December 27, 2011

Pinoy stars share their fave Noche Buena dishes

THE Noche Buena (literally, “good night”) is the meal all Filipinos look forward to as a way to honor the God and tradition, as well as share our bountiful blessings with friends and family after a year of challenges in our careers and personal lives.

The traditionalists among us will usually have a Chinese leg of ham topped with pineapples and caramel glaze, a tray of rich and buttery ensaymada topped with grated quezo de bola with a steaming cup of hot tsokolate on the side, and a creamy fruit or buco salad for dessert.

Like many of us, our kapatid in the entertainment profession also partake of classic yuletide fare that epitomize our Spanish-Chinese-American influences, even as a few dream up of delightful (or zany!) dishes to enliven their midnight supper.

• LORNA TOLENTINO – Every Christmas, I always look forward to the food made by dear friends. Sandy [Andolong] makes the best sardines, Bibeth [Orteza] gives tuyo, Tita Pilar’s [Pilapil] ham is very good. I also look forward to the roast turkey my best friend will make. Basically, my Noche Buena feast is food made by friends. I can feel their love for me through these gifts. (Click Celebrity Noche Buena Feasts for the rest of my piece.)

Hope floats

THIS is the best editorial I've read so far this year. It captures the essence of who we are as Filipinos in a time of tragedy - how we all come together, and give hope to others. It is the Christmas story all over again.
EDITORIAL: Rejoice for a nation reborn
InterAksyon, Dec. 25, 2011

We have heard the good news reprised in various ways, and each story, we have on good account, is true:

The child was found floating on a raft of debris. He was saved by a dog. She clung to a pig until some higher power calmed the seas. He lost his wife and son and daughter and ended up saving, and being saved by, a stranger. Oh, the selflessness and the courage, the triumphant spirituality and enduring faith: The survivors are too busy saving each other to grieve for themselves.

We have heard of the miracles as well as of more numerous tragedies that engulf but all the more give them brilliance, and like wisened men now understanding why every star is surrounded but never denied by the larger night, we know that both light and darkness exist to help us navigate to wherever it is we need to go – and, should we choose to do so, to find our way home.

And so as we had gone, we now come from all corners of the world. Carpenters, sailors, teachers, engineers, nurses, lawyers, farmers, entrepreneurs, doctors, students, mothers, fathers – babes and wise men simultaneously, us all – bearing gifts for every child lifted from carnage.

The pilgrimage for Filipinos this Christmas is to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, and though God knows we are weary of uniting over grief, the nation embraces (yet again) the call to help sift through mud, trash, and logs. We embrace, yet again, the chance to help rebuild lives and homes, with as much zeal as we would curse out the evils that buried, and continue to bury, our compatriots. The corruption, ineptitude and apathy we decry. And then we put even our most jaded side aside to roll up our sleeves for the immediate tasks at hand, which include:

Donating in the face of corruption, working with the notoriously inept, and believing that this time around, nobody is apathetic.

How do we do it? How do we come back again and again, to say there is no hope, and then to show the hope to be as common as a loving parent, as a volunteer from every barangay, as an OFW in every home, as a Facebook account and a cellphone number that’s given up for spreading all things to #HelpCDO? How do we come to be our own best refutation of our most cynical selves?

Perhaps we look to CDO and Iligan as we did to Ormoc and Payatas and every town that drowned with every Ondoy and Pepeng and Ruping. Which is to say, here, all over here, there are as much children and whole families to be rescued and given room in our selfish lives, as there are seeds of hope to be planted in our own hearts. We are tired as a nation, and yet we know that in every tragedy, salvation is not the gift we bring for others, it is the miracle we hope to find for ourselves.

In the end, the wise men of the east got so much more than what they thought they were gifting the child in swaddling clothes. They received license to go home with vision and purpose, to rebuild cities on compassion, selflessness, sacrifice, and dreams shared with others. They received blessing to be reborn as simpler and humbler persons, but more worthy of their own nations, if not of their place in a Kingdom in heaven.

We are stubborn for the opportunity to see our nation reborn, with greater values of vigilance but also sacrifice, compassion, and united purpose. Tragedy that brings us home makes us both the wise men bearing gifts and the babe for which we would like to build a home. We are out to rescue ourselves.

December 24, 2011

The true spirit of Christmas is in giving

(First of two parts)

I’M sure that like me, you too are at a loss on how we can still make merry during the holiday season with what just happened in Cagayan de Oro, Iligan City and other areas struck by Typhoon Sendong’s fury.

It is a common feeling especially among survivors, that sense of guilt over why we are alive or doing well while our neighbors, the victims, are not.

And we wonder why this tragedy happened so close to Christmas, as if it will hurt less if it occurred any other time of the year.

What I do know is that because of this tragedy, we are now better attuned to what the yuletide season is really all about. It’s about sharing and giving, not just among friends and family, but also with complete strangers. We help them not because they can help us back, but because they are hurting from the loss of their homes and their loved ones.

Ramon Jimenez Jr. (Photo NPPA Images)

This time of the year, it’s usually about how big a gift one can give, or how much we’d like to impress a boss, or a lover with our presents. But in the case of Sendong’s victims, any donation, large or small, will be much appreciated. These are gifts that will truly mean something and make a difference in a person’s life.

With everyone helping out, we can make the victims of Sendong less cold, less hungry this Christmas. Please keep those donations rolling. And if you haven’t done it yet, please give now. Check out the Internet for the different organizations that are assisting in the relief effort, such as Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Red Cross. Thank you.


Rosanna Roces

FOR my annual Christmas forum, I asked a number of leaders in government and politics, business executives, artists and food enthusiasts what their fantasy Noche Buena feast would be. Most of them were actually quite happy with their usual midnight spread, although a few did unleash their creativity and came up with an eye-popping, lip-smacking sumptuous array of dishes.

A number of them actually cooked the dishes served for Noche Buena, while others mentioned family members as the geniuses behind this dish or that. There were those who stuck to the traditional dishes with recipes handed down from relatives who’ve passed on, while a few—like foodie JJ Yulo—gladly dreamt about “a plate with roasted bone marrow with the marrow quivering like a freshly-made flan, and eaten with toast points, sea salt, and a parsley salad.” (I, on the other hand, want a foie gras-stuffed cochinillo. I don’t know how that will taste, but I bet it’ll be good!)

But amid all the food and festivities, most underscored that what’s great about the Noche Buena is having the entire family around to share it with. My friend Leah Castañeda put it best: “To me, there is no need for steak, lobster or foie gras as long as everyone is present and having a great time.”

Malu Gamboa

To everyone, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Peace, love, and prosperity to you all. And thank you for your continued patronage of this column.

Ramon Jimenez Jr., Tourism secretary—The centerpiece of my Noche Buena is the Christmas ham that I cook myself, which contains the secret family recipe handed down from my grandparents. It’s more than just a dish. It represents history and tradition which I would like my family to observe for generations to come. When you think about it, that’s actually what Filipino Christmas is all about—family and tradition, two essential ingredients that complete the Noche Buena experience.

Rosanna Roces, actress—I thought of bubble tea and pizza for Noche Buena, just to have something new on the table. But Pinoy tradition is hard to miss. We always have kaldereta and other Pinoy food. I want to dine on banana leaves.

Malu A. Gamboa, general manager, Azuthai, Cirkulo and Milky Way Restaurants—Our Noche Buena menu has been the same for as long as I can remember. Mama (Julie Gamboa) always serves the same family favorites at midnight. First comes a hot cup of chocolate laced with peanut butter that Chu, our yaya of 50 years, whisks to perfection with a very old batidor that has been with the family forever. At the bottom of the cup is newly harvested duman, the eagerly awaited Christmas present from our relatives from Guagua, Pampanga. Duman, toasted green malagkit rice, is a Pampanga delicacy that is only available around Christmastime.

Mike Navarrete

Queso de bola (microwaved for five seconds), Majestic ham, Hizon’s ensaymadas and our own Milky Way Macaroni Supreme Salad with bits of Spam, peas and pineapples are always star on our table. We don’t get to enjoy these dishes on regular days, which is why we look forward to celebrating and feasting on these once a year all together as a family.

