August 30, 2007

Tough choice for women

THIS issue is overwhelming. But it is something to think about especially now that more people are getting involved in environmental issues and are on their own, starting to take the necessary steps to heal Mother Earth.

Sanitary pads: A feminine challenge
BY ISA LORENZO, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

THEY COME with or without wings, ultra-thin or maxi, regular, extra long, or g-string. One can also have them unscented, but some brands tout scents like lavender and baby powder. There are sanitary napkins with green tea, while others boast of additives such as aloe vera and vitamin E. Recently, a Chinese company launched a sanitary pad that it says contains anions, which purportedly decrease bacteria and even gradually eliminate dysmenorrhea.

Modern sanitary napkins have come a long way since the days when women would try to contain their monthly flow with thick pads of cloth. Yet for all the innovations manufacturers of sanitary napkins have come up with to ease women’s discomfort during "those days" of the month, they seem to be stumped by this challenge: producing a practical yet eco-friendly sanitary pad.

Environmental groups like Bangon Kalikasan Movement (BKM) say the mountains of trash in dumpsites like Payatas in Quezon City contain a very hefty share of soiled baby diapers and used sanitary napkins. The trash in Payatas has piled up to a towering 50 feet, equivalent to five stories. Seven years ago, a thousand people were killed when the trash came tumbling down on scavengers and those living in huts near the steaming mounds of garbage.

(For the rest of the piece, click Tough choice.)

The alternatives to what are being currently practiced may be impractical for most, but are clearly safer for the environment. Despite my being a staunch environmentalist, I must admit, I find it difficult to choose Mother Earth over practicality, reliability, convenience in this case. I'm at a loss on this one.

From 'Malou' Fernandez

‘DEAR Malu,

Sorry for taking the liberty to write you even though we’ve never met each other, or calling you by your first name. I just got accidentally caught up in your story because I, my relatives and colleagues at work had been getting inquiries, at the peak of the blogosphere obsession with your article on OFWs, on whether the editor in chief of BusinessMirror had written an article for People Asia or MST, or whether we were related. I blame the first query on some lazy PRs who, through the years, never bothered to find out my real nickname or presumed that my Christian name bore a “Maria” just because it’s Lourdes and therefore, called me occasionally “Malou Fernandez.”

That’s how I got curious about who you are and why they’re saying all those things about you. To be honest, I was shocked and upset like all the rest. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, and seeing how the OFWs are perfectly capable of defending themselves, my anger has turned to regret. Honest. I feel sorry that in one short plane trip you had ruined your ties with our kababayan. I regret that you didn’t have the chance to really know them through the years. But maybe there’s still time to make up.

After three decades in this work, I have met and written about Filipino workers in dozens of strange lands and how they’ve coped—some fail to, unfortunately—and how most of them are so prized in their host country I’ve come away each time feeling proud about being a Filipino.

After three decades in this work, I have met and written about Filipino workers in dozens of strange lands and how they’ve coped—some fail to, unfortunately—and how most of them are so prized in their host country I’ve come away each time feeling proud about being a Filipino.

I used to think, like most young people, especially journalists, that the ultimate high of traveling was in seeing up close all those postcard-pretty pictures one just read about in books or brochures. Always, on entering new territory, one’s heart would skip a beat, at that magical experience of “entering” a postcard, almost like Harry Potter when he first melted into the train station walls on his first trip to Hogwarts.

But many years and countless stories later, it’s really those encounters with OFWs—mostly by chance in the course of coverage or sightseeing—that have shaped the way I now look at and remember places.

