January 31, 2011

Back with my homies

AS with most long-time friendships, one never truly recalls how the relationships were formed and how they were first cemented.

Gorjus, Dee, Berry and I bonded as close friends all throughout high school at St. Theresa’s College in Quezon City, although we belonged to different homeroom classrooms (only Dee and I were actually classmates all throughout the four years). But I’ve known Gorjus since pre-school at Little Angel’s Nursery School, where once she so bravely told my Mama why we had to have afternoon classes, because Mama didn’t believe me. (This was after a massive typhoon hit the country and all schools were closed for a month).

Gorjus returned to Manila recently for a week from her home in the US, where she keeps house with her doctor-husband and two very sweet kids (a boy and a girl). So over dinner and then coffee one rainy Thursday, we got together with Dee, gabbed, and reminisced some.

We had a hilarious time, though there were some serious turns, especially when we exchanged stories of a few girls who had passed on in tragic ways. But it was all great to be with my homies again even if it was for just a night. Too bad Berry wasn’t around, but thank God for Facebook, we are all updated about each other’s lives even if we don’t talk every day.

Dee—married to a banker—works in a government agency, and takes care of her two grown kids, one of them already a lovely 18-year-old. It was Dee who married first, followed I think by Berry, who now also lives in the US, then Gorjus. I am the only one in the group who is still unmarried and who lives rather untraditionally, I suppose.

Berry was called “Sor Maria” or “Sister Berry,” because she was the sweetest and most demure in the group. For a while we were sure she would end up as a nun at St. Theresa’s. She was and still is the epitome of quiet beauty and brains; I remembered her as always being at the top of the class. She was nice and respectful, although Gorjus claims that I actually got so miffed at her once that I refused to speak to Berry for quite a time, despite the apparent thousand apologies she gave me.

(Unfortunately, Gorjus doesn’t recall what caused the rift, and also fails to recall how we patched things up. I still don’t remember this incident, as with some other events Gorjus seems to hold in her head, but one must forgive my senior moments. We’re talking about events that happened 30 years ago—I can’t even recall what I ate for lunch yesterday.)

Dee was my closest buddy—the veritable gal pal who would endlessly listen to me prattle on and on and on about my sad sack life, and complain about the idiots in our midst. I don’t know where she got the patience. Yet she was the brave one who could confront me about important issues, and I had quite a few in high school. What we joke about today is how Dee was such a baby—the quintessential hatid-sundo girl—with her mommy just a few steps behind her most of the time. She protests now that she did a year on the school bus though. Uhm, okay.

I led a slightly less ethereal existence in my elementary years, riding the jeepney of Mang Munding, who plied the Quiapo-Dimasalang route between 8 am and 3 pm, but turned his vehicle into a “school bus” in the morning and in the afternoons when he would fetch us kids to and from school, and safely return us to our mothers’ loving arms.

Truly Gorjus was our Sony Pro memory stick that night, reminding us of the various laughable incidents or somber events that affected our gang of four or our batch back in the day (over 200GB of information dating as far back as 1970!). She was also our news bulletin of sorts, reporting on the successes of our girls, especially those living abroad. Apparently, our batch—I will never tell you what year we graduated lest I incriminate myself—has the most number of people who moved overseas, especially after college.

It’s unfortunate for our country to lose these brilliant beautiful minds, but what an honor for St. Theresa’s to have that many respectable women contributing their talents to make foreign economies work better! But then I have yet to hear of any Theresian performing much less than what’s expected of her by our nuns.

I was especially awed to find out that one of our girls works at Nasa as a nuclear physicist, one makes a good living as a jewelry retailer, another is a successful dermatologist, while another is actually the mother of a very current showbiz star! Our very own Berry is now studying to get a teacher’s certificate which will play right into President Barack Obama’s recent call for more teachers.

Here at home, we have an amazing number of bankers from our batch, a pediatrician, a well-known writer and newspaper columnist (my friend Georgia, who moved to another high school but still considers herself a Theresian), an architect, a surgeon, lawyers, etc., all leading honorable and admirable lives. And some are, yes, “domestic engineers” who keep house for their husbands and their now-grown adolescent children. Despite the times we lived in when all avenues for women were swung open, at St. Theresa’s we were taught that all career paths were prestigious—whether one was a housewife or worked in an office.

Of course, there was a short discussion about unsavory rumors circulating among some batchmates concerning yours truly, and a few other girls, mostly untrue. (One was even dubbed a Japayuki just because she lived in Japan, how cruel!) I really couldn’t care less. These people were never my friends then, why should I expect them to be friendly towards me today? And really, there are always two versions to a story, but when passed on as a rumor, will likely get distorted and the people involved, misunderstood.

But just like any school, there are the smart ones and there are the bullies. There are also the truly kind and sincere girls whom I appreciate for their friendship to this day—even if we see each other just on Facebook these days—and there are the backbiters. There are the quiet hardworking ones, and there are the veritable nuisances. Not one high school is without all these kinds of people. But life goes on and despite some negativity, our true fighting nature is unleashed, and we triumph against the canard and the cheap tattlers.

Still, as I sat back sipping my tea and listening to Gorjus and Dee discussing our girls and the past events in our lives, I couldn’t help but smile. I was beyond proud of our batch. Everyone seems to be in a good place right now. Perhaps our being Theresians helped form us into better citizens of this country or other parts of the world, although that could be a cause for debate, especially from our Assumptionista and Maryknoller friends, hahaha. But we’re all living the best years of our lives right this moment. We rock. And that’s all that matters.

(Originally published on Jan. 28, 2011. My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the BusinessMirror. Photo from http://www.deeannegist.com.)

