December 31, 2009

Looking forward to 2010!

CHRISTMAS cards are meant to convey the warm wishes and joyful feelings of the holiday season.

They usually come in cheery, or funny, or spiritual types, like some of those posted on this page.

So you can just imagine how befuddled some people felt when they received a Christmas card from the government-run National Statistical Coordination Board. (For those who don't know, the NSCB is the repository of all official govt data such as the GDP, inflation, remittances, income, population, etc.)

Most of the data just show how mucht the economy sputtered in 2009 compared to 2008 (e.g. 3Q 2009 GDP growth rate was 0.5% compared to 4.6% in 3Q 2008, or the poverty rate in 2006 was 32.9% of the population compared to 30% in 2003.) Depressing di ba?

Of course we don't need NSCB's greeting card to know how poorly our country has fared over the years under the presidentita's administration. But hey, at least the academics at the NSCB managed to turn that glaring reality into a positive, and made an unforgettable Christmas card huh? With any luck, maybe under the next administration, NSCB's Christmas cards will feature much improved economic data.

With that last bitching for the year, let me wish everyone all the best for 2010!

* * * *

Whoopsie! Before I forget, check out Professional Heckler's fearless forecasts for 2010, and die laughing. Aba! Feeling Madam Auring! ;p

December 30, 2009

Fringe glass magnets

BECAUSE I always finish my Christmas shopping way ahead of December, I sometimes miss out on the latest cute stuff in the department stores. I was at Rustans ATC a couple of days before Christmas as my sister had to make an emergency purchase for a can opener (don't ask, it's a long story), and stumbled on these gorgeous Fringe refrigerator magnets.

There were also quite a few other designs like this:

(Photo from Apartment Therapy)

These babies don't come cheap, but I just couldn't resist them. So after a few days of tossing and turning in bed, I finally went to get myself a set (first photo). Okay, there goes my last frivolous purchase of the year. hehe.

Oh, and these are versatile as well. You don't have to use them only as ref magnets. As one contributor to Apartment Therapy shared, her household actually uses the magnets as small paperweights. Coolness.

December 29, 2009

More cakes from Carlo

EVERY Christmas, my sister and I obsess on what cake to serve for the family's Media Noche. Fortunately, for the past two years, we've been ordering from Carlo Estagle (aka The Cake Diva), who's luscious Torta Limone I discovered via good friend Georgia.

(Carlo's Torta divine!)

Prompted by Georgia's recent writeup of Carlo's new creations, my sister and I decided to go a different way this Christmas and ordered his Buttermint cake.

What can I say except brilliant! This was a splendid inspired treat from Carlo -- supermoist buttery goodness with a mild kick from the mint syrup, plus the bittersweet crunch from semi-sweet chocolate chips. A slice of this and your favorite cup of java makes for a perfectly calm and quiet ending to any meal. It's like eating Andes Peppermint crunches. Terrific mouthfeel, and so evocative of all things Christmas--the cool weather and the warm toasty feelings of family. Mmmm...

While Carlo's cakes may be considered a bit on the mid- to high-end price point, they are worth every centavo. He doesn't scrimp on ingredients and on the passion he puts into each of his creation. So if you're still on the lookout for a great dessert this New Year's eve, call Carlo at 0920-955-CAKE (or 2253) and ask for his sweet list. He makes sugar-free desserts as well, and will deliver if you live around his vicinity.


The forehead that dares not quiver

Dear Miss Choi 09:

I dunno who you are, but you're a blogger after my own heart. As I told a recent pro-Manny "Mr. Double Insertion" Villar" commenter in a previous post, the guy has got to find a new angle. This 'nanggaling sa mahirap" campaign is getting way too old. Nakakasawa na!

Villar may think that having someone like Wowowillie as a celebrity supporter (and who, btw, also endorses TechnoMarine watches w/c can't be afforded by the poor naman) will be a major boost to his campaign. If this were true, how come the forehead-that-dares-not-quiver is lagging a far second in surveys, after Noynoy Aquino? Tsk, tsk.

Anyhoo, let's hear it from Miss Choi:

Dear Manny Villar

First of all, I suppose congratulations are in order.

You are one hell of a salesman, good sir, and anyone who would dare claim otherwise is a liar. (Click here for the rest.)

* * * *

Speaking of TechnoMarine, it's a well-respected brand of watches created by Frank Dubarry, but w/c only a few years ago, found a new homebase in Geneva. Only 12 years old, the brand has found favor among yachtsmen, divers, and other sporty types because of its elegant masculine designs.