Among the millions of Filipinos who have lived and worked in Saudi Arabia, I remember most the Filipino waiters at Riyadh Sheraton. Like most OFWs, they showed genuine happiness at seeing a group of kababayan in their hotel, and would find ingenious ways of being assigned to our table to make small talk. Most were Campampangan and had gone to Saudi to help families ravaged by lahar. There was a running joke with our group of newsmen that one of us had a birthday every day, so one fine day we got a surprise. As I stepped onto the lobby one afternoon, one waiter signaled to me to go over to the ground-floor restaurant. He then asked me to call my friends. As we sat down, another waiter who was supposed to be off came out, bearing a platter of maja blanca and palitaw. He smiled as he put it down, and explained that as it was his day off, he made some afternoon snacks for us, saying the native kakain go well with Arabic tea. Then he said he overheard us talking about how we liked palitaw.

As we left that day, they told us to advise them if there was something we wanted which they could cook in their free time. Between the food cooked by Filipinos and the stories shared in that fortnight, truly, we had a feast.

At one time in that fortnight, I was supposed to interview some people at the embassy but got caught up in another event. I didn’t know how to get to the embassy by taxi, so one Filipino IT guy I interviewed earlier offered to accompany me, but the hotel doorman advised me to be sure I had my abaya on, and to sit at the back and try to keep low-key. That got me worried, so I told the IT guy, hey, I know that even if you’re seated in front of the cab we could get in trouble if we get flagged down, so maybe I’ll just risk going there alone. I’m a foreign journalist, maybe I’ll just get deported, but you could get jailed. He brushed it off, and muttered something like he hoped his employer would bail him out of any trouble; or, he’s sure his employer would pull strings for him. I found out later the whiz kid had a sensitive position handling the computer networks of a very big bank in Saudi—imagine, I told myself, how can they dispense with someone like that—and risk having computers breaking down and their princely bank accounts getting stuck?

Still in the Middle East, two young, pretty Filipinas at the Dubai airport duty-free shop melted my heart once. We had about 15 minutes before boarding time en route home and, as a habit, I counted my remaining local currency, with plans of using this to buy pasalubong. I miscalculated. Because I bought a newspaper and several other items first, the money left for chocolates was off by several dirhams, so I asked if they’d accept US dollars. They said they’re not supposed to. She said they’d punched in the items and it’s okay, they’ll wait for me to come back because there is a money changer several meters away. Okay, I said, and ran, but the money-changer shop was closed that time, so I asked around. There was another one, much farther. I ran again, but the lines at the second one were long. I ran back to the two Pinays at the duty-free shop and said, I’m sorry, I’ll just offload the chocolates if you can’t take my dollars.

(Filipina domestic helpers at Statue Square, Central, Hong Kong - a favorite rendezvous on Sundays. Photo from

Both women simultaneously grabbed the chocolate and pressed it toward me. The second one dipped into her pocket and said don’t worry, she’ll pay for the balance. She said they couldn’t take my dollar bill because it was too big, the equivalent of what’s lacking with my dirhams was just about $3. “But I can’t take your money,” I protested. They smiled, and one asked, “You’re giving them to your children? No, nephews and nieces,” I replied. “Well then, please tell them the chocolates are from their titas in Dubai,” and flashed a smile. Just then there was an announcement of boarding time and they motioned me to hurry on. I left, overcome with gratitude but also shame. Luckily, a journalist friend passed by, also on her way to the boarding gate, so I asked if she had small dollar bills. Luckily, she had, so I borrowed $3 and ran back to the Pinays at the duty-free shop and plunked down the bills. They were surprised and refused at first to get it, but I insisted. I never imagined how even ordinary OFWs can be as gracious as these two.

One Mideast country I wanted, but failed to visit, is Israel. The late Philippine ambassador there, the former journalist Antonio C. Modena, used to tell us how organized the Filipino workers there are. One time there was an explosion in a busy public market, so I texted Tony for details, hoping to include a few paragraphs into the paper’s edition. He said he’d text back, and did so, after just 20 minutes. No Filipinos had died, he said, but one Pinay was slightly injured. They’re still tracking one more who was supposed to be in that area as well. I asked, how come you can get these details so quickly? Modena explained that the OFWs there are well-organized and have formed, with the embassy’s urging, a buddy system for verifying and monitoring each other. One OFW is supposed to check on the others in a certain district, all through the wonders of SMS.

