December 30, 2010

Say goodbye to the old year!

...with this!

DJ Earworm's mashup of the Top 25 Billboard hits of 2010. Let's dance! ;p

Happy New Year to all! Hope you guys have a blast! Not literally of course. haha.

December 24, 2010

Happy holidays everyone!

Unforgettable, favorite Christmas gifts

FREQUENT readers of this space will probably know the answer to this. My favorite Christmas gift was a talking Barbie given to me by my Mama. It wasn’t the gift per se, but how I got it.

I was probably 7 or 8 years old then, and was tagging along with my Mama in Cartimar, Pasay, where Filipinos used to go to for their PX goods. Yes, I am a child of America, what can I say? Hahaha.

I saw my Mama looking over the Barbie which was in a fuchsia box (then everybody still called it “hot pink”), and I pestered her who she was buying it for. She wouldn’t answer me but I kept on nagging her about it, because I was so incensed that I, her bunso, wouldn’t be getting any gorgeous thing like that doll for Christmas.

She silenced me with that “wag kang makulit” look, and I shut up. (Yup, back then, kids were nakukuha sa tingin.) But I was seething inside, so jealous of that little girl—probably one of my Mama’s godchildren—who would get that Barbie for Christmas. I earnestly hoped and wished that I would get a Barbie as a present, too.

Of course, when Christmas midnight came, I excitedly opened all my gifts, and lo and behold! I got the very same Barbie! I couldn’t contain my joy over my new precious doll, and kept on pulling on the string behind her neck to make her “talk”. I thought then that my Mama probably got me the same gift as her inaanak just to pacify me. Silly me, I still thought she had given the doll she had earlier bought to another lucky kid, hahaha. Ay tanga.

But it made me realize then, which I still believe holds true today, if you deserve the present you have been hoping to get, you will receive it. The Secret? No. Just an eternal belief in how the universe just works for everyone’s benefit, and we all get what we deserve.

(DFA Secretary Alberto Romulo with his wife, Lovely, and their grandchildren.)

So for my Christmas and New Year columns this year, I asked several well-known personalities in government and industry what were their most unforgettable or favorite Christmas gifts of all time. Their answers, as usual, are heartwarming, a few terribly funny yet endearing, and give an honest insight into each person’s character.

Let me wish one and all a Happy Christmas with your loved ones, and peace and prosperity for all in the New Year.

(Antonio Moncupa, President, East-West Bank)

Secretary Alberto Romulo, Department of Foreign Affairs

All the gifts my grandchildren give me are unforgettable, whether it be a handmade card, a painting or sketch they made themselves, or a book they bought because they felt I would enjoy it—all of these are my favorites.

Antonio Moncupa, President, East-West Bank

In my grade-school years, I always looked forward to Christmas because it was the only other time (the other one was birthdays) when my parents would buy us a new set of nice clothes outside the simple T-shirts and short pants for daily public-school attire. While I thought they could afford to buy clothes more often, our parents always told us they needed to save for the bigger expenses for high school and college. It must have been hard to manage a brood of nine children for a couple who only reached second-year high school and who started with practically nothing.

(Bianca Gonzalez, TV host and model. Photo from her blog.)

While those clothes were not presented as gifts but a normal course for the season, I treasured those “gifts” the most. Although my parents wanted to be frugal, they also could not bear to see us without new clothes like other children. As I got older, it acquired a bigger meaning for me. I learned to appreciate the values it represented. It helped me realize what vision, firm resolve, and love could do to achieve an objective.

Bianca Gonzalez, TV host and model

My brother JC, who I love most and who hasn’t been home in five years, is coming home for Christmas. Nothing material can ever beat being with family during the holidays.

Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr., Writer and pundit, former congressman of Makati City

My most unforgettable Christmas gift was the model of the German battleship Bismarck which I specifically pointed out to my parents. I was trying to rebuild the Nazi fleet. Instead, I got an American battleship, the USS Missouri I think, which so enraged me that I stomped all over the box which had a picture of the wrong ship and tried to kick the Christmas tree down, but it stood on a wide X and couldn’t be shaken. At such a young and impressionable age, to expose me to such disappointment. Anyway, I never cared for any Christmas gift after that.

But the best Christmas gift I ever got was the long-distance phone call of Cory Aquino just before Christmas 1985, that I return home from San Francisco to join her in the snap-election campaign. I like fights and this looked like a good one. The gift package itself came a little over a month later, around the 25th of the month, when she turned to me upon being told by the US ambassador that Marcos had taken off on a plane for Hawaii—and smiled. I had almost forgotten that gift because joy is not as instantly recallable as disappointment. But it was the best gift ever. I hope to get the gift of another great fight because that is the only time I am happy. Several more would be nice.

Chef Chris Locher, C’ Italian Dining

As a kid, my most favorite gift must have been my Carrera racing track received sometime in 1975. Most sporting goods gifts were usually reserved for Easter. Also, my first sky blue bike “Flipper” in 1974 would be among the top favorite gifts I received.

As time went on, material things became less important. I love giving gifts as much as receiving them. I do love them even more if some thought was placed by the gift-giver. But today, a joyful and noisy evening with my loved ones, some great home-cooked food, and a glass of wine spell perfection.

Annabella S. Wiesniewski, President of Raintree Partners Inc.

My favorite unforgettable Christmas gifts have been from our boys. For example, when Martin was six years old, he made a “GC” with scribblings of a car, entitling me to three free personalized car washes! Andrej gave me a down duvet when he was about 14, and that was an enormous amount to save from a paper route. He had been hearing how I wanted a real fluffy down duvet but could not afford it! I guess what made them memorable most of all was that they truly came from the heart.

(Conclusion on Friday, Dec. 31, 2010. My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photos courtesy of the interviewees.)

December 22, 2010

Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus in the digital age

LOVE this!!!

Winner di ba? ;p

Darren Criss live in Manila! (oh and 'Puck' too!)

DARREN Criss (aka Blaine, Kurt's love interest in Glee) is in town for two days. Half-Pinoy who knows his lumpia, pancit, adobo and calamansi juice, he performed at Greenbelt last night, and will be in TriNoma tonight. (Rats. Was supposed to watch the TriNoma concert tonight but I'll have to miss it though. Familial duties call. Boo-hoo.)

Here's an interview by where he talks about his 'bizarre kinship' w/ the Philippines and Pinoys:

Did you hear? His aunt owns Lemuria! Aba.

And here's one of the songs he played at his Greenbelt gig last night. Screaming teens at Darren have made me gone deaf, I think. haha ;p Thanks to OleanderJacob for uploading this vid on YouTube.


Btw, another Glee star, Mark Salling (aka Puck) is also in town. PAL flight steward Dan Lira posted photos w/ the celebrity on his FB page two days ago, but the story was only picked up yesterday. Judging by the way he is smiling in the photos, Mark looks like a very nice and generous guy. Very accommodating to the photo requests.

(Mark Salling w/ the crew of PR103, Dec. 19, 2010. Photo via Dan Lira)

Mark, who flew in from Los Angeles via PR 103, is supposedly in Boracay now. Wow.

Treat him well, my Boracay friends. That way, he'll be able to spread the gospel of Boracay/Philippines to his friends and family back home. What a great way to promote the 'Pinas.

December 20, 2010

A tale of two families

A DAY after Hubert Webb and five other coaccused were freed by the Supreme Court, acquitted of culpability in the decades-old Vizconde massacre case, a Twitter account — @iamhubertwebb — was set up and started tweeting about Webb’s supposed reflections on his new life outside the New Bilibid Prison.

Of course, it wasn’t the real Webb who was tweeting but some anonymous Pinoy trying to find some humor in the otherwise tragic loss of 15 years in the young man’s life.