I especially loved one of its earlier quirky ad campaigns which went something like this:

Very slick no? Another ad had an octopus stuck to the female model's head. So I dunno what TechnoMarine was thinking when it decided to do this:

All hail the Willie Revillame watch by TechnoMarine! Well, I suppose this is what the company's local representation thinks will elevate the brand's recognition in the Philippines. Sure it may have increased awareness of the brand around these parts, but I think they just sank an international brand to an entirely new gutter level.

After this, somehow, you can't look at another TechnoMarine w/o also thinking of Willie's irritating asinine jokes, half-naked dancing girls, screaming hordes of masses, and Pokwang. Ickk! (Although to be fair, I have more respect for Pokwang esp. after reading about her personal struggles, and yet she manages to remain humble despite her success, unlike you-know-who.)

December 25, 2009

Christmas wishes for the Philippines

(My column in today's BusinessMirror.)

DESPITE the beginnings of the global economic recession late last year, we still managed to cope with the stress of the Christmas celebration. This year’s commemoration of Christ’s birth, however, appears to be more challenging, or the toughest in recent memory.

While the economic downturn has been difficult enough, we found ourselves reeling even more because of certain personal and national tragedies, like the passing of former President Corazon Aquino, and homelessness, hunger and psychological distress due to the natural calamities wrought by Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng. Now, our kababayan in Bicol face an impeding disaster due to an enraged Mayon Volcano. The massacre of women and journalists in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, by a political warlord in November also continues to weigh heavily on our minds.

How can we have a merry Christmas having gone through or while facing all these adversities?

Fortunately, our national psyche is also wired in such a way, that when dealing with such trials and tribulations, we are pushed to triumph at all cost. And with the national elections coming up in May 2010, most of us have a sense of the changes that we want in government and governance. We can no longer have the same kind of laid-back attitude to life in these islands, because our future, and those of many generations after, is at stake.

So it was no surprise, that when I asked several of our friends in business, government, politics and the arts what their wish was for the Philippines, many of them expressed the same hope for true change to come, such as an enlightened citizenry who would vote for the most responsible candidates in 2010, and a radical transformation of values and attitudes to help make our country work.

Here are their thoughts:

• Alfonso Yuchengco, chairman, Yuchengco Group of Companies, and presidential adviser for foreign affairs

I wish for the Philippines a complete and meaningful freedom. I wish the Philippines would be free from poverty caused by overpopulation and lack of resources; free from corruption in government, and even in the private sector; and free from violence and any threat to peace. I wish each Filipino would be rich in happiness and love this season and always. I wish the Philippines could adopt some form of birth control.

• Corazon de la Paz-Bernardo, president of the International Social Security Association

This Christmas and every day of the year, my wish is for the Philippines to be a haven of peace, prosperity and unity, for the common good. There is a great deal of work and resources needed to strengthen our institutions and improve our infrastructure facilities to meet the demands of our ever-growing population. If we move as one, our country could make progress and provide a more sustainable and prosperous future for our people.”

• Joseph “Ace” H. Durano, secretary, Department of Tourism

I wish Filipinos would appreciate how blessed our country is and to vote for people with the character and competence to use such blessings to benefit as many Filipinos as possible.

• Erramon “Montxu” I. Aboitiz, president, Aboitiz Equity Ventures

I wish that all Filipinos will think of country over self and that we have a peaceful and successful election. I also wish that we take environmental and sustainability issues seriously.

• Ma. Lourdes “Louie” Barcelon Locsin, co-founder, Power of Nine Movement, and candidate for representative, First District of Makati City

My Christmas wish for the Philippines is that the Filipinos learn to love their country and, better yet, one another. Maybe they already love their country. But it wouldn’t hurt to love our country more. And, more important, to show that love.

Will loving each other make our country great? I think so. A country is its people, not its landscape or its quaint customs. Good people make a good country.

If you have money to spare—a lot or a little—give it. When you go to church, drop P500 in the collection plate if you can afford it and not the small bills you keep in an envelope. Do something productive in your community. Start a livelihood project, volunteer in a day-care center or a parish weekly activity.

Teach your children that giving is better fun than getting, and that making people happy is the best kind of happiness for oneself. It can be taught. In fact, it can be taught early enough as to become a way of life for future generations.

Give generous bonuses to employees, giving most to the lowest ranking and less to the big executives in the firm. Bonuses are how you bring joy to those who support you in your work and how they, in turn, bring joy to those who help them help you, like their family.

Don’t complain about corruption, especially if you have no proof that will stand up in court or are unwilling to stand up and help prosecute. If you are just going to yak about it in your Facebook account, forget it. Stop preaching about honesty if you keep company with the dishonest.