Organized, intelligent, caring—that’s how Tony Modena described the OFWs he loved to serve. They’ll do you proud on any given day, he’d often say. He would have been proud to know Arlene (not her real name), a Filipino honor graduate of mechanical engineering, who, in four years, had been pirated by two multinational carmarkers in Japan.

I met her over dinner hosted by an elderly NGO leader in Hiroshima, and the two women kept laughing over a private joke, which I couldn’t help but pry open. Turns out that each time they meet, the Japanese lady would ask Arlene, “what club are you working in this time?” and Arlene would mention some club’s name at random, and they’d laugh together. Turns out that in her first months in Japan, Arlene always had an argument with taxi drivers, who’d ask her each time she rode a cab, “to what club?” When she’d say, “No, I don’t work in a club, I’m an engineer,” the taxi driver would chuckle and mutter what must surely be the Japanese equivalent of “Sure, tell me about it.”

It must have been strange for taxi drivers, this notion of a young Filipino engineer—a woman at that—working for a giant car manufacturer. When Arlene asked her NGO friend how to bridge that cultural abyss, the old lady good-naturedly advised her, so as to spare herself any aggravations even before she had started the day’s work, to “just name any club. Invent a name. Then they’ll shut up. Tell them the truth and they’d never believe you and you’ll end up arguing.”

Thus did it become the two women’s private joke for years. So, somewhere out there, a brilliant Filipina designs cars for THE world’s most popular carmakers, but goes to work each day pretending she works at a Japanese club—and is so self-assured she no longer feels insulted at the thought.

Arlene told me she didn’t really feel insulted because all of the Filipino entertainers she had met are decent and hardworking. And they care for their countrymen. As an aside, Filipinos are also very hygienic. In one quick tour many years ago, I stumbled on three women lugging their laundrybags to shore from a cruise ship, and they volunteered they’d be going to a public washing area “where we can handwash our clothes.” I asked why they weren’t doing their laundry in the ship’s humongous Laundromat, and they squealed, “yuck, and have our clothes mixed with those of the others?” So they went to the trouble of handwashing when the ship makes a port call.

Going back to Japan, Arlene said, you’d never hear stories here of Pinoys turning in fellow Pinoys to immigration if their only crime is overstaying just to have a job, unlike in the US, where such reports abound.

But it’s not just work, work, work for OFWs. Until a few years ago, the Filipinas in Paris who remitted money through PNB would “borrow” a small function room adjacent to the bank every other Friday night and have a typical Filipino sing-along. Some would bring the karaoke, others the food. They’d introduce newcomers to the community and swap stories. They were noisy, but happy. At least you know there won’t be candidates for suicide among the OFWs in the City of Light.

A similar happy disposition prevails among most OFWs in another European country, down south. They don’t call it sunny Spain for nothing, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Filipinos provide the metaphorical sun to their former mother country.

On my first trip there, the OFWs invited me to a modest center recently built with volunteers’ funds. Here they’d interact on weekends or when they’re off duty. The star of the show that Saturday was a very self-effacing Pinay whom everyone was eager to introduce because she brought along her two beautiful children—perfect products of an Asian-Caucasian blend. Turns out her señorito, the Spaniard son of her employers, had fallen in love with and married her. He was there at the center that day, joking and swapping stories with the OFWs. Marimar couldn’t have held a candle to that hardworking Pinay and her Cinderella story.

In other places I had deliberately sought out OFWs each time I’d look for a church for Sunday Mass. Sometimes, you don’t even have to ask them. The foreigners would often advise me to just “follow where they go.”

Some encounters are long, and allow me to mine stories or draw deep insight from kababayan which I’d never get from the intellectual pretenders back home. Other encounters are brief, but enough to warm one’s heart and make one’s day—as that Pinoy couple that once smuggled in their tiny dog in a picnic basket into the Paris commuter train, and spoke to me across the aisle plainly with their eyes, pleading for silence, when they noticed I kept staring at the basket, which was moving.

