hurt after all these group activities. Consider the expenses as an investment in your future.)

However, try not to fall in love with your lady’s kids too much. For some, the relationship with Ms. Lady With Kids may not always lead to a positive outcome. For one reason or the other, there might be a breakup, and where would that leave you and your relationship with the kids?

Of course, staying cool all throughout the dating process with their mom will be difficult, especially if they are actually lovable children. And you don’t have a stone-cold heart to begin with. But just make sure that if a breakup does come, you will have enough strength to reassure the children that while you may no longer be around in their lives regularly, they will still have a special place in your heart. But, sorry, there can be no more late-night phone calls about monsters under their bed.

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

July 13, 2007

Philippine president condones child abuse/pedophilia

(Jalosjos photo from the web.)

Below is a portion of the letter to the public of the victim of child rapist Romeo Jalosjos, whose jail sentence has just been commuted by his friend and political ally, Presidentita Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

"Mismong Presidente ng Pilipinas ay kumakampi kay Romeo Jalosjos, child rapist. Paano humaharap sa sarili nila at sa ibang tao ang mga kakampi ni Romeo Jalosjos? Paano nila nasisikmura na ang mga kinakampihan nila ay nanggahasa ng isang bata? (The President of the Philippines herself has taken the side of Romeo Jalosjos, child rapist. How do the allies of Jalosjos face themselves and other people? How can they stomach the fact that they align themselves with someone who has raped a child?)," read the letter to the public.

"Wala ba silang mga anak, kapatid, pinsan, apo? Wala ba silang takot sa Diyos? Wala ba silang kahit konting awa? Wala bang natatakot na manggahasa muli ang isang child rapist? (Don’t they have children, siblings, cousins, grandchildren? Don’t they have any fear of God? Don’t they have even a little pity. Isn’t anybody afraid that a child rapist will rape again?)," she continued. (Source: Phil. Daily Inquirer, July 12, 2007)

Jalosjos' victim was but 11 years old when he raped her. She is now 24 years old, living in another country, under an assumed name, but her nightmare continues...


July 09, 2007

Rock on Lolo!

I watched Jay Leno the other night and he had as guests, three members of The Zimmers, a senior citizens' band formed to make people stand up and pay attention to the plight of the elderly in the UK. In situations like these, I'm glad I live in the Philippines where families still take care of their elderly at home. Seniors here are still respected for their views, and their opinions still carry a lot of weight in most families.

Anyway, I'm posting the MTV of The Zimmers, and their take on The Who's My Generation. It's really cute. I wish I had a rockin' lola or lolo. Enjoy...

July 07, 2007

Valuing your employees

Something Like Life
July 5, 2007

SOMETIME in 2003, at the height of the SARS outbreak, the pilots of Singapore Airlines (SIA) announced that they were going to accept wage cuts by as much as 16 percent, in an effort to shore up the finances of the carrier. Prior to this announcement, airline management had planned to lay off 400 personnel as the SARS epidemic had eaten into the carrier’s usually profitable bottom line. The agreement between the pilots’/officers’ unions and management was that the wage cuts were temporary, and as soon as the carrier was back in the black, their old salaries would be reinstalled and increases due them would be given.

As I recently talked with a friend going through a job crisis, I thought about what happened to SIA and how many wage earners here in the Philippines would probably make the same sacrifice. Probably not many. Perhaps none at all.

Most labor disputes here in the country, especially high-profile ones, usually ended up only one way. The closure of a company. There was a time when textile factories shut down one after the other, no longer able to compete with cheaper textiles flooding the market, produced by more efficient companies abroad.

In a number of those cases, the closure was guaranteed as soon as one saw the name of a militant labor organization being bandied on the streamers of the union that had gone on strike. The employees were taken with the brave fighting speeches of union leaders, pressing their demands, only to find themselves later out on the street, without any work and 10 children at home to feed.

The situation may have improved since those days. According to the Department of Labor and Employment, only one strike has been reported in the first half of the year, and even that labor dispute has already been settled. Most strikes have been averted by going through the process of mediation.