It’s not hard to be a good Filipino. Let’s all try to be better Filipinos so we can show that we mean it when we say we love the Philippines.

(To be concluded next week....)

Happy holidays everyone!

December 20, 2009

Hyatt Regency sold; to reopen as hotel-casino

(The old Hyatt Regency in Pasay City, Manila photo by

BUSINESSMAN/singer-songwriter Jose Mari Chan has sold the once-famous Hyatt Regency Hotel in Manila to the Sunwest Group of young Bicolano businessman Elizaldy Co. Sunwest owns the luxury resort Misibis Bay Raintree in Cagraray Island, Albay.

The hotel is scheduled to reopen by April 2010, as Midas Hotel and Casino, to be managed by Genesis Hotels and Resorts, a hotel-management firm headed by Miguel Cerqueda, former general manager of The Manila Hotel. (Click here for the rest.)

Give a jar of face cream? Hell yeah! ;p

Maybe because I’m at that age where I value practicality more than sentimentality, I’m a big believer in useful gifts. Also, the unusual or unexpected. I mean some of these suggestions here may sound like everyday items but, believe me, these will be most appreciated because we always need them. Even better, most of them don’t even cost an arm and a leg. (Click Practical and unusual gifts at Something Like Life.)

December 17, 2009

'No return, no exchange'

I'M a big believer in consumer rights. I will always demand for good quality or service for the amount I paid for, and am not ashamed to return stuff or exchange items when I find them defective. Unfortunately, most Filipinos are still shy about this and will just roll over, even when their rights are being trampled on.

Read this column from the BusinessMirror, regarding the seven-day exchange policy of some stores. It turns out, you can actually return defective items even after that period, especially for products bought from well known brands. (Of course, if you buy a defective item that was just smuggled, you have no avenue for redress.) So if I were you, if you buy especially big-ticket items like appliances or even a pair of shoes or bag, make sure you keep the receipt.

It is important to note that in case of hidden defects, the law prescribes a maximum of two years from the date of purchase or upon discovery of hidden defect to file a complaint or act, taking into consideration the nature of product purchased. (Click The Business of Consumers for the rest.)

Unfortunately the column doesn't say what happens if you don't have the receipt for the product purchased anymore, and what if the store doesn't want to exchange the item you bought? I've already experienced complaining to DTI's consumer action group regarding some defective product purchased but received no support from the agency at all, other than a letter stating that they forwarded the matter to the agency overseeing the product/brand. So there.

December 13, 2009

If you feel like resigning from your job...

Whenever friends approach me with their problems at work, I often counsel talking to their bosses or whoever is in charge. I think it helps to keep communication lines open between managers and staff. Telling your boss that you are uncomfortable in your job gives him an opportunity to help you out, or guide you in dealing with the issue at hand. (Click Something Like Life for the rest.)

Jardines to invest $1M to spruce up Mandarin Oriental

THE Hong Kong-based Jardine Matheson Group is investing “approximately $1 million” in the Philippines, primarily to freshen up its Mandarin Oriental property in Makati City.

In an exclusive interview, newly installed Mandarin Oriental Manila general manager Mark Bradford also hinted that more capital aside from the initial investment is being considered. “We’ll be investing approximately a million US dollars [P46.82 million] in the next two quarters in enhancing some areas of the hotel. But after 33 years of operation, a larger amount of money is being looked at. We’re considering it very seriously.” (Click here for the rest.)

December 12, 2009

A candidate called Code Jack

IF you haven't seen it yet, here's the complete list of those who filed their certificates of candidacy for President (99), Vice President (20), and Senator (158). With only 12 seats available, methinks the senatorial posts will even be more hotly contested than the presidential post where only two or three out of the 99 are actually the most viable candidates. But there area many senatorial candidates who I must admit, have a credible track record and are serious contenders unlike the loonies populating the presidential candidates' list.

Don't be daunted by the length of the list. You must read through it. I promise a good laugh on the nicknames alone. Aside from Code Jack, there's even one presidentiable who calls himself Lady M-Ricky. Hahahahaa!

COCs 2010 (from Comelec web site)

December 11, 2009

On his own time daw


1. Da who is this Cabinet Secretary running for an elective post in May 2010, who is rarely in his government agency these days? He claims that he is doing his campaigning on "my own time", and says the agency is not spending its funds for his visits to his home province. Hay naku, sino naman ang niloloko mo ateh? In fact, it's Friday today, still a working day, and he is already there in the province, accompanied by another govt official handling a major agency.