Sure, Pinoys abroad can be distractingly noisy. Sometimes their perfume can overwhelm one, but hey, we’re just passing through while they have to live and struggle there for years. Maybe the fleeting annoyances are bearable. In the overall equation, they are, like the biblical leaven to the bread, the ones who enrich us—literally but more important, spiritually. When people say nothing enriches a person more than travel, I agree. But only because, in that travel, whether in the oil fields of Nigeria or the deserts of Saudi Arabia, there’s a Filipino out there waiting to reach out to a kababayan.

A pity you missed that experience. But there’s still time to seek them out.


Lourdes M. Fernandez*

*(Lourdes M. Fernandez, whom friends call 'Chuchay', not Malou/Malu...take note PR guys! is the editor-in-chief of BusinessMirror.)

August 29, 2007

Can you say dumb blonde?

This is so hilarious folks! This is worse than any Mutya ng Pilipinas contest we've ever had!

Ano daw?

Postscript: from the publisher of People Asia

The Malu Fernandez-OFW controversy


As publisher of People Asia magazine, I had hoped I would not need to make any further comment about our former contributing columnist Malu Fernandez. Because of the “violent” reactions from people concerning the issue – perhaps it is better for me to put the entire issue into the right context. The column which came out in the June issue of the magazine talked about her experience in Boracay and her trip to Greece in a sardonic manner characteristic of Malu Fernandez.

Reactions (via text and email) were sent in by readers, two of which were selected and consequently printed in the August issue of the magazine, along with a note from the editors saying that while they may not agree with what Malu Fernandez had written, they recognize her right to say it. There is a fine print in the magazine’s staff box stating that the opinions and views expressed by writers are their own and not necessarily endorsed by the editors and the management.

The matter would have been settled with the magazine’s publication of those reactions. But unfortunately, Ms. Fernandez wrote a follow-up regarding the issue as well as her response to those who expressed disagreement with the said column in another publication – making it worse since it was written in an arrogant and condescending manner. Even I, together with some readers, felt that she made a mockery of those who did not share or understand her “acerbic” wit and humor.

(Medyo palusot pero pagbigyan na on at Postscript.)

August 27, 2007

Alternative realities

I was jolted out of my reverie during my two-week vacation (yes, folks, the reason I haven't updated my blog 'til today) by a friend who was ranting about the supposed insulting piece by yet another society columnist wanna-be, Malu Fernandez, on overseas Filipino workers. Malu Fernandez? Wasn't she a columnist of the Manila Standard Today? I have read her once or twice in the past, forgettable columns, or so I thought, until my friend brought up the society gal's take on OFWs. She said Ms. Fernandez's derogatory column appeared in the June edition of People Asia.

As my friend recounted what Ms. Fernandez had written supposedly about how our Bagong Bayanis smelled, especially after being cooped up in an airplane on a long flight from Dubai to Manila, I recalled having read a similar piece by the same columnist in her home paper. I remember the piece about favorite scents of some people breathing the same rarefied air as Ms. Fernandez, but she had taken off from the same dig at OFWs. (Read it here)

Now I didn't think too much of Ms. Fernandez's column then. I thought it was another feeble attempt at wit by yet another untalented hack. And I thought it was sad that for all the chi-chi-ness she tried to project, she flew economy on an international airline...ay pobrecita! I didn't know she had reprised that same train of thought on OFWs in her People Asia column until a few days ago. So I proceeded to read the piece over the weekend. This time around, the insult was more pointed and obscene. She said she was trying to be funny, but obviously she had failed miserably, not due to the lack of sense of humor on the reader's part, but her obvious lack of writing talent. Her piece had bombed, and she was now reaping the consequences of her poor choice of words and her, well, unfunniness (yes, folks there is such a word). She was blogged to death...the OFW community unleashing their vengeance like a tidal wave, calling for a boycott of both People Asia and MST. I can only say, ang tindi talaga ng Filipino bloggers! Wow!