Miguel “Mike” Y. Navarrete, adviser-Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (former CFO, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp.)—For our Noche Buena here in Atlantic, Canada, we enjoy with friends and relatives delicious Atlantic lobsters, Digby scallops, steak, prawns, haddock, eggnog, etc. My wife Gina makes excellent leche flan for dessert. However, we do miss the lechon, queso de bola, bibingka, puto-bumbong, etc. back home.

My dream Noche Buena would be to combine the best of what we used to regularly have in the Philippines with what is special here. Lechon stuffed with Atlantic lobsters and Digby scallops enjoyed during a White Christmas, perhaps? Sarap!

Leah Castañeda with daughter, Carmen

Leah Castañeda, vice president, Bank of Commerce—Our Christmas Eve celebration ends at dinner, which I will prepare this year, and starts again at lunch on Christmas Day. I’m keeping it simple on Saturday—chicken relleno and a killer lasagna that takes five hours to make. I will prepare a light salad of greens (with arugula), feta cheese, honey roasted walnuts and Parmesan shavings. Dessert will be a rum butter cake baked by my classmate/architect Nina and brewed coffee aero-pressed (hopefully) by my dad.

In the off-chance that we get hungry after Midnight Mass and don’t fall asleep while walking home from the church, my mother will prepare a cheese platter (with Marca Piña queso de bola) and Virginia ham from the US, I’ll ask her to prepare authentic tsokolate the way her lola used to make it (with butter and sesame seeds). She also has a bowl of grapes to counter the richness of the cheeses. Let’s not forget the castañas.

If I had it my way, every year would be celebrated simply and quietly, but with the family complete at the dinner table.

(Conclusion next week...)

(My column Something Like Life, is published most Fridays in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on Dec. 23, 2011. Photos courtesy of interviewees, except where stated.)

December 23, 2011

BBDO wins bid to craft new PH tourism slogan

The Department of Tourism has chosen BBDO Guerrero | Proximity Philippines as the winning bidder in its P5.6-million "Philippine Brand Campaign focusing on Tourism" project.

However, no new tourism slogan was announced by the DOT, adding in a press statement that "further development of BBDO Guerrero's concept is underway, and the first iterations of the new campaign will emerge in the course of the first half of 2012."

A source at the DOT said Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. decided to defer the launch of the new slogan due to the calamity wrought by Typhoon Sendong.

Questions have risen, however, about just how fast the new brand campaign can be rolled out due to the limited funds of the DOT, which has an annual budget of only P2 billion. (For the rest, click InterAksyon.)

December 13, 2011

No bad hair days this Xmas!

LIKE most women, I too have a love-hate relationship with my hair.

I get obsessed brushing it, fluffing it this way and that, or blow-drying it just to make it look like I just came from the salon. The obsession takes on a more intense turn even more so now that it’s barely two weeks before Christmas. I mean, there are those Facebook photos to think about!

Because no matter how great our make-up is, or what fabulous clothes we have on, if a few of those hairs stray all over our face, or the grey hairs start making their presence felt (aka "chismis"), then our coiffeur is ruined and we look less than perfect. Maganda na sana, kaso bad hair day. Ay!

As usual, at this time of the year, I’m already hanging about my favorite salon – Essensuals Toni&Guy – at the TriNoma, for the best treatments for my locks. It’s always a must that I get my hair cut, dyed and highlights done at least a week before Christmas Eve, just to avoid the mad rush of fellow customers.

Cherry Reyes, T&G co-owner, and a kick-ass stylist herself, has just come back from London with some of her senior stylists and color-technicians after attending the courses at the parent company’s Toni&Guy Academy at New Oxford St.

The result is the salon’s latest offering for hairstyles called the Alignment collection – inspired by fashion, music, street culture, and architecture. “Think decades gone by and futuristic ideals, giving an ‘old meets new’ approach and an eclectic high-fashion feel,” Cherry notes.

And just in time for the holidays, too!

The new collection is "characterized by minimum effort and maximum impact,” she explains, “from strong statement cuts to uncomplicated naturalistic shapes with an anti-product finish, not too many hair products; versatility is key in creating the hairstyle. It’s a ready-to-wear approach, parang ‘do-it’-yourself’, low maintenance but high impact hairstyles. The styles incorporate trend-driven techniques with ultra wearable finishes.”

The cuts, she says, range from strong and classic shapes like the Wedge and 1990’s Crop, to soft long layered tresses with real emphasis on texture – “vintage and lived-in meets groomed and tailored.” Think youthful, fresh-faced with a hint of attitude!

So what about the men? Cherry says the men’s cuts are all about clean lines and groomed texture worn with confidence. “The classic short back and sides complemented with length on top will continue to remain a dominating iconic look for seasons ahead.”

In terms of color, Cherry says her colorists will combine and blend chocolate, caramel, and whiskey shades, which are very apropos for Asian hair. “We can also infuse some red or violet colors depending on how brave or bold and playful our clients are.”

Career women, for instance, don’t have to fear a touch of striking color in their hair just because they work in offices. “We create color that is highly individual. ‘Work’ now is fashionable regardless of age. We can look corporate with a touch of red, plum or gold in our hair for the holidays. Or we can do our latest Dip-Dye technique wherein the color is noticeable at the ends or inside the hair, or just one side. We can do colors that may be hidden during the day and bold at night when partying for the Holidays.”

Aware that the frenzied partying season has already commenced, Cherry stresses that our hair can always look its best even without visiting the salon every party day. “Just keep it moving! Avoid using too much products or hairspray, wax etc. If you have long hair, wear it down - it's sexier,” she advises.

The festive season is not the time to be safe and conventional with regard to our hairstyles, ladies. Take a chance, go for a different look, or just adopt something edgier to give us that extra oomph!
Let’s make our gorgeous ‘dos our fashion statement for the Yuletide season.

(For inquiries, call Essensuals Toni&Guy at 812-8002/812-8559 at 6750 Ayala, Makati; 9007169/9007168-TriNoma, QC; and 470-1806/470-1446 and cell. no. 09194222600-SM Megamall Atrium, Mandaluyong.)

* * * *

HOW is the Filipino faring in the 21st century? How are media, the Internet and social-networking sites affecting today’s children?

These are some of the issues to be discussed in “Family Congress 2012” to be held on February 18, 2012, at the Valle Verde Country Club in Pasig City. The congress has as its theme “BFF: Building the Filipino Family.” The event is jointly organized by the Love Institute, Galileo Enrichment Learning Program and FID Events Services.

The congress aims to reaffirm the value and relevance of the Filipino family in the face of changing times. Love Institute has enlisted esteemed experts in their fields to talk on issues concerning children, relationships and families. Guest speakers include psychologist Dr. Honey Carandang, educator Dr. Queena Lee-Chua, inspirational speaker Francis Kong, and parenting and relationship experts Allan and Maribel Dionisio.

Workshop topics to be discussed during the Family Congress include “Bridging the Facebook Fad: How Can Parents Manage the Invasion of Media and Technology,” “Built for Forever: Preparing Singles for a Lifetime Relationship,” “Being Friends Forever in Marriage: Learning the Art of Fighting,” and “Teaching Parents to Talk to Kids and Teens about Sex and Relationship.”

Marriage and family counselor Maribel Sison-Dionisio and corporate trainor and relationship counselor Pia Nazareno-Acevedo founded Love Institute.

According to Nazareno-Acevedo, “Love Institute was born out of the acceptance of the fact that there is just not enough systematic knowledge available out there for all those who take their love relationships seriously.”

The company offers various classes and seminars on relationships and love in a small group setting to set the foundation of loving relationships and balanced individuals. One-on-one and couple counseling sessions are also offered, as well as individual evaluations and assessments (compatibility, self-esteem, life plan, etc.) to provide the individual with the needed life skills and knowledge.

