May 30, 2008

This really got to me today...

COULDN'T help but cry over this...what a waste...kawawa naman the families they left behind. Pls. pray for them.
Son’s request could have saved bank manager’s life

By Romulo Ponte
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:19:00 05/29/2008

CALAMBA CITY – Six-year-old Robert Dominic L. Castro had asked his father not to report for work that fateful Friday morning so they could play computer games.

Roberto C. Castro, manager of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) branch in Cabuyao town in Laguna, turned down his plea. Wearing a seldom used Pugad Lawin (Eagle’s Nest) pin in his polo shirt, he reminded his wife, Maria Fe, to prepare for a family outing in Tagaytay City the next day.

“Wow, your brand-new laptop looks perfect on you,” Maria Fe remarked when she saw him pick up his newly-bought laptop computer as he was about to leave. He just smiled, then proceeded to the garage.
(The rest here.)

My conspiracy theory on the Meralco takeover issue

OKAY, so Ms. RP and I were debating yesterday about the Meralco stockholders' issue. For reasons of her own, she was siding with Fatty Winston of the GSIS while I was technically siding with Lolo Manolo. (I mean why entrust an important company like Meralco to the devil you don't know right? I'll stick with the devil I know.)

Anyhoo, our discussion basically revolved around the legality of the cease-and-desist order issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission to put the Meralco stockholders' meeting under the agency's jurisdiction. Ms. RP believes Meralco should have respected the legal document.

But I said the Lopezes were correct in going ahead with the counting of all proxy votes. In the first place, their point was to stay in control of management, so damn the torpedoes man! Count those proxies and bahala na si Batman. They can deal with the SEC later and sue the agency if need be for interfering in the meeting. That was a brilliant legal strategy, if I say so myself. That way, no matter how long the case drags out at the SEC or in court, the Lopezes will still be in power. If they had recognized the CDO, obviously they would have lost their company to the GSIS goon.

There were many questions raised about that SEC CDO. Why was it not dated? Why was there no docket number? Why was there no stamp/seal of the office? Why did only one commissioner (Jesus Martinez) sign the CDO?

To the lack of a date, the SEC spokesman explained to ANC that it was an "oversight." I mean duh? The spokesman added that the agency really has no dry seal of its logo. Wha? And commissioner Martinez signed the CDO on behalf of all the commissioners? Uhm...

That got me thinking...I don't think these SEC commissioners are idiots who would take a legal document like a CDO for granted. They have a battery of lawyers over there so something as simple as putting a date on a document and putting a docket number is SOP? How could this be an oversight?

An agency without a dry seal of its logo, and this a regulatory agency might I add, is just plain wooky! I just don't buy that. Mura lang magpagawa ng dry seal stamp sa Recto noh?!

Then only one commissioner signing the CDO? The SEC commissioners act as a collegial body and should have met and investigated first Fatty Winston's request that 1.9 million proxy votes of the Lopezes be disqualified, before issuing a CDO. There was no evidence that there was even a meeting.

What's more, check out these relevant paragraphs of the Securities Regulation Code of 2000:

"SEC 5.2.of the SRC: The Commission’s jurisdiction over all cases enumerated under Section 5 of Presidential Decree No. 902-A is hereby transferred to the Courts of general jurisdiction or the appropriate Regional Trial Court: Provided, that the Supreme Court in the exercise of its authority may designate the Regional Trial Court branches that shall exercise jurisdiction over these cases."

and Presidential Decree 902-A

"SEC. 5 of PD 902-A: In addition to the regulatory and adjudicative functions of the Securities and Exchange Commission over corporations, partnerships and other forms of associations registered with it as expressly granted under existing laws and decrees, it shall have original and exclusive jurisdiction to hear and decide cases involving.

(a) Devices or schemes employed by or any acts, of the board of directors, business associates, its officers or partnership, amounting to fraud and misrepresentation which may be detrimental to the interest of the public and/or of the stockholder, partners, members of associations or organizations registered with the Commission;

(b) Controversies arising out of intra-corporate or partnership relations, between and among stockholders, members, or associates; between any or all of them and the corporation, partnership or association of which they are stockholders, members or associates, respectively; and between such corporation, partnership or association and the state insofar as it concerns their individual franchise or right to exist as such entity; and

(c) Controversies in the election or appointments of directors, trustees, officers or managers of such corporations, partnerships or associations."

SO my brilliant theory is, the SEC commissioners were probably badgered by Fatty Winston into issuing the CDO (which doesn't look beneath him with the way he arrogantly carries himself), so the commissioners, not wanting to get caught in this mess, deliberately issued an infirm document to give the Lopezes enough legroom to respond appropriately to it.

The SEC Commissioners know their place, know the law, and know their functions. These are not stupid people. They know the agency can no longer handle intra-corporate disputes, but probably not having any way out, were forced to issue a CDO anyway which everyone says is a first in Philippine SEC and corporate history. Not any other time in history, we are told, has the SEC interfered in a stockholders meeting right before said meeting was to be held.

So there. That's my conspiracy theory. If it is true, then bravo to Martinez and company for thinking up this brilliant strategy. Anyhoo, let's see how the corporate drama plays out today at the SEC.

May 28, 2008

Sydney Pollack, 73

WHILE Sydney Pollack has been known to be one of the best film directors of all time, with hits such as The Way We Were, Tootsie, Out of Africa, among others, he was also an actor.

The last time I saw Pollack onscreen was in The Sopranos – my favorite TV show; I almost busted by Ibook downloading all seven seasons of it via Bittorrent! — where he played an oncologist-turned-orderly in a medical facility for inmates. (Creepy that he dies of cancer in real life.)

Just watch how he explains how he became an inmate as well...brilliant understated acting by Pollack. Btw the other actor in this clip is Vincent Curatola who plays Johnny Sack, a mob boss.

May 27, 2008

The GSIS Monster and a Seair special

BEEN feeling really bleah since Sunday evening but I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say my brain has lost some matter and so I shall be making lazy posts today. Seeing GSIS president Winston Garcia's pigface on TV didn't help; it just made me feel even worse as I tried to recuperate while watching TV. (I appreciate the objectivity of ANC, and Maria Ressa's crew should really be commended for covering all sides of the Meralco takeover issue very well, but perhaps that was just a tad too long a spot for Winston's blathering in his presscon, much too long. I mean, really. Ick!)

What's up with Winston anyway? Hasn't he made enough trouble over at the GSIS, using up members' monies to buy art pieces, delaying members' medical reimbursements (I should know, my Dad was one of them), and making it difficult for members to take out loans? Now he wants to take over Meralco, too?! Hey, I'm not happy w/ my Meralco bill either but having the government take over this company is just going to make things worse. Since when has government been efficient?

Buti nga na-heckle si taba kanina sa Meralco stockholders' meeting! And he talks about Meralco's arrogance? Who's been acting like a spoiled brat over this issue anyway? I'm pretty sure he threatened the SEC commissioners their jobs that's why they issued that cease-and-desist order (a first time in Philippine corporate history, mind you!) for the stockholders meeting this morning. (Bravo for the SEC though because I think the commissioners deliberately fudged the order so it could be forever questioned.)

Winston should go back to Cebu where he belongs.

UPDATE: Lopezes retain control of Meralco (Read it here)

* * *

Anyhoo, I just got this email from Lino Zapanta, president of Southeast Asian Airlines (Seair), and he has good news for all you travelers out there:

Dear colleagues,

The airline bargain season is upon us. This is the time to take advantage of truly budget flying to your fantasized leisure destinations like Boracay, Busuanga, Baler and Daet from Manila; Busuanga and Boracay from Clark, and from Caticlan to Busuanga. For this period, starting June 2 we're selling these routes for a song, a real low, all-in, no hidden charges, roundtrip price per passenger of:


for flying starting June 16 or any day up to mid October. Seats are quite limited so the sooner you book the better. Take the whole family. Prices are never like this in SEAIR, the airline that operates the fastest flights to your favorite leisure destinations such as Boracay and Busuanga.

Lino Zapanta

Wow! I like!

Let the low-season travel fun begin!

May 26, 2008

Does anyone see a pattern here?

IN an attempt to boost her sagging popularity and credibility among the public, the Presidentita and her henchmen are trying to take on issues that would seemingly reinvent her as a heroine and savior of the country.

First she goes to the Department of Justice five times in a row just to see how cases against so-called rice hoarders/smugglers are coming along.