January 26, 2011

A good year for the Philippines and its businessmen

(The Year of the Metal Rabbit begins on Feb. 3, 2011. Photo from the Feng Shui Clinic)

THE year of the Metal Rabbit, which begins on February 3, will be a better year for Philippine business and the economy in general.

This is not surprising as most of the country’s leading business personalities are themselves fortunate this year, per the readings of Joseph Chau, resident geomancer/feng shui practitioner of the Mandarin Oriental Manila.

The luck is not limited to the country’s top chief executives but its political leaders, as well, such as President Aquino and Vice President Jejomar Binay, and the Aquino administration’s officials overseeing the economy.

In a press conference on Monday, Chau said the dominant elements this year will be metal and wood, so the businesses that will be generally profitable this year are car-selling, banking and mining, especially in gold, while wood would connote garments, bookstores and the publishing industry.

Because the Philippines was born on June 12, 1898, (Aguinaldo’s Independence Day), that makes it an Earth Dog.

According to Chau, “Dogs are the most compatible zodiac sign of the Year of the Rabbit,” and as such, he sees the Philippine economy “going up” this year.

(The lucky ones - from left: Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala II, Erramon Aboitiz, Manuel Lopez, Teresita Sy-Coson. Illustrations from BusinessMirror.)

Other businesses that are good to invest in are in tourism such as hotels, the medical sector and agriculture—the latter, particularly, “will be prosperous in the next 10 years.”

Those working in the entertainment industry, especially those in films, will see their movies making money, as it is ruled by the metal element, as well.

He advises the tourism leaders to promote more Philippine culture, “which will attract more tourists.”

He added that an orderly transportation industry, where cab drivers, for instance, properly register their names, would boost the tourism sector, and travelers will find them more trustworthy.

The year of the Metal Rabbit bodes well for those born in the year of the Dog (1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006), such as PLDT chairman and Meralco President Manuel V. Pangilinan and beer and tobacco tycoon Lucio Tan.

Chau said the work of Dogs “will be comparatively going smooth. Businessmen will get the help of their benefactors. Financially, money luck is promising, especially in the second half of the year. Many opportunities are open for them or in partnership with others.”

(From left: Manuel V. Pangilinan, President Noynoy Aquino, Vice President Jojo Binay, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima)

This is also a fortunate year for those born in the Year of the Rat (1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996), such as President Aquino, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, chairman and chief executive officer of the Ayala Corp.

“Everything tends to be more stable and smooth, especially because there are two lucky stars shining bright within the sign. Businessmen will have many opportunities for their business development or expansion. Financially, this is a fortunate year for Rats. They will have a steady income from different sources.”

However, Chau points to the relatively unlucky location of Malacañang and suggested that President Aquino put a water fountain in his office, if he doesn’t want to move his office to another location from the Premier Guest House. This would improve his luck and promote clarity in his decision-making.

If Purisima is lucky this year, perhaps leading the government to keep its budget deficit at decent levels, so is Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Gov. Amando Tetangco Jr., who is a Dragon (1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000), which will hopefully mean a tame inflation and stable peso for the country.

“This is a successful year for Dragons,” said Chau. “However, they have to take preventive measures to avoid unexpected problems that might happen. They should make use of this year to carry out their new projects with great planning. Financially, Dragons will have better luck in money affairs and it is promising.”

Asked about the President’s prospects in terms of love, the master geomancer advises him to look for a woman “who was born in winter—November and December.” The most compatible sign for a mate for him would be a woman born in the Year of the Pig (1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995). Pigs are described as honest creatures, gallant, sturdy, sociable, peace-loving, patient, loyal, hard-working, etc., and is one of the luckiest signs in 2011.

(From left: Ramon S. Ang, Lance Gokongwei, Lucio Tan, BSP Gov. Say Tetangco)

Horses (1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002), such as San Miguel president Ramon Ang, Lopez Group Holdings CEO Manuel Lopez and JG Summit Holdings president and chief operating officer Lance Gokongwei, will find their luck “improving” this year.

Chau said: “Since the Moon Star shines bright this year, they will have better luck in expanding their personal communication network that will help them have a better prospect both at work and business. Financially, [they] will have better luck developing their businesses.

Vice President Binay, who is also a Horse and regularly joins the Mandarin Oriental’s Chinese New Year parade, will “work well together” with President Aquino this year.

Tigers (1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010) like SM Investments vice chairman and Banco de Oro chairman Teresita Sy-Coson will find 2011 “a productive year.”

According to Chau, “It is good timing for their business expansion. Their career luck is going smooth. They will have the ability to handle all their tough work and challenges. They should treasure this lucky year to show their ability both at work and business. Money luck is pretty good, and it is on the upswing. They will have a profitable return from their investment.”

It is important for Monkeys (1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004), like Aboitiz Equity Ventures president and CEO Erramon Aboitiz, “to have a good strategy plan in the beginning of the year if they wish to have a productive and successful year,” said Chau.

(Master Joseph Chau, resident feng shui expert/geomancer of the Mandarin Oriental, Manila. Photo by MOMNL)

“Financially, this is a fortunate year in money affairs….However, they should avoid being in partnership with people, especially between friends and relatives, or they will be cheated.”

The unlucky signs this year are, ironically, the Rabbit (1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011) and the Rooster (1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005).

While Rats, Horses and Dogs are generally unlucky signs, those in business appear to be on a prosperous path but have to pay attention to their health and love lives.

Those born under the Snake sign will, likewise, find themselves generally unlucky. But those working overseas will be prosperous.

Chau said the lucky colors this year are gold, silver, white, sky blue, green, red, pink, violet, peach and orange.

(My story was originally published in the BusinessMirror, Jan. 25, 2011.)