Both Sison-Dionisio and Nazareno-Acevedo took graduate studies in Family Ministries at the Ateneo de Manila University. They both have extensive experience in counseling and training, which they put to use at Love Institute.

Galileo Enrichment Learning Program is headed by Ma. Rowena J. Matti, who has been involved in the education sector since she was a child. Her mother founded the Sacred Heart School in Malabon. Galileo offers enrichment programs to children aged three to 12, by making learning a happy experience. It offers programs in math and English.

FID Events Services is headed by Fides M. Reyes whose expertise in PR and events organizing has been strengthened and refined by over 30 years of experience. She is passionate in the ministry of strengthening relationships within the family. She serves at the Light of Jesus Community of Bo Sanchez as pastoral head and part of the creative media team.

Participation in the Family Congress is at P1,500 per person, inclusive of seminar fee, congress kit and meal.

There is a special group rate for families joining the congress. For every six paid participants, a seventh member will be admitted for free.

• For inquiries about the Family Congress, e-mail You may also call Love Institute at 436-4143 and 0922-8944143, or Galileo Enrichment Center at 810-8506.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on Dec. 16, 2011. Photos courtesy Essensuals Toni&Guy.)

'Paskuhan sa Paseo' draws 'em with the best Filipino Christmas treats

(Bangus embotido)

MANILA, Philippines - Say “food festival,” and I’m usually there in a heartbeat.

The latest one being raved about is the “Paskuhan sa Paseo” at the Mandarin Oriental Manila’s Paseo Uno interactive buffet outlet, ongoing until December 18.

Chef Ed Quimson, a veteran of many of the metro’s best restaurants, whipped up a line of traditional Christmas treats and Filipino comfort food, with the help of his associate, Chef Booj Supe of M Fine Foods, especially for this feast.

It proved to be another belly buster, as only Mandarin’s food festivals are wont to be. The best thing about this particular feast is, we get to eat our favorite Noche Buena dishes weeks before Christmas!

(Pomelo or suha salad)

Of the many foods laid out, the clear winner for me—among the cold appetizers—was the suha (pomelo) salad. It was prickly sour and sweet at the same time, the flavors playing off each other but still making for a cohesive whole. Certainly, it’s a favorite of the other diners as well, because it ran out quickly when I tried to get seconds!

The bangus embutido was a delightful surprise. Moist and flaky, with very balanced flavors. And thankfully, no overly fishy (malansa) taste. Truth to tell, I am not really an embutido person. But made with fish, the embutido (our local version of meatloaf) flies in the face of convention, thus providing a welcome alternative to diners who wish to eat light.

(Prawns with Aligue)

I thought the most awesome dish in the entire lineup, just because it was so perfectly Christmasy, was Chef Ed’s Chicken Relleno. A usual staple at the Noche Buena table, this chicken relleno was certainly one of the best I’ve tasted in a long time. The fowl’s skin was just lightly singed a golden brown, while the stuffing was so succulent, brimming with an all-meaty goodness. There was none of the usual extenders of hotdogs, hard-boiled eggs, and pickles as with most commercial chicken rellenos. It was pure holiday joy at every bite.

I also liked the braised beef belly adobo—and again, I’m one person who can live without adobo (so I’m weird, sue me!)—and only eat it if it’s deep-fried in oil. But braising it, not only broke down the beef belly, but it also reduced the vinegar and soy sauce blend into a light sauce, not cloying and heavy like some adobos are made that I try to steer clear of.

Of course, it was impossible to eat everything. My tummy was already bursting at the seams, and so I had to reluctantly move to the dessert table. The only dishes I managed to partake of were the light and fluffy cheese bibingka—loved this!—and the leche fan (milk flan) with dayap (native lime). The latter was still a bit too sweet for me, despite the dayap, but what I liked about it was its luscious creamy texture.


Chef Ed, of course, has been involved in many well-respected and long-favored establishments such as La Tasca, Via Mare, Nielsen Tower Club and Restaurant, Broker’s Lounge at the Philippine Stock Exchange, Giraffe, Subic Bay Yacht Club, Rastro, Chef Ed’s, Club Noah, Splendido, Petra and Pilar, and Delimondo, to name a few.

He started working professionally at 17 years old, and considers his passion for cooking a legacy from his grandmother, Doña Consuelo Tuason Quimson, with whom he shared well-spent moments in the family kitchen when he was a wee five years old.

The dishes he creates are traditional Filipino home-cooked delights with some Spanish influences. “Filipino food is so diverse and flavorful and we are incredibly excited to bring Chef Ed’s specialties to Paseo Uno this Christmas season, just in time for festive gatherings and family reunions with balikbayans,” says Chico Angeles, MOH’s director of food and beverage.

“We look forward to again working with Chef Ed,” notes Executive Chef Rene Ottlik “and present to our diners his divine recipes that are as rich in taste as they are in tradition.”
(Crispy pork belly)

Diners will expectedly find themselves lining up at the carving station for the scrumptious lechong Cebu and crispy pork belly. Other specialty favorites in the menu include Tortang Alimasag with Fresh Lumpia Sauce, Paella Tinola, Tinapa Paté served with melba toast, Kilawin Na Tangigue with Gata in wanton cups, and Crispy Kare-Kare.

Also on the menu are more than a half dozen of mouth-watering Filipino desserts, including Palitaw filled with Langka, Halo-halo with Gata and Moscovado, and Pastillas de Leche Cheesecake.

The festive buffet spread is priced at P1,650+, while Friday and Saturday dinner is priced at P2,200+ inclusive of Paseo Uno’s Luxury Buffet.

(Braised Belly adobo)

(For more information on “Paskuhan sa Paseo Uno”, email For reservations, call Paseo Uno at 750-8888. My piece was originally published in InterAksyon, Dec. 14, 2011.)

December 10, 2011

Finding love in the Year of the Water Dragon

(Feng shui expert Marites Allen gave a preview of her 2012 predictions during a recent press briefing at Manila Hotel. On January 22, 2012, the hotel will usher in the Year of the Water Dragon with a Chinese bazaar, fireworks, blessing ritual by Allen, and an exquisite midnight feast at the Mabuhay Palace. The dishes will symbolize luck, longevity and wealth in the coming year. Copyright Stella Arnaldo)

EVERYONE’S still talking about the bombshell that showbiz princess KC Concepcion dropped last Sunday.

Well, I won’t dwell too much on it, since I don’t want to add any more to the noise. And as her mega-mom Sharon Cuneta did say, KC and Piolo are adults. In other words, KC knew exactly what she was getting into.

Of course, like many single, unattached women...KC’s desperate cry about wanting to find true love does tug at the heartstrings. But who, where and how to find it—that’s the big question.

Well, if you ask feng shui consultant Marites Allen about love, she can tell you that she is proof positive of how geomancy can help us single women find Mr. Right. After a failed first marriage back home in Cebu was annulled, Marites says she was able to activate her love life and attract many suitors with the help of feng shui.

She says she found her Prince Charming—an Englishman whose name she declines to reveal due to privacy issues—and married him. That is, “only after I carefully studied his chart!” Marites says she is very much happily married, with a wonderful family life with their four children. What’s more, she now has a great career as one of the country’s top feng shui consultants.

Marites, who is president of the World of Feng Shui Philippines, spoke to the media recently in a preview of Manila Hotel’s festivities to help usher in the Year of the Water Dragon on January 22, 2012.

So, of course I asked her: What can KC do to find that elusive “true love”? (KC, by the way, was born in 1985, the Year of the Ox.)

Marites says that KC’s “best match are those born in the Year of the Rat.” She cites the UK’s Prince Harry (Rat) and his girlfriend Chelsy Davy (Ox)—“they were having an on-and-off relationship but they seem to keep going back to each other.... So an Ox pairing with a person born in the year of the Rat is surely a very good start in finding the right one.”

Marites adds that KC’s best allies or friends are Snakes or Roosters.

But the feng shui expert counsels: “For a very pretty, intelligent and independent lady like KC, surely too many guys are already waiting for their turn to woo her heart. However, it is best for her to enjoy her singlehood and surely, when the time is right, she will find another love.”

