September 27, 2010

Angara, HSAI Raintree partner to boost tourism in Aurora

(Dikasalarin Cove in Aurora province.)

THE province of Aurora promises to be the next go-to travel destination with the establishment of two new resorts: one for high-end tourists, and the other, a mid-priced hotel to cater to the average middle-income travelers.
In an interview with select reporters, Sen. Edgardo Angara, who hails from the province, said these resorts will be built on land his family owns and will be managed by HSAI Raintree Hospitality Management Inc.

HSAI Raintree president Annabella Wiesniewski said: “We want to open Aurora as the newest exciting tourist destination in the country. It is paradise, undiscovered.” The province sits on the northeastern portion of Luzon and faces the Pacific Ocean.

The first establishment is an 88-room hotel that will be located on a three-hectare property in the capital of Baler.

“It’s ready to break ground,” she said, and will be designed by architect Ed Calma, which promises a modern aesthetic but “will incorporate organic materials that are native to Baler,” such as local wood and stones, and its unique flora. The hotel is projected to be completed by June 2012.

It has a 150-meter beachfront on Sabang beach and will be geared primarily for local travelers. The Angara family already has a beach resort there called Bahia de Baler.

“It will be moderately priced, about P4,000 per night, and will be geared for domestic tourists. The provinces around Aurora are mostly land-locked so Sabang is the nearest beach for them. We have to make [the hotel] reasonable, but still very nice. Government offices and corporations around there can hold their meetings, conferences and seminars there,” said Wiesniewski. A 300-seat ballroom will also be built on the property where functions like conferences and wedding receptions can be held.

The second resort will be 20 minutes away from Baler central on a 100-hectare property located at the private Dikasalarin cove. On it will rise “60 rooms or villas of SLH [small luxury hotels] quality,” she added, ranging from about 50 square meters (sqm) to 200 sqm.

(Traversing one of Aurora's many clean rivers.)

“It’s like Monterey [California]. You drive along the coastline, and you see a very big cove,” she said. The beach is off-white but as fine as the sand of Boracay and with clear waters, she said, so it’s ideal for lounging about and swimming.

The villas, she said, “will be modern with glass, set against the mountains,” taking advantage of the picturesque view of the land- and seascapes. It will also feature a wellness center with a world-class spa. Those who are staying in the Sabang resort, she added, will be given the privilege of taking a day tour in the Dikasalarin property and enjoy its facilities and scenery.

Adjacent to the luxury resort, Angara donated a 10-hectare property, where an artist’s village is currently under construction. “This will give an opportunity for artists to just be away and indulge in their passions. We’ll take care of them, they won’t have to worry about [food and accommodations],” the senator said. The village will also feature an amphitheater where the artists can show off their works or perform.

“We’ve already been able to solicit the assistance of several well-known Filipino artists here and abroad to build individual cottages where the visiting artists can stay,” he added.

Angara cited the many activities that could be pursued in Aurora such as hiking, diving, trekking, mountain biking, bird watching and surfing.

“Baler was the first to introduce surfing in the country with its swells reaching 10 to 12 feet,” he said. A portion of the film Apocalypse Now where soldiers were catching waves was filmed at Charlie’s Point in Baler. A number of international bird societies also have been tracking migrating birds that summer in Baler.

“We have natural beauty - every 10 km. spectacular waterfalls—we have abundant water sources, we have streams, rivers, clean seas that’s why we nice dive sites there. We have a rich supply of marine life—Blue marlin, tuna, Spanish mackerel.” He stressed that travelers are safe in Aurora, being “the first province that was declared insurgency-free.”

(The historic Baler Church which 57 Spanish soldiers turned into a fort during the year-long Siege of Baler.)

Baler is also rich in history, he said, because it is where the infamous “Siege of Baler” happened. Fifty-seven Spanish soldiers held out at a local church for a year against Filipino troops, not knowing the Spanish-American War had already ended. The story was actually made the basis for the local film Baler, which was said to have helped boost travel arrivals in the province, as it showcased the local tourist spots. The event is also commemorated every year on June 30 during the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day.

Asked why he decided to collaborate with HSAI Raintree, Angara said, “We hear they’re the top in the business [of hospitality management].”

HSAI Raintree currently manages the Discovery properties of the Tiu family (of the JTKC Group) in Ortigas, Tagaytay and Boracay Island, and opened Albay to high-end travelers when it initially managed Misibis Bay Resort in Cagraray Island. (It terminated its contract with the resort’s owner, the Sunwest Group, in March.) HSAI Raintree is a partnership between Wiesniewski's Raintree Partners Inc. and the Tiu family's Oakridge Properties.

Although travel time from Manila to Baler currently takes about five hours—“it’s just like going to Baguio”—Angara said the completion of the SCTEx until Aurora will cut travel time by about 1.5-2 hours.