According to an ABS-CBN story, some of “Webb’s” tweets include:

“Damn! Need to buy batteries for my Discman. It’s skipping again.”

“killing time with my brickgame”

“Gonna plan an eyeball for my MIRC chat mates!”

“Guys, Freedom Party for me tonight! See you at Mars disco!!!!!”

“on way to Virra Mall to trade in my beeper”

“Why are all the guys wearing Sperry Topsiders? It’s so ’80s! Baduy, man.”

“Hey, what happened to the ACA video ’round the corner? Wanted to get the new TGIS movie.”

The tweets were hilarious, for sure, but no less biting. In fact, it was jarring even for me to read the SC decision where in one portion, it referred to the old Faces Disco at the corner of Makati Avenue and Pasay Road, which has long been replaced by a boutique hotel.

How does one exactly reintegrate into society after waking up to the same bartolina for the past 15 years, seeing the same tired old faces across the mess hall while eating meals that probably don’t even qualify for a poor man’s basic meal of rice and a tin of sardines, reliving one’s past loves and experiences with his ka-cosa while basically doing nothing the entire day?

Sure, there was basketball and tennis, along with the TV to keep Webb and his fellow inmates entertained for a bit, but you can’t do that every day in the hopes of keeping oneself from brooding and missing the things one did when he still had his freedom. A mother of one convict who spent time in Bilibid once told me that the most frightful time usually comes at night, just before a prisoner goes asleep and he is alone in his thoughts. It is a time when everyone has settled in his own cot, it is all quiet and there are no more distractions. It is a time one has to face one’s internal conflicts alone. These are thoughts that one cannot simply switch off, with sleep—when it comes—providing the only refuge from the pain.

The ages between 27 and 42 is the prime period in any young adult’s normal life, when he or she would have been working, moving up in his/her career, and making a name for himself/herself among one’s peers. It is also a period in one’s life that most young adults get married, have kids and start learning to give back to society either through the occasional charity work and volunteerism. Webb may have made a name for himself and his family, but it was in the most despicable way possible, accused of a crime he didn’t commit having been away in the US when it happened. It’s really heartbreaking to think of what might have been and what should have happened instead, but as some wise man told me once, you just need to play the hand you’ve been dealt with and make the most of your cards.

What Hubert Webb underwent in these last 15 years changes a man forever. He may even find that life outside Bilibid jarring and chaotic. In Bilibid, there is a semblance of order, and respect is accorded to certain prisoners, such as the head of each prison cell (the mayor). Outside Bilibid, there is no respect for authority with people sowing mayhem constantly. It’s each man for himself, with people cutting in line just to buy a lotto ticket.

Webb is luckier than most who have been released from prison because he has a supportive family and friends to go home to, and an actual roof over his head. He will not have to worry when his next hearty meal will come from.

I am glad that he has chosen to be an educator who will try to help kids stay out of jail. But for now, there is a Christmas to look forward to with all his relatives and friends around him to celebrate with. Although his parents and siblings have been spending Christmas with him every year since he had been incarcerated, this particular one has taken a more significant meaning because now he will truly be home.

I salute Hubert Webb and his family’s courage and the love that has kept them together through this most trying period in their lives.


While I am happy that Hubert Webb is now with his family in time for the Christmas celebration, I cannot help but grieve along with Lauro Vizconde.

It was heartwrenching seeing him cry out in anguish over the SC decision, his companions around trying to comfort him. Despite the 15 years in jail that Webb and his companions—whom Vizconde continues to believe as the real perpetrators of the crime against his family—he has really not been able to move on.

He is a lonely man who lives in a virtual mausoleum with the bedrooms of his wife Estrellita and their children Carmela and Jennifer unchanged and made up to look like he is still waiting for his girls to come home and sleep in their beds again. The furniture is unchanged, except for some repainting done in parts of the home, and he continues to live there despite the bittersweet memories.

You hear him speak on TV and read his interviews in newspapers, and you can sense a hopeless and defeated man. He no longer has the desire to live among the living. As he said himself, he has lost his “inspiration”. And when you surround yourself with people like that loser who kept on shouting “P. I. nyong lahat!” repeatedly on TV after the SC released its decision on the rape-murder case, I’m not surprised why Mang Lauro has not been able to find any more meaningful challenges in his life. Misery begets misery.

But how else can we expect him to behave? The last time Mang Lauro saw his wife and two girls together was actually in 1988, three years before that grisly crime occurred. In the time that he was away in the US making a living for his family, there were only once- or twice-a-month phone calls to keep each other abreast of life’s unfolding.

Mang Lauro has said he blames himself for not being around to defend his helpless family. In a society such as ours, much is expected of a man—as a father, he is supposed to be the larger breadwinner in the family, and the main defender of the household. Failing at the latter shakes a man to his very core. This is why perhaps Mang Lauro sounds and appears like he has yet to forgive himself even if the circumstances were beyond his control.

This Christmas, as in the past 19 years, he will be spending the day at the cemetery. Maybe his nieces will accompany him, or maybe he will be alone again. He will be sitting by the tombs of his Estrellita, his Carmela, and his Jennifer, lighting candles and arranging the flowers he has brought for them. He will be making his supplications to the Lord, and alternately talking to his dead family members in his thoughts, and hoping they will let him know how they are doing.

This Christmas, as we gather with our own family members and partake of the noche buena before us, let us please remember these two families in our thoughts. Please pray that the real perpetrators of the crime be finally brought to justice. Pray as well for forgiveness, the courage to move on, and peace of mind.

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

December 17, 2010

While no one was looking...

...the Bureau of Internal Revenue quietly changed its list of the Top 500 Individual Taxpayers of 2009. As per media colleague Inday Espina-Varona of ABS-CBN's Boto Mo Patrol Mo group, one of those named in the initial list actually only paid P300,000 and not the P57 million as purported by the government agency. The person complained that that kind of wrong info would attract kidnappers, when he/she was basically just from the middle class...not that anyone deserves to be kidnapped.

Of course, there are still lingering questions on why some taipans (and taipanettes) are not included in this list. I can only say, those guys may have hired better accountants and tax lawyers to do their taxes. In fact, one former BIR tax agent is reportedly the tax accountant of a major Philippine company with Castilaloy leanings. As you know, BIR employees know enough of the country's tax laws and tax codes to exploit any possible loopholes. So there.

Anyhoo, this is the updated BIR list. Thanks for the heads up, Inday.

Top 500 Individual Taxpayers 2009 (Updated)

December 13, 2010

Top taxpayers in the Philippines 2009

Celebrities, businessmen among top taxpayers

MANILA, Philippines - Celebrities like Wilfredo "Willie" B. Revillame and businessmen like San Miguel Corp. top honcho Ramon S. Ang landed on the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s (BIR) list of the biggest taxpayers for 2009, along with telecommunication giants Smart Communications, Inc. and Globe Telecom, Inc.

The lists of top 500 individual and top 500 corporate taxpayers have been published on the bureau’s Web site, in compliance with Section 71 of the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997 that states "the Commissioner may... publish a list containing the names and addresses of persons who have filed income tax returns," BIR Commissioner Kim S. Jacinto-Henares said in a phone interview Sunday. (The rest at ABS-CBN.)

FOR the public's convenience, here are the lists of the top 500 individual and corporate taxpayers in the Philippines, as per the Bureau of Internal Revenue:

Top 500 Individual and Corp. Taxpayers 2009

Now, it's 'Pinoy Homecoming'

(The web site for DOT's Pinoy Homecoming 2011 program.)

THE Department of Tourism (DOT) is targeting to increase tourist arrivals by 8 percent to 3.6 million in 2011 by attracting more balikbayan, especially those from the United States, through a reinvigorated visitor program.