Second, she has her incompetents at the Ombudsman's office regurgitate a six-year-old corruption case against her former justice secretary Hernani Perez, his ailing wife, Rosario, and businessman Ernest Escaler.

Third, she has pushed her GSIS juggernaut Winston Garcia to take on the Lopezes so government can take over Meralco.

Fourth, she now wants telecommunications companies not to charge for text messages.

What's next? Will she now tell the banks not to charge fees for using their ATMs?

All these are desperate measures to shore up confidence in her flagging presidency. If the presidentita thinks that by coming to our defense in populist issues like these will make us like her better, she is sadly mistaken. As usual, her idiot brigade in Malacañang, who sit in their airconditioned offices all day, and who travel in style by land, sea, or air, anywhere they go, are so out of touch with reality. They don't know us really and what we think, and so they keep feeding their Madam the wrong ideas and concepts to help reinvent her image, which has been drubbed in the mud ever since the Hello Garci, the ZTE-NBN scandal, etc.

The Presidentita's makeover program will all be for naught, because she lacks the values that will make all of these desperate measures credible...honesty and humility. No one believes her because she has never been sincere in her intentions and motives.

I wonder, when she was thinking of grabbing Malacañang from Erap...did she actually want to do it because she wanted to change the country and improve our lives? Or did she just want to become President? Period.

Maybe it's about time the Presidentita thinks of the legacy she wants to leave behind. Because the way things have been going lately, I don't think History is going to be kind to her.

* * * *

NOW here comes the JDV threatening to spill the beans on what really transpired in the ZTE-NBN shenanigan. Isa ka pa! Here's another political opportunist trying to take advantage of an issue that he should have spoken on before, when the Senate hearings were at its peak. Why come out just now? Why not before when his own son had stuck his neck out and testified about the deal?

Kasi nawala na sa limelight so gusto na namang pumorma! Kesho the information he has may lead to the "fall of the government," etc. etc. Pwede ba?! This JDV and Manay Gina make me sick!

Sock it to me!

I HATE to date myself but I do remember Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in (I just don't recall which channel it was on). A lot of celebrities dropped by on that show, Cher, Ringo Starr, Martin Landau, Sammy Davis Jr., etc. and everyone just seemed to be having an irreverent good time. There were dancing girls, sexual double entendres, and jokes that may probably be considered politically incorrect these days. But they were all funny and entertaining then.

Laugh-In was the forerunner of many American comedy sketch shows like Saturday Night Live (its creator Lorne Michaels was actually a writer on that show) and launched the careers of a number of bright comediennes like Ruth Buzzi, Goldie Hawn, and Lily Tomlin.

In memory of Dick Martin, who just passed away Saturday, here are a couple of clips from their show which ran from 1968-1973. See if you can spot the other celebrities and comics who are still very much around, performing, up to this day.

May 25, 2008

Musings on a Pico Iyer essay

I dunno what made me think of Pico Iyer tonight but I had always found his essays for TIME magazine a delightful and fascinating read. One particular essay struck me back in 1988; it was about the comma. There was pure romance in the way he wrote that essay. And so I think I fell in love with him after reading it.

It starts off like this:
The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the same could be said -- could it not? -- of the humble comma. Add it to the present clause, and, of a sudden, the mind is, quite literally, given pause to think; take it out if you wish or forget it and the mind is deprived of a resting place. Yet still the comma gets no respect. It seems just a slip of a thing, a pedant's tick, a blip on the edge of our consciousness, a kind of printer's smudge almost. Small, we claim, is beautiful (especially in the age of the microchip). Yet what is so often used, and so rarely recalled, as the comma -- unless it be breath itself? (From In praise of the humble comma, TIME, June 13, 1988)

The essay may have struck a nerve with me, because if I recall correctly, I was at a crossroads in my budding career as a journalist then. I don't recall what I was doing tonight that make me think of Mr. Iyer and that essay again. I just know I had to google it and read it again. Maybe tonight, as it was then, my subconscious is telling me that at this point in my life, I need to pause and take a deep breath.

May 24, 2008

WTF Hillary? What were you thinking?

THIS is how much Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton wants that Democratic Party nomination...she even wants her opponent Sen. Barack Obama dead?! This is the worst political faux pas she's made ever! Talk about foot-in-mouth disease...she's even worse than George "Dubya" Bush.

Ang labo mo lolah! Hindi mahaba ang hair mo ha!

The fallout from that stupid remark here.

Mar-Vic's art

MAR-VIC Cagurangan was a colleague at the old Today newspaper of Teddyboy Locsin many years ago. She moved to Saipan then to Guam to work as a reporter for a newspaper. Even when she was still in Manila, she had already dabbled in painting, but she bloomed as an artist when she lived on Guam.

A member of the Chamorro Artists Association, Mar-Vic is holding her second one-woman exhibit Colors and Faces II, at the Bank of Guam.

For this exhibit, Mar-Vic will be presenting abstract paintings. One of the paintings is a collaboration with her 14-year-old autistic son Ico.

The works will be on display at the second floor of BOG until June 5, 2008.

Here's a piece on her life as an artist on Guam.

May 23, 2008

Speaking of auditions...

GLADYS Knight auditioning her "Pips." Super hilarious! Luvit!

Gourmet Farms expands to Cebu

SILANG, CAVITE—Gourmet Farms Inc. (GFI), the largest local supplier of freshly roasted coffee to premier hotels and restaurants in the country, is unfazed by the rising inflation and strengthening peso. Its officials are projecting a 23-percent growth in the company this year, with a multimillion-peso expansion plan in place for the Visayas, starting in Cebu.

(GOURMET Farms Inc. chairman and president Ernest Escaler is all smiles as his company continues its growth and expansion despite higher inflation and an unstable peso; (inset) an array of products from his farms.)

In an interview with select reporters, Ernest Escaler, chairman and president of GFI, said: “No [we’re not affected by higher inflation, higher peso rate], because we’re practically domestic. We’re not dependent on anything imported. That’s the whole concept of Gourmet Farms, [which] is to provide world-class products from a purely domestic source. So from Day One, the whole concept of Gourmet Farms is that we can prepare gourmet products without having to resort to imported materials. So the higher the dollar is, the higher prices rise, we become more competitive.”

Aside from its seven types of premium ground coffee blends, including pure arabica and barako (Excelsa), GFI also has three other product lines: six different herbal teas using indigenous herbs and vegetables such as ginger, sambong, banaba, ampalaya, pito-pito and lagundi; 13 kinds of pasta sauces, dips and salad dressings under its Kitchen Exclusives line; and 14 varieties of organically grown lettuce and culinary herbs and spices.

In 2007 the company posted P90 million in sales from its three main lines: roasted coffee and herbal teas (P45 million), dips and dressings (P20 million), and fresh produce (P25 million). This year GFI projects sales hitting P111 million from its gourmet coffee and teas (P60 million), bottled products under Kitchen Exclusives (P23 million), and fresh produce (P28 million).

(Rows of lovely lettuce at Gourmet Farms.)

According to Ronaldo Rizal Pablo, sales and marketing manager for GFI, “The majority of our coffee sales in 2008 will come from Cebu and the Visayas.” In the second quarter of the year, GFI already opened its office in Cebu and has begun making its way into the local supermarkets, such as the Gaisano chain.

About 50 percent of the annual company turnover comes from the sales of its produce and bottled products in premier supermarkets, said Pablo, while the rest comes from food services, which include major fast-food chains, premier restaurants and hotels, which the company supplies with customized coffee blends.

Escaler also disclosed that the company recently signed an agreement with the L’Opera Group of Italian restaurants, “which asked us to supply all their coffee requirements.”

He sees this as proof that there is a market for premium coffee blends created in the Philippines. “The Italians are the world’s coffee connoisseurs. Why should they pay P1,200 per kilo for an Italian coffee, when they can pay P700 per kilo for Philippine superior coffee?”

Escaler also encouraged more local restaurants to offer Philippine-produced coffee, rather than the foreign brands now flooding the market, to help boost farmers’ incomes. “You buy the Lavazza and Illy at P1,200 per kilo, you’re supporting the farmers in Colombia, in Brazil. You buy our coffee, you’re supporting our local economy. Pero itatapat ko, our premium coffee with Lavazza or Illy, we are better than them! Don’t forget they were roasted a year ago, eight months ago. Our coffee was roasted just days ago.”