Last I heard, Ms. Fernandez had submitted her resignation to both People Asia and MST editors. I don't know if this has been accepted. I suppose, in their aim for a wider readership, the editors thought the presence of Ms. Fernandez could help bring class to their publications. Too bad, all they got was poor taste. Well, we all make mistakes. Perhaps the editors of these publications can consider the feelings of our OFWs and let her go.

Ms. Fernandez has apologized (rather belatedly after trying to stand her ground during the first backlash), and as fellow human beings, we can only accept and forgive. Let's stop all this name calling and insulting comments about fat people and pigs, etc. because it's unproductive and you are being just as bigoted as Ms. Fernandez. Don't stoop to her level. Her weight is not the issue, it's her insensitivity and dull writing. (Oops!) Okay, tama na 'yan...let's get on with our lives.

Peace people!

P.S. Stay tuned for my vacation photos, guys!

August 10, 2007

Diamonds on your eyes, sugar on your lips

Something Like Life
Aug. 10. 2007

TRUE story.

I was walking out of a Makati supermarket in just my shorts, T-shirt and sandals one weekend in the late ’80s, struggling with four heavy bags of groceries on each hand and grappling with my equally heavy shoulder bag. “Walang ka-poise-poise!” as my gays friends would shriek.

To my horror, I saw, approaching the same path I was walking on, my college crush, “C,” this guy who I would just melt at the sight of and absolutely go nuts over whenever he would smile at me or just sit beside me. (He did a couple of TV ads in his day, so you can just imagine the zillions of girls falling at his feet. C was the original crush ng bayan for most of us at the university.)

What was horrifying, however, was because I was wearing my pambahay clothes, I never bothered to wear any makeup. When you’re in your 20s, you think you can get away with anything, like a bare face and wet hair, which, to tell you the truth, is not how my mother raised me. To her, it was always, “Dry your hair and put on your makeup before leaving the house.” And to hell if everybody has to wait for you. Beauty has to come first, and sometimes you have to suffer for it. But then, we always try to ignore our mothers’ sage advice, don’t we?

So it was my mother’s voice I was hearing in my head when I saw C that day, admonishing me in her “I told you so” voice. I knew I looked rather a fright, with no presentable face to speak of, and—for sure—with my hair in knots and flyaways all over the place. We chatted for a few minutes, but out of sheer humiliation, I extricated myself from the conversation with some rather poor excuse just so that I could get away from him fast.

Trust female vanity to make any humiliating event such as the above become a life-changing moment. Since that awfully shameful experience, I have never left the house without any makeup on (well, except on emergencies). Who knows who I would meet by accident next time around, right? An ex-lover or boyfriend, an old boss, or some VIP like the Pope. Even my old friends have learned from my experience and often quote my anecdote to justify why it takes them so long just to put their faces on.

But don’t get me wrong. The experience hasn’t totally turned me into a cosmetics nut. On regular days, I just splash on the sheerest of hues just to give some bit of color to my eyes, cheeks and lips. But even when I’m in a rush, I make sure I have at least some lipstick and gloss on.

However, I do try to be up-to-date with the season’s colors and style trends. I am glued to the TV set once programs on ambush makeovers are on, or when popular makeup artists guest on Oprah’s or Tyra’s show. My favorite episode of Oprah is when her personal makeup artist, Reggie Wells, taught her and a few other women the correct way of putting on makeup. The best tip I got out of the show was that it takes three colors to blend and make the perfect lip color. (I think Reggie Wells is a genius with the way he transforms Oprah into the gorgeous creature that we see on the tube every day.)

So what is it with women and their cosmetics? Most men don’t understand why we go through the whole bit and think that we spend way too much time painting our faces. They try to convince us that all they need is our clean bare faces, but in the next instant, they fall in love with the girl with the perfect sheer foundation and the most gorgeous red lips!