Dubbed “Pinoy Homecoming 2011”, the program is being presented by tourism attaches to key Filipino communities in Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco and other US cities with large concentrations of Filipinos.

Department spokesman and Assistant Secretary Benito Bengzon Jr. in an interview with the BusinessMirror said, “It’s basically a renewed campaign to reach out to Filipinos in the US, because it’s home to the largest Filipino overseas community.”

According to DOT data, there were 3.02 million tourist arrivals last year, 197,921 of which were Philippine passport holders permanently living abroad—but excluding contract workers.

Visitors from the United States, which include Filipino-Americans, accounted for 19.31 percent of total arrivals, or 582,537, making it the top source of tourist arrivals for the Philippines.

Based on the arrival/departure cards of the Bureau of Immigration, 688,855 Filipinos who arrived in 2009 came from the US, Canada, Australia, Britain, Japan and others, including 197,921 vacationing overseas Filipino workers.

Bengzon, currently officer in charge of tourism planning and promotions following the resignation of Vicente Romano III as undersecretary, said among the significant events in 2011 would be the 25th anniversary of the Edsa People Power Revolution. “The anniversary strikes at the heart of the Filipinos, considering many of them joined that historic event.”

The Pinoy Homecoming 2011 project was bid out by the DOT and won by BCD Pinpoint with an offer of P2.9 million. The project “covers developing the concept, audio-visual production [five- minute and two-minute versions], and web-site development and content, design of collaterals and a few more,” according to Romano.

The company has set up a web site for the project at The site will provide news and updates on travel to the Philippines. "Apart from helping balikbayan plan a fun and memorable visit to the Philippines by providing itineraries, activity calendars and travel guides, it also aims to make travel more attractive to budget-conscious balikbayan with exclusive year-round promos, special offers and discounts,” the web site said.

(Visitor arrivals of overseas Filipinos, 2009)

BCD Pinpoint was the same company responsible for the web site, introduced in conjunction with the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” brand launching on November 15, but was later shut down due to negative feedback on content and the URL address.

Asked for more details of the BCD project, Bengzon said his office “will have a look at that separate group. As Secretary [Alberto] Lim has mentioned, we will go through the right process, go through soliciting the bids, and studying the proposals.”

Under the term of Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano, the DOT mounted an annual “Ambassador [to Washington, D.C.] and Consuls General Tour of the Philippines” that brought Fil-Ams from the US, Canada and other US territories to the country for a four-day visit, usually including an audience with President Arroyo.

The program was launched in 2005 but was later scrapped in 2008 and 2009 after the American financial meltdown that brought its economy to a standstill.

Bengzon said “all marketing initiatives” started under Romano will be continued. Among these are promotions to attract the overseas Filipinos, “organizing road shows, travel fairs, continued familiarization tours for foreign travel agents and media,” which he said were “effective in communicating with the outside world” the desirability of the Philippines as a tourist destination.

At present, he said, the department has ongoing travel missions to South Korea, Jakarta, as well as India in anticipation of the start of flights to the latter by Philippine Airlines in March 2011.

Bengzon, who leads the high-level delegation to India, said the travel industry players in India will put together and produce their tour packages for the April–June Indian travel season. “With more than a 50-percent increase in target arrivals from India, the mission will help ensure the Philippines will be in the Indian tour operators’ 2011 tour offerings.”

(DOT Asst. Sec. Benito Bengzon Jr.)

The DOT also said a tour group from India recently completed a four-day incentive tour in the Philippines. The group, composed of 224 key people of Nerolac Paints such as chemists, engineers and other paint-technology professionals, visited Manila, Tagaytay and Pagsanjan from December 2 to 5 for sightseeing, casino gaming, nightlife entertainment and shopping.

In a press statement, DOT Marketing Team India head Raymund Glen Agustin said this is the largest incentive group from India this year, made possible through Cutting Edge, an Indian-based tour operator in partnership with its local associate Shroff International Travel Care. Cutting Edge participated in the familiarization tour for the Indian travel agents in 2009 and has committed to send in 2011 incentive groups covering more than a thousand visitors on a staggered basis.

“The arrival of such a huge group is a direct result of our familiarization trip program for travel agents and media as one of our marketing and promotional efforts for the Indian market,” added Agustin.

Bengzon said since the department budget had come under scrutiny by legislators, the agency is now more focused in its marketing initiatives. “We’ve seen over the last few months that there is a larger stake for the private sector and it has seen the value of participating in trade fairs. We have to include the practicability of having dance groups [perform Filipino dances during the fairs to promote the country], but the centerpiece is the business-matching where Filipino travel agents meet with their counterparts.”

Asked about the initial branding effort that was recently scrapped, the DOT spokesman said there is “no deadline” to come up with a new brand or slogan. “The process will be more deliberate and more thorough. But we hope to have a corresponding TOR [terms of reference] by December. This [process] will take time.”

(My story, originally published in the BusinessMirror on Dec. 10, 2010.)

A hero's story, one year after

(Artist's rendering of the Kalingain Batang Mahirap Learning Center in Cavite, of the Dynamic Teen Co.)

SINCE winning CNN’s Hero of the Year Award in 2009, Efren Peñaflorida of the Dynamic Teen Co. (DTC) has become probably one of the most recognizable faces in the country.

During former US Vice President Al Gore’s speech at the SMX Convention Center in June—which was quite a highbrow affair from where we were seated—I amusedly observed men and women, dressed to the nines, crowding around Efren and requesting for photos to be taken with him. He gamely posed with his fans, and gave them his shy smile, exuding humility and a generous spirit that endeared him to them even more.

According to Jan Chavez Arceo, one of his many supporters who knew him even before he received the CNN award, “Efren still takes public transportation” when he moves about. “We even have to insist to send a car to him so he can attend his many appointments.” She also notes he didn’t take a single centavo from the $125,000 award money given to him by CNN, not even to give some to his parents or buy his own house, as we Pinoys are wont to do. (Of course, thanks to the IRS, the award was reduced to $80,000.)

Efren, who spoke to the BusinessMirror during a press briefing by the Discovery Suites for its Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, said the money all went to an account in the name of DTC. It is the organization he cofounded with three other high-school classmates in 1997, which first started out implementing a feeding program for the children in the slum areas in Cavite, then graduating to its now-famous pushcart-literacy program.

Efren is the second child of Lucila, a vender, and Efren Sr., a tricycle driver. His older brother Edgardo is an overseas contract worker, while younger sister Glennis May also helps out in DTC. Efren Jr. was able to finish a college degree in computer technology from San Sebastian College, with the help of his mentor, KB Manalaysay, founder of Club 85-86, which also nurtured him in its own street literacy program. Thereafter, he finished an education course from Cavite University, received an honoris causa PhD in Pedagogy from the National Teacher’s College, and will hopefully complete his master’s degree in Economics Management (“’pag maluwag na ang oras”).

A portion of the prize money went into buying a 291-square-meter lot in Cavite, where DTC’s Kalingain Batang Mahirap Learning Center will rise. About 10 percent of the prize money was donated to the church, while the rest was used to set up a scholarship fund for the kids they cater to, who all want to go back to school.

Efren hopes that the center would be inaugurated by March 5, 2011, his 30th birthday. He cites generous sponsors like La Farge Cement, Boysen Paints, HCG bathroom fixtures and Mariwasa Tiles who’ve helped put up the two-story building, which is designed like a pushcart.

“There is a room for computers, a library, an activity room,” he excitedly explained. The center is basically a place where kids can hang out, as well as supplement their education as DTC plans after-school tutorials. “Hopefully, the kids will be encouraged to study, do research, do their activities there.” The entire building is estimated to cost P11 million. SGV & Co., meanwhile, has volunteered to do the group’s bookkeeping.