Marites assures that love will come a-calling again, especially if “KC activates the southwest section of her bedroom with love charms such as peony flowers or double happiness symbols, such as the dragon and phoenix symbol, etc.”


(Just some of the lucky charms and feng shui books available at Marites' World of Feng Shui shops in the metro.)

SPEAKING of Rats, guess who was born in that year, KC?

Well, it’s none other than President Noynoy Aquino, who was born in 1960.

Hmmm...KC and P-Noy? Well, why the hell not?! I think it could be a perfect match!

Both of them are smart, well-bred individuals.

They are currently loveless.

They both belong to respectable families with their feet dipped into politics and show business. So there would be an immediate understanding of each other’s priorities, background, and ways of thinking.

Okay, so there’s a 25-age gap. But maybe a more mature man (accent on the latter quality) is exactly what the young KC needs.

After all, this is a lady who virtually grew up without a strong male figure in her life. It was really her mom Sharon who was both mother and father to her, rearing KC as best as she could.

As for PNoy, he is no stranger to relationships with younger women. His ex-girlfriend Shalani Soledad is 20 years his junior—so what’s an additional five years in the case of KC?

And apparently, he is not intimidated by intelligent, outspoken women, having had relationships with Korina Sanchez, Bernadette Sembrano, Shalani, Liz Uy, Bunny Calica, etc. And KC is the same...articulate, well-read, and with just a touch of the right demureness. (She is actually like a slightly refined version of presidential sister Kris Aquino, don’t you think?)

But more important, KC and P-Noy have compatible Chinese zodiac signs! She’s and Ox. He’s a Rat. Who knows, it may just work!


(Manila Hotel Executive Chinese Chef Sun Bing will be preparing a delectable feast for the Chinese New Year celebration at Mabuhay Palace, on Jan. 22, 2012. Photo courtesy Manila Hotel.)

KIDDING aside, Marites says the year 2012 brings a “general” risk of illness for those born in the Year of Rat, so the President should watch out. “It is a mixed year, so look after your health. Adjust to a less demanding schedule.”

She advises Rats in general to “focus on mentally-challenging activities, rather than doing the party scene.”

Marites adds that stress will bring tension to a Rat’s life, but his allies “are there to the rescue him.” A Rat’s best friends are Dragons and Monkeys.

To avoid falling ill, Marites advises Rats to acquire a Medicine Buddha Moving Mantra Watch “to create an aura of good health around you.” Also they should place a Brass Wu Lou in the Northern sector of the bedroom “as an antidote to the illness star.”

The year 2012 will be a generally favorable for those born in the year of the Tiger, Rabbit, Horse and Sheep, she says.

According to Marites, the Water Dragon’s power will help push dramatic changes in 2012. It may not mean the end of the world as the Mayan calendar supposedly indicated, but it will certainly be a “year of transformation.”

To indicate how momentous the transformation in 2012 would be, Marites recalled the previous Water Dragon years, the last one occurring in 1952. That year saw the passing of King George VI of the United Kingdom and assumption into office of his daughter Queen Elizabeth II. The first hydrogen bomb was detonated in 1952, ushering in the nuclear age. World War II also came to an official end with the Treaty of Peace signed between Japan and 48 countries aligned with the Allied powers coming into force.

She says although 2012 “will be better than 2011,” the Year of the Rabbit, “it does signify continuing disharmony, with conflicts between governments and social classes, and political and social unrest. There are to be key leadership changes; and social and industrial disputes are to escalate.” 2012 in an election year in the US, France, Russia and India, she points out.

Asked whether this meant a new President for the U.S. next year, Allen said: Yes, [US President Barack] Obama is an Ox (1961), and is slowly losing popularity with the yearly economic challenges in the U.S. So chances are, he may not make it to another term… unless he implements major changes more favorable to the U.S. economy.”

Marites will unveil her other 2012 predictions on January 22 at Manila Hotel’s Chinese New Year celebration. A Grand Chinese Bazaar will be held on the hotel premises featuring different stores selling lucky charms, house decorations and delectable Chinese delicacies.

While the fireworks light up the evening sky, hotel guests will dine on a feast prepared by Executive Chinese Chef Sun Bing at the Mabuhay Palace. The dishes will symbolize luck, longevity and wealth in the coming year.

Doomsday enthusiasts believe the world would end on December 21, 2012 because the calendar of the Mayans—a now-extinct indigenous civilization that once dwelled in Mexico—ends on that date. Well, I looked through Marites’s feng shui almanac for 2012 and it does include a 2013 calendar at the back. Whew!

(For ticket inquiries and reservations to Manila Hotel’s Chinese New Year celebration, call 527-0011 local 1108 or 1243.)

(My column, Something Like Life, is published almost every Friday, in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on Dec. 2, 2011. If you need to borrow the entries and photos on these pages, pls. cite your source. Thanks.)

December 02, 2011

DOT to decide new slogan this week (UPDATED)

THE Department of Tourism is currently weighing the proposals of eight short-listed advertising agencies that submitted bids for the P5.6-million Philippines brand campaign project.

The agency’s Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC) has until Wednesday to decide on the winning slogan and brand campaign from those proposed by eight of the country’s leading advertising agencies, according to Tourism Assistant Secretary Domingo Ramon Enerio III. Enerio oversees the branding campaign project, and is a member of the five-man SBAC.

The eight agencies—Dentsu Philippines Inc., J. Romero & Associates Inc., Lowe Inc., BBDO Guerrero Proximity Philippines Inc., DDB Philipines Inc., WPP/J. Walter Thompson, Young & Rubicam Philippines Inc., and Aspac Advertising Inc.—made their advertising pitches to the SBAC on November 21 and 22, according to agency sources. They were earlier shortlisted from 13 agencies which had indicated their interest to participate in the bid.

In a text message, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr., who sat in the presentations of the eight ad agencies, told the BusinessMirror that the proposed slogans and advertising concepts were all excellent.

Magaganda lahat. They were all rooted in solid strategy and showed the hard work everyone put in,” he said. “We are now in a difficult process of selecting a winner.”

In previous media interviews, the DOT chief promised to announce a new tourism slogan before Christmas.

Asked how the SBAC will be choosing the new tourism slogan and brand campaign, Enerio explained that it will be “a collegial decision with major directions coming from the secretary.” He declined to reveal any more details of the pitches made by the advertising agencies due to the “confidentiality undertaking” he had signed, but promised that “all will soon be revealed.”

Unlike the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” slogan prematurely launched during the tenure of Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim, and which was later scrapped due to a major industry outcry, the new slogan would be tested, and consultations held with industry stakeholders, Enerio said.

“Consultations are essential to success, acceptance, and ownership of the brand by all stakeholders. For sure, the [new] brand will be vetted extensively before being announced,” he said.

A separate bidding will be conducted for the supplier of the advertising materials such as television commercials, brochures, posters, and other collateral materials. It will probably take a year before the new advertising campaign will be finalized and rolled out to the target markets.

The P5.6-million “Philippine Branding Campaign focusing on Tourism” is the DOT’s third try at creating a new tourism slogan for the country, which for years, has been using the “Wow Philippines” campaign crafted by BBDO Guerrero in 2007.

The Philippines, with its lackluster manufacturing sector and sluggish agricultural performance, has set its sights on the tourism industry as a new engineer of economic growth. At present, the sector accounts for less than six percent of the gross domestic product, unlike other countries such as Spain, Thailand, Singapore, etc., whose tourism sectors represent over 40 percent of GDP.

Visitor arrivals from January to September this year jumped 12 percent to 2.89 million from 2.58 million in the same period last year. Jimenez has announced a 4-million target for tourist arrivals in 2012.

The Philippines hopes to attract 6 million tourist arrivals by 2016, or when President Aquino steps down from office.

However, a meager tourism promotions budget, lack of adequate infrastructure and facilities, and conflicting government policies could stand in the way of achieving those numbers.