Ayala taps architects for Quezon Institute dev't

WHILE talks are ongoing between Ayala Land Inc. and the Philippine Tuberculosis Society Inc. (PTSI) for a possible deal on the latter’s Quezon Institute (QI) property in Quezon City, the real-estate developer is losing no time in consulting with premier architects and urban planners for the project.

BusinessMirror sources indicated that Planning Resources and Operations Systems Inc. Architects & Engineers (PROS A&E) will likely handle the design of the QI project if ever Ayala Land snags an agreement with PTSI.

An official of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) said the architectural firm is identified with the real-estate development arm of the Ayala Corp., and had consulted with the agency regarding the possible development of the QI lot.

“PROS A&E, [Architect] Manuel Mañosa’s firm, coordinated with us a few years ago regarding building on the property,” the official revealed. Architect Geronimo Manahan was the one who particularly talked with the NHCP. “We told him that we needed to see the master plan for the planned development first,” considering the historical significance of the property, the NHCP official who requested anonymity said. The architect, however, did not return with any design plan.

(PROS A&E's Manahan designed a master plan for the land use of the CCP complex. Photo from the PIA web site.)

Manahan, former dean of the UP College of Architecture, is one of the country’s foremost environmental and urban planners. In 2003 he led PROS A&E in designing a master plan for the land use of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex, aimed at turning into the premier arts and cultural center in the metropolis.

In a brief interview with Manahan via telephone, he confirmed that he did consult with the NHCP on “land use” of the QI property.

He said ALI was “planning condominiums” on the lot. The condos, he said, would be built “only around” the main building designed by Architect Juan F. Nakpil, a National Artist. The building currently houses the offices of the PTSI.

Asked about the structural integrity of the main building, Manahan said there was a way to preserve it, but declined to reveal any further details of the plans. Instead, he referred this reporter to ALI’s officials. It would be recalled that the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, which used to occupy another old building on the QI property, moved out hastily as its present management said their building was no longer structurally sound.

Jorge Marco, head of ALI’s corporate communications, said they could not reveal any design plans for the property, “since talks are still ongoing [with PTSI].”

Ongoing negotiations between the PTSI and Ayala Land are believed to be for a possible coventure on the 6.5-hectare QI property as PTSI officials said the land was not for sale. (See “Money woes may spur QI property devt” in the BusinessMirror, January 14, 2011.)

Now 72, Manahan was dean of UP’s College of Architecture, from 1984 to 1990. According to the UP web site, he graduated with a Master’s degree in Town and Country Planning from the University of Sydney in 1968, and obtained a Doctorate of Philosophy in Urban Planning from UP in 1992. A cofounder of the Philippine Institute of Environment Planners, he retired from academe in 1992 to focus on his private practice.

Manahan also authored the book, Philippine Architecture in the 20th Century, where he shows the culmination of various architectural influences in the country from the Chinese, Indo-Malayans, Muslims and Spaniards.

(Architect Geronimo Manahan of PROS A&E which he co-founded w/ 9 other architects including Architect Manuel Mañosa Jr. Photo from UPCA web site.)

In 2006 he received the Likha and Gold Medal award from the United Architects of the Philippines, the highest distinction accorded by the 34-year-old organization to a fellow. Other recipients of that award are National Artists for Architecture Leandro V. Locsin and Gabriel Formoso, Cesar Cachela, Manuel Mañosa, Angel Lazaro, Bobby Mañosa and Felipe Mendoza.

PROS A&E was cofounded by Manahan, Mañosa Jr., architects William Godinez and Fiorello Estuar, and six other principals. Its expertise is in urban planning and design, housing, tourism and industrial developments, according to industry sources.

PROS A&E has had a long relationship with Ayala Land, having designed several of its real-estate development projects. At present, the architectural firm is working on ALI’s Avida Towers in Sucat, Parañaque.

NHCP officials have said they need to see plans for any sale or development of the QI property first before these are implemented, due to the historical significance of the property.

Earlier, Ayala Land said it had some experience in preserving historical buildings as in the case of Nielson Tower in Makati City, which was built in 1937, and used to be airport passenger terminal and control tower of the old Nielson airport. The airport was part of the Hacienda San Pedro Makati of the Zobel de Ayala family. The airport was also site of the United States Far East Air Force headquarters in World War II.

The old airport tower now houses the Filipinas Heritage Library. (UPDATE: The Nielson Tower renovation was undertaking by Architect Francisco Mañosa & Partners. Bobby Mañosa is brother to Architect Manuel Mañosa Jr.)

(This story was originally published in the BusinessMirror on Jan. 20, 2011.)

To be bone-strong, not bone-dry

BECAUSE the Philippines has a young population, most of whom are under 30 years old, the bone disease osteoporosis has not been given much attention.

But in many countries with aging populations, osteoporosis has been dubbed the “silent killer”, especially for women—although recent medical research have shown that men can also be afflicted by the disease.

I read up a lot about osteoporosis primarily because I live with my still-active 82-year-old mother. Also because, well, being 45, I must admit I do sometimes feel the wind whistling through my bones. There have also been a few times when getting up from a stationary position after a while can sometimes be, ahem, a bit taxing.

While Mama is still up and about, and can manage our stairs, albeit slowly, I make sure she holds on tightly to me whenever we negotiate certain areas in the mall or in dimly lit places. She has to take deliberate steps when she walks around so as not to slip.

I have nightmares about what happened to my grandmother happening to my mother. My Lola, who was in her 70s, slipped and fell while going about the house, breaking her leg. She spent quite some time at the National Orthopedic Hospital, with her leg in traction, before we were able to bring her home. While she was always full of energy and fiercely went about her business in and out of the house before the accident, I was so surprised how quickly she deteriorated even though her leg was technically repaired. She never walked quite well again after that. Suddenly she was just bedridden, and then she was gone.