(Efren Peñaflorida, 2009 CNN Hero of the Year awardee, answers questions from media at a press luncheon, Dec. 2, 2010.)

Asked how his life changed after winning the CNN award, Efren said: “In the beginning, I know I had a calling to do this task. Right now, it’s a bigger responsibility, because I’m not just an individual, but I represent the whole DTC team.”

I asked him if it was much easier to court girls now since he’s been declared a “hero”, he chuckled and said, “’Di ko alam. Wala pa sa priorities ko.” He is focused, he stressed, on DTC’s projects. The young man took all the good-natured ribbing in stride, especially after I asked him about his rumored desire to court actress Angel Locsin.

I asked Efren if he’s so conscious now of his every movement that he can’t even smoke or drink, or go to parties, like most normal young men like to do. “Even before naman, I didn’t smoke and drink. I have no vices,” he said. But he excitedly told us how he rubbed elbows with celebrities like Jessica Alba, Renée Zellweger and Jon Bon Jovi after the CNN awards.

Rezcel Fajardo, DTC co-founder, intimates, though, that since Efren’s win, he has lost a lot of his private time. He is so well-known that people literally stop him in the streets and ask for a photo-op. “He also has to attend to so many engagements,” she says in Tagalog, and that it has become quite difficult now to even get him to attend simple get-togethers among friends. But Efren tries to keep his Saturdays and Sundays free, so he can still go about pushing a kariton filled with books and teaching the slum kids.

Since DTC started its street literacy program, Efren says 1,800 of the kids who used to crowd around their pushcarts have gone back to school. Some have even graduated and are now professionals.

Since winning the CNN award, he says, the team now gets more respect from the community and many now believe in their cause. “Dati sinisigawan kami ng mga tricycle drivers na sagabal kami sa daan,” Efren recalled with amusement.

However, this doesn’t mean it is much easier now for his group to convince parents to allow their children to join its projects. “A day with us can mean a day without extra income and food for these families,” Efren explained, as the children are also put to work by their parents. Still he is proud to say that many of their kids who finished college have returned to help out in accomplishing DTC’s mission.

While it’s true that donations initially poured in after he won the CNN award, Efren is almost embarrassed to admit that a number of pledges promised them never materialized. He says it was those pledges which emboldened the group to construct the learning center. “Pero ngayon ang hirap na balikan ’yung mga nag-pledge,” he said. I asked who these companies were, but he respectfully declined to identify them. Rezcel told me that one organizer in the US even ran away with the funds that were supposedly donations for their organization.

Apparently, after the CNN event, a group presented itself to put up a concert to raise more funds for DTC, but claimed losses from ticket sales. The organizer then tried to bill Efren for its concert expenses. “Saan ka naman nakakita ng beneficiary, siya pa ang magbabayad ng expenses ng organizer? Because of that issue with the organizer, Efren just left the US without the donations,” she sadly narrated. “Now there are donors from the US asking us if we received their funds, and we have to explain what happened.”

(Efren with Discovery Suites general manager Bobby Horrigan, and hotel owner Cynthia L. Tiu light up the hotel’s Christmas tree in the lobby.)

Efren says DTC’s funds from the CNN win are almost used up, so the group needs assistance in sustaining the learning center and professionalizing its operations. “We need to make sure that utilities are paid, and administrative and maintenance services are funded. Right now, everyone is [working] on a voluntary basis,” he said.

Mercifully, there are legitimate groups like Discovery Suites which have put their money where their mouths are. If guests book the hotel’s “Christmas Three” package—a three-day/two-night stay at a cost of only two nights, including a buffet breakfast for two in a Junior Suite—a portion of the room revenues will be donated to DTC.

“We were touched and inspired by the selflessness of Efren and the organization’s youthful volunteers,” says Discovery Suites general manager Bobby Horrigan. “Giving the children a chance for a better future by providing them basic education is a worthy and admirable cause. Real change will happen if you provide the essential tools to succeed.”

To augment the donation, the hotel will likewise allocate a portion of its December beverage revenues from 22 Prime, its steak restaurant, and Restaurant 5, its café, to DTC.

Asked his long-term vision for DTC, Efren says he wants its projects replicated nationwide. There are already a few areas like Naga, Cainta and Quezon City which have put up their own street literacy programs. Even Kenya and Nigeria have asked Efren for his help. But his ultimate aim is to keep encouraging more children to go back to school because, as he himself has experienced, a good education improves people’s lives.

Let’s help Efren achieve his dream.

* * * *

For inquiries on the Christmas Three project, call Discovery Suites at 719-8888 or e-mail Donations to the Dynamic Teen Co. will also be accepted at the hotel for the duration of the promo.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on Dec. 10, 2010.)

December 10, 2010

Team Philippines wins TARA 4!

CONGRATULATIONS to Richard Herrera and Richard Hardin (aka the Two Richards) for winning Season 4 of The Amazing Race Asia (TARA). Woot-woot! (Details here.)

While they were not my favorite Philippine team - I was rooting more for Jessy and Lani – the Two Richards showed they had the best blend of brains and brawn to win this race. I kept on screaming and clapping my hands as I cheered them on to their win tonight. But it was pretty clear at the onset of the episode they were going to be victorious because they just looked so determined.

As the episode began with a flight from Incheon to Singapore, the closest competitor of the Two Richards was the father-daughter team of Natasha and Hussein from Indonesia. Although they ended up in third place, I just have to tip my hat to Hussein, who was really such a cool dad for even agreeing to this race with his daughter. I'm sorry I really never liked her. It seemed that she kept on making her Dad do all the most difficult tasks, one of them at the coconut trees even leading to some mild injury. I feel so sorry for Hussein for having such a brat of a daughter. But there is no shame in ending in third place bec. he was really such a trooper.

And because he had such difficulty accomplishing the tight-rope task of the race in this episode, Michelle and Claire from Singapore - previously in last place having left 10 hours behind all the other teams, overtook the Indonesian team to win second place. They're the youngest team ever to compete in TARA and it was their spunkiness that helped them to hang in the race.

But all teams were actually super competitive, and each episode sprang a new surprise on the audience in terms of the level of difficulty (or downright trickiness) of the challenges, the wonderful destinations the teams traveled to, and insights into the behavior of each team member.

With the recent victory of Manny Pacquiao at the boxing ring, and the Azkals making such a good showing in the Suzuki Cup, this win by Team Philippines in TARA is just the icing on the cake for the country! While we may not be doing so great in our political and economic landscape, at least we're getting our kicks in the sports and entertainment arena. Congratulations again to the Two Richards! Mabuhay!

December 07, 2010

Little people

KIKAY, my eight-year-old grandniece-slash-goddaughter, is visiting over the weekend. Most of the kids in the neighborhood annoy me, especially the screamer behind my home—the bratty monster—but Kikay is a delight, and I’m not just being subjective here because we’re related.

Like when I went down this morning, I found her “reading” the front page of the newspaper. (Yes, we are one of the very few families that still subscribe to a hard copy, since my Mama doesn’t care to go online to read the paper the way I do.)

So I sat down beside Kikay on the red sofa and asked her to read the headlines aloud (never mind that they were scary...“N. Korea readies missiles,” etc.), as well as some paragraphs in the stories. I just wanted to make sure she was at the appropriate reading level, and correct her pronunciation of some words if need be. Except for the confusion over “readies” which she pronounced like the “e” in “read,” everything checked out...yes, we have a bright one here! Woot-woot!

But our girls really have been fast learners in reading and are astute. It reminded me of a niece, Boo-Boo—now all grown up and in her 20s—doing the very same thing every morning. She, beside my Pop, who had started all of us on the newspaper-reading habit, would open to the business news and look for the peso-dollar exchange rate, while the grandfather was perusing the front page.