The proposed 60-km. four-lane expressway will start from La Paz, Tarlac and pass through Nueva Ecija, and traversing a scenic route to Baler.

“So it’s going to be such a beautiful drive like going from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe,” Wiesniewski said. Construction on the Tarlac-Aurora portion of the SCTEx is scheduled to start next year, Angara noted, and will be completed in time for the resorts’ opening.

Wiesniewski added that HSAI Raintree is already talking with major carriers Philippine Airlines, Southeast Asian Airlines and Cebu Pacific so they could explore the possibility of flying to Baler, once the resorts are completed.

There are two main airports in Aurora—one is the Dr. Juan C. Angara Airport in Baler with a 1,100 meter-runway, where Seair used to fly a twice-weekly route. Another airport with a 2-km runway is currently being constructed in the municipality of Casiguran, which will be able to accommodate larger jet aircraft and will turn into an international airport.

Currently, a provincial bus line connects Manila to Baler, passing through the Sierra Madre mountain range.

(Photos courtesy office of Sen. Edgardo Angara)

Belissima Bellarocca!

Marinduque is one of those laid-back Philippine provinces that most Filipinos don’t know much about. Except for its colorful and dramatic Moriones Festival celebrated every Holy Week, the island-province has pretty much been going along its merry quiet way, below the radar of most local or foreign tourists.

I myself didn’t have any reason to visit it until I received an invitation from Genesis Hotels and Resorts Corp.’s muy simpatico president Señor Miguel Cerqueda to stay at Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa, the plush resort it manages in the province. (Read the rest in BusinessMirror Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010.)

Surf's up in La Union

Surfing has given La Union a boost in terms of tourist arrivals.

According to data from Region 1 (Ilocos region) of the Department of Tourism, La Union tourist arrivals in the first half of the year grew 35 percent to 45,678, from 33,882 in the same period in 2009.

In an interview with the BusinessMirror, DOT regional director Martin Valera noted the growing number of surfing enthusiasts such that every weekend, about 300 surfers go to La Union to engage in the activity. This includes foreign students from the Manila-based International School, the British School and Brent School. (Read the rest in BusinessMirror, Sept. 27, 2010)

September 23, 2010

PNoy eats a NY dog

Didn't your mother tell you not to talk when your mouth is full? hehe. But this is nice, if only to show how down to earth President Aquino really is. (His yaya has been quoted as saying that PNoy is not a fussy eater at all.) And yes, there's nothing like a New York dog, especially the ones at Gray's Papaya. Yum.

Who really rocks though is Chief of Protocol Miguel Perez Rubio, who at 84, can still keep up w/ all this presidential business.

Btw, in case you guys are interested, on Sept. 22 (NY time), PNoy had lunch at Serafina restaurant and then a steak dinner at the moderately-priced Keens restaurant. Malacañang is apparently making sure the public knows exactly where and how we, the taxpayers, are feeding the President. Check out the President's Day at the Official Gazette.

September 20, 2010

Caption this

(Photo courtesy The Official Gazette of the Philippines)

PNoy: O, be a good boy ha?

VP Binay: Opo. Pero 'wag ka magmadaling umuwi ha?

ES Ochoa: Pare, isang Blue Label lang, ayos na ako.

I missed my Pop tonight

From the photo essay, Days with my Father by Phillip Toledano

This is for everyone who's lost a parent, or is living with aging parents.

September 10, 2010

'Christmas na!'

(Having a good laugh probably over Vic Valdepeñas, Union Bank president and COO-2nd from right-not being in AEV uniform are from left: Jon Ramon Aboitiz, AEV Chairman; Cholo Bernad, EVP for Strategy and Regulations, Aboitiz Power Corp.; Sonny Carpio, EVP-managing trustee, Aboitiz Foundation; and Jovy Batiquin, EVP/COO of Therma Marine.)

MOST Filipinos know Christmas is just around the corner when the ’ber months kick in, and the Christmas carols start playing in malls.

Those of us in the field of business journalism—and I still am despite writing mostly lifestyle pieces for this paper—know that the Yuletide season is upon us because Aboitiz Equity Ventures (AEV) holds the very first Christmas party of the year for media. And, yes, this distinguished company from Cebu holds it in September!

Due to conflicting schedules, I’d not been able to attend these AEV parties in the past years. But last week, I just had to make sure not to set up any other appointment on the night of the event. It was just one of those times I direly needed a midweek break.

(Basti Lacson, AEV Chief Reputation Officer, tries his hand at darts. Don't ask me what his job title means...I'm stumped as well. Seriously, he seemed to have the most fans among the Aboitiz crew...aba, heartthrob!)

And who doesn’t need one? We all had been subjected to the frustration and negativity stemming from the government’s botched hostage rescue, so the party was really a welcome diversion. So, sure, what’s a round of fun and games with a reputable bunch of people—I’m talking about the AEV officials here, not my media colleagues...hahaha—to take our minds off a most depressing time under PNoy administration?