While it doesn’t grow coffee on its own farm, the company sources 100 percent of its coffee beans from farmers in Benguet and Batangas. GFI also owns the largest coffee roaster in the Philippines, with the capacity to roast 60 tons of beans every day on an eight-hour shift, five times a week. Other coffee companies and food-service companies tap GFI to roast their beans.

(Len Reyes, GFI trading manager, shows off the largest coffee roaster in the country.)

While officials declined to reveal the company’s budget for capital expenditures this year, they said much of it will go into its expansion to Cebu and “developing new products.”

According to its web site, Gourmet Farms was incorporated in December 1987 as a wholly owned subsidiary of ECI Trading Corp. (ECITC), then a Philippine Board of Investments-registered exporter of Philippine green coffee beans. ECITC is the flagship of Ernest Escaler Group of Companies, and was once one of the top 1,000 corporations in the country.

In the 19th century, the Philippines was one of four top coffee-producing countries in the world. A blight in the 1890s wiped out local coffee crops, giving way to South American countries to enter and eventually dominate the world market. At its peak in 1986, Philippine coffee exports reached $186 million. The scrapping of world coffee quotas and the Philippines’ lifting of quantitative restrictions on foreign coffee in 2004 have led to low coffee prices in the country, thus discouraging local farmers from planting the crop.

According to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, ground coffee imports amounted to $63,283 (FOB) in 2006, while exports of the same amounted only to $37,676. Local coffee production dipped 1 percent to 104,000 metric in 2006.

(My text and photos were published in the BusinessMirror on May 22, 2008.)

May 21, 2008

And the winner of American Idol Season 7 is...


Tonight's finals was a battle of who had the better song choice. Both Davids are good strong performers with very distinct bold voices. Personally, I was rooting for David Cook but tonight, his second (Dream Big..wha?) and third song (The World I Know...WTF?!) choices were just really banal. They just didn't show off the different "colors" (if I may borrow Paula Abdul's term) of his voice.

Why did he end with a slow song...especially a song that nobody even knows? It was like he didn't study his opponent, who is actually predictable when it comes to song choices. So what happened to Cook? Was he just too confident he would win? It was not a time to experiment and sing slower songs that are unpopular. Okay so maybe he was just being true to himself. Choosing songs that appealed to him, more than what would appeal to his fans. E mali sha dun. Kasi only a star does that and get away with it. It's still a contest, and if you want those votes, you have to sing the songs that are familiar and which will encourage your fans to vote for you. Hay kainez!

On the other hand, Archuleta was just terribly consistent, and exercised the power in his vocals even in the second song (In the Moment) not many are too familiar with. I also feel that Clive Davis, the record producer, also wants little David to win. Clive just gave Archuleta the better song to sing (Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me) against Cook's (I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For). Thing is, Archuleta just appeals to the right demographic that many record producers are trying to sell to, the shrilly young girls who can bully their parents into buying them records.

Since the beginning, it was very clear that Archuleta had the edge among all the contestants, even if he was the youngest. His voice was just whole, unchanging, and had very consistent great performances. But these later weeks, Cook just shined. He gave very fantastic outstanding performances. And after last week, I thought he would be the clear winner tonight. Boy, was I wrong!

If by any stroke of luck that Cook wins, it will be because of the older age groups that have been voting on AI, as per the Nielsen Co.'s survey.
But frankly, if I could vote, and even if I like Cook so much, I wouldn't cast my ballot his way. The best singer tonight was unmistakeably David Archuleta. I just hope he doesn't break down in tears tomorrow.

Anyhoo, that exciting season over, let's hope the final show tomorrow has funnyman Renaldo Lapuz (remember him?) over to sing his "We are brothers" song, and snippy ghey boy Danny Noriega. Btw, I did tell someone I thought Archuleta is ghey as well. There's just something about the way he moves, and especially tonight, did you see how he held his fists up in a boxing position? Only a ghel would raise those fists right side up. But well, who wouldn't be ghey with an overbearing stage dad like his? Nothing wrong with gheys really...Archuleta's still cute and appealing, and will sell a ginormous number of records. And he won tonight, as Simon Cowell rightfully declared, by a knockout!


UPDATE (SPOILER ALERT): So I haven't seen the results show yet which will air at 6 pm tonight, but GMA News online already posted the results (Darn you, Joe T.!) and apparently David Cook has won AI's seventh season. I can only say I'm surprised because last night's finale performances were certainly nailed by Archuleta. Well, as I said, miracle of miracles, Cook's fans pulled through. The bulk of AI's voters, according to the Nielsen Co. survey, are between 35-64. So there.

Anyhoo, I am thrilled that Cook won because he was my original choice! Between him and Archuleta, Cook will have a better grasp of the fame that will come his way. Archuleta is just way too young and a little bit inarticulate to handle media interviews and such. But don't discount little David just yet, he will still sell lots of records. And I think, even more than Cook will.

Btw just for the record, to all those Simon Cowell critics out there, the morning of the finale performances, he appeared on the Ellen show and thought Cook would win AI7. Of course, he too was disappointed by Cook's song choices by the evening, that's why he later declared Archuleta the winner. See, Simon and I think alike. I adore him.

The Last Good Campaign

Two months after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Robert Kennedy traveled to Asia on an itinerary that had originally been planned for J.F.K. During the trip, he visited a girls’ school in the Philippines where the students sang a song they had composed to honor his brother. As he drove away with CBS cameraman Walter Dombrow, he clenched his hands so tightly that they turned white, and tears rolled down his cheeks. He shook his head, signaling that Dombrow should remain silent. Finally he said in a choked voice, “They would have loved my brother.” Dombrow put his arm around him and said, “Bob, you’re going to have to carry on for him.” Kennedy stared straight ahead for half a minute before turning to Dombrow and nodding. It was then, Dombrow said, that he knew Bobby would run for president and realized how much he loved him.

(Read the rest at Vanity Fair.)

This is a must-read piece especially now that the United States is heading up for its presidential elections in November. When Bobby Kennedy decided to run for president, the U.S. was in the midst of the Vietnam War and racial tensions were heating up. 1968 was a year that most Americans would rather forget because of the horror and tragedies that followed right after Bobby Kennedy made his announcement that he would be running for president, including the fact that he, like his brother JFK, was assassinated.

On another note, I am also curious though, if any of those kids in the girls' school mentioned in that first paragraph of the piece, remember Bobby Kennedy's visit. If you're one of those kids, or know anyone of them (now Moms or even young Lolas I suppose), please let me know.

May 20, 2008

An appeal to NEDA employees

"We shall be transparent in all our actions
And continue to adhere to the highest
Tenets of public ethics.
For ours is a caring agency responsive
To the needs of every member,
While working for the welfare of all." (Excerpt from the NEDA Mission)

A GROUP calling itself ONE Executive Committee, purportedly compose of disgruntled employees of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), has issued a position paper calling for transparency in the ZTE-NBN Broadband deal.

Because of the way the scandal has undermined the credibility of the agency and these hardworking employees – most of them honest economic graduates who are probably brilliant enough to be teaching generations of students who want to understand the workings of the economy, but have chosen to protect the wider public interest instead – the group wants the documents relating to the case to be released for further public scrutiny.

I don't know if my friends, officials of NEDA I had covered before when I was still a business reporter, are part of ONE, but I appeal to them to take action, instead of just hiding behind an anonymous group and a position paper. I know it is difficult to put one's job on the line and speak the truth, but it is time for you to come forward, release those documents yourselves, and testify. You know very well that your head is a weakling who will come to the aid of the corrupt ones in Malacañang with just a snap of the finger. He and the one before him are the cause of the agency's downfall.

Courage, friends. Save your agency, save the country from the corrupt. Come forward and speak.

May 19, 2008

Miley Cyrus and the controversial VF photo

TRUTH to tell, as I'm not 16 years old I knew very little of Miley Cyrus. I vaguely remembered reading about Hannah Montana and her father being the one-hit-wonder Billy Ray Cyrus ("But don't tell my heart, my achy breaky heart..."), but that was about it.

And then a few weeks ago, a controversy apparently erupted about Miley's so-called scandalous photo in the latest issue of Vanity Fair and about her apology to her fans about it. Being a Disney Channel talent, I further read, forced her to make the apology considering that she is supposed to have a squeaky-clean image. Parent groups also supposedly took her task for that photo. Anyway, I reserved my judgement until I received my copy of VF. Then quickly forgot about the issue.