The DOT for instance, has had to make do with an annual budget of P2 billion allocated by Congress.

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), the gateway to the country, is old and decrepit, with a runway too small to accommodate the growing number of flights in and out of Manila. Some of its passenger terminals such as Naia 1, for instance, have been dubbed the “worst in the world” by international media outfits and travel bloggers.

And while the Aquino administration has just implemented a “pocket open skies” policy to encourage more international carriers to come to the Philippines, the government continues to charge taxes and fees on foreign airlines which unnecessarily increases the latter’s operating expenses. Only recently, Air France-KLM announced it would be dropping its direct flights to the Philippines due to the continued imposition of these taxes.

(My story was published in the BusinessMirror, Nov. 28, 2011.)

* * * *

(UPDATE) Checked with Asec. Enerio just today, Dec. 2, and he said "deliberations are ongoing. Sec. [Jimenez] is out of town, so we continue to evaluate up to next week."

November 26, 2011

Christmas magic!

CHRISTMAS is really such a special time of the year when all magical things happen!

One of them is the Spectacular Spectrum, a symphony of Christmas lights and music at the Ayala Triangle Garden in Makati City.

It's a really awesome show, which can be enjoyed by the entire family. Major aliw factor!

Just to give you a taste, here's an excerpt:

ANOTHER thing you shouldn't miss is the Pablo Picasso Suite Vollard exhibit ongoing at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.

I'm no art critic, so kindly excuse me for not describing what's featured except to say these are about 100 prints of copper etchings by Picasso. Most of us are used to seeing his work in oils on canvas or sculptures, so these copper etchings is a new medium to me. And I found them truly remarkable and inspiring whether they appeared to be just simple doodles to completely detailed drawings.

According to the MET website:

"Commissioned by the art dealer and editor Ambroise Vollard, Pablo Picasso created one hundred copper etchings between September 13, 1930, and march 1937 that have come to be known in art history as the Suite Vollard....

"The complete series includes three portraits of Ambroise Vollard, five plates referred to as the Battle of Love, or Rape, created in 1933; forty-six plates from The Sculptor's Studio (forty etchings from March 20 to May 5, 1933, and six between January and March 1934); four plates of Rembrandt (created July 27-31, 1934); fifteen plates of The Blind Minotaur, created from May 17-June 18, and September 22-October 22, 1933; and twenty-seven varied compositions. The etchings do not follow a logical sequence in their images; their chronology follows more current events and the artist's personal experiences." (Click the MET for the rest.)

(From the minotaur series)

While you're there, check out the gold and ivory exhibit at the lower level of the MET. The gold pieces may not be as stunning as those displayed at the Ayala Museum, but they are still lovely to look at.

The pieces are indicative of the superb craftsmanship of early Filipino artisans who painstakingly etched, cut, or strung these delicate pieces of gold together to create jewelry and fashion accessories to be worn on their clothes.

The santo niños and the crucifixion piece made of ivory were splendid as well.

(The Holy Family, in ivory.)

There are also some pieces of renowned Filipino painter Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo displayed on the ground floor, as well as a photo exhibit of life in Spain.

Entrance to the MET is only P100. Check out the museum website for details on other ongoing exhibits and museum hours.

(And my apologies to the MET management for shooting these photos. I knew it was prohibited, but I just want to encourage the public to view your treasures. Pls. forgive me.)

A story of courage, hope and love

(Life-affirming former astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, tell a love story of challenges and triumph to multi-awarded broadcast journalist Diane Sawyer, right. Photo from ABC News.)

WHEN something tragic happens in our lives—the death of a loved one, an incurable illness, a sudden loss of income, a marriage breakup, etc.—we often question why it has happened. We get depressed, sometimes going into a downward spiral that more often than not, throws us into a deeper crisis.

We rail at God, or family and friends, or we blame ourselves for not having done enough to prevent the tragedy.

Some of us eventually snap out of it, get better, and move on in our lives. Unfortunately, others don’t.

The story of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shows us that recovery is possible. No matter how high the odds against us, we will be able to overcome them—if we want to. It takes courage, hope, and a lot of her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, has shown.

As I write this, I’d just watched the ABC 20/20’s feature on Giffords and Kelly, a very touching profile piece by award-winning journalist Diane Sawyer. It was a very moving and heartwarming interview. It’s just the kind of story that makes us want to keep praying and cheering on those who are in similar situations like Giffords—whether the handicap is physical, emotional or spiritual.

For those who don’t know her, Giffords was the US congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in the head by a mad man on January 8 at a meet-and-greet in a supermarket in Tucson. Six people died, including a child, and 13 others were injured. Kelly, meanwhile, was an astronaut; he was the one who piloted the final journey of the US Space Shuttle.

According to Giffords’s doctors—I had been monitoring the news updates on her condition over these last 10 months—there were so many ways that bullet could’ve changed the congresswoman’s condition. If it had hit a certain part of her brain, she would’ve been instantly killed. If it had hit another area, she would have lost her ability to speak. Another area controls movement, and if that had been grazed even just so slightly, she would not have been able to walk again.

But in the interview, Giffords was cheerful and speaking, albeit in short phrases and punctuating what she felt using certain words and hand gestures. Sawyer asks how she feels at the opening of the interview, and the congresswoman answers, “Pretty good...Difficult...Strong, strong, strong.”

They showed her walking as well—every morning Kelly helps her walk to the mailbox to get their mail and back to their house.

It’s clear that despite her injury, her comprehension has not been affected. She understood the questions Sawyer asked her, and answered them pointedly. But she struggles. Giffords cannot yet string sentences together.

The profile piece also showed video clips from footage shot by Kelly detailing his wife’s progress. Apparently, he started filming his wife the day right after she was shot, documenting the challenges she faced and the progress she made in her recovery over these last 10 months. They have also co-written a book, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, which tackles the incredible journey of the congresswoman from a bedridden patient, to someone who talks, thinks and walks.

Of course, all that wouldn’t have been possible were it not also for the therapists hired to help her regain her speech and movement. There she was, still stitched up badly in her hospital bed, but conscious, saying one of her first words—“you”—as a speech therapist asked Giffords to fill in the blank in a song she had just been taught (“I love you, you love me...”).

The footage also shows Giffords breaking down in her speech therapist’s arms, unable to say the many things she wanted to say. She felt “trapped,” as she told her husband one day, as her mouth seemingly refused to form the words that were floating in her mind.

(A speech therapist helps Giffords re-learn words. Screen grab from ABC 20/20 by Hollywood Gossip)

In a brain injury such as that suffered by Giffords, therapists often have to help their patients “rewire” how their brain thinks. Apparently, music played a very large part in helping the congresswoman re-learn words. According to Giffords’s music therapist, songs help the brain access the lyrics/words through another part of the brain.

Because the bullet injured the left part of her brain, Giffords still cannot adequately move the right part of her body. Her right leg is still a bit stiff when she walks. Sawyer notices that the congresswoman is unable to move an arm as well, and asks if it hurts. Giffords answers it doesn’t but it’s “difficult.”

While doctors didn’t say so on tape, they have told Sawyer that they couldn’t deny that there were indeed some miracles involved in Giffords’s recovery.

A brain trauma specialist interviewed by Sawyer didn’t set limits on how far Giffords would be able to go in her recovery. The specialist added that if Giffords sets her mind to even going back to Congress, she wouldn’t be surprised if the latter does just that.

(Giffords, a Democrat, actually returned to Congress back in August to cast her vote on increasing the US government’s debt ceiling. Her return earned thunderous applause from her colleagues on the floor. She waved and greeted her fellow congressmen by their first names. But because of her injury, she has missed 98 sessions so far, although her staff continues to do her work on helping her constituents.)

When Sawyer asks if she still wants to run for Congress next year, Giffords stops a few times, sits up straight as she tries to gain the momentum to try force the words out her mouth, while her left hand makes a forward motion. Kelly ends up saying it for her: “She wants to get better.” And she repeats it, “better, better,” while nodding her head vigorously.