Boo-Boo was only about six years old then and still living with us. Maybe she heard us talking often about the foreign-exchange rate, or exclaim how the peso went up or down while we watched the news on TV. As fate would have it, for a time she did work as a forex trader, and is the math genius in the family.

Her older sister was the talker when she was a toddler. If she wasn’t telling stories about what she had read in a book, or what activity she recently did with her parents, she was always asking questions about every little thing that fascinated her. I remember that even our driver then, who would try taking over answering questions she had thrown at my Mama and me, would also give up, exasperated at her stream-of-consciousness questions. Not surprisingly, now pushing 30, she is also a writer and sells bank products.

Kikay isn’t as sophisticated as her titas yet, but with a little more training and more weekends spent with me, hah! I’m sure she’ll turn out just as clever. (Or be a freak and scare the living delights out of her classmates just with a killer look! Mwahaha! Cue in evil witch laughter here.)

But it’s interesting how these little people have personalities all their own already. One would think that at such young ages, they still have no minds of their own, and are just blank slates absorbing all what’s being said to them, or the other things happening around them. However, it’s their reaction to the outside stimuli that indicates what kind of personality they have and how they may eventually turn out. Portent of things to come, I always say.

My friend Cassie’s precocious daughter Koolits, for instance, has always been such a drama queen even before she went to pre-school. She dishes out lines like she was a 25 year old and is seemingly impatient with her mom when the latter doesn’t get her. I can’t help but laugh out loud when Cassie posts Koolits’ latest spiel on Facebook.

Here’s a typical conversation:

Cassie (on the phone): Hi, Koolits!

Koolits: Hi, Mom.

Cassie: Whatcha doin’? Have you eaten merienda already?

Koolits: Yes, I already ate. Uh, Mom, I HATE TO SAY THIS, but I’m having pancit canton again.

Five years old going on 25? You bet! Hahaha!

With Kikay, except for the occasionally difficult feeding time—she can be a picky eater—she has always been a joy to bring anywhere. She hardly raises a fuss and is well-behaved even at Church, for instance. She certainly is not one of those who will chase other kids down the church aisles, and be a constant embarrassment to her parents trying to listen to the priest’s sermon.

I remember the time we had to hurriedly go home to our province because my brother, her Lolo Daddy, had passed away. It was the first time for her to ride a plane and she was only five years old. She quietly just observed what was going on as all the other passengers filed into the plane.

As the plane started taking off, I just told her it was like riding a car as well, but faster because it would bring us to a far away place, across big bodies of water and cities, and not just to SM or The Podium, which were very near to our home. Adults have to explain these things sometimes just to try to allay whatever fears the child may have. But I don’t think I actually needed to explain it to Kikay. She was fearless.

But I knew she would be bored soon enough, as kids most often are these days. In our haste to get to the airport, she wasn’t able to bring her favorite toy, which probably would not have fit in her small backpack anyway. So I espied a magazine in the seat pocket in front of her and took it out for her to read. Turned out to be Forbes magazine.

I thought she would lose interest in it soon enough—I had no glossy magazines with me, and was just reading a newspaper—but Kikay kept on turning the pages, then stopped at some pages, seemingly reading them. I wondered what she was thinking about when her eyes fell on words like gross domestic product, junk bonds, or a stock’s P/E ratio. (Well, we got to start them early, why not?!)

But typically, her eyes would linger the longest at the slick gorgeous ads of high-end clothing and shoe brands. And I thought, “Dear God, not another kikay in the family!”

Kikay has always been the quiet type, I suppose she gets it from her dad, as her mom has an attitude that can’t be mistaken as anything but coming from our side of the family. When Kikay’s visiting, and everyone else is out or I’m busy writing, she plays by herself with her own toys, as she waits for her playmates at the park to come out. She knows how to amuse herself with her coloring books, story books, and, when the TV is switched on, the cartoons.

In other words, unlike other children these days who can be such a pain to hang around with, hindi siya mahirap aliwin. And as often as adults do, I was hoping at the back of mind that when Kikay grows older, she would apply the same resourcefulness and self-sufficiency in her work. (Oh, but please, God, don’t make her a corrupt government official!)

Having kids around can be a joy. You observe them and see how they react to other kids or to adults, and more often than not, you marvel at how God is so smart to have created such wonderful creatures. It also gives you hope that perhaps, despite the tremendous amounts of crises the world finds itself in these days, the future is still going to turn out fine.

(Originally published on Dec. 3, 2010. My column, Something Like Life, is out every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photos and images from the Internet.)

November 29, 2010

Anatomy of a failed tourism brand*

(I earlier blogged about this interview on Nov. 26, 2010, found here.)

What went on in the making of 'Pilipinas Kay Ganda'
*Originally published in the BusinessMirror Marketing page, Nov. 29, 2010. Correction, P600 million should have read P600,000. Apologies to the DOT, Ms. Villapando and the readers.

(Ms. Ong's own defense in her column, Citizen in the Phil. Star, Nov. 27. 2010. Then a reaction to Ms. Ong by The Warrior Lawyer in Pilipinas Kay Praning.)

November 28, 2010

Sidcor Sunday market

(Weaving through the pathways is much easier now bec. of the more spacious market area. All images copyrighted Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo)

IF you wake up one Sunday morning eager to do your marketing, and is faced w/ just an empty lot at the Lung Center of the Phils., it can only mean you have been remiss in visiting your sukis lately. The Sidcor Sunday market has been at the Eton Centris lot (where the weird flying saucer-like contraptions are) along Edsa, near the corner of Quezon Ave. for the past 3 Sundays already. It's actually quite near Lung Center so all you need is motor down further toward Edsa, or walk? you could try that too.

(Flowering plants, herbs, and shrubs sold at the market.)

We were there at the opening on Nov. 7 and the area is quite larger than the old Lung Center lot. I like the new site better bec. at least, the ground is now covered in stone bricks, so even if it rains, your shoes don't get muddy. Accdg to the vendors, most of them were fully paid up at the Lung Center 'til December, but the new hospital management decided to eject them as the lot where the vendors used to set up would be paved w/ concrete. Quite possibly, the vendors said they would move back to the Lung Center after a year or so, after the concreting is done. The only problem at Eton is that the parking area is smaller, compared to Lung Center, so it's best if you bring a driver to wait on you and look out for a parking spot to open.

(While these poinsettias look pretty to buy, it's best to buy them about a week or so before Christmas so the leaves are still red throughout the holidays.)

Bec. we were still unfamiliar w/ the new layout of the vendors, we couldn't find our sukis. But I found it much easier to peruse all the vendors' goods this time, as the large area allowed for brisker walking, and less bumping into other buyers. I just wish that the stalls were better organized into different sections - dried fish, plants, fruits, cooked foods, veggies - organic and otherwise, seafoods, meats, etc. so it'll be quicker to compare prices on similar items. Also, with a better organized layout, those who just want to buy a few specific items will be able to get the products they need and leave the market immediately.

(One of the many stalls that sell cooked food.)

(Kare-kare, dinuguan, bopis I think, and igado.)

Btw, I wish the organizer could attract more vendors of real yogurt, as well as coco-sugar for those who need to control their blood sugar. Of course, it would really be great if Sidcor could get some choice vendors at Salcedo market to sell at Eton at well. (Btw, I'm quite eager to check out the new weekend market at BGC Taguig, but 'ya know I live in the boonies. hehe. But soon, soon!)

(Mama buying good-sized shrimps.)

(Various fish - sole, dapa, maya-maya, tilapia, etc.)

The Sidcor Sunday market is open from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m.

(Some crunchy-looking pako or fern for your salad.)

(Fake diwal. The vendor claimed it was from Roxas City. My family's from Roxas, and this is not how diwal looks like. Bought it just the same to see what it tastes like. Pretty bland and tough when they are large. The small ones are softer, and best baked w/ garlic, butter, and cheese.)