So a few days ago, Manong mailman finally delivered my long awaited June issue of VF. I scanned through the pages and came upon the supposedly scandalous photo of this young 15-year-old singer and all I can say, it's gorgeous. It is not even close to erotic or pornographic as people have been led to believe. If you see it up close and in the magazine itself, instead of the small megapixel copies available on the web, you will think it a brilliant work of art, as only Annie Leibowitz can deliver.

Sure there may be questions about her naked back, and tousled hair, but taken all together, nothing in the photo would make you think of "sex" unless you have a sick mind. You remember when you were 15? You weren't exactly a kid anymore who could cuddle in bed in between your parents, but neither were you a full-grown woman who could handle the complexities of sex and relationships.

Now if there were any questions of impropriety at all about the photos, then maybe a Disney representative should have been present at the photo shoot. Her parents were there on the set. And because Miley is a minor, I'm pretty sure Leibowitz and VF editors secured a release form for said photo. (In fact I took more offense at that photo with Miley and her dad Billy Ray in it. Now that was creepy and fugly.)

So Miley had a change of heart? (Is Britney Spears a virgin?) Perhaps Miley and her handlers just couldn't resist the opportunity to raise her publicity level even further. She and her handlers know that the wholesome image for teen celebrities never works in the long-term, so this may be their way of preparing for the time when Miley is "over the hill," so to speak. Just look at Britney, Lindsay Lohan, and Christina Aguilera. I mean really, magaling ba talaga kumanta at umarte itong batang ito?

Btw, there are far more interesting stories in the June issue of VF (cover is the late Bobby Kennedy) than the one on Miley Cyrus.

* * * *

On a related front, I can only wonder why Americans are becoming too uptight these days. They see pornography, sexual harrassment, and political incorrectness in just about everything. Only a few days ago, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama apologized to a reporter for calling her "sweetie." WTF?! I call a lot of people "sweetie", or "swit!" It is a term of endearment. Even the reporter herself, Peggy Agar was surprised with the apology, and quipped that she was more insulted that he had not answered her question instead of being called "sweetie."

Naku, masyado nang OA ang mga pipol jan sa States! Mr. Obama, you can call me "sweetie", anytime! In fact you can call me. Period. Right now.

May 17, 2008

Looking for love on the world wide web

Something Like Life
May 16, 2008

WHEN I interviewed them, I was almost half-annoyed as they absentmindedly gazed into each other’s eyes, held hands and gave each other affectionate pats. They playfully bantered and laughed at each other’s funny—and not-so-funny—remarks. “Inggit ka lang!” the voice in my head jeered. And I couldn’t help but chuckle myself. Cerisse and Lucas looked as though they’d been together for quite a while, as there was a certain tender acceptance of each other like a long-time married couple. I thought of my own parents, who had their own nasty spats which none of us kids could stand. But still, when it was just them alone—or so they thought—I would observe them quietly just sitting on the couch watching TV and joshing each other with affection.

As for Cerisse and Lucas, they had only known each other for a year and were already thinking of getting married as soon as Cerisse’s annulment from her ex came through. They are some of the growing number of couples who met and dated via the Internet, and subsequently gotten married or are thinking of making their relationships permanent.

Just a year before, Lucas was chilly in merry old England sitting at his computer linked to a chat application and typed: “Are there any lonely ladies out there?” Cerisse, at her own PC trying to beat the heat and humidity of Manila, responded.

I googled for data on Internet romances and cyber love, but unfortunately, couldn’t find any to show just how many have gotten hitched in this manner. However, according to a US News and World report cited by an ongoing research on online dating at the University of California-Berkeley, “In August 2003 alone, 40 million unique users visited online-dating sites in the United States alone...that’s about half the number of single adults in the US.” As of August 2005 there were about 1,000 online-dating sites with a number of them devoting themselves to specific racial types, geography and age groups. So it appears that more and more people are turning to the World Wide Web to find true love and their happy ever after.

Because of growing Internet usage, the computer has become a powerful tool enabling people from literally every corner of the globe to “connect” and carry on long conversations and even relationships with the click of a mouse. Already, certain applications enable one to “chat” via the Internet using one’s cell phone, further extending the possibilities of carrying on cyber romances.

Sixty-four and twice divorced, Lucas is giving up what many perceive as a comfortable retiree’s life in England for the smog and traffic of Manila just to be with Cerisse.

Cerisse, 14 years younger than Lucas, braved criticism from her own family, especially from her older brother who now stands as the patriarch, just to be with her man.

Lucas said he didn’t go online to land himself another wife; after all, he already had been married twice before and they ended up with a lot of heartaches. But he was thrilled at meeting Cerisse “because she was on the other side of the world.”

As for Cerisse, she was just incredibly joyful for having found Lucas because he was “so mabait.”

There was just that immediate “connection” once they started chatting online after a couple of e-mail exchanges. “I know what he’s going to say even before he says it,” laughed Cerisse.

They added that from the very beginning, they never told any lies to each other. They bared their backgrounds, told each other stories about their lives, their families, their jobs, etc.

“Cerisse mentioned something about soul-mates and after what’s happened [us hooking up with each other], I think it might be true,” Lucas added.

As with any relationship, of course, Cerisse and Lucas’ is not without hitches.

As mentioned earlier, Cerisse’s brother was initially vehemently against the relationship and even had Lucas investigated by the London police. “He thought I was after her money,” Lucas chuckled. “What money?” Cerisse said under her breath, bristling at the thought. But Lucas said he understood her brother. “Putting myself in his shoes, I would do the same,” he told Cerisse gently. “He was just trying to protect you.”

On the other hand, Cerisse’s other siblings were more supportive. They even tried to convince the eldest to leave her alone, as she was old enough to make decisions in her life. Her own son also had her back and just wanted to see his mother take another chance in a relationship she seems happy in.

When Lucas first visited Manila and met Cerisse’s family for the first time, he didn’t know what to expect. Her siblings sat him down and tried to discourage him from marrying Cerisse because of the mistakes she made, especially in her first marriage. But he remained unfazed because he already knew about all that.

He eventually got around to speaking with the family patriarch and bared his plans and his feelings for Cerisse. Grudgingly, her brother realized that his opposition to the relationship was futile. Besides, Cerisse said, “it would have split the family,” which was very important to her brother.

Back for another visit, Lucas said he hardly agonized over his decision to marry Cerisse. “I honestly believe I’ve never been in love before.”

His sons didn’t have any objections to the relationship, but it was Lucas’s sister who told him he had to be the one to make adjustments in his relationship to Cerisse because of her different cultural background. “Because she speaks English, I tend to forget she’s different. And my sister told me, for it [the relationship] to be successful, I’ve got to be the one to change.”

Of course, Lucas has already undergone his baptism by fire, getting a taste of life with the extended Filipino family. But he is accepting of this and is prepared to make the move to the Philippines.

As we walked down the street to hail a cab, I sneaked a look behind me and saw the couple holding hands and giggling like teenagers. If I could have some of that, I thought, maybe I should get on one of those online-dating sites fast. Hmmm....

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

May 14, 2008

That bee is gonna sting

Sign of the times: Jollibee hiking
prices on soaring costs

By Dennis Estopace
Reporter, BusinessMirror
May 14, 2008

NOW you know times are really hard. The iconic fast food that offers “distinctly Filipino” spaghetti and fried chicken has been bitten by the inflation bug.

Jollibee Foods Corp., the country’s largest fastfood operator, would be hiking prices “any time soon,” chief executive Tony Tan Caktiong told the BusinessMirror.

However, Tan Caktiong said he doesn’t expect such increase to impact sales. (Read on at Jollibee.)

OH crap, now we're in real trouble! Various economists from different banks are already projecting a 9% inflation rate this year. With this announcement from Jollibee, that makes the inflation projection even more credible. After all, about 50 percent the consumer price index (which is the basis of the inflation rate) is composed of food, beverages and tobacco items.

Jollibee's products have become an index of sorts for the country in terms of food prices. Its burgers, spaghetti, and fries are standard fare especially for the lower middle income market. (I personally like the nacho fries.) These are the clerks, the sales ladies, tellers, patrolling cops, and janitors, etc. who comprise the bulk the of country's working force.

These folks don't even earn enough to pay for all their needs, an uptick in food prices will just burden them further. (What's more, transport groups are agitating for higher fares.) With Jollibee raising its prices, I am pretty sure other food staples like canned sardines and instant noodles will soon follow. It's bad enough we have a rice crisis and surging electric bills.

I can't imagine how we Pinoys can take more of this.