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF), a nonprofit, nongovernment organization in Switzerland, osteoporosis, which literally means “porous bone”, is a disease “in which the density and quality of bone are reduced. As the bones become more porous and fragile, the risk of fracture is greatly increased. The loss of bone occurs ‘silently’ and progressively. Often there are no symptoms until the first fracture occurs.”

It has long been considered an old person’s disease, but what few people realize is that bone breakdown can begin as early as the age of 25.

(Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by progressive loss of bone density, thinning of bone tissue and increased vulnerability to fractures. Osteoporosis may result from disease, dietary or hormonal deficiency or advanced age. Regular exercise and vitamin and mineral supplements can reduce and even reverse loss of bone density. Photo and caption from the US Nat'l Institutes of Health.)

While human bones are living tissues that naturally undergo a constant breakdown and renewal process, this changes during the mid-20s, when the deterioration of our bones begins.

I wouldn’t have believed this until my gal pal Miggy, who is nowhere near senior citizenship, broke her little toe two years ago after someone accidentally stepped on her bare foot at the beach. As soon as we got back to Manila, she had her foot checked and mended, but was told she already had osteoporosis. (Which, of course, made her feel much older than her real age. I tell 'ya these doctors are depressing!)

Studies also show that smokers, those who ingest alcohol liberally, and people with low-calcium diets and generally sedentary lifestyles are susceptible to osteoporosis. (Miggy, lay off the Facebook!) Owing to our hormones and petite frames, women are more prone to this disease than men.

Monthly periods and pregnancy also drain the body of calcium—the nutrient which builds and strengthens bones—while menopause accelerates bone loss even more, as the body produces less and less estrogen, which helps protect bones, according to experts.

While there are no exact figures on how many are afflicted with osteoporosis in the Philippines, population figures from the National Statistics Office show there are close to 4.8 million women aged 50 and older, and most, if not all, at risk for the bone disease. Deadly sa kababaihan, indeed.

Some of the tell-tale signs of this “silent killer” are the following: the stooped back, loss of height, and the easy breakage of bones in the back, hips, wrists and ankles. Fractured bones, however, are not the end of it: according to the IOF, 30 percent of those who develop a hip fracture never walk again, while 20 percent die in a year’s time. Just like Lola.

To ensure optimum bone health, most doctors recommend calcium-laden products such as milk. A glass of Anlene, for instance, contains 500 mg of calcium, while Anlene Gold has 600 mg per glass.* Anlene is not just ordinary milk, by the way; it is especially formulated for adults—enriched with the essential bone nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and protein.

Anlene also recently published a breakthrough clinical study that showed women who drank two glasses of Anlene daily reduced their bone breakdown within four weeks (based on evidence from a 16-week bone-marker trial and additional Anlene research). Imagine that!

Of course, drinking milk alone won’t save your bones. It’s important for women to also engage in regular exercise such as running, walking, strength training, and yoga or Pilates. A diet rich in calcium is also recommended, and this can be found in soy-based foods like tofu, as well as dark, leafy green vegetables.

Another way to improve bone density is to increase one’s intake of vitamin D, which makes it easier for bones to absorb calcium. Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, fish liver oil and egg yolks. Recommended calcium intake for women between the ages of 25 and 50 years is 750 mg a day; and more for those who are older, pregnant or lactating. As for vitamin D, the Recommended Daily Allowance for women aged 19 to 50 is 600 IU (international units).

With Anlene, a proper diet and regular exercise, we girls may lick this silent killer yet.


(For more information about osteoporosis, visit the IOF web site, or Anlene at for more tips on how to help our bones. My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)

*UPDATE: A story was published in the NYT Tuesday indicating new required levels of Calcium and Vitamin D. It says: "For daily calcium intake, the institute now recommends 1,000 milligrams for children 4 to 8, women and men 19 to 50, and men 51 to 70; 1,300 milligrams for children 9 to 18; and 1,200 milligrams for women 51 and older and men 71 and older. The upper limit of safety, the institute said, is 2,000 milligrams a day for men and women over 51."

As for Vit. D, which helps the body absorb calcium better: "The Institute of Medicine maintains that a level of 20 nanograms is adequate, but other experts say it should be higher to assure maximum calcium absorption and bone health. In any event, unless you are a year-round sun worshiper, a daily supplement of calcium with D, or even a separate supplement of 1,000 units of D, is likely to keep you well below the institute’s upper safe limit." (Read the rest at the Long and Short of Calcium and Vitamin D.)

Money woes may spur QI property dev't

(The old pulmonary hospital on the QI property, circa 1938, according to its facade. Photo copyright held by Stella Arnaldo.)

THE Quezon Institute (QI) property is not for sale.

That’s according to some officials of the Philippine Tuberculosis Society Inc. (PTSI), which operates and manages QI. PTSI has been at the forefront of the anti-TB campaign in the country since 1910.

But sources in the PTSI said the organization is looking at a possible “co-development” of the property with a real-estate firm.

Talk has been rife among the tight-knit community of Filipino heritage conservationists that PTSI had already sealed a deal in December 2010 to sell the property to Ayala Land Inc. (ALI).

This has been denied by some ALI and PTSI officials, however.

Jorge Marco, ALI head for corporate communications, told the BusinessMirror that no sale has been finalized. “I’m sure, when appropriate, we’ll make the proper disclosures,” he said. But he confirmed ongoing “talks or discussions” between ALI and PTSI about the QI property.