(Libre ba yang barong mo hijo? Of course the Cabinet Secretary in question is not this gwapo.)

Oh, and we are no longer surprised why he looks well-dressed all the time. Apparently his barongs are supplied free of charge by another govt agency. Employees of that agency mutter that they hardly have a decent budget to run their projects, and here they go having to finance the Cabinet Secretary's clothing needs. Yes, fellow taxpayers...we're paying for this guys' threads. As if he can't afford to buy his own clothes. Kakahiya! Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Clue: the Cabinet Secretary's home province is synonymous to kisses.

2. DA who is the head of this newly-formed regulatory agency who is said to have hired as many as 100 consultants, some of whom are even husbands and wives? Businessmen who have to deal w/ this agency complain that there's even more corruption there than in the previous agency it had superseded.

Its inspectors, for instance, who are tasked to oversee the safety of the equipment falling under the agency's purview don't even have the skills to check said equipment's standards. So those new businessmen who want to have their equipment checked and are not aware of this, can just pay off the inpspectors to give them a passing mark. And bec. licenses and safety permits are given annually, can you just imagine the humongous amounts of money coursing through that agency under the table?!?!

Clue: The head of the agency is said to be the alaga of an ageing senator, and also of a military persuasion.

3. As early as 2005, the presidentita and the head of her transportation agency was already told of the need for Caticlan's runway to be extended by at least 200 meters more. The presidentita said, however, Boracay was already "overcrowded" and overrun by resorts. What she failed to realize however, is that Boracay is the only island saving the tourism industry of the country as even during times of economic downturns, Pinoys who can no longer afford to go on vacations abroad just go to Boracay.

Because of the shortness of the runway, however, two planes of Zest Airways were involved in crashes in January and in June this year, leading to temporary closure of the airport. (Of course, it's also due to the fact that Zest Air's Chinese-made MA60 planes aren't exactly made for short takeoffs and landings.) This led to the govt deciding to only allow Seair and lately, PAL Express to use the Caticlan runway. All other airlines have to land and takeoff in Kalibo. Consequently, most resorts and restaurants on the island have complained of a 20% drop in business, as tourists don't want to pay a premium for the convenience of landing in Caticlan, just 15 mins away from the island resort, compared to Kalibo, which is an hour and a half away.

Although the airport has been privatized and supposed to be developed by a group led by George Yang of McDonalds Phils. (Golden Arches), on our recent visit to Boracay, we didn't see any construction activity ongoing at the terminal nor the runway at all. With the recession still ongoing, and tourists not wanting to shell out more money to pay to land in Caticlan, we doubt that it would be a Merry Christmas for Boracaynons this year.

More chakahans next week!

December 10, 2009

The Martial Law debate (updated)

I DON'T necessarily agree with my former boss, Rep. Teddyboy Locsin, but here's the speech he made on the matter during the joint session of the Senate and Lower House this afternoon:

Teddyboy Locsin on Martial Law

Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago's speech urging the revocation of Martial Law in Maguindanao can be found here. (Thanks to baycas2 for the link.)

December 09, 2009

Not just pizzas at Pizza Hut

I MUST confess that I really never liked thick-crust pizzas which I think shortchanges customers. You get more of the baked dough instead of the wonderful ingredients that top the pizza; it’s like biting into a huge pandesal with the palaman on top. So this is the primary reason Pizza Hut has never really been my go-to pizza joint.

So imagine my surprise when I ended up in one of its press launches. All along I thought the event was about the Divella Pasta brand, which I’ve bought a few times before for my own “genius” pasta creations (read: taking the leftovers in the ref and making some sauce out of them). It turns out, after much guessing from the media guests on “who’s the new pasta player in town”, the answer was eventually revealed to be Pizza Hut.

“We have taken the bold step to proclaim that we are now as passionate [with pastas] the way we do our pizzas”, says Elaine Guzman, vice president for marketing. And yes, the restaurant does use the Divella pasta brand.

(The Aglio Olio. Photos courtesy of Pizza Hut)

All the while we were being asked the identity of the new pasta player in town, we were asked to taste eight different kinds of pasta dishes. It isn’t as exciting as it sounds, mind you, because by the fourth dish, I was ready to keel over from a seriously overextended tummy. But I managed to pick out few winners from the eight that were served under the restaurant’s Pasta Perfetto line.

The Aglio Olio, for instance, had the pasta perfectly coated in olive oil instead of swimming in it, like other restaurants serve it, with the garlic and pepper flakes giving it a crisp punch. The Puttanesca was also quite flavorful with the olives and capers lending it some delectable sweetness, although the dish could stand more anchovies to give it a salty counterpoint. (Of course, Pizza Hut isn't a fine-dining restaurant so ingredients aren't exactly generous as we want them to be.)