I think most company owners truly want the best only for their employees. But understandably, there are those who are also cruel and neglectful, and care only for their company’s bottom line. They don’t give a thought about their staff’s development and well-being, nor their customers’ convenience.

The workers’ union of one well-known department store, for example, was perennially on strike because of what remains perceived as its antilabor management practices. The company only hires sales staff on a contractual basis, six months at the most, then proceeds to hire a new set of staff after. While it saves the department store salary increases to pay for long-term employees, it results in the mediocre performance of its sales staff, with no dedication to customer service. Just try handing over a gift card to one of its cashiers, and you will be met with a blank stare and lots of fumbling over what to do with it. Sure, the store’s goods may be cheap, but its customer relations suck.

One also hears of grumblings among employees in a real-estate company, whose staff salaries have not risen over the years while their bosses keep rewarding themselves with annual raises. At a time when their company was deep in debt during the Asian financial crisis, their bosses were seen driving around in new cars and still sailing on their yachts.

I know there are companies hard-pressed to increase the salaries of their employees because of the seeming uncertainties still lingering in the country’s economy. So sometimes, even if bosses want to reward their loyal staff, their hands are tied by managerial priorities, e.g., paying off debts and expenses first.

After having been an employee for the longest time, and discussing employment issues with my peers, I realize that while financial rewards are a factor for individuals to consider staying in a company, it is not the only major consideration. After all, many wage earners these days consider themselves lucky to be in a job at a time when a number of companies are teetering on the brink of uncompetitiveness in this era of globalization.

How often have I heard the reason “Mabait s’ya” in reference to their bosses, like when I asked a friend why he still works in a company that has not given him a raise in over two years despite his hard work?

Some managers just find other ways to make their loyal staff feel appreciated to make up for financial rewards their company can hardly afford. It can be as little as remembering their secretary’s birthday, presenting gifts to their assistants during Christmas, or giving their staff extra time-off during the holidays or family emergencies.

I know one pre-need company, for example, which gives its employees a two-and-a-half-week paid leave during Christmas. The break not only saves the employees the headache of wading through massive traffic jams in the days leading up to Christmas Day, but it also gives them time to attend to their own Yuletide shopping. The company’s sales force is treated to conventions out of town or out of the country, finances permitting, while the children of its executives are entitled to free college education.

Long-time employees of a publicist I know, for example, tell me that they have stayed with the company because they are made to feel like they are “family.” And even if their boss screams at them, they know he does this to make sure they learn their lesson well. They feel it is like their father—or mother—yelling at them to shape up and not make the same mistake again. The boss also gives them tons of freebies, no doubt from his clients, which sometimes help make up for their average salaries.

Some bosses, unfortunately, lack even the emotional IQ of a chicken. They are insensitive to the psychological and emotional support needed by their long-suffering employees. Staff members who have been loyal to the company through thick and thin can hardly be expected to understand, for example, why they have been passed over for a promotion. I’ve heard one or two friends complain why management had to get an outsider to fill the shoes of a supervisor, for example, when they, the long-time employees, were eminently qualified? “Wala na ngang increase, wala pang promotion. Ano ba ’yun?”

Some managers also feel that just because they are making sacrifices, they should require their employees to do the same—this, without taking the time to explain the necessity of such sacrifices. “Matiisin s’ya” is a description of another manager I know. Sometimes the boss forgets that his staff doesn’t have the same capacity for tiis, and that he has to try to make the proper representations to management to give his staff some reward for their outstanding work. Granting management turns down his request, he should remember to sit down with his staff to explain to them the true state of the company, and why they are again without salary increases or promotions for the time being.

To earn the loyalty of one’s employees, management has to learn to trust them and make them feel like they are part of the family. Everyone has to be made to feel that his work is important to the survival of the firm.

And what’s a simple pat on the back for a job well done, a nice relaxing lunch, or even just a short vacation going to cost the manager or the company, when these little things are what may help their staff feel valued?