Kidding aside, I think of makeup as an accessory. Just like a watch, jewelry or a leather belt. Makeup is like that special element in your wardrobe that completes your outfit and makes you even look more fabulous than you already are. Don’t you just feel a tad bouncier when you know you have the perfect makeup on? Not too heavy, not too light, but just right to bring out and enhance your features? And it’s the beginning of another perfect day.

So a couple of weeks ago, I attended the launch of Revlon’s Limited Edition Collection for 2007 to check out what’s new in the makeup world. I personally use Revlon, especially its ammonia-free hair dye, which, unlike other hair dyes, does not dry out your mane, nor does it irritate your scalp when applied. I must say, my very first professional makeup kit, a gift from my dear mother, was from Revlon. The long box featured an array of luscious lip colors and a great many palette choices for my eyes and cheeks in varying shades of brown and dark red.

Revlon’s Limited Edition Collection projects elegance and sophistication, with a range of products and colors to suit your every mood. Most are in glossy or pearlized finishes, making your lips shine and your eyes and cheeks glow.

I have just started experimenting on the Molten Metal Liquid Shadow, which is easy to use and dries quickly after you paint it over your eyelids. It can be worn alone or mixed with other colors to create a luminous metallic look.

I also began using the Midnight Swirl Lip Lustre, which doesn’t only look good but smells fabulous as well. It has a soft brush applicator that sensuously delivers the perfect lip look every time.

What I absolutely love is the Golden Affair Sculpting Blush that highlights your cheeks with its gold flecks, with the base color sculpting or contouring the cheekbones. It also comes in a neat package, with the gold flecks tightly packed in a swirl over the main blush color.

And, of course, the Bare It All Lustrous Powder just sets the perfect finish over your makeup, shoulders and décolletage, giving you an overall sexy luminous sheen. No wonder someone said I was “blooming” at a friend’s party the other night, ahem! Maybe blooming isn’t the apropos word; it should’ve been “glowing.”

And you will positively glow with this limited collection. Other products available are the Bare All Lustrous Lotion, the Pinch Me Sheer Gel Blush, Sugar Sugar Lip Topping, Crushed Velvet Lip Crème and—come September—the Diamond Lust Sheer Shadow, Lash Jewel Eye Accent and Just Bitten Lip Stain.

In the ’80s, Revlon started an ad campaign using celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, Liza Minnelli, Brooke Shields, Cindy Crawford, etc., with the slogan “The most unforgettable women use Revlon.” They have since updated this campaign, shortening its slogan into, “Be unforgettable,” and now have as its endorsers Julianne Moore and Halle Berry.

Now, shouldn’t you be one of them?

August 08, 2007

Kidnapping of Filipinos...the video clip

IN case you haven't seen the clip yet, below is the testimony given by Rory Mayberry, a former employee of First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co., at the US House of Representatives Oversight Committee hearing on allegations of waste, fraud, and abuse at the new $600-million US Embassy in Iraq. Mayberry alleges that the company kidnapped Filipinos and other Third World nationals to work on the construction project.

For a background on First Kuwaiti and its labor practices, read the story below. It also talks about an earlier group of Filipinos complaining of mistreatment by the company.

Kuwait Company’s Secret Contract & Low-Wage Labor
by David Phinney, Special to CorpWatch
February 12th, 2006

Work for what is planned to be the largest, most fortified US embassy in the world was quietly awarded last summer to a controversial Kuwait-based construction firm accused of exploiting employees and coercing low-paid laborers to work in war-torn Iraq against their will.

More than a few U.S. contractors competing for the $592-million Baghdad project express bewilderment over why the U.S. State Department gave the work to First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting (FKTC). They claim that some competing contractors possessed far stronger experience in such work and that at least one award-winning company offered to perform all but the most classified work for $60 million to $70 million less than FKTC.