(Still feels like summer bec. of the variety of fruits on display!)

(Mangosteen from Davao.)

November 26, 2010

Why Campaigns & Grey proposed the ‘Pilipinas Kay Ganda’ slogan*

(One of four 'exploratory advertising concepts' proposed by Campaigns & Grey to the Dept. of Tourism. The others are here. All images courtesy C&G.)

AS I was listening to Yoly Ong, group chair of advertising giant Campaigns & Grey explain why they had proposed the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” brand to the Department of Tourism – aside from four other brands btw, all in English – I was almost half-convinced that it could’ve worked.

I know, I know – most of you probably don’t want to hear about it anymore. But apparently there was some sound basis for creating the brand, despite an admitted lack of research and test inputs from the targeted market, which was apparently, the Filipino migrant communities (Fil-migs), especially those residing in North America.

In 2009, as per data from the DOT, there were 3 million tourist arrivals, down 4% from 2008. Of last year’s arrivals, the largest chunk at 582,537 (19.31% of total) came from the United States. This was followed by Korea (497,936), Japan (324,960), China (155,019), and Australia (132,330). Tourists from Hong Kong were 122,786, accounting for only 4% of total arrivals, even before the botched hostage rescue on Aug. 23 occurred. Overseas Filipinos, or Philippine passport holders permanently residing abroad (excludes overseas workers), who visited in 2009 were 197,921, up 1.35% from 2008.

Ong said she didn't understand why there was so much anger at the use of the Filipino language. Tourism stakeholders and many bloggers, including yours truly, felt English should be the language used in the DOT campaign. "Let’s say that roughly, 20% of the Fil-migs understand Tagalog. Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese [which DOT was targeting for its campaign], do not understand English either!” she said.

“If we go by that argument that Tagalog only appeals to our fellow Filipinos, look at the data. The 580,000 visitors from North America are what DOT calls ‘low-lying fruit’. Do you know how many Fil-migs there are? Almost 10 million! So if we just got the 10M to come, just once, we would have a 300% increase [in tourist arrivals]! And we would be no. 2 [in Asia] like Singapore. Because by their numbers, there were 23 million [arrivals in] Malaysia, No. 2 was Singapore at 9 million, No. 3 Thailand, No. 4 was Indonesia, No. 5 was Vietnam! Only 700,000 tourists more than us last year!,” she added.

I was interviewing Ong, along with Marilyn Villapando, C&G chief of corporate affairs on Nov. 23, Tuesday, at the Edsa Shangri-La Hotel where they were holding a planning seminar. Four hours later, DOT Undersecretary for Planning and Promotions Vicente “Enteng” Romano III, irrevocably resigned his position, accepting full responsibility for the PKG branding exercise. He later admitted in his press briefing, that it was rushed.

(Yolanda "Yoly" Villanueva-Ong, C&G group chairperson)

Inspired by Pacquiao, Black-Eyed Peas

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the PKG brand is the best slogan ever created in the history of Philippine tourism, but neither did C&G apparently. The agency actually submitted four other “advertising concepts” to Romano. “We chose five [concepts], because normally, what we do is we try to go to the closest to where they came from, and close to what is generally expected of a tourism campaign, which is the ‘adjective campaign’ – ‘Amazing’, ‘Incredible’, ‘Charming’, whatever, ‘Truly Asia’,” Ong explained.

“And it was going wilder and wilder. Last one was really a trial. ‘What if we created a campaign that had primarily a Tagalog word?’ Kasi nga, we don’t have research. We were only using our own insights.” She added that they took inspiration from one of Black-eyed Peas’ hits “Bebot”, composed by Filipino-American, and had in mind Manny Pacquiao’s recent string of victories versus his boxing opponents.

“So we had a feeling that there was a curiousity about the Philippines and maybe ‘Kay Ganda’ would become like ‘Aloha’, but always with a translation incorporated in the logo. In fact, if we were to do a storyboard, it would have included Pacquiao, Lea (Salonga), Arnel (Pineda), Charice…interspersed with sceneries with e.g. Koreans, saying ‘Kay Ganda’ in their funny accents,” she further expounded.

The usual branding process

Under normal circumstances, especially for private sector clients, planning for a whole brand concept takes about a year, Ong said. This comes after an intense three years conceptualization of the vision for a new brand, as was the case for Procter & Gamble, a C&G client. “And as it comes closer, they flesh it out with programs and then everything. Nothing airs without testing,” she emphasized.

She added that if the client is going to tap a new market, it “mines insights” from targeted consumers. “Of course, not everybody can afford that kind of process. Sometimes we do shortcut it, but always, always, always, before you produce, before you spend one centavo on any production before airing, you test. That is something we will never violate. Even on a 90-day political campaign, we will test it first.”

Ong said, Romano contacted them in August asking if the agency could do a “Brand Architecture.” He wanted to know the “strategic approach” to arrive at a new brand to replace “WOW Philippines”.

“In fairness, he asked us to write out a TOR (terms of reference),” she said. So they sent him a proposal in early September priced at “P550,000 plus VAT. That’s the process. And the end of that is directional. It was with the understanding that it was a friendly-friendly rate. And he said he’ll find a way to have it approved,” Villapando said. So this was what Romano was referring to when he told me that the branding concept, including research, was “less than a million pesos, a friendly rate.”

Soon after, DOT was rushing them to come up with “Exploratory Advertising Concepts” ('adcepts') instead, which were the five that the agency eventually submitted. Ong said they had just a week to come up w/ those adcepts. By October 27, when Ong said she left for abroad, no concept had been approved. And by then, there was no more talk of how much the agency would be paid for its efforts. “I didn’t think it [the launch] was even going to push through because when I left, things were tentative. Then when I came back (Nov. 11), I was surprised that there was a launch already (Nov. 15).”

(One of the many logo designs submitted by Campaigns & Grey to the Dept. of Tourism.)

Of the five adcepts C&G submitted, DOT chose the Filipino slogan, but Romano didn’t like the agency’s earlier renderings of the ‘Pilipinas’ logo. He showed them the different logos of Spain, Maldives, Italy, and Poland, to emphasize the trend in logo designs abroad, which were “playful and light.”

The Polska fiasco

Ong dismissed accusations that they plagiarized the logo from ‘Polska’, stressing that the only thing the same with the ‘Pilipinas’ logo was the font. “The font is common. The colors are different. ‘Polska’ is all red. ‘Pilipinas’ is in different colors – there’s red, blue, in fact, I never even saw it before I left, because [the design was being sent] back and forth [from us to DOT], back and forth. So the final logo had the tarsier, the smiling coconut and the sun. President Aquino suggested the tarsier and smiling coconut. Bertie Lim was telling the truth.”

She said even the Grey Global's legal counsel said the logo, “wasn’t plagiarized. In fact, 'it should be Poland which should complain. It’s far [from the original Polska logo]. So it’s not plagiarism at all,' he said.”

In the end, the preview, or launch, whatever you want to call it, was just “too premature and the scale was a little too big,” she said. Ong also stressed that she had no inkling of the grandness of the affair, and was present for the event, contrary to what I had published earlier in my blog. (Sorry, my bad people! Off with the heads of those sources!) But she and Villapando left right after the unveiling of the new slogan, and “before the dancing girls came in.”

Ong also clarified that even if the PKG concept had been approved, the P200-million brand campaign budget of the DOT in 2011, would not go to C&G alone, as alleged by several quarters. “That [amount] includes production and media placements, and that’s the costliest expense. And you know, we were not really going to join in the bidding [for that]. If anyone [approved] the concept, then we would have created a storyboard, and then they would call for a bid for production houses, to execute the storyboard that we made. We’re not part of that. Then the media portion, which is 85% of the budget, is again to be bidded out among media agencies. We’re not a media agency! Our only part is the concept,” which isn’t part of the P200-million budget.