In short, managers need to realize that their staff are also human beings who need a break now and then, will require some pepping-up when energies or spirits sag, and will need to hear a kind word now and then to lift their morale. Sometimes, it is not the money that will make an employee happy. Sometimes, the key to an employee’s continued stay in the company could be nothing more than the feeling that he is much appreciated, and that his boss is devoted to his growth and welfare.

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

July 05, 2007

Mama Sita’s marinades tickle American taste buds

By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo
BusinessMirror, July 4, 2007

WEEKEND barbecues are regular events in most American households. Who would’ve guessed that the marinade a number of them like using is a packaged mix made in the Philippines?

Officials of Pasig City-based Marigold Commodities Corp. and Guam importer Pacific Rim Brokers Inc. (PRB) confirmed the rising use by foreign consumers—particularly American/Guam households—of Mama Sita’s marinades, mixes and sauces in their cooking.

Marigold is the manufacturer of Mama Sita’s products and is owned by the Reyes family, well-known restaurateurs and food experts in the Philippines. Marigold’s founder, the late Teresita “Mama Sita” Reyes, was the eldest daughter of Doña Engracia “Aling Asiang” Reyes, who put up the Aristocrat Restaurant, a historical landmark among Philippine restaurants. Aling Asiang has been fondly called the “grand matriarch” of local restaurateurs, and now most of her heirs are also in the restaurant and food industry.

In an exclusive interview with BusinessMirror, export manager Jane Rubinos-Taguinod projected an overall sales growth of 30 percent in Marigold’s export market, as well as 30 percent for the United States market alone. The most popular Mama Sita’s products in the US are the barbecue marinade, kare-kare (peanut sauce) mix, kaldereta (Spanish meat stew) mix, sinigang mix (tamarind soup base or guava soup base for meats and fish)… “almost all of the products are popular on the mainland,” she noted. These products are sold mainly in Oriental or Filipino stores.

About 70 percent of Marigold’s profits are generated by the export market, “especially where there are large concentrations of Filpinos,” said Mama Sita’s son, Ramon R. Reyes, corporate services officer of Marigold. Of the company’s foreign sales, the United States (including Canada, Guam and other territories) accounts for 40 percent, followed by the Middle East (30 percent), Europe (20 percent), and the rest in East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. “The Middle East market is our fastest-growing market, with other foreign workers, such as Bangladeshis, also buying our products,” he said.

Reyes sees even stronger sales this year for the Guam market, where a third of the local population traces its ancestry to the Philippines. He said the introduction of the company’s newest product, ready-to-cook frozen Filipino meat dishes under the Lola Sita’s brand, will help push their island sales, which is forecast to rise by 30 percent this year.

Marigold produces 17 Mama Sita’s mixes and 21 sauces are made from natural ingredients, like real tamarind or fresh guava for its sinigang mix, instead of citric acid used by some of the company’s competitors. Its sister company, Sandpiper Spices and Condiments Corp., also produces Kim’s, an oriental line of five mixes and four sauces, for Merit Based Trading Ltd., a Hong Kong investment and trading company. Kim’s is sold in the US, Guam, the Middle East and the Philippines. Marigold’s US subsidiary, meanwhile, produces the Lola Sita’s brand, mainly for the US market.

In a separate interview via e-mail, Frank Arriola, executive vice president and general manager of PRB, a Guam importer, said since the official introduction of Mama Sita’s products to the island in December 2006, “There has been an increase in sales in the area of about 125 percent.”

While Mama Sita’s products have been in the Guam market for about 10 years already, most of these were exported by Marigold through various consolidators. This is perhaps the reason, said Reyes, why it was easier this time around for the products to cross over into the mainstream Chamorro market, with PRB now officially importing the products.

“Our most popular products in Guam are the barbecue marinades, sinigang broth and hot pepper sauce [siling labuyo or bird’s eye pepper],” Reyes said. Guam also buys a lot of premium coconut nectar vinegar, “as it has no preservatives, nor is it diluted in water.”