“It's stunning what First Kuwaiti has been able to get from the State Department,” one contractor said.

Several other contractors that competed for the embassy contracts shared similar reactions and believe that a high-level decision at the State Department was made to favor a Kuwait-based firm in appreciation for Kuwait's support of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

“It was political,” said one contractor.

Mohammad I. H. Marafie, chairman and co-owner of FKTC, is a member of one of the most powerful mercantile families in Kuwait.

(Click CorpWatch for the rest of the story.)

How much of the Philippines have you visited?

I just took this neat test at Lakbayan and got a grade of B! (Check out the map in my sidebar.) There is so much to see in this beautiful country of's worth all the rough roads, messy toilets, and hard to comprehened dialects. But anywhere you go, I can assure you, the people are friendly and helpful. So take out your maps and start exploring!

August 05, 2007

Yours, mine, ours

Something Like Life
BusinessMirror, Aug. 3, 2007

“All you need is love.” --- Beatles, 1967

WHEN we are young, we often delude ourselves that no problem in the world will ever affect our relationship with our significant other. But once married, and raising a family, financial realities will set in and love sometimes takes a back seat. Couples start thinking of next month’s rent, the utility bill, grocery/food expenses, the kid’s tuition, medical/medicine bill, etc. Unless both of you are independently wealthy, money will be a constant cause of concern and discussion in the family.

In the US financial problems are a leading cause of divorce. Although no comparative surveys are available for the Philippines, it isn’t far-fetched to think that domestic disputes do arise among couples over how family funds are spent by their spouses.

One of the common issues raised by wives against their husbands is the latter’s apparent lack of awareness over the rising prices of groceries. “Doesn’t he know that since his gas expenses rise, the prices of groceries also rise as well?” is a usual complaint I hear.

And while an argument may often revolve around a certain amount spent irresponsibly by the spouse (like, “How can she spend P10,000 on shoes and a party dress?!” as one incredulous husband asked me), the underlying issue is actually about how financial priorities are being handled. Suddenly, hubby comes home with a new car to surprise his wife on their anniversary, even when the family already has two other vehicles. Which is what happened to Sheila, 43. “It would have been better if we just went on vacation instead, just the two of us. It doesn’t matter where, even if it was in Boracay, at least it would’ve been cheaper,” instead of the gas-guzzling Ford Expedition he brought home.

TV personality and personal finance adviser Chiqui Hollmann-Yulo says constant communication, especially where money matters are concerned, is vital to keep a couple’s relationship real. When she came home from the US nine years ago, she had no job. “I wasn’t used to depending on other people for money. As early as 10, I was working already, teaching Hawaiian [dance classes]. My mom taught all of us to work. So when I came home [and I didn’t have a job], that was the first time I had to rely on my husband for money.”

She says her husband, Prandy, gave her a regular budget to pay for household expenses and their children’s needs, but when she went out shopping with her friend, she couldn’t buy all the things she wanted. When she talked to Prandy about it, he told her that maybe she could find friends who had husbands with the same earning capacity as he, to learn how she could live on her budget. Chiqui realized her friend, who had a foreigner husband with an expatriate’s salary, had more than enough money for her shopping sprees at 6750. She took Prandy’s advice and went out with other friends who didn’t spend as much.

Gina, 51, says that when her husband Doods wants to buy something, “I let him. It’s his money, bahala sya.” In the same manner, he doesn’t interfere with purchases from her own bank account. But when they finally came around to building a house, she says they constantly talked about the money that went into the house. “I had to explain to him, for example, why it was less costly in the long run to buy laminated flooring. It was expensive, yes, but it carried a 50-year warranty and is scratch-proof.”

Even if you come from different backgrounds, money issues can be worked out by just talking about it. This makes sure that both of you are on the same page. If there is a problem, spell it out. But as Chiqui says, be calm, “wag kang palaban.”

Set the stage for the financial discussion by making sure both of you are in a relaxed state, and your surroundings are calm and positive.