* * * *

ON the other hand, a higher inflation rate spells good news to depositors as this usually means, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (central bank) will need to increase its overnight rates to sop up the extra liquidity in the market.

This also means the rate on government securities like Treasury Bills and Bonds will go up. Depositors will be sure to check with their banker the latest rates for special deposit accounts and investment instruments.

Already I got a call from my bank which is offering 8.5% interest per annum on its Tier 2 notes. (Earlier this year, the notes were only offered at 7%.) Of course, the catch is, you have to hold on to this basically unsecured debt for 5 years and the interest is paid out every six months. But it's a good deal especially if it's a strong solid bank. Also try to look ask your bank if it offers 5-year tax-free accounts. These special accounts normally accept deposits as low as P50,000. Interest is paid every month but like the Tier 2 notes, you must keep your money in the account for five years.

And btw, just in case you've bought into the whole economic miracle that is RP crap promoted by the presidentita, a high inflation rate is one of the signs the economy is heading for the dumps.

May 13, 2008

If you found a bag w/ a million pesos, what would you do? And the best lamb adobo

Finally some good news amid all the posturing over the Meralco/high power rates issue, and rice crisis created by the presidentita herself. Ano ba 'yang babaeng 'yan, walang ginawa kundi pumunta sa DOJ at lumabas sa TV at magpa-photo op! I think she must have visited the agency like four times already to check out kuno the progress in cases against so-called rice traders. Micromanager? No, super KSP lang, graveh! promised, the good news...

Waiter returns a million pesos
ABS-CBN News online
May 12, 2008

What would you do if you discovered an abandoned bag with a million pesos in it?

A waiter at a restaurant in a mall found one on Wednesday and decided to look for the owner and give the money back.

Alexander "Stitch" Latag found the money in a blue SM plastic bag on a seat outside Cyma restaurant in Greenbelt 2 where he works. At first, Stitch thought that the bag was just trash but checked the contents first before throwing it out.

"I looked at it to check whether it was trash or a bomb," Latag said with a laugh. Latag said he got nervous when he saw bundles of P1000 bills inside the bag. When he showed it to a colleague, a lot of things played on their minds, he said. They thought it might be ransom money or for illegal purposes.

Latag said he saw the woman who left the bag outside Cyma. He waited one-and-a-half hours for her to come back and when she didn't, Stitch gave the bag to their manager, Jay Espinosa. (Read on at Waiter returns millions.)

Kudos to Chef Robby Goco and his professional and honest staff.

* * * *

Okay, the honesty part done with, but why the Eff would someone bring around P1 million in cash and in a plastic bag man din? I mean are you nuts, lady? Haven't you heard of attaché cases? Ahm chure napagalitan ka ng boss mo at ang kapal mo'ng kumain muna bago i-deposit yang pera sa bangko. Someone at POEA better check if this manpower recruitment agency even has a license! Imagine charging their clients P200,000 each?!

* * * *

Speaking of Greek food, I went to this Greek resto by the beachfront in Boracay last Saturday, and gads! that was the driest and saltiest lamb adobo I've ever tasted! (Why lamb adobo is in a Greek menu to begin with is beyond me. After all, adobo is more a Pinoy thing although technically, it's Spanish in origin, i.e. "adobar", to marinate.) Miggy and I also had the spanakopita (feta cheese in a rather thick phyllo pastry) and a Mati salata (greens, walnuts in a tart vinaigrette)...which were quite ordinary. If I may quote one respected young food writer's text message to me, the food in this restaurant is "nothing to write home about." No wonder the resto was empty except for three tables, and that included us.

Anyhoo, for the best lamb adobo, go to Bro's Mustache at Sct. Madriñan in QC. Eat it with garlic rice (or crusty bread and sop up the juices in the olive oil mix), while drinking San Mig Super Dry and listening to an acoustic Chikoy Pura sing Joe Jackson. Coolness, and yummy-ness! (Yummy lamb adobo, not Chikoy ha, although pwede na rin! he-he)

Anyway, I once asked Gigi Vinzon, co-owner of Bro's Mustache, the recipe to her lamb adobo. (Whoa, this lady can cook!) But try as might, I couldn't get it down to perfection. Ahm chure she left out a secret ingredient. Oooh Francine, I am so missing that lamb adobo now. Lesgow!

Notes on the EJAP 'Olympics'

I JUST got back from Boracay where it drizzled due to the typhoon which I heard was ravaging Mindanao. So the island and its revelers, like the usually hard-working members of the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines (EJAP) who were there for its annual sportsfest, cooled down a bit.

For those who don't know, EJAP is the one of the oldest journalism groups in the country with its members mostly reporters and editors who give you your daily dose of stock market reports, telecoms innovations, rice crisis updates, peso-dollar rates, and investments/trade outlook from the major broadsheets, wire agencies and TV networks. I have been a member since as far back as I can remember (I joined the business media in 1987--oof! did I just date myself?) and have, on occasion, participated in its events like its awards for the best business reports, Christmas parties, and forums.

Unfortunately, I have never participated in any of its sportsfests, a recent creation, as the event usually falls on a Saturday when I would be editing my paper's business section. But I've often heard of the revelry that goes on during these games, the petty arguments that sometimes ensue from the heated competition, and eventually, the sportsmanship that the members practice. After all, these games are all done in the spirit of fun.

This year, with Donnabelle Gatdula of the Philippine Star as its president, the EJAP sportsfest was kicked a notch higher by being held outside Manila for the first time, at the Two Seasons Resort in Boracay.

Coca-Cola Bottlers Phils., now back in the fold of the Atlanta-based parent The Coca-Cola Co., sponsored the event as part of its commitment to health and wellness. So the EJAP members were continuously pumped with Coke Zero the entire duration of their stay in Boracay from May 9-11. (As a healthy lifestyle choice, I stopped drinking softdrinks years ago, but I had to make an exception this time because it was just sizzling hot in Boracay during the day and that Coke Zero really helped quench my thirst...without the fear of added calories and pounds to my otherwise svelte,ahem, frame.)

It was by far the most fun I've experienced as an EJAP member (although technically I didn't join the games...unfortunately, there is no Business/Lifestyle category, hehe), watching the various teams battle it out in the zaniest games, e.g. downing a mouthful of soda crackers then trying to whistle, or how about shuffling backward ala Michael Jackson with a colored plastic ball squeezed between your thighs and dropping it in a small plastic basket? But I clicked, clicked away and will soon post some of the photos of the action here.

While all the players gave their all in the games, there can only be one winner. The top prize went to the Banking team, whose members exhibited the most ingenious moves to win most of the games. In the game where they had to fold and unfold a streamer, the male players carried the female players on their backs, so the members' feet would not go beyond the boundaries of the streamer! Aba, aba, aba, ang gagaling talaga! Gov. Say Tetangco of the Bangko Sentral must be extremely proud of this extremely talented and united bunch.

The team also took the Early Bird prize for being first to assemble the hellish hour of 6:30 am on the day of the sports fest, and for Best Attire, sporting their blue Speedo swimsuits and matching aqua Nike skorts for the women, athletic shirts and shorts for the men.

While the awards and festivities went on throughout the night, I, on the other hand, took my leave and went up to my room for a much-needed massage from Manang Flor, my suki on the island. It was the end of a humongously entertaining day which I think, will be hard to beat in the years to come. I can only take my hat off to Donna and her tireless fellow officers and board members Lenie Lectura, Alena Mae Flores, Darwin Amojelar, Paul Isla, and Mitch Remo, and the rest, for making sure everyone had a great time. And to all the participants, cheers to a job well done!

Seair revives talks with investors

(I've been on vacation so this is another lazy post...a story I wrote for BusinessMirror for its May 9/10 issue.)

SOUTHEAST Asian Airlines (Seair) is reviving talks with international investors following the rejection of a purchase offer by the group of industrialist Alfredo M. Yao. Yao is the founder of Zest-O Corp.

A highly-placed source from the local carrier told BusinessMirror “these talks were stalled when we thought we were already going to have a deal with Yao by June. So we’re just reviving them.”

The source declined to identify the foreign groups only saying that these were “from Singapore and Brunei,” for possible “capital infusion” into the local carrier.

Seair owners headed by co-founders Iren Dornier, Nikos Gitsis and the Filipino group led by marketing guru Tomas B. Lopez Jr., declined the offer by Yao to purchase their shares for $2 million (or P84.63 million). This was $1.75 million (P74 million) lower than the “original consensus price” of $3.75 million (P159 million), before Yao’s group conducted due diligence on the airline.