People might think all this is already moot and academic. In fact, I was thinking twice of even publishing this interview, as the issue is already considered yesterday's news. But I suppose, everyone who was involved in the controversy deserves to be heard. I doubt it would change the critics’ view on the PKG slogan. I still don't think it's the best, but I now appreciate the creative process that usually goes into thinking up of a new brand. Unfortunately, the entire branding process was fast-tracked, and you had DOT execs claiming that there was much research put into making the PKG brand. In fact, there was barely any.

The good thing that's come out of controversy, if any, is that the DOT will probably be more careful and not waver from accepted methology in coming up with a new PH tourism brand. Also, it's great how netizens tried to come to DOT's aid to help them improve its web site and propose more concepts for the brand.

It’s just unfortunate that in his eagerness to put out a brand campaign by 2011 aimed at boosting tourist arrivals, Romano made too many shortcuts, went overboard in launching a brand that should've first been tested, and caused a lot of negative feedback, thus imperilling the reputation of the gov't agency he worked for. And for that, rightly so, he had to quit. It was the honorable thing to do.

*The transcript of this interview will be published on Monday, Nov. 29, in the Marketing section of the BusinessMirror.

November 25, 2010

What's that song from Sesame Street again?

Manila's Best Kept Restaurant Secrets Awards 2010
(For details, click MBKRS 2010)

Generally agree w/ most of the winners, although there were mismatches in some categories. And definitely the term "secret" is used loosely here, as many of the restaurants have actually been around for ages, and quite known to the local and foreign dining public.

Nevertheless, the winners' list appears to be more objectively chosen this time, except that...

...or two or three winners which made me go hmmm...

Suffice to say, in Manila, mountaineering is considered an Olympic sport, and the 'most athletic' will certainly get to the top! (wink!)

November 23, 2010

DOT's Romano quits over branding flak (updated)

TOURISM Undersecretary Vicente Romano III tendered his irrevocable resignation Tuesday, taking full responsibility for the ‘Pilipinas Kay Ganda’ branding concept, even as he didn’t dismiss the possibility that camps who were against the "open skies policy" pushed by the department could be responsible for blowing up the issue into a controversy.

In a press briefing at the Department of Tourism following a meeting with President Aquino, DOT Secretary Alberto A. Lim said he accepted Romano’s resignation, and “hope[d] this put an end to the issue.” In Romano’s stead, the office of tourism planning and promotions would be temporarily headed by an officer-in-charge, assistant secretary for international tourism promotions Benito Bengzon, Jr. Bengzon is currently spokesman of the DOT as well.

Lim also added that the DOT would undertake “brand consultations with all stakeholders” and appoint a panel that would short list all recommendations. These, in turn, will be “subjected to market tests and focus group discussions.”

(Resigned DOT Usec. Vicente "Enteng" Romano III)

For his part, a somber Romano, said he tendered his resignation voluntarily, adding that no one pressured him to resign. “Nung pumutok ito nasa Amerika ako (when this blew up, I was in the U.S.), the first thing I did was to offer my resignation to Secretary Lim. I thought it was unfair that he was fielding all these questions [on my behalf].” His family and friends from the Black and White Movement were on hand to lend him support during the press briefing. He said he still had “no plans” what do after his resignation. “I just want to rest and try to reflect.”

Asked if there were sectors out to take advantage of the controversy, including those who were against the open skies policy being espoused by the government, Romano said in Filipino: “I suppose there are some sectors and some personalities who don't agree with the leadership at the DOT so maybe they wanted to blow up this issue.” Asked directly if Philippine Airlines owner Lucio Tan could be behind it, the resigned DOT official said: "I will reserve my comment on that if you don't mind."

Romano also absolved President Aquino and Secretary Lim from any involvement in the branding project, saying that both men had actually impressed on him to do a market study, and to postpone the preview, respectively. “When I presented the brand to the President, he had his own misgivings about the brand and specifically instructed me to do a comprehensive market research before launching it. I assured him it was just a preview event and we will do research after.” He added that Lim trusted him to go ahead with the preview despite personal misgivings that the event would be held on said date.

The PKG brand was previewed in a large-scale affair at the Oceana, San Miguel by the Bay, Mall of Asia on Nov. 15, complete with 3D video, dancing girls, fireworks and catered food. Tourism stakeholders who attended the event have said they were “stunned and disappointed” to see the new brand/slogan, especially since this was done in Filipino. Most felt the slogan should be in English, which is understood globally.

A disbursement voucher as well as other documents published by Malaya columnist and blogger Ellen Tordesillas indicated that the “approved budget for the Launching of the New DOT Philippines Branding…” cost P3.77 million. A Land Bank of the Philippines check was issued on Oct. 18, 2010, to the Tourism Promotions Board, an attached agency of the DOT, which hired the services of the event producer, sent out the invites, paid for pyrotechnics, hired the audio-visual producers, the caterers, and entertainment.

The largest cost, at P995,000 went to the production of a “one minute 3D animation of Philippine brand logo” to Animation 1 Inc. headed by one Edward Travis. Sources in the advertising industry expressed shock over the amount spent saying that “it already costs as much as a 30-sec. TV commercial.” A typical 30-sec. spot is priced about P1 million. (See documents below)

Romano also admitted to this blogger that it was his daughter Denese Romano who directed the event, but he said her services were for free. “I asked my daughter to direct it, but it was pro-bono. We only had 2-3 weeks to prepare for this. So I wanted to use a tried and tested director. In all the meetings, I brought her and introduced her. Sana wag lagyan ng kulay itong ginawa nya.

Romano denied that the PKG logo was “plagiarized” from Poland’s logo, as asserted by many quarters. He said “getting inspiration from existing designs is not an uncommon practice. In fact in one of the definitions of plagiarism, it is stated that, “While plagiarism is condemned in academia and journalism, in the arts it is often a major part of the creative process.’ “

He added that while the use of the Filipino language was used in the slogan was also hit, “I am still convinced it is a matter of execution. I honestly think a Manny Pacquiao saying ‘Pilipinas Kay Ganda’ will make a world curious and try to find out what it means.”

Contrary to rumors circulating in social networks, he told this blogger the slogan was never outrightly rejected by DOT’s tourism attaches. “That’s not true. We had a planning conference in Palawan which involved the tourism attaches. Pinakita kung gagamitin ang Pilipinas. Ang ibang markets sabi, 'baka mahirapn tayo pakilala yan dahil sanay sila sa Philippines.' 'Yung ibang markets naman sabi ‘pwede’ kasi sa ibang countries like Germany we’re known as Philippinen. So meron silang mixed inputs."

Romano admitted that he rushed the branding and its preview, and apologized to President Aquino and Secretary Lim for putting them in a spot, as well as to the Filipino public for causing the controversy.

"Before I joined government, I was in the streets clamoring for change. And when I joined, I wanted to spend every waking hour effecting that change.

“I’m in a hurry to have an advertising campaign going on by the first quarter of 2011, because I am fully convinced that every day we do not run a campaign is a lost opportunity to boost our tourism arrivals. It is a lost opportunity to generate jobs and alleviate proverty.

“I now realize that an idea as big as a new country brand needs time to germinate and blossom. There are no shortcuts.”

(Read Romano's full press statement here. Romano photo from his Facebook page)

'Pilipinas Kay Ganda' disbursement voucher
Documents courtesy of Ellen Tordesillas. Also available here

November 22, 2010

More than the usual

THE recent fiasco involving the Dept. of Tourism's 'Pilipinas Kay Ganda' branding/slogan has made many people in the tourism industry yearn for the good old days of sleek and elegant DOT TV ads.