It helps to talk about how you were raised by your parents—how much your allowance was as a child, what you bought with it, your ideas on saving, what your parents did when you asked them to buy you something. Your attitudes about money are really shaped by your family. If you had parents who splurged on you, you will likely do the same to your own kids. If your husband was brought up to be thrifty, don’t be surprised if you two are constantly butting heads.

In discussing, say, a huge credit card debt you or your husband may have wracked up, focus on what should be done about the problem, instead of fighting about how the debt got so high in the first place. And don’t assume that your way of solving the problem is the right way. Your spouse may have a better idea, so be open about it. “There was a time we didn’t use our credit cards. That was for about three years. Prandy just told me we were spending too much. So now, we use the credit cards only for emergency purchases. If we don’t have the money to buy the item, then we don’t,” says Chiqui.

Establish common goals as early as you can. If you both want to buy a house, make sure you both understand the sacrifices that need to be made to be able to reach that goal. If you have to borrow money to build that house, talk about the monthly interest rates and how much money both of you have to set aside to make the monthly loan payments.

A joint account should be set up for the regular expenses of rent, groceries, school projects, or utility bills. Establish a separate bank account for common goals, e.g., down payment on a future house, a grand family vacation, or retirement.

Couples should try to share information about all their monies even if they keep separate bank accounts. Know how much money is in those accounts, the amount being invested into what trust fund, the insurance and the pension plan, etc. As Chiqui says, “Whatever happens, ’di ka nakatanga.

There are many software programs like Quicken or Microsoft Money that will help you and your spouse organize your finances and keep track of your expenses.

Talking about financial matters with your spouse doesn’t have to be World War III. It is important to keep your heads cool, although even if you do fight, it is better than not talking about the problem at all. Honesty is always the key and it is best to immediately lay all your cards on the table. Think of your marriage as a business partnership. Your common goal should be financial health and wellness, just like any company. And to that end, there are ways of sticking to a budget, keeping track of your expenditures, and cutting out the unnecessary expenses.

In a survey a couple of years ago by Fair Isaac, a credit-scoring company in the United States, they asked 1,022 Americans what personal traits were most important to having a long-term relationship. Faithfulness and honesty came in first and second, and financial responsibility came in third. Fourth was sense of humor. Guess what? Sexual compatibility came last for both male and female respondents. Something to think about, right?

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

August 02, 2007

Dog shoots owner in the back

A Memphis, Tenn., man is in critical condition Wednesday after his dog shot him in the back. (Read it on Fox News.)

This is why I prefer cats.

August 01, 2007

IMF: Better collection, not new taxes, is needed

By Daxim Lucas
Inquirer 08/01/2007

The Philippines may not need new taxes to shore up the state coffers, but the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo needs to focus on improving revenue collections to ensure the sustainability of the country’s fiscal recovery, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said.

Speaking to business leaders in Makati City on Tuesday, IMF managing director Rodrigo de Rato stressed that improving tax efficiency was the key to preserving the government’s gains from the enactment of a law that expanded the scope raised the rate of the value-added tax (VAT) and helped to stave off a fiscal crisis.

“The Philippines needs no new taxes, but it needs more people to pay taxes,” he said. (More at IMF on taxes.)

Haven't we been saying this for the longest time? I always thought we didn't to raise the VAT to 12% and penalize the general public for what is largely, the Bureau of Internal Revenue's/government's inefficiency in collecting taxes. The problem is, we ordinary citizens keep on paying our taxes religiously, but most of the money ends up in the pockets of unscrupulous and corrupt government officials anyway. And those who don't pay their taxes aren't even being run after by the BIR. Guess why? To this day, the bureau still hasn't modernized its system – it actually doesn't have a master list of taxpayers in the country.

(The only thing I admire about BIR is its web site. You can download tax forms and read the country's tax laws.)

Trinoma on a Saturday

All these people just sitting ironic considering it's an "activity" center.