Yao said he still intends to pursue the purchase of the carrier.

Sources familiar with the matter said the $2-million offered by Yao’s group will only pay for the cost of the brand and takeover of employees. The group does not intend to buy the 10 aircraft Seair is currently leasing from Dornier’s Aviation Enterprise Inc. (AEI) and spare parts. Yao’s group will also not cover the debts of the carrier including the payables on the aircraft leases to AEI. “All of the liabilities of Seair will have to be paid by Gitsis [and company],” the sources added.

In the proposed share purchase agreement, “[Yao’s group] will lease aircraft from AEI on a “power-by-the-hour” basis, the same sources added. This means that Yao’s group will pay only for the actual use of the leased aircraft, even if these are parked in the airline’s hangar. With this commitment to lease AEI’s planes, “it’s like the offer price is still the same as what we had initially discussed,” explained another source from the Yao group.

There is also a non-compete clause in the proposed share purchase agreement between Yao and Seair shareholders. This means that Dornier and Gitsis, who are both pilots and who currently own 40 percent of Seair, cannot put up another carrier to compete with Yao’s airline.

BusinessMirror sources observed that “this clause was not present in the initial agreement between Yao and Asian Spirit’s former owners.” Yao said he intends to merge Asian Spirit and Seair into one airline company.

Yao bought Asian Spirit for about P1 billion but turned over a check amounting to only P700 million because his group was taking over the debts and liabilities of the airline.

In an earlier interview, Gitsis said Seair was “open to all possibilities” in terms of investments either through capital infusion or selling the owners’ shares “lock, stock and barrel.”

“We’re still open to selling [even just the shares owned by the foreign group]. In the long run, the airline needs partners that can help in [our] growth, to keep us up with the growth opportunities that are still open in the market,” he said.

Referring specifically to the negotiations with Yao, Gitsis said: “If the need for capital and aircraft is the main motivator, [we] don’t want to sell out. Our hearts are in the company and we are more than willing to stay, and more than willing to work another 13 years. [Dornier and I] love this country and we no longer consider ourselves foreigners. On the other hand, everything has a price in business.”

He said the airline sees massive potential growth in local tourism “and we can contribute to that in many ways.” But he said he hoped the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) would allow the airline to do just that by approving its lease purchase agreement with Tiger Airways.

In January 2007, Seair signed a lease purchase agreement with Tiger Air, the low-cost carrier subsidiary of Singapore Airlines. The deal was for the lease of two Airbus 320s from the regional carrier which would enable Seair to fly to Singapore and Macau, as well as other Asian destinations. Local carriers have opposed the agreement saying the partnership would give fifth-freedom rights to Tiger Air, thereby allowing it to transport passengers to a second country and onwards to a third country.

Due to opposition by local carriers, the CAB has yet to approve the agreement, preventing Seair’s efforts to expand its routes to international destinations using the Clark International Airport as a regional hub.

“Tiger Air gave us a challenge. We thought we could live up to the challenge and we’re still optimistic that we can overcome that challenge,” said Gitsis. He admitted that the regional carrier has also expressed interest in buying into Seair, “but we [foreign shareholders] would have to sell out.”

- - - -

P.S. I flew to Caticlan and back to Manila over the weekend via Seair and noticed that the drinks served to passengers were made by Zest-O. Hmmm...

May 07, 2008

Seair ‘rejects’ Yao offer, but talks ‘active’

(Seair owners: Iren Dornier, Nikos Gitsis, and Tomas B. Lopez Jr. representing Filipino shareholders. Photos of Dornier/Gitsis from the Iren Dornier Project. Photo of Lopez from AIM.)

THE owners of Southeast Asian Airlines (Seair) said they have rejected the offer of industrialist Alfredo M. Yao to purchase the airline, but the fruit-juice king’s camp stressed the two sides are still “actively talking.”

A highly placed source in the carrier told the BusinessMirror: “The deal is off. The offer is $2 million. [It's] too low from the original consensus price [between the owners and Yao’s group].”

Contacted for comment, Yao said, “Their group and ours are still talking. Nick [Gitsis, co-founder and director of the carrier] is still in the States, so we haven’t spoken to each other.”

While Yao did not wish to confirm how much his group’s offer price was, the Seair source said the owners had agreed to sell their shares to Yao at $3.75 million (or roughly P158 million at P42.315 to the dollar).

The price only covers the cost of the airline brand and the takeover of the staff, but not the planes. The 10-plane fleet of Seair — composed of three Dornier 328s and seven LET-410s — are turboprops currently leased from Aviation Enterprise Inc., a company owned by Seair founder Iren Dornier.

The source added that the notice to formally reject the deal has already been transmitted to Yao’s group.

Yao is widely known for having developed the fruit-juice drinks under the Zest-O brand, now the largest-selling ready-to-drink fruit-juice brand in the country. His recent purchase of Asian Spirit boosts his interests in the tourism sector, where he also owns a hotel in Subic Bay. (See my profile interview of Yao in the blog entry below.)

Despite the rejection of Yao’s offer, the Seair source was confident that the airline would continue operating. “We have a good safety record. We are No. 1 in our market.” He added that Dornier will continue to infuse capital in the airline even if the local shareholders won’t.

Gitsis earlier said a deal with Yao’s group could be announced before the end of June. (See “Yao bucks tide, may buy 2nd airline,” BusinessMirror, April 14.) The two parties have been negotiating Seair’s purchase since July 2007.

(Industrialist Fred Yao)

Meanwhile, aviation analysts who requested anonymity said that with Yao’s recent purchase of Asian Spirit, he doesn’t need to purchase another carrier. “He has his own airline already, with its own staff and planes.

Both of them [Seair and Asian Spirit] serve almost the same markets, so he [Yao] really doesn’t need another airline.” The analysts added that unlike Asian Spirit, Seair does not have a congressional franchise and is not a designated flag carrier.

A source in Yao’s group confirmed this. “Strictly speaking, we don’t need them [Seair]. It’s not imperative that we buy them. But we can learn from their expertise and benefit from their niche marketing.”

Yao has already successfully lured Seair’s operations manager, Eli Tabora, to join Asian Spirit, but is still keen on recruiting Avelino Zapanta, current president of Seair and former president of Philippine Airlines, to be head of a merged airline company. Yao’s group is also impressed with the marketing savvy of Patrick Tan, Seair’s vice president for commercial affairs.

Despite the rejection of the offer, a source in Yao’s group said the businessman is still pursuing his plan to buy Seair. “The upside for us buying Seair is, they have good people, and we can do single administration [of routes and ticketing], and let’s face it, they have a good reputation in the niche market they are serving. The downside to us, of course, is there is a cost to all of that.”

The source stressed that both groups are still “actively talking. There are just some areas of confusion [with regard to the offer price]. I think it just wasn’t explained to them very well why the offer is such. They may have interpreted it differently.”

While he declined to go into specifics, he noted that since Seair’s planes are not included in the purchase price, “why should we pay for the spare parts? But essentially, our offer to them is still the same.” Other sources said the carrier also has debts which are going to be taken over by Yao’s group.

This was essentially the same tactic Yao used in taking over Asian Spirit. While the purchase price for that carrier was P1 billion, the actual check turned over to its former owners was only about P700 million because of the debts and liabilities of the carrier that Yao’s group would be assuming.

As for Yao’s offer to Seair’s owners, the source said: “We didn’t offer an inordinately low price. I think we just have to explain to them how we came up with this figure.” The offer to purchase Seair for about $2 million (or P84.63 million) was made after Yao’s group completed its recent due diligence of the airline.

In an interview on February 13, Gitsis admitted to BusinessMirror the pinch the carrier has felt with the entry of larger carriers in its major routes: “We’re still the fastest flight to Boracay (Caticlan). We still have the most modern planes. But we have felt a reduction in revenues, and a softening in the market prices.”

The Manila-Caticlan route, a major revenue earner for Seair, is now being serviced by major carriers such as Philippine Airlines through its subsidiary PAL Express/Air Philippines, and Cebu Pacific. Current fares to Caticlan have dropped to about P588, one-way, excluding insurance, taxes and other surcharges.

The carrier’s plans to tie up with Tiger Airways so it could lease two planes from the regional airline to service more domestic points, and enable Seair to fly to Macau, Singapore and other regional routes from the Clark International Airport, have also been strongly opposed by other local carriers.