I especially remember this one because it was shown on CNN and BBC although it was just for a short period. I suppose this was because of the lack of a budget for sustained promotions. But it was gorgeous, it made the point about the Philippines, and it was fun. If I'm not mistaken, this also won a tourism ad award in Europe.

Cebu in 48 hours

(Beachfront of BE Resort, Mactan.)

I’VE been going to Cebu since the late ‘80s and have been amazed by how much it has changed in terms of infrastructure, the increasing number of hospitality and food establishments, and gasp…the traffic! Of course, the traffic situation there still pales in comparison to Metro Manila, but gone are the days when one could virtually drive to any destination within Metro Cebu in less than 10 minutes.

One thing stands out in Cebu, however—and this has never changed in all the years I’ve visited—is the über-friendliness of the people. I swear, Cebuanos are really among the most hospitable among us Filipinos; almost everyone will go out of his or her way to make sure a guest will always have the best experience to take back home. (I notice that it’s actually the Metro Manilans who move to Cebu who are not as welcoming, which is unfortunate.)

(Fort San Pedro in Metro Cebu's port area.)

In case you haven’t been to Cebu yet, I suggest the next holiday you have, hop on a plane and go there. All major local airlines have daily flights to Cebu, leaving Manila almost every hour from as early as 5:30 am until 9 pm. (There are flights as well from Clark, Boracay, Palawan, and Davao, although on certain scheduled days.)

There are so many hotels to choose from—from budget deals and mid-range steals to swanky five-star accommodations. The same goes for food and shopping; bars, restaurants and malls are just everywhere! Name it, you have it - the Gaisano malls, SM, Robinsons and Ayala Center.

Transportation is not a problem since there are metered taxi cabs which can drive you anywhere, aside from the jeepneys. Buses ply many routes from Metro Cebu to the outlying districts. There are also a handful of trusty rent-a-car options to choose from.

(Magellan's cross is housed in a shrine protected by candle-wielding women.)

Here are a few suggestions of places to check out if you’re staying at least 48 hours in Cebu. Do the touristy route or check out places off the beaten track, it makes no difference, because you will have a great time, especially if you meet the right people.

* Casa Gorordo—an old house with furniture, paintings and other décor from 1860 to 1920. Located along Lopez Jaena Street, it was owned by the first Filipino bishop of Cebu, Juan Gorordo. Entrance fee P40. (Sorry, no photos of interiors as no cameras are allowed inside.)

* Fort San Pedro—the oldest and smallest fort in the Philippines which was built in 1565 after Miguel Lopez de Legaspi sailed into the country. Its present structure was only finished in 1738. The fort was meant to protect the Spanish conquistadors from local natives and supposedly marauding Muslim pirates. Located in Metro Cebu’s port area, it was later used as a Spanish garrison during the Philippine revolution.

* Shrine of Magellan’s Cross—said to be the cross planted by Portugese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s men upon his arrival in Cebu in 1521. The original is supposed to be encased in the present one now installed in this chapel in a plaza beside the Basilica Minore in downtown Cebu. Do watch out for the poor beggar kids who will try to harass you for loose change. The uniformed manangs who supposedly guard the Shrine may also sweet-talk you into buying all their candles.

(The Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño is always packed w/ devotees to the Sto. Niño petitioning him for miracles.)

* Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño—the oldest Catholic Church in Cebu established on the site where supposedly a Sto. Niño was found intact in a burned box purportedly left behind by Magellan and his crew. Sunday Mass is actually held at the courtyard across, as the main church can no longer accommodate the crowds that gather. Pilgrims inside the main church pray to the Sto. Niño and other saintly images.

* BE Resort—a hip and mid-priced hotel in Mactan with spacious rooms that have views that look out to the sea, as well as the beachfront below where you can lounge about and get a tan. For inquiries, visit

* Islands Banca Cruises—island hopping with a cool vibe. Chill out on the deck while sipping a cold drink, or get a massage while traveling to your next destination. You can go to Olango Island for bird-watching or a round of snorkeling at the marine sanctuaries of Gilutungan or Nilusuan. It also offers sunset cruises, barbeque picnics, and scuba diving. These bancas are especially built to accommodate anywhere from 10 to 15 persons, to as many as 30 to 35 persons depending on the size of the boats you are renting. For particulars, call (+63917) 630-0736, (032) 236-4896 or 516-1903.

(A burst of color and flavors in this antipasti platter from Chef Luca at Acqua, Shangri-La Mactan.)

* Acqua at Shangri-La Mactan—the best Italian restaurant in Cebu with northern specialties prepared by the jolly and talented Chef Luca Visiglia. Best treats from his kitchen are his antipasti sampler, ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and gorgonzola cheese, almond-encrusted lamb chops marinated in red wine, the thin crust pizzas, just to name a few. The restaurant also has an excellent array of wines. For reservations, call (032) 231-8224.

* Zubuchon at the Banilad Town Center—simply the best lechon in Cebu, bar none. Crispy-bubbly skin and herb-flavored, tender pork meat—sagad-sa-laman goodness. Even chef and food-show host Anthony Bourdain gave his stamp of approval on the pig. You get it boxed free for every kilo bought at P450 each, or order an entire pig for your parties. Recommended size is 16 to 18 kilos cooked weight at P5,500. To order, just call (032) 236-5264 or 0917-6274761.

(A plate of Zubuchon, the best Cebu lechon for me.)

* Taoist Temple – is an area of worship by the local Filipino-Chinese population. Located in Beverly Hills, the posh enclave of some of Cebu’s richest families, the temple has three praying rooms, two on the ground level, while one on is located at its highest peak, accessible by winding stairs. It is designed in the usual Chinese green and red colors, with images and sculptures of fierce dragons strategically located at the upper entrance, and on the pagoda-style rooftops. The main entrance is downhill where fervent devotees make the 99-steps-climb to the 38-year-old temple. Catch your breath while gazing at the wide expanse of the city in the distance.

(The Taoist Temple is the center of the religious life of Cebu's Filipino-Chinese community.)

* Carcar heritage town—a visit to Cebu isn’t complete if you don’t drop by Carcar, just a 45-minute drive down south of the metro. Aside from the tasty pork chicharon with laman the town is famous for and which are sold in many stalls in the public market, there are a number of lovely ancestral homes that are still standing and still used by local residents. There are quite a few, however, that have been turned into hardware stores and other commercial endeavors which kind of disrupts the old-town look, but I suppose one can’t stop progress.

Also, one of the best features of Carcar is the centuries-old St. Catherine’s Church which sits on a hill overlooking the rest of the heritage town. The present structure is actually its third incarnation after being first built in 1859. On the way back to the metro, you can drop by the many stores and booths by the street selling reasonably priced leather shoes and sandals. I wasn’t able to purchase a pair but I’m told the footwear is very durable and can last for years.

(Many of the ancestral houses in Carcar, have been turned into stores at the first floor.)

* Islands Pasalubong Center—on the way to Mactan International Airport, you can drop by the center which offers a wide array of Cebuano delicacies already packed and ready-to-go, such as the favorite breakfast treat danggit, mango juices and dried mango chips, otap and the like. The center carries the Islands Souvenirs clothing brand well-known for its trendy souvenir T-shirts which are witty and on the cutting edge of art. You can usually buy Brazil-made flip-flops which are marked down at even friendlier prices.

Of course, this is by no means a complete list. There is so much more to see and do in Cebu and its outskirts. But first-time travelers there will at least have an idea what to expect from the province via this short list. Have a great time! ;p

(Originally published in the BusinessMirror, Nov. 21, 2010. All photos copyrighted Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo. More photos of Carcar and Cebu here.)