For her part, PTSI executive director Elizabeth Cadena said, “[the deal with Ayala Land] is not true.” Asked if there were any negotiations ongoing with ALI, she expressed her displeasure at the question by hastily showing this reporter out of her office at the QI. She refused to further answer inquiries, and merely wrinkled her mouth and shrugged her shoulders when asked who exactly this reporter could direct her questions to with regard to the issue.

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) has said the sale of the QI property or improvements to be made therein have to be approved by the government agency, as per the new Heritage Law. National Artist Juan F. Nakpil designed its main building, which houses the PTSI offices. (See story “QI deal needs historical body’s OK” in the BusinessMirror, January 12, 2011.)

(PTSI executive director Elizabeth Cadena - the dragon lady who shooed me out of her office. Photo from PTSI web site.)

The 6.5-hectare property along E. Rodriguez Avenue, barangay Tatalon, Quezon City, is worth anywhere from P2.3 billion to P5 billion, based on Bureau of Internal Revenue zonal values, and the market price of commercial real-estate developments in said area.

In a separate interview, a member of the PTSI board affirmed that Ayala Land was keen on the property but so are “other organizations and real- estate developers. There are certain arrangements we’re looking at, but we’re not selling the whole thing. We will use the real property the best way we can.”

The board member added that there has also been another proposal from another real-estate firm for “co-development” of the QI property which the board is considering, “but nothing has been finalized.” The board member declined to reveal the identity of the other developer.

The board member added that PTSI is “keeping our options open [regarding the property], but we’re not going to sell. It’s our mission to help treat TB….We don’t want to lose our primary resource for TB control.” The TB problem in the Philippines has yet to be totally licked as cases now involve resistant strains “that are very difficult to control,” the board member said.

An official of the PTSI who requested anonymity, likewise, told the BusinessMirror: “There are many who are interested in the QI property but we’re not selling. We only sold [a portion] to Puregold because we had to. We had precarious finances then; employees were going on strike because we couldn’t pay their salaries.” There are about 100-plus employees at QI.

Asked whether PTSI’s finances were now back in the black, thus the organization’s decision to hold off on selling, the official said, “we always have negative finances. Funding support for [our anti-TB campaign and treatments], such as the subsidy from the PCSO [Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office] have been reduced.”

While there are foreign funds that support PTSI’s anti-TB projects, as well as government support, the official said these were still not enough to address the TB problem in the country. Keeping the property and raising funds through it could help PTSI continue its anti-TB projects, the official indicated.

(National Artist Architect Juan F. Nakpil also designed the UP admininstration building in Diliman, QC. Photo from http://www.mediabd.com)

Meanwhile, a source in ALI said that instead of purchasing the QI property, the real-estate firm can also go into a “joint development” with the PTSI. This means ALI can lease the property from PTSI and use the rest of the lot to build condominiums, a mall, offices and other commercial establishments.

Ayala Land has a similar venture with the University of the Philippines for the UP-Ayala Land Technohub along Commonwealth Avenue in Diliman, Quezon City. The technohub—home to business-process outsourcing offices as well as restaurants—occupies 20 hectares, but the entire UP North Science Technology Park is 37.5 hectares. Another codevelopment project between ALI and UP is for the university’s property along Katipunan Road, also in Quezon City.

ALI has been eyeing the QI property for a mixed-use development project. The main building of QI was designed by National Artist architect Juan F. Nakpil in the 1930s. The other buildings such as the adjacent pulmonary hospital was built in 1938, according to a marker on its façade. The building which housed the PCSO was also built around the same time, as per the NHCP.

As such, the buildings and their environs are automatically protected from any unauthorized sale or renovations as per Republic Act 10066. If found guilty, violators will be fined not less than P200,000, or jailed not less than 10 years.

On its web site, the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) said QI “followed a stately and symmetrical design concept. A grand avenue leads to the two-story main building accentuated by strong Art Deco influences and geometric details.”

The UAP web site added that Nakpil was born in Quiapo, Manila, in 1899, the only son of composer Julio Nakpil and Gregoria de Jesus, the widow of Andres Bonifacio. He studied architecture at the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts in Paris, and received a master’s degree in Architecture from Harvard University. Considered the “Dean of Filipino Architects,” he also designed the “1937 International Eucharistic Congress altar and rebuilt and enlarged the Quiapo Church in 1930, adding a dome and a second belfry to the original design.”

Nakpil’s other major works include the Geronimo de los Reyes Building, Magsaysay Building, Rizal Theater, Capitol Theater, Captain Pepe Building, Manila Jockey Club, Rufino Building, Philippine Village Hotel, University of the Philippines Administration and University Library, and the reconstructed Rizal house in Calamba, Laguna.

(My story was originally published in the BusinessMirror on Jan. 12, 2011.)

January 17, 2011

And you thought underwater weddings were cool...

STILL romantic, and very unique obviously...this couple chooses to get married in a mall, flash-mob style:

Making the case for a tech detox

ONE of the most interesting stories I’ve read in the past week was about a family that tried to reconnect with each other by minimizing their use of technology.

In the piece, “Your BlackBerry or Your Wife” in the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Bernstein writes about the Broadnax family and their struggle with renewing their familial interactions after the mother, Diane Broadnax, a 50-year-old clinical trial researcher from Mount Airy, Maryland, banned computerized forms of entertainment in their household for a week.

“According to Bernstein, Ms. Broadnax had become “fed up with the way her family dispersed to separate computers each evening. Anika, 4, would watch Dora the Explorer on a laptop in the kitchen, while Jasmine, 12, would play with her virtual pets online. Ms. Broadnax’s husband, Lonnie Broadnax, 50, went to his home office to watch a sci-fi DVD, and she would make dinner—while checking her e-mail. Many nights, each person would eat in front of his or her respective screen. ‘Days were going by and we weren’t talking,’ Ms. Broadnax says.”