AEV dubs these September media get-togethers as its Media Lechon Party, because it flies the delicious lechon Cebu is well-known for (no sauce needed!) for us Manila-based media to feast to on. Also, I suspect it’s because its officials try to get back at our sometimes-mischievous stories by subjecting us to the pressures of their complicated ridiculous parlor games. In other words, nili-lechon kami!

(AEV head honcho Montxu Aboitiz coaxes his unseen team mate into becoming a Pinoy Henyo, who should guess the word stuck to the latter's construction hat. This was one of the most challenging games of the evening.)

But how could we not just get into the playful spirit of the evening when Erramon "Montxu" Aboitiz himself, AEV president and chief executive officer, wholeheartedly dove into the activities? There were games where we had to guess movie titles; a dartboard; Taboo word game (which got me saying “eff” most of the time, because the thesaurus in my brain seemed offline that night); ring toss; blackjack, where we had to sing while we computed those darned cards (epic fail for me again, being Math-handicapped); and Pinoy Henyo (a takeoff from a TV show).

(Un)fortunately, my Pink team, led by company execs Miguel Aboitiz and Ricky Lacson, failed to make it as contenders to the top prize—some huge amount of gift certificates, which I joked was probably from the Gaisano Country Mall. (To be fair, it was not, otherwise poor winner would need a plane ticket to Cebu just to do her shopping.) Only when we realized that the winning team’s members had to literally sing it out just to claim the top prize, and with AEV officers judging a la American Idol, did Miguel and I congratulate ourselves for our team not making it. Who knew all these new songs anyway?! Ach.

(At the Taboo word game, Miguel Aboitiz, SVP for Aboitiz Power-2nd from left-is as hard-pressed as the rest of our team mates about the word I'm trying earnestly to describe. But lovely arms, dontcha think?)

So while many were not so lucky to take home any prizes, we all went home very lighthearted and chatty, not to mention with full bellies. Loved the yummy spread that evening at the Manila Polo Club’s Turf Room by the way. I especially took to the dark chocolate truffles...woohoo!

That was quite an enjoyable evening, made more special by the top echelons of the company being unafraid to let their hair down. Congratulations to the AEV management and its media handlers Carol Ballesteros, Baby Dimalanta and Liza Almonte for a hugely entertaining soiree. See you next year!

(Txabi Aboitiz, AEV SVP/Chief Human Resources Officer - standing, far right - is cool as a cucumber as his team mates, including BusinessMirror's own Lenie Lectura, beside Aboitiz, work on their Pinoy Henyo skills.)

*A thousand apologies to AEV management for the erroneous photo captions in my column, Something Like Life, published in the Sept. 10-11, 2010 print edition of the BusinessMirror. Mercury's in retrograde, that's all I can say. Ooof! (Photos courtesy of AEV.)

September 09, 2010

SMX welcomes back Manila Int'l Book Fair*

Something big is happening at the SMX Convention Center on September 15-19: the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF), the biggest and longest-running book fair in the Philippines, which turns 31 this year.

For three decades now, MIBF has been a one-stop shop for local and foreign publishers, wholesalers, retailers, book lovers and collectors, librarians, authors, and publishers’ representatives. It has also continuously contributed to the reading awareness of the Filipino by being the venue for book launches, dialogues with readers, and other book-related activities that reach out to a wide audience.

MIBF showcases the largest and most varied collection of literature, textbooks, educational supplements, general references, religious and inspirational titles, self-help books, management books, Filipiniana, coffee table books, popular novels, children's books, art books, graphic novels, rare and hard-to-find titles, magazines, audio and e-books, multimedia, teaching supplies and services, publishers' technology, and travel materials.

Students can avail of books at lower-than bookstore prices, while teachers and school administrators can compare offerings from various exhibitors and get the best prices for bulk purchases.

Youngsters can look forward to story-telling sessions, puppet shows, reading-related contests, robotic demonstrations, a parade of exhibitors’ mascots and cosplayers of their favorite book characters. Classes can also enlist in special seminars and workshops available round the clock at the Manila International Book Fair, while the young and old alike can enjoy mini-concerts or meet-and-greet sessions with well-known and up-and-coming authors and illustrators. (PR)

*This was sent by a friend. Hope you guys can go. (Photo from

September 07, 2010

Surviving tragedies

EVERYONE will have to face some crisis or tragedy at some point in his life.

If it’s not the loss of a loved one through death, it could be the loss of a job, a family home, the end of a relationship, the loss of one’s faith, etc.

Any of these situations can send someone on a tailspin of despair, as what probably happened to Senior Insp. Rolando Mendoza, who hijacked a busload of tourists on August 23. He felt aggrieved for being sacked from a profession that he loved, as well as desperate for the loss of his income and other benefits with which to support his family. That is not to say his subsequent behavior and how he dealt with his crisis is excusable. (Click Something Like Life for the rest.)