“We’ve had delays with the CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) in trying to lease planes from Tiger Air to put in service in the Philippines. We have had no approval for that. It’s been a long process. We’re surprised why we’re getting this reaction from larger companies when we’re a small company,” Gitsis said of the other challenges Seair has had to overcome.

Dornier and Gitsis own 40 percent of Seair while the rest of the shares are owned by a Filipino group led by marketing guru Tomas B. Lopez Jr.

(My story on Seair was published on the front page of the BusinessMirror on May 6, 2008. Blog entry contains corrections with regards to the offer price.)

Look to the sky: a profile of Zest-O's Fred Yao

ALFREDO M. Yao is a man who rarely rests.

He says the last vacation he had with his entire family was two years ago in New Zealand, and remembers a few regional cruises with his wife. He tells the BusinessMirror he would rather be on his toes, working, on the lookout for new business opportunities. “I always tell my children, ‘Never be complacent.’ Work as if someone’s burning his heels behind you. You have to keep running. That’s my business philosophy, that’s my secret. I just don’t sit down. I’m not complacent, even to this day. There should be some threat from competitors, from other brands…. You shouldn’t be able to sleep.”

For someone who stresses that “vacations are not for me,” Yao, ironically, is now Philippine tourism’s latest champion. He recently completed the purchase of Asian Spirit, a 12-year-old airline primarily flying between Manila and Caticlan, and is looking at buying another carrier, Southeast Asian Airlines, with the intention of merging both companies. He has also bought the Legenda Hotels and Suites in the Subic Bay Freeport, and is just waiting for its former owners to turn over the property to him. Last year he was appointed by President Arroyo as special envoy to develop tourism between the Philippines and China, which is why he is now looking into the possibility of expanding Asian Spirit’s regional routes to include Xiamen and Shanghai.

“I just thought it’s a good opportunity [buying Asian Spirit]. There’s a lot of room to grow here in local aviation and tourism market. There are so many unexplored areas. Our country is so beautiful, we have a lot of resources, all we need is to develop these sites, put in the infrastructure, then bring the tourists there. I think tourism will help boost the economy,” he says.

(For the rest of my interview of Fred Yao, pls. click here.)

May 06, 2008

Gov't takeover na naman?!

SO it's back to '70s are we when private companies were nationalized by President Marcos and taken over by the government? One of these companies were ABS-CBN, the broadcasting arm of the Lopez Group.

When Corazon Aquino came into power and became President of the country in 1986, her government immediately took itself out of business and returned most private companies back to their owners, ABS-CBN to the Lopezes included. As many academic studies have shown, government in business is simply, bad business. Most of these government companies are non-performing and inefficiently run. To this day, there are many government assets that are being privatized albeit ever so slowly, but because of the way most of these companies have been operating, they have become virtually unpalatable to investors.

Now comes 2008 an it must be deja vu all over for the Lopezes as President Arroyo and her minions try to take over Meralco, the largest power distributor in the country. Coincidentally (or coaccidentally?) just when news of the planned government takeover spread, a two-hour power outage hit several parts of Quezon City last night, including my village. While the cause was traced to "line trouble", as usual the conspiracy theorist in me can't help but think some sinister motive behind the blackout. Okay lang sana kung ginawa sa Malacañang noh?

Seriously, we all hate our high electric bills that's for sure. And especially this summer, my own power bill has gone up by P2,000 primarily due to the regular use of our aircons. I'm not blaming Meralco though. I'm blaming the presidentita because of her government's inability to really implement reforms in the power sector.

Like, for years, the public can have access to lower electricity costs if only we are able to tap the power generated by the Sta. Rita and San Lorenzo gas plants in Batangas. But that plant's output, which is sourced from the Malampaya gas field in Palawan, is not being utilized properly. Why can't Napocor buy more of these gas plants' power output? Because they are owned by the Lopezes as well?

Not only that, the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 has yet to be fully implemented. Napocor has yet to privatize many of its power plants and assets which account for about 70 percent of the electric generating capacity.

Also, the costs of crude is going about in the world market hitting over $100 per barrel. This pushes up local power costs as well. So why doesn't the government temporarily remove the tax on imported crude, as well as the sales tax on systems energy loss? I say temporarily because of course, I am aware that the goverment needs to boost its revenues (bec. it cannot stem the tide of corruption in revenue-collecting agencies), but while the economy and the public are struggling from the high costs of power, it is the government's responsibility to give us temporary relief.

Taking over Meralco is another greedy "hare"-brained (utak kuneho) scheme of the presidentita to get back at her detractors, most especially the Lopez Group whose ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. is not too sweet on her.

But just look at what happened when she forced her way into the NAIA terminal 3? Government took over the terminal which wasn't built by taxpayers' monies btw, and yet it continues to be closed...a virtual white elephant for the country. Ang galing mo talaga, GMA! Isa kang henyo!

May 03, 2008

When Love Begins: a comedy of clichés

SO I got suckered into watching When Love Begins by Ms. RP. I had just come from a high watching Iron Man so you can imagine the dread I must have felt. (Ok, the reason she wanted to watch it because our gang is going to Boracay next weekend and there were scenes in the movie that had the island as its setting. I wondered why my friends and I were not in the movie, not even as extras, after the many times we've been to Boracay. But there were a few sightings of Brian Gorrell, I thought, though not w/ DJ Montano hehe.)

First of all, Aga Muhlach has never been my favorite local actor. He talks with a lisp and has that trademark puppy dog eyes staring into nothingness. Second, except for veteran actors Ronaldo Valdez, Boots Anson Roa, and Christopher de Leon, I didn't know any of the other artistas in this film. (To their credit, Valdez and Anson Roa were the only ones who manage to pull off their roles credibly, as parents of Aga's character, inspite of the inspid dialogue handed to them. De Leon was, as usual, at his OA best. Ick.)

You can say I'm not much of a fan of local cinema. I've been disappointed many times over watching the films that all movie reviewers say are good (of course, most of them are actually paid hacks of the producers), but actually are not. The last time I really enjoyed local films was during the time of the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (take a bow Imee Marcos) and you had masterpieces created by Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Peque Gallaga, Laurice Guillen, Mike de Leon, Marilou Diaz Abaya, etc. I was studying for my CommArts degree then and had to watch all these films. But I enjoyed them, despite the requirement. To this day, the films produced during the ECP heyday are considered classics, mahirap pantayan. All the ingredients of a good movie were there: original screenplays with intelligent dialogue, powerful and inspired acting and directing...all the films of these directors were just creative and well-thought out.

These days, everyone panders to commercialism. I cannot imagine how Joey Reyes, esteemed DLSU professor and respectable scriptwriter/director could write such lines in When Love Begins such as: "It's better if we don't have any expectations" (Anne Curtis' character Michelle referring to her budding relationship with Aga's character Ben); "If you take me for what I am, you must also take for what I'm not!" (award!); and have scenes were Aga's character observes Anne Curtis' character sleeping. Anova! Gasgas na yan! This film was peppered w/ so many clichés in dialogue and scenery, Ms. RP and I (along with other filmgoers beside us) could not help but burst out in laughter, every 15 minutes.

As is the case in many of commercial Pinoy films today, even the characterizations were off. How could Aga's character call himself a vegetarian when he's so fat?! (Yes folks, the rumors are untrue. Aga's body is far from buffed.) And as a supposedly experienced environmentalist, how could he not know that the father of Anne's character (played by de Leon) was behind the subdivision development that Aga's character was going to file a case against? I know a lot of vegetarians and they're not fat! I know environmentalists and they do their homework well before filing cases vs companies w/c violate environmental laws.

In the film, we learn at the end that Anson Roa's character dies of cancer. But for some strange reaason, there was no mention whatsoever of what happened to De Leon's character, father of Aga's love interest, after father and daughter went to the States!

Did I have high hopes that this movie was going to be a great movie, the best produced by Philippine cinema by far? Certainly not. So why am I ranting? Because it was a waste of time and money. Sure it gave us some comic relief because of the bad acting and stupid dialogue, but it really makes me feel sad how Philippine movies, once ranked the best in Asia, and a few times in the world, have degenerated to pathetic, unthinking, idiotic productions with no redeeming values whatsoever.

This is why I only watch Ruffa Mae Quinto or Ai-Ai delas Alas movies. At least you know what you're in for – a stupid comedy – so you still get your money's worth. When Love Begins was meant to be a drama. But we left the movie theater, laughing hysterically.