I can imagine how difficult it must have been for this family to fill in the empty silences once forced to just sit at the dinner table, and communicate with each other directly.

But this phenomenon of “disconnect” has become more prevalent than you know it. Once, when I was logged on Facebook, I found it amusing that some of my friends—a husband and wife—communicated through the social-networking site.

The situation was just begging to be poked at, and I did jokingly ask the couple one time, on Facebook as well, if they no longer lived in the same house. Both of them answered that they were in different parts of the house, which made me think that their home must be so huge, it was difficult for each of them to make that “long” trek to talk directly to where the other person was located. Hahaha.

But no matter how “enriching” the experience of being on social-networking sites may be, or how various electronic devices and cell-phone/computer applications enable us to keep in touch with our loved ones even if they’re thousands of miles away, there’s still nothing like face-to-face interactions to strengthen our affections for them.

For instance, it’s still much more entertaining to personally see and hear my young friend Kurdapya make her amusing commentaries about government officials and general issues of the day. Her eyes roll up, her mouth turns up in a knowing smirk, and her arms are all over the place. The same joke tweeted, for instance, does not make the same smashing impact as when you see her say it up close. To paraphrase a film title, something is lost in transmission when blurted via a computer or through SMS.

Seriously, if like Ms. Broadnax you already feel alienated from your own family because everyone is tethered to his/her cell phone, computer or TV, then maybe it’s time to take control of your family’s tech life.

Here are few suggestions to bring everyone back from the virtual world to the present:

For one, ban all cell phones from the dining table. Everyone who has eaten at my home know how I don’t like cell phones around when everyone’s eating. Even my nieces and nephew are not spared from this. They automatically check their messages before sitting with my Mama and I at the dining table, and then ditch their cell phones in their bags or on some nearby shelf.

Take away the TV sets from everyone’s bedrooms and just assign a family room where the TV should be. My sister has successfully done this, which is why there were no distractions for her kids when they were still studying. And even when everyone is glued to the TV in the family room, there is still a whole lot of interaction between her and her kids or her husband—comments about whatever show is on, catching up on whatever happened to each of them during the day, etc. Even when it’s all just silliness, the important thing is, there is conversation going around.

If you can take away the TVs, maybe you can take away the personal computers as well and put them in the family room or a home-office space. This way, there will be some amount of communication among family members even if everyone is doing their thing at their workstations. Such a setup also opens opportunities for parents to help children in their homework.

Related to this, manage your kids and your own computer/TV use. Allot a time period for kids to use the computer and do their assignments. Kids are supposed to play out in the yard with the pets, with you and your spouse, or the neighbors’ kids. They shouldn’t be stuck at home playing Wii or Ragnarok, or some computer game where the other player is a million miles away. Similarly, you shouldn’t be spending your free time watering your Farmville plants, or building imaginary restaurants. Try to do something as a family and away from the computer or TV.

Postpone giving cell phones to your children as long as you can. While it’s true these devices help you monitor your kids’ activities, and you can easily trace their whereabouts, the truth is, your kids can always lie about where they are (unless you’ve been tracking them via GPS, that is). Besides, I usually see kids use their cell phones just to call their driver to pick them up “now na!” (whatever happened to setting an appointed pickup time and good old-fashioned waiting?), or text frenziedly their friends (even during Mass!). Lucky for you parents if they actually call you to tell you how their school day went.

So maybe, you can loan your child a cell phone while he is out of the house, but when he is at home, confiscate the gadget so he can focus on studies instead. If your kids need to talk with their friends or classmates about homework (a likely excuse), they can always use the landline—remember that old-fashioned phone?

Related to managing computer/TV usage, set up an “unplug” day. Those who’ve been following this column know that I started doing this two years ago. I switch off all cell phones and my computer—so no SMS, Facebook, Twitter and other mindless surfing. This is the only day I usually pick up a hard-copy newspaper, when normally I go through online news web sites during weekdays.

Believe me, it’s given me more peace of mind and enabled me to finish up chores that had long been unattended. I’ve even managed to catch up on my book-reading backlog. I usually do this every Sunday, and most of my friends know that the only way they can get in touch with me is to call me on my landline if it’s really important.

You can do this as well. Unplug on Sundays, stay at home and play games, which will help sharpen your kids’ socializing skills and prepare them for future “competitions”. I remember when my entire family, including my Pop, would play all sorts of board games as we were growing up—Snakes & Ladders, Old Maid, Lucky 8, eventually graduating to Scrabble, Games of the Generals, MasterMind, etc. It was fun and even if my parents were not affluent, we kids were kept entertained.

Technology can help us accomplish much at work, and keep us in touch with our loved ones. But sometimes it can also ruin our relationships. Know when to stop the tech craziness and bring everyone back to the basics.

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

January 14, 2011

Quezon Institute land deal needs historical body's OK

(The main building of the Quezon Institute which houses the offices of the Phil. Tuberculosis Society Inc., QI operator. The building was designed by National Artist Architect Juan Nakpil.)

THE much-coveted Quezon Institute (QI) property along E. Rodriguez Avenue in Quezon City will cost Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) at least P2.3 billion.

ALI has expressed interest in the lot, eyeing a mixed-use development for the area, meaning residential buildings, corporate offices and commercial establishments.

But before the QI property can be sold, the transaction has to be cleared first with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), its officials stressed. Built in the 1930s, Quezon Institute’s main building was designed by architect Juan F. Nakpil, a national artist.

Antonino Aquino, president of Ayala Land, told the BusinessMirror in a text message: “We are interested in properties of this scale in this part of Quezon City.”