According to Arriola, the mixes retail on Guam for about $0.79; while the bottled vinegar, marinades, and “everything in between” sell between $1.29 and $3.79. These are sold in American Grocery and Payless Supermarkets. Aside from retail consumers, Mama Sita’s products are also bought by institutional buyers like Pacific Islands Club (PIC) Hotel, airline catering company LSG Skychefs, and KFC restaurants. Arriola disclosed that, “we [PRB] are working on a subdistributor appointment for the Northern Marianas,” but declined to reveal the identity of the company pending the “confidential” negotiations.

Other than Mama Sita’s mixes, sauces, marinades, and bottled condiments, also sold on Guam are Kim’s oriental mixes and sauces, and soon, Lola Sita’s frozen traditional Filipino meat dishes like beef tapa (dried cured beef), pork or chicken tocino (meat in a sweet annatto marinade), pork longganisa (sausage), and desserts like sans rival (merengue torte with buttercream filling), as well as Philippine dried fruits.

The Lola Sita’s line was created by Marigold’s US subsidiary, Haig and Lee Import-Export Co. based in Missouri City, in partnership with the Houston-based Ditta Meats. The partnership was launched in 2004 with the establishment of a meat processing plant, also in Texas.

Institutional buyers such as hoteliers, restaurateurs and catering companies on Guam had a taste of the Lola Sita’s line in May 2006, with a cook-out hosted by Jamaican Grill, a popular restaurant on the island. A trial shipment is expected to arrive sometime this month on Guam, said Rubinos-Taguinod. “When we launched it [Lola Sita}, we invited cooks and hotel chefs, restaurant owners. We cooked the products at Jamaican Grill and they liked it. The products were really liked by the restaurant owners.”

Lola Sita’s products are made from Houston Texas, US-grade meat, and only from natural ingredients, without any preservatives. To give the tocino’s reddish color, for example, annatto is used instead of salitre (saltpeter), basically the chemical potassium nitrate used as preservative for most Filipino tocino products. Lola Sita’s meats are packed frozen and weigh one kilo. So far, this product line is doing very well in the US, Rubinos-Taguinod said, with the company planning to get a halal certificate to enable it to sell the meats in the Middle East as well.

While Arriola declined to project PRB sales figures for the Mama Sita’s/Kim’s brands this year, he said: “We firmly believe that the Mama Sita’s/Kim’s lines have crossed over to the Guam mainstream market already. This is based on quantitative sales figures as well as qualitative exit interviews we conduct during our many samplings. We have been very aggressive in our samplings as we hit all the major supermarkets and second-tier stores during the months of December 2006 all the way to March 2007.”

He added that PRB “will be launching a new Mama Sita’s Red Hot Pepper Sauce with Labuyo (bird’s eye pepper) as well as a new dried fruit line which looks very promising.”

In the US, Marigold’s sales are still dominated by the Mama’s Sita’s line at 80 percent, with 10 percent each going to Lola Sita’s and Kim’s, “because the latter are still new,” Rubinos-Taguinod explained.

But she added that, “Guam is picking up. We’re happy it’s [sales] growing because we have a supportive importer… While we’ve been exporting to Guam for 10 years already, it’s only now that the market has really been developed because of the focus given by PRB.”

She confirmed the dramatic increase in demand for Mama Sita’s products in Guam, adding that since December, Marigold has been shipping out at least a container a month as compared to “less than a container” every quarter just a few years ago.

For his part, Reyes said there are still many untapped overseas markets for Marigold’s different product lines, and is hopeful that the company can soon export to China. It is currently “test-marketing” its products in Africa, where a number of Filipinos also work.

Marigold, which began in 1980 as a cottage industry making Mama Sita’s products at the Reyeses’ ancestral home in the Metro Manila suburb of San Juan, now produces its lines at a state-of-the-art facility in Pasig City. The factory produces about 60,000 cases of Mama Sita’s and Kim’s products every month for the Philippines and world market, where one case is equivalent to 72 pieces pouches or 12 bottles of condiments/marinades/sauces. Marigold has a total of 200 employees. Officials declined to reveal actual sales figures.