The other pastas under the creamy sauce category were adequate but seemed seriously dehydrated, with the cream forming a kind of lumpy dead crust on top. It’s not as bad as it reads; you just have to remove that top to get to the richness underneath.

(Spaghetti Puttanesca)

The winning factor is of course the pasta line’s price points as these range between P99 and P189. Other pasta creations include: Baked Mac and Cheese, Fettucine ala King, Spaghetti Bolognese with Meatballs, Baked Fettucine Alfredo, Lasagna Classico, Spaghetti Shrimp Garlic and Mushrooms, Pesto Chicken Penne, Three-Cheese Ravioli, and Seafood Supremo.

A couple of weeks after the launch of the Pasta Perfetto line, I finally took the chance and ate at a Pizza Hut restaurant, after years of shunning it. I was quite delighted to find it had pizzas under its Viva Italian line which are neither thin nor thick crust and slathered with sumptuous fresh ingredients. I especially loved Florence which featured fresh tomatoes, mushroom, black olives, anchovies and garlic topped with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, and drizzled with olive oil.

The problem is, when I tried to order the same for delivery just a week ago, the operator at the Pizza Hut’s call center said this was no longer available, as well as the other varieties in the Viva Italian line.

Also, the operator said, not all the dishes under the Pasta Perfetto line were available for delivery either. I had wanted to try the three-cheese ravioli, and after being told this couldn’t be delivered, the operator and I went through the list of items that could be delivered. We basically ended with only four of 12 varieties under this new pasta line. Needless to say, this took back the winning points the restaurant scored with me as a customer. Not so Perfetto, ey?

Perhaps this is Pizza Hut’s marketing strategy to get more people into its restaurants, but it seems to me that it is neglecting a growing number of customers who want the convenience of a food delivery service. My hapless experience, however, shouldn’t dissuade you from actually hauling yourselves to the nearest Pizza Hut branch to check out its new pastas which, in these financially-distressing times, admittedly still give some value for your money.

December 08, 2009

An evening for thanksgiving

IT was my first time to see Margie after she was felled by a cerebral aneurysm in Nov. 2008. I spoke with her at the launching of her husband Chet's book, 88 Days in India – A Pilgrimage of Faith, Hope & Love, at the Powerbooks last night and it was just so inspiring to see how far she's come in her recovery.

Although still in her wheelchair, she surprised us by walking up the steps to the second floor of Powerbooks, where the launch was to be held, albeit with the help of Chet. She asks for more prayers from all of us so she can really get back to walking unaided again.

If you are still thinking of what to give your friends and family, I think Chet's book will make a great gift. Through his daily updates via email, all of us were kept abreast of Margie's condition, of the suffering she went through, of Chet's devotion to her, and her triumph over the direst medical conditions. Readers will be moved by Chet's descriptions of Margie's battles, and of the ways he coped throughout the ordeal. But as they say, love conquers all, and his unwavering support for his wife while she lay ill, became Margie's passport to her recovery.

Here are a few photos from last night's book launch:

(Chet talks about the contents of his book, mostly email updates of Margie's condition.)

(Margie thanking everyone for their prayers and words of support.)

(With Margie, superwoman!)

December 04, 2009

GMA sings!

“First, I am not afraid
I’m not petrified
Kept thinking I could always live
with immunity by my side
Though I spent so many nights
thinking I did nothing wrong
I am strong
I learned how to carry on
(Sung to Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive)

Sing along to the presidentita's new top hit! Click The Professional Heckler for the rest of the lyrics. Me minus one pa kasama! O ha!

December 03, 2009

Celebrate life

IF you remember, my friend and press colleague Margie Quimpo-Espino of the Phil. Daily Inquirer, suffered a brain aneurysm on Nov. 29, 2008. It's been a year since that happened and Margie is now talking, texting, and baking even! The last time we chatted via Facebook (yes, she's back on it!), she said she was still having difficulty walking. But other than that, she really sounded extremely fine and grateful for everyone's prayers and continuing messages of concern.

On Monday, Dec. 7, a book on about her ordeal and triumph in the face of much suffering, will be launched at the Powerbooks Greenbelt. Entitled "88 Days in India: A pilgrimage of faith, hope and love", the book is authored by Margie's husband, former Inquirer reporter Chet Espino, and is now available at all Powerbooks branches.

Pls. get a copy of this book and be inspired with Margie and Chet's story.