In a separate, chance interview, Jan Bengzon, ALI assistant vice president for external affairs, confirmed: “We’ve been interested in that property for the longest time for a mixed-use development.”

The 6.5-hectare QI property is owned by the Philippine Tuberculosis Society Inc. (PTSI), which earlier had sold a portion of the lot at the corner of Araneta Avenue and E. Rodriguez Avenue, to Puregold, where a supermarket now stands.

It is the same property where the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office also used to hold office until its management felt that its building was structurally unsafe.

Based on the latest zonal values of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the QI property is worth about P35,000 per square meter as it may be considered a commercial area already and is located beside a main road.

Possibly, P2.3 billion

Real-estate brokers consulted by the BusinessMirror though said the price of the entire lot could even exceed P2.3 billion since there are “improvements” on the property, or buildings.

So a similar property in the area, like a commercial building, could go as high as P75,000 per sq m. Thus, the QI property could be worth even close to P5 billion.

In an interview, architect Wilkie de Lumen of the NHCP’s Historic Preservation Division said: “With the new Heritage Law, or Republic Act 10066, [the QI property] is automatically protected, more so that its building was designed by architect Nakpil, a national artist. It is considered a national treasure and any sale or improvements [must pass through NHCP] even if it is privately owned.”

(This building on the right corner of the QI property used to house the offices of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office until its management decided it was no longer structurally unsound. The National Historical Commission of the Philippines said the PCSO did not seek the agency’s permission to drill into the building and assess its integrity. This building is estimated at older than 50 years and thus protected by national heritage laws.)

He added the same law prescribes “penalties if owners neglect the historical property, or any improvements are not properly coordinated with the NHCP.” Article XVIII of the law on penal provisions enumerates violations, such as destruction, demolition, mutilation and damage of “any world heritage site, national cultural treasures, important cultural property and archaeological and anthropological sites;” as well as modification, alteration or destruction “of the original features or [construction] or real-estate development in any national shrine, monument, landmark and other historic edifices and structures, declared, classified and marked by the National Historical Institute as such, without the prior written permission from the commission.”

The same law adds that violators, upon conviction, would be fined not less than P200,000 or a prison term of not less than 10 years.

ALI’s Bengzon said if the property and its buildings are considered national historical landmarks, “then we can work around that. We can always preserve the buildings like what we’ve done with Nielson Tower.”

Built in 1937, the Nielson Tower in Makati City used to be an airport passenger terminal and control tower of the old Nielson airport, which was part of the Hacienda San Pedro Makati of the Zobel de Ayala family.

The airport was also the site of the United States Far East Air Force headquarters in World War II. The old terminal now houses the Filipinas Heritage Library. For his part, architect Reynaldo Inovero, chief of the NHCP’s HPD, said the commission will “write [the PTSI] and ask for any plans they might have [regarding the QI property]. We have to look at the engineering studies [on the proposed development] if these are feasible.”

(My story was originally published in the BusinessMirror on Jan. 12, 2011. Photos copyrighted Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo.)

January 10, 2011

How to make New Year resolutions stick

HOW many of us start the new year with resolutions—go on a diet, exercise more often, read a book once a month, etc.—only to drop them midway out of neglect, difficulty, or because we were overrun with other responsibilities?

We can make up a lot of excuses to justify why we weren’t able to stick to our New Year’s resolutions, but all it is really is—admit it—plain laziness and a lack of determination. I am a believer in willpower and that being able to accomplish a task we’ve set out for ourselves is just a function of how serious we are in our goals in the first place.

Of course, I’ve quit on a number of resolutions a few times before, and I have no one to blame but myself. (So now I don’t make any, hehehe.) But I understand why people continue to make them. We just want to improve ourselves—to drop a bad habit, or embark on a good one maybe for health purposes. Our long-term goal, of course, being the best of who we can be.

So for those who still believe in making New Year’s resolutions, here are a few tips from The Source Asia on how to create powerful New Year’s intentions, which I quote from liberally:

"Tip 1: Set believable intentions. Make sure you set intentions, which you can honestly see becoming your reality in 2011. It’s not possible to create something unless you truly believe—not just wish—it can happen. Therefore, don’t focus on those impossible to reach intentions, which might just leave you feeling disappointed in the end. If you do have a ' way out there' desire but you don’t believe it can happen in a year, break it down and see what you do believe you can create in 2011.

Tip 2: Clarity=Power. When you are clear about what you want and you set an intention, everything will move to support you in its manifestation. Being clear doesn’t mean getting into the specifics, though (See #3, Let go of the 'How').

Be clear in your own heart, mind and being that 'You want This' and 'It is Time'. That’s the kind of clarity that moves mountains.

Choose intentions that are more like a choice, even if it seems like quite a stretch, a choice that you are making for yourself, fully expecting the universe to back you up and help bring to you as your reality.

Tip 3: Let go of the How. If you really want intentions that have a better chance of becoming your reality, forget about the how'. Leave the 'how' up to the universe. Even if you can see a lot of the 'how' or yourself, allow space for the mystery, the wonder and synchronicity to bring you what you want in a way you couldn’t even dream of. Choose your intentions to focus on what you really want and hand the “how” over to the Universe.

Tip 4: Write down your 2011 intentions. Take some time to write down your 2011 intentions, and post them somewhere around you, so you can focus on them throughout the year.

Tip 5: Write out your 2011 intentions in the present tense. Write out your intentions as if they are your reality today, if you see it as something happening one day' it will forever be in the future.

You can even go a step further and act as if you’re intention has already manifested itself in your reality. You will be attracting the vibration that you need to be in for the intention to become reality.”