It’s also evident that Giffords’s husband has helped immensely in pushing her recovery. He tells Sawyer how he would compose himself before he would enter Giffords’s hospital room every morning. He always encouraged her, and was extremely optimistic of her recovery. Whether he really believed it, or it was just bravado on his part, Kelly was unwavering. He even put up a sign outside Giffords’s room warning her visitors not to cry.

Knowing how his wife is very goal-oriented, Kelly set goals for her. He put her sneakers and socks in a nearby chair, so she could work toward putting these on and walking again. Any lesser man would’ve probably given up on a bedridden wife. It was a testament to his love and dedication to his wife.

Amid all the problems facing us and our country, it helps to watch positive pieces like this story of Giffords and Kelly. It puts our own issues in perspective, and encourages us to not lose hope. Yes, it will be “difficult”, but persistence is the key. All things are possible once you set your mind to it.

* To watch Sawyer’s interview of Giffords and Kelly, go to

(My column Something Like Life, is published every Friday, in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was published on Nov. 18, 2011.)

November 17, 2011

Cardholders beware!

I'M posting this story by Johnson Tan, a De La Salle alumnus and business owner, and friend of media colleague, Mia Gonzalez of the BusinessMirror.

Mia posted this last night on her Facebook page, and I was so appalled how this couple lost their entire savings because someone had apparently been able to get hold of their debit card's PIN. I hope it serves as a warning to us all cardholders that danger lurks wherever and whenever we use our credit cards or debit cards.

What I find most disgusting, is that the bank in question, already has a photo of the thief, and yet it seemingly doesn't want to help the couple catch him or prevent other depositors from being robbed. All it has to do is turn over the thief's photo to the NBI. Tsk, tsk.

Anyway, here's Johnson's story:
How we lost our savings at HSBC via debit card fraud:

Hi all, this is to relate what happened to our HSBC Canada account.

Our purpose is to inform people that your money may not be safe from thieves and to take security of your bank accounts very seriously.

We are based in the Philippines but had opened an account with HSBC Canada thru the help of HSBC Philippines specifically HSBC Greenhills.

The account should have been used for my daughter's education and cost of living in Canada.

When my wife went to Vancouver with our daughter for her studies, she had her debit card activated and placed in her own PIN.

When she arrived in the Philippines, we did not check our account balance for 15 days.

When we checked our account, we were horrified to find that our account had zero balance; Thanks to someone withdrawing our funds everyday at HSBC Philippines atm machines and emptying our funds with HSBC Canada.

It is really painful to see years and years of savings disappear: all the times my wife and i saved to ensure a good education for our children.

Be careful with funds that can be withdrawn using atm or debit cards,

check your bank balance everyday:

limit to emergency funds only what can be withdrawn using atm or debit cards,

slash your credit card limits if you don't need it

cancel the cash advance feature if you do not need it.

Cancel your global transfer facility if you do not require it: as this may be hacked and all your funds may just disappear.

We have shots of the thief who stole our funds by using HSBC Philippines atm machine but it is bank policy not to provide me with a copy.... and the NBI must secure some court order before the photos are released. Sometimes I feel that the bank is protecting the thief rather than the depositor who was ripped off.

My family hopes to get the funds back and I have reported the incident to NBI and Banco Sentral. I have also sent many letters to HSBC Philippines and HSBC Canada.

We never lost the debit card and the PIN number was never divulged to anyone.

There is a proliferation of this sort of theft. At the NBI, i was informed that before me, a balikbayan couple (aged) was also complaining and crying that their account had been emptied.

When i went back to the NBI days later to get my case number file to be sent to HSBC Philippines and HSBC Canada, I was informed that after me, another balikbayan couple had also reported that their accounts had also disappeared.

Is it possible that the theft occurred in plane flights from North America to the Philippines? wife rode PAL 107 from Vancouver to Manila by herself and we half suspect that someone in the flight had some electronic gadget and somehow got her card details.

Is it possible that some dishonest merchant had their data compromised when wife used the POS? or maybe there was a skimmer and camera at an ATM in Canada and was compromised? So many possibilities that make our family now so scared to use bank cards for withdrawing funds or even using credit cards.

if you have been victims of the atm/ debit/ credit card scam, please message me so we can also learn from your experience.

Lets work together to help others (and yourself) not get ripped off as well.

Thank you for reading and feel free to message me for more details.

Here are additional details from Nancy, the wife of Johnson, as I and other people commented on Johnson's story:

-In Canada they are obliged to reimburse funds if there is fraud. In the Philippines, we are on our own if robbed so prevention is really required. Please read the fine print in atm and credit conditions... any loss on atm is depositor's loss

-banks are quiet about these incidents but do note that they are now giving more warnings to atm users BUT not telling them that the thieves are getting hi-tech now.

-withdrawals were made using hsbc philippines atm machines in ortigas and valle verde... but we were refused copies of the thief who withdrew the funds because of bank privacy policy...

-actually the debit cards should have a maximum allowable daily limit of 400ca$ and 500ca$ if pos. however, in the Philippines, thieves withdrew 1000 ca$ per day.

-as a depositor who was robbed, how can we prosecute the criminals? bank wants NBI to file a case first... NBI can't file case as suspect is not identified. In the end, the depositor is left with nothing. the bank and thieves have not lost anything. My HSBC greenhills officer actually told us that HSBC Greenhills will not get involved in police matters as the loss is ours... not theirs. Please consider that we are depositors with HSBC Greenhills before this incident even if the account was HSBC Canada. The account was opened with the assistance of HSBC Greenhills, HSBC Philippines. When trouble comes, HSBC Philippines will deny all responsibility even if their machine was used in the withdrawals.

What I find so sickening in this whole affair is the inability of HSBC Philippines to help their customer get through this problem. According to Johnson and his wife Nancy, HSBC Greenhills are claiming "bank privacy". I understand that; but I'd assume this only applies to the protection of bank deposits, not thieves!

Why doesn't HSBC want to cooperate with the NBI in turning over the photo of the alleged thief, since apparently, the bank officers already have it in their possession? So while HSBC executives are sitting on their asses, said thief just goes on and on, victimizing other people of their savings?! Hello!

I've always held HSBC in high regard. (For the sake of disclosure, I am an HSBC cardholder myself.) Johnson says that he chose HSBC in fact because of its excellent reputation worldwide, and he thought his funds would be safe there. But this isn't the first time I've heard of HSBC's deteriorating service. Even some of my own friends and relatives have told me a few horror stories involving this bank. This deterioration has been happening in the last two years, and I'm not sure if it's because there's a change in management or a change in bank policies.

And yet, HSBC isn't the only one. A number of Philippine banks unfortunately, put their needs ahead of their customers, conveniently forgetting that without our hard-earned monies, they won't even be able to generate their profits and pay the handsome incomes of their executives.

It sucks, I know. But there is no way except to be more discerning in choosing our banks. As this case w/ HSBC has proven, even an international bank w/ a wide network all over the world and seemingly superior bank products, can have third-rate customer service. (The tag "world's local bank" I suppose just means, they apply local quality standards to local situations; their depositors don't deserve the world-class standards the bank is known for in other parts of the world.)

I hope the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas can help intervene in this matter, or at least direct banks to immediately cooperate with local authorities when investigating cases of fraud. Kawawa ang mga depositors/cardholders!

(*Photos from HSBC and other web sites.)

November 13, 2011

Industry stakeholders threaten boycott of Tourism Congress polls (UPDATED)

(Former DOT Secretary Narzalina Lim.)

A number of tourism stakeholders who had earlier planned to attend the upcoming Tourism Congress elections on Friday, November 11, at the Philippine International Convention Center, are now planning to withdraw their participation in the said event.

The group, which includes former Tourism Secretary Narzalina Lim and former Philippine Stock Exchange president Jose Luis Yulo Jr., who owns an accredited tourism enterprise, decried an alleged breach of an agreement forged by Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. between warring factions in the industry. That agreement had paved the way for new elections to be convened and overseen by the Department of Tourism, and not by the current Tourism Congress headed by its president Alma Jimenez.