Iron Man is hot! (no spoilers here)

...and so is Robert Downey Jr.!

He plays multi-gazillionaire industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man with such strength and poignancy...and we love the edgy humor, too.

Downey is obviously having fun with his character as he dishes out his snappy witty dialogues with his co-stars Jeff Bridges (as Obadiah Stane, business partner of Stark's father who helps build up Stark Industries, a weapons manufacturer), Gwyneth Paltrow (Stark's irrepressible and efficient assistant Pepper Potts), and Terrence Howard (Lt. Col. Jim Rhodes, military official/jet pilot and Stark friend). All of these actors are great on their own, and have starred in many of their own hits. So it was really very generous of them to take a backseat, and give major support to Downey Jr. instead. (There are also cute cameos from Iron Man creator Stan Lee, a lady who looks suspiciously like Hillary Swank, and Samuel L. Jackson.)

Btw, the movie premiered yesterday the same time as in the U.S., so lucky us. Cinema 5 at TriNoma was packed to the rafters despite two other theaters showing the same film. It is really one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year. I used to read Iron Man comics as a kid (borrowed them from my brothers) but they were not that many issues for me to follow. So basically, I went into the movie blind, with just the scant knowledge that Tony Stark is Iron Man. But I'm a sucker for anything that's even remotely sci-fi plus I really wanted to see Downey Jr. because this is his first major film since he got back from rehab. (He's been sober for five years.) And according to press reports, he had to audition for the role. Director Jon Favreau didn't even think Downey Jr. would make the shortlist.

The film's theme is anti-war, what with Stark trying to change the direction of his company from being a weapons manufacturer to a firm dedicated to global change and improvement. This happens after Stark sees the damage wrought by his company's products on harmless innocent people, in what is the U.S. government's war on terror. In the comics version, Stark is captured by the Vietcong. In this film, he is captured by terrorists in Afghanistan. (Btw, the Iron Man costume is really uber-cool, and the newly buffed Downey Jr. looks just amazing in it. Yummy!)

I won't spoil the movie for you guys by telling you the story line. Just go see it. It's a fun escapist film with some heart and humor. Downey is just brilliant in the role, as he always has been in his other roles (e.g. Chaplin). It was a shame that he screwed up his path to stardom with his bouts of drug taking and alcoholism. But now that he's back, I'm pretty sure Downey's going to be the actor to beat of his generation. Okay, him and Johnny Depp.

Credit also goes to Jon Favreau who made such an exciting times it reminded me of Transformers, especially when Stark dons the red and gold Iron Man costume. The effects are very slick but not otherwordly, so Favreau is pretty much able to keep the film still believable.

Iron Man pretty much takes the cake as the blockbuster hit of the season. I'm gonna watch it again.

May 02, 2008

A blind date

GRACE was, as usual, suspicious of the plan.

Her sister Cynthia was setting her up for the first time on a blind date. According to Cynthia, the guy was 36, single and owned his own construction business. And they – meaning she at 35, who was at the peak of her own advertising career, and the guy with his rather impeccable background (as Cynthia claimed) – would probably hit it off.

Grace knew better than to ask whether the guy was cute, or at least presentable to her friends, the final arbiters in most of her relationships. Besides, she knew well enough that most handsome men are gay, or in love with themselves more than they could ever be with their women. Okay, that’s what her gay friends told her anyway.

The guy, Martin, was apparently a close friend of the husband of Cynthia and Grace’s cousin. Of course, Grace was supposed to accept this connection as some honorable endorsement of the guy’s supposed respectability, and genuine and sincere personality. He could not be some psycho mass murderer recently escaped from the basement of Makati Med.

Then again, as Grace anxiously waited for Martin’s call to set the date, she did recall watching a recent episode of one of those real-life investigative shows on Fox TV where a family just accepted a stranger, supposedly a victim of an airline crash who had lost his entire family, to move in with them. As she pored over the storyboards before her at work, the scenes from the TV program continued replaying in her head. The stranger helped around the house and the farm, and actually appeared to be a decent, well-meaning person. He had gotten along with the family, especially with the kids—until the family patriarch suddenly realized that his wife had fallen in love with the stranger. The husband began to feel uneasy about going home, threatened he was by the stranger’s presence. Eventually, the stranger was discovered to be on the FBI’s watch list because he had killed his own wife in another state just a few years before.

So maybe this guy Martin killed off his own wife as well and was wanted somewhere in the hinterlands of Polomolok. Okay, Grace’s imagination was running wild again. Something like that could only happen in the US.

When Martin finally called, her heart actually skipped a beat. “He sounds okay,” Grace told herself, while listening to him make small chitchat before sealing the date. They finally agree to meet on Friday at her favorite Spanish restaurant. In her mind, she had already picked out a nice flowy dress to wear for the big day.

Later at the bar, Grace met up with her buddies for drinks and eagerly told them about the forthcoming date. While Trixie was positively ecstatic and asked her what she would wear for the event, the rest of the gang—including her majesty’s gayness, Dean—wondered why Martin would still be single at 36? Such supportive friends, Grace thought, although the idea of Martin being gay did cross her mind.

Nevertheless she tried to shake off the negativity of her friends and Dean’s continuing jest of letting him date Martin instead, and asserted that she was actually looking forward to Friday. It would be fun, she said, to try seeing someone alone, at dinner, with some wine, perhaps some good polite conversation for a change, instead of being together with her forever drunk, ridiculous and raving mad friends. Talk about candidates for the psycho ward!

On D-Day, Grace couldn’t believe how nervous she was. Even as she sat through her three meetings with clients, account executives and her copywriters, she found her mind trailing off. Did she look okay today? Maybe she shouldn’t have eaten that last piece of chicharon at last night’s dinner? She felt so fat and hoped the dress she had chosen to wear for the occasion would fit. Ooof! She hoped she remembered to pack some condoms in her purse...just in case. Slut! She should take it slow this time. Just have a good time and enjoy the guy’s company, no expectations. What was his name again?

Sitting in her office, Grace could no longer contain her agitated state. She couldn’t concentrate on the documents she was supposed to read. She texted Trixie for moral support. Trixie texted back that she would be fine. Besides, if the date didn’t go through smoothly, at least Grace would get to enjoy her favorite paella, so it would still be a win-win right? “K, tnx,” Grace texted back, as she hurriedly changed into her dress. She looked in the mirror, slapped on some makeup, and headed out the door, trying to sing “Walkin’ in Rhythm” by the Blackbyrds in her head to calm her.

She instinctively knew who Martin was as she glanced through the restaurant window while parking her car. There were already other diners there, some of them alone as well, also waiting for their dates perhaps, and another table with some family. A birthday dinner maybe. Martin was dressed in a light-blue long-sleeved shirt and a necktie. His shoulders were slightly hunched over. He looked defeated. Grace wondered why.

As she met Martin at the table and handed her hand over for him to shake, she suddenly knew why he looked crushed. He was a gentleman the entire night, and flashed her his whitest Close-up smile...but the gay vibe couldn’t be mistaken. It was positively reeking through every pore in Martin’s body, even as he talked about his activities at his church. He just didn’t want to fess up to his real feelings. Grace was intrigued by the thought of a grown gay man who still didn’t want to come out of the closet. And he belonged to some fundamentalist Christian sect. How could it get any better than that?!

Admittedly, the date wasn’t half-bad. The conversation was all right, except for the religious turn it took at one point. But the rest of the discussion was actually intelligent, not even half-boring as some of her past dates turned out to be. They had even actually dissected a recent ad campaign her company had launched for a new client. But then Grace had always had a great connection with gay men. And the red wine was even better. She would need the buzz to get her through the rest of the night. But as Martin prattled on about the kind of girl he wanted to marry, she did want to scream at him a few times: “Hoy, magpakatotoo ka, sister!”

In the rest room, she checked on her cell-phone messages and found texts from her buddies with words of encouragement, and concern about how the date was going. Even bitchy Dean texted her to “just be your gorgeous self”...the queen could be sweet when he wanted to. She didn’t have time to text back all of them, lest Martin think she had been flushed down the toilet.

But as she stepped out of the rest room and made her way back to the table where a fluffy yummy canonigo and Martin’s pale smile-a-crooked face were waiting, she felt excited again. Grace couldn’t wait to get home to YM the girls and tell them about the date. Ah, yes, another anecdote to get the group rolling down the aisle with laughter. Mental note to self: Save Martin’s number for Dean.

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