(Photos from Mama Sita's web site.)

PAL to upgrade B747s

By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo
BusinessMirror July 5, 2007

I’VE always loved traveling business class, especially on long-haul flights that require a great amount of leg room to stretch your limbs so your blood doesn’t stop circulating to your lower extremities, offering me a more restful flight. Of course, the wider choices in in-house entertainment, as well as fine cuisine and wines, provide a definite boost to one’s morale when you’re 35,000 feet up in the air, and outside your window is a sea of blackness as far as the eye can see.

At the turn of the millennium, a number of air carriers in Asia also started improving their services in the coach class, giving economy passengers a taste of privileges once held by only those who could afford the upscale cabin classes. While seating may still be tighter, the discomfort is more than made up by sumptuous dishes and a wide array of in-house entertainment just a click away.

So I’m glad to hear that after slowly paring down its debts and boosting its finances back into black, flag carrier Philippine Airlines is now focusing on giving its passengers a comfortable lifestyle whether they are booked on business or economy class.

In a recent lunch tête-à-tête with a select group of reporters, PAL president Jaime “Jimmy” Bautista told us that the airline will be spending close to $50 million to reconfigure its four Boeing 747-400s beginning next year. “We will be eliminating the first class section and expand the business and economy sections.”

Wow! I thought, this can only mean more space for jetsetting travelers on PAL’s international routes. Jimmy, in between forkfuls of new divinely inspired creations of Gaita Fores at Pepato, told us that the airline is just following the global trend of concentrating more on the business traveler which, as a group, is on the rise. While no local statistics are available, according to a paper last year on tourism megatrends in East Asia and the Pacific by the World Tourism Organization, business travel is now the fourth-ranked reason for travel in the region.

(This is how a cocoon-type lie-flat seat looks like.)

He further disclosed that business travelers will no longer have to endure stiff backs as the airline will be installing new “cocoon-type” seats, which can not only give passengers individual privacy but also recline “flat like a bed.” While most cocoon seats are not the most aesthetically pleasing in terms of design and may make you feel like being half-enclosed in a fiberglass or plastic environment, it may lessen the chances of you being bothered by the chatty smelly old gent beside you while you’re trying to relax on a long-haul flight. Trust me. (This reminds me of a trip on a carrier bound for the Middle East a few years back, which its press releases always claim as having received recognition as the best international airline every year by some award-giving body. To my shock and disbelief, its business class felt like traveling in coach of an ordinary airline! Can you say bad food and stiff neck? Ugh.)

What is even more welcome news is that with the reconfiguration, travelers in PAL’s Fiesta class no longer have to suffer cramped positions as they will now have more room to maneuver and relax in their snug seats. “We will also put in individual entertainment audio-video screens with on-demand movies, taped television shows and video games,” says Jimmy about what’s commonly known in the airline industry as AVOD (audio-video on demand). The same screens, of course, will also be installed in what will be an enhanced Mabuhay class.

So as far as the multimillion-dollar reconfiguration goes, the business class located at the 747’s bubble top will soon have 42 seats, compared with the current, and likely extend to the front of the plane where the first class section is now located. The economy class will still have 383 seats but, as Jimmy says, offer more comfortable seating and entertainment features. Now that makes all the difference if you’re on a nonstop 12-hour flight to San Francisco. Isn’t that just a fabulous way to fly?

The reconfiguration is scheduled to start during PAL’s lean season, at the same time the planes are undergoing their regular six-year D-check involving heavy maintenance and overhaul. By 2009, the reconfigured B747 cabins will be unveiled to what I expect would be a very eager traveling public.

This dovetails with the projected delivery by the third quarter of 2009 of the airline’s brand-new Boeing 777-300 extended range fleet, about six of them I’m told, to last until 2011. When these babies arrive, they will already be installed with the latest in inflight entertainment features and state-of-the-arts seats, giving passengers a very pleasant flight. And with its ever-smiling and affable flight attendants, each flight onboard PAL promises to be a treat especially for world-weary travelers like myself.