Under the old Tourism Congress, only accredited “aggrupations” were invited to participate in the election of its officers in 2009, and not the more than 1,000 enterprises that are supposedly on record. A number of stakeholders have alleged that the old TC board did not truly represent all sectors in the industry, such as those of hotels and restaurants. (The rest in InterAksyon, Nov. 9, 2011.)

Letter of former DOT Secretary Narzalina Lim to Undersecretary Daniel Corpuz, withdrawing participation in the Tourism Congress here.

* * * *

Yes! this was my first story in InterAksyon, the online news portal of TV5. Watch out for more of my stories there. :)

* * * *

UPDATE: Tourism Congress elects new officers, InterAksyon, Nov. 11, 2011

November 07, 2011

Doing it all...and in high heels at that!

ASIAN women are doing it all.

That’s the conclusion arrived at in a new study by media company Universal Networks International and research partner Synovate.

Dubbed “High Heeled Warriors,” the study shows that women in Asia are approaching expectations and duties with increasing power, intelligence and capability. They fulfill traditional roles as daughter, wife and mother, and yet all these don’t hinder the urban Asian women’s personal ambitions.

The study also reveals that more Asian women are gaining financial freedom as they attain more success in terms of education, and in their careers.

I guess that doesn’t sound so surprising for most of us Filipino women because in Asia, we happen to be one of the more advanced countries in terms of women working outside the home since the post-World War II. (I should say, not only are more Filipino women working outside the home, but outside the country, as well.)

Whether you’re a domestic helper, sales clerk at the mall, bank teller, a nurse, doctor, lawyer, or even a company president—Filipino women are all over the workplace. And, yes, they manage to take care of their children and run their households, too. More and more women I’ve spoken with enjoy their financial freedom—that of being able to earn their own money to help defray family expenses, as well as pay for their own personal pleasures. They now make it a point to set aside their own funds in a bank account, separate from the family joint account, using the funds therein to pay anything from the new high heels they’ve been craving for (and the occasional shopping spree with girls), vacations, gifts for family and friends, and their regular personal expenses such as cell-phone subscription plans, spa massages, and the like.

The study was commissioned by Universal Networks to understand the motivations and decision-making processes of contemporary Asian women. Female television audiences from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Jakarta were surveyed to uncover their lifestyle habits, psychological motivations and self-identity.

Christine Fellowes, managing director for Asia Pacific of Universal Network International, said: “Just as Asia’s audiences recognize Universal Networks’ channel brands for their great entertainment value, we are committed to knowing our audiences better in order to meet their ever-changing needs.”

She explained that the study delved into aspects such as education, finance, travel, technology, health, fitness, fashion and beauty, to explore how the women in each country express themselves differently. The findings further support existing statistics on female consumer habits.

The research was conducted via extended focus groups and home visits. “We supplemented the primary research with leading third-party findings about women,” Fellowes said, such as Synovate’s regional PAX survey.

The research was conducted among women aged 22 to 44, she said. All were university or college graduates from affluent homes, and working in various fields in a number of companies or have their own businesses (i.e., own a chain of laundry shops, have own retail business, etc.). There was a mix of single and married women among the respondents.

She said the study shows how women still value their roles as nurturers and caregivers in their family, while becoming outspoken and assertive in the decision-making process, a role traditionally taken on by husbands/fathers. (Of course, here in the Philippines, we all know that the real power in the family does lie with the women...we just let the men think they’re the boss. Hehehe.)

Asian women are now better educated, Fellowes added, self-assured “and seek more freedom and opportunities to grow. They want to make their own decisions and determine their own future. They also seek independence, especially financial independence.”

Asian women are success-oriented and have high expectations in terms of their career development. They are proud to be modern working women (or modern working mothers for those with children)—they do these both for self-development and for their family.

“They want to portray themselves as confident, sophisticated and smart women with style,” Fellowes stressed, adding that Asian women also want to “express their individuality and are triggered by psychological motivations, which vary by country.”

The study outlines the 10 traits of the Filipino Woman High-Heeled Warrior:

• She is educated. She wants to express her individuality by educating herself and polishing her skills or expertise in a certain field. She is proud of her special abilities and competence.

• She is a go-getter. She is not afraid to do what needs to get done in order to achieve her dreams. She is invested in her future and willing to work hard to bring her goals to fruition.

• She is optimistic. She looks forward to a better life and a brighter future. She works hard to be financially independent and plans ahead in anticipation of future needs.

• She is strong-willed. She feels empowered to be her own woman and makes life choices on her own.

• She has big dreams. She takes chances and immerses herself in new experiences and environments, letting go of her inhibitions to make her dreams come true.

• She is entrepreneurial. She wants to challenge herself. She wants to maximize and use her skills and capabilities to do the things that she enjoys. She also wants to be in full control and have the freedom to decide what she wants to do.

• She is bursting with individualism. She draws strength from freedom, adventure and energy. She is adventurous, passionate, energetic and wants to express her individuality by testing her boundaries.

• She is creative and innovative. She is talented and thrives on being innovative. She wants recognition for her creative abilities, which may include crafts, music and design.

• She is expressive. She is creative and tries be fashionable in terms of clothes and accessories, to reflect her individuality. And last,

• She sees marriage as a new step forward. She wants to maximize her potential and express her self-identity through her marriage, her creativity and her social circle. She is able to express herself the way she wants to—as a person, wife and mother. In a sense, marriage empowers her for greater self-expression.

The research, based on Synovate’s research framework, Censydiam, encompasses eight key human motivations influencing women’s decisions—conviviality, belonging, security, control, recognition, power, vitality and enjoyment.

Universal Networks International is the global channels division of NBCUniversal. It is one of the world’s premier entertainment networks, delivering quality content and compelling brands to 150 territories across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia. In the Philippines its TV channels include DIVA Universal, Universal Channel, E! Entertainment and Style.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section in the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on Nov. 4, 2011. Photo and illustration from the web.)

The Halloween-ization of the Filipino

(Lighted pumpkins on the steps of a Filipino home. Photo from

I DON’T know how Halloween became an important event in the country. I won’t call it a “holiday” because the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize it as such. My siblings and I certainly never went trick-or-treating when we were youngsters. It was just an American event we would read about, or see by watching films or TV shows.

Yet in the past few years, I’ve seen Halloween take on a more significant role in the lives of Filipinos, especially among the kids. Malls are packing in huge revenue from selling scary costumes, masks and accessories (e.g., pitchforks, pumpkin pails, glowing red horns, etc.) as Pinoy kids have learned to ape their American counterparts and go trick-or-treating in their respective neighborhoods.

I was recently looking through some of the costumes at a popular mall and they don’t come cheap, mind you. For a mall that caters to the masses, the most reasonably-priced costume I found was about P500! For a lower-middle class family, that P500 already spells one cavan of unmilled rice!

And yet, the parents and their kids milled around the various costumes on the racks, as the latter excitedly pointed out the stuff they wanted to try on. The look on the mommies’ faces was one of resignation or restraint—they were torn between wanting to cater to their children’s whims, yet silently praying the child wouldn’t like the higher-priced but more fabulous item. (I tell you, kids today are smart. And they have taste. They know when a costume sucks or not, and will almost always go for the flashier, more elaborate and, yes, more expensive item! Hay, poor parents!)

I heard one mom even try to dissuade her daughter from picking out some pricey but well-made superhero costume by saying, “Ay pangit yan! Pagtatawanan ka nina Apples!” (which I suppose referred to the child’s friend and their barkada). But the sweet kid held on so tightly to the costume, and refused to look at any other.

I laughed quietly in my head, half-amused and half-bowled over by the extremely superb fashion sense of that little girl. And she was gonna stick to her guns no matter what! She didn’t care if Apples and her other friends did laugh at her. She wanted the costume. Period. Gads, I’d hate to be in her mom’s shoes.

Of course, props goes to the mommies and daddies who still manage to make the costumes for their children. This is such a big deal especially among Americans; a mother or father’s reputation literally hangs in the balance until he/she has crafted the most unique or the wittiest “statement” costume for his/her kids. I’m surprised that some of my stateside friends still manage to find time to sew their kids’ outfits, and amazed at the distinct styles of the clothes. I guess they’re all scared of being branded “bad mommies or daddies,” and being talked about by the neighbors for “neglecting” their Halloween responsibilities. Hahaha!

Then again, did you hear about a school district in New Jersey which banned students from wearing Halloween costumes claiming they were “disruptive” and “distracting”? It became such a hot issue, even the kids attended their township’s board meeting to voice their opposition to the ruling. “Take away our masks, but don’t take away our costumes!” Good grief. (I’m glad we don’t have that kind of a “problem” in our schools since October 31 is usually a holiday anyway, and most schools are out because of the semestral break.)

Students from the Brainshire Science School dress in Halloween costumes as they parade along the main street of Paranaque, in Manila, Philippines (REUTERS photo)

If there are these cuckoo Halloween stories, there are also the heartwarming ones. Just the other day, CBS News reported about an Ohio farmer donating excess pumpkins from his farm to the Boys and Girls Club in Paterson, New Jersey, for their pumpkin patch. (The farms in the area had been devastated by Hurricane Irene recently, which meant the kids would have a pumpkin-less Halloween.)

Said Greg Clement, “I remember as a kid how important it was to have a pumpkin in October. My wife, Kelly, and I were hearing a lot about East Coast farms that had no pumpkins. Then we saw on TV how badly Hurricane Irene had hit Paterson, and we knew we wanted to make sure the kids would have a happy Halloween.” What a swell guy!

Back here at home, some local pet owners also got into the Halloween swing of things by dressing up their pussies and pooches. According to MSNBC Today, the Philippine Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, put on a pet parade in a mall as part of its campaign to encourage pet owners to take better care of their animals. The pets were so cute in their delightful costumes even as some of the pet owners joined in the fun by dressing up, as well.

Meanwhile, MSN News reported on the top 10 scariest movies of all time. Which of these are you watching this long Halloween weekend?

10. Eraserhead (1977)

9. The Exorcist (1973)

8. Halloween (1978)

7. Don’t Look Now (1973)

6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

5. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

4. Suspiria (1977)

3. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

2. Repulsion (1965)

1. Psycho (1960)

My personal favorites which didn’t make the cut are Silence of the Lambs and The Omen. Ach!

So, boo! Enjoy the Halloween break guys!

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was published on Oct. 28, 2011. Photos from the web.)

October 28, 2011

Excited over ketchup


This is the newest ketchup variant for Heinz. It's darker and according to the Huffington Post, the balsamic vinegar rounds of the flavors of the ketchup in an umami sort of way. (Read the rest here.)

And Harry Wallop of the The Telegraph says:

"The taste is unmistakably tomato ketchup. It has the same immediate hit of vinegary tartness, followed by a teeth-stripping sweetness. But whereas ordinary ketchup has little, or no, "finish" as wine tasters would say, the balsamic version has a depth to it. The flavour is darker and richer, with a definite hint of tamarind, one of the key ingredients in Worcestershire Sauce. It is genuinely sophisticated, without taking away from its basic ketchupness." (The rest here.)

I'm thinking...ketchup for grownups! Hope Heinz brings it over here real soon.

October 24, 2011

Happy ever after

WHEN intimate relationships fail, such as a significant love partnership or a marriage, the ones who bear the heaviest toll of the separation, and the attendant emotional suffering, will be the two people involved directly in the relationship.

Yet unknowingly to the uncouple, their friends and family also do suffer—although that may be too strong a word—some sort of grief when they see a formerly jovial coupling come unraveled. We all yearn for significant intimate relationships to last forever, as our stupid fairy tales have taught us in childhood, so we cannot help but mourn—yes, like someone died!—for that relationship that has given up the ghost as well.

We feel for the uncouple, and try not to take sides on the issues that had escalated and blown up in the former partners’ faces. We try to give each of them support, as they—and we mirons to the relationship—go through the pain and anxiety of coping with the loss.

We feel worse when there comes that point in the post-relationship period, when we, friends and family, are forced to let go of our objectivity and just have to stick by one ex or the other.

It sounds pathetic, I know, but when faced with such an issue, as has happened in the recent past, my friends and I go into some sort of a very analytical, post-relationship withdrawal mode.

You see, when one of us gets into some form of intimate relationship with another person, our tendency of course is to support our friend, whether we like his significant other. We “invest” in getting to know our friend’s partner to understand the latter better, and accommodate her in our get-togethers, dinners, parties and what not. We try not to judge, although out of our friend’s earshot, we will do just that probably, and be hypercritical of his newfound love.

It’s not because we don’t want our friend to be’s precisely because we cherish him so, and only want the best for him, which drives us to nitpick his partner’s character, trying to find some flaws. Seeing none, or maybe imagining a few, we probably would end up being close to our friend’s partner, as well. We start enjoying her company, too.

While the relationship is ongoing, we are witness to the couple’s highs and lows. The gang is hugely entertained and enthralled at the affection shared by the two. When our friends are in love, the entire gang is ecstatic. (Of course, our gangmate’s partner has become close to us as well, so we call her “friend” too.) The relationship is going strong, and we cheer for them. Who doesn’t love a happy couple, right?

But when their relationship hits a plateau and fights erupt between them, we gnash our teeth and hope each partner holds on. We try to offer solutions in the most dispassionate way so as not to be accused by either of taking sides. As much as possible, we want the couple to remain together. We can’t help but project our own desires for a “happily ever after” on them.

Unfortunately, there are times when we don’t get our wish, and the hapless couple goes their separate ways. Now comes the tricky part: What to do when that happens? Do we shun our friend’s ex and stick with him? As most barkadas will attest, this will happen whether we like it or not. But after trying to appease both sides, offering our sympathies and a firm helping hand to ensure a peaceful breakup, we come to that stage when we will eventually have to choose who to talk to, or be with every day.

In the last breakup involving another set of friends, I had to eventually side with whom I had always been chummy. I felt guilty about dropping my ties with my friend’s partner who I had become fond of as well, but there was really nothing I could do about it.

I already knew my friend had crossed the point of no return, that he no longer entertained the idea of getting back together with his ex, and just wanted to explore the big beautiful world of other partners-to-be out there.

Eventually, the rest of the gang, except for one or two, had to stop answering the text messages of our friend’s ex, and started increasing the privacy settings on our Facebook accounts so that the ex could no longer also see what our friend was up to via our comments.

I, for one, didn’t want any more dramas, so I had to “unfriend” my pal’s ex on the networking site. (I had to do this as I realized that my friend’s ex was mining my photo albums, continuing to pine for the days of yore, when they were still a couple, and we as a gang were coming along swimmingly.)

As friends, we are obligated to give as much support to whichever ex we are closest. And in so doing—that is, “unfriending” my pal’s ex—I felt this would ease the separation anxieties for both of them. I wanted to spare my friend from dealing with my commenting on his ex’s photos, status or whatnots.

I sometimes dread to see my friend’s ex now. I mean, what do I say, or what do we talk about when all we had in common was my friend? Other pals who have been put in similar situations tell me how awkward it can be, especially when they had become close to the other partner, as well. And they never get over that awkward feeling.

You end up talking about the ex just the same, and unwittingly give information about how the other is doing in their lives. Then, there is the struggle of whether to tell your pal about bumping into his ex. "Should I? Should I not? If I do tell him, what do I say? Do I edit out the part where I told his ex that he had gained weight since the breakup? Oof! Or should I tell him that his ex was with a hot new boyfriend or what? Ugh!" It isn’t easy being friends with uncouples.

Somehow in the post-relationship upheaval, we, the family and friends who became witness to a once glorious partnership gone bad, can only find peace when each of the ex-es finally manage to recover, and find new love and happiness again. And hopefully, the next relationship they embark on, will be the “happy ever after” for each of them.

(My column Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on Oct. 21, 2011. Photo from the web.)