* * * *

As we can see, it takes a clear sense of purpose and a hard focus on the resolution, as if you’ve already done it.

When we understand perfectly why we are resolving to do something—like say, quit smoking—it makes it easier for us to attain the goal. If we quit smoking just because someone else asks us to do it, we won’t be successful in dropping the nasty habit.

But if we truly understand deep in our heart that the habit will make us sick and die, and, even worse, affect the health of our loved ones, the thought of quitting smoking becomes more embraceable. It first has to be clear in our mind the importance of respecting one’s body and the health of others.

We also must overcome the fear of failure. Not trying to stop a bad habit just because it’s difficult or we think we will botch it, means we have already lost even before we started. It helps to have a positive attitude about ourselves and visualize our success.

We shouldn’t even say, for instance, “I am going to quit smoking in the New Year.” Say, “I’ve quit smoking.” Words are very powerful; just saying your resolution in such a manner, where there is explicit determination, is already the first step in making it happen.

They say it takes 21 days to form a good habit (or drop a bad one), so we have to make sure to remind ourselves of what we’re trying to accomplish. It may sound childish but it does help to write down little note cards using permanent markers with the statement, “I’ve quit smoking” and post them in conspicuous places in your home and at the office.

Once we’ve quit smoking, try to not hang around friends who do. (I quit smoking sometime in the mid-’90s. I just did so cold turkey, and have never looked back.) Now when when I go out and chill with my Mama and her best friend at a café, for instance, they sit outside the establishment drinking their coffee al fresco, while I have my coffee and dessert inside. They don’t mind because they know I’m allergic to smoke, and I don’t mind either. Besides, I’m the one sitting with the air conditioning, while they’re out there sweating it out and reeking of cigarette smoke. Eeek. Gross. So why should I complain?

Besides a real friend would always respect one’s boundaries. If a friend continues to light up in front of us when he knows we’ve already quit smoking, then he is no friend at all. A person who doesn’t care about our well-being and continues to tempt us into taking up our horrible habit again should be avoided at all cost.

Ask help from others if needed. If we are having some difficulty in sticking to our resolution, ask our friends and family members to give us positive encouragement. Or maybe, we can also seek professional help, as in the case of those who need to go on a diet or quit something more potent than cigarettes.

Needless to say, no one can force us to make good on our New Year’s resolutions. In trying to improve ourselves in the new year, we are the only ones who can determine whether we are, first of all, ready to make the change, and second, if we have the tenacity to stick to it.

Here’s wishing everyone the best of 2011. May we all have the best of health, peace and prosperity in the new year and beyond!

(Originally published in the BusinessMirror, Jan. 7, 2011. My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life Section of the paper. Photo from www.files32.com.)

January 03, 2011

Garbage greets the New Year (and what PH destination is on NatGeo's list)

TSK, tsk. Will people ever change? Why is it so difficult for us Filipinos to segregate garbage, or just throw refuse in the proper disposal bins? Leaving garbage strewn about is so 80s!

Magbago na sana tayo...2011 na!

At the Rizal Park, this photo from BusinessWorld:

Caption reads: A family that eats together... doesn’t mind the garbage. Filipinos flocked to Luneta Park in Manila yesterday (Jan. 2, 2010) to enjoy the last day of the New Year break. Photo by JONATHAN L. CELLONA

While in Boracay Island, this photo courtesy of the Boracay Chamber of Commerce and Industry:

This is the stinking garbage of EPIC, a new club in Boracay, sitting on the beach pathway on Jan. 1, 2010, after its New Year's party. The club is located on Station 2, where Hey Jude! used to be, and is owned by the same people who set up the controversy-riddled Embassy at The Fort, and now Republiq at the Resorts World. Why am I not surprised that these guys have bad habits?

This island will continue to die w/ irresponsible entrepreneurs from Manila let loose.

* * * *

AND this is probably why, Boracay will probably not make it to any foreign publications' travel list this year. It has become ordinary. Commercially overdeveloped, noisy, and dirty. I used to call the island my second home in the mid-80s to early 2000s. Now, it's just so sad to go there esp. during peak season.

But at least there's still one Philippine destination that made it to National Geographic's 20 Best Trips of 2011. Palawan.

On the main island (also named Palawan) near Sabang, hike the three-mile (five-kilometer) Monkey Trail to Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park's navigable underground river. The five-mile (eight-kilometer) coastal rain forest route is home to long-tailed macaques, blue-naped parrots, and other indigenous wildlife. In the province’s northern Calamianes islands, Coron Island is considered one of the world’s top scuba diving destinations, offering World War II-vintage wreck diving and snorkeling in calm, crystalline waters. (Read the rest here.)

January 02, 2011

More Yuletide thoughts

CONTINUING from my column on December 24, here are the favorite or unforgettable Christmas gifts of several of our friends:

Rina Lopez-Bautista, President, Knowledge Channel Foundation Inc.

About six years ago, I received a Holy Bible. What made this gift special was that it was given to me by my friend who is a Muslim Datu. He had promised to help a Christian lady distribute 1 million Bibles.

With the Holy Bible, he included pages of yellow highlighted passages from the Holy Koran which he believed bore similarity to that of the Christian faith.

His hope was that one day we could all focus on our similarities rather than our differences and create lasting peace. Although he had achieved it in his hometown in Maguindanao, his hope was that one day peace would reign in the rest of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

My friend has passed away since, but his dreams and aspirations will one day be fulfilled by his children and others like him who continue to wage peace.

Nikos Gitsis, Director and co-founder of Southeast Asian Airlines

When I first came to the Philippines, I left New York on December 24, 1994, and arrived in Manila on December 26. Due to the time change, I lost Christmas that year. But looking back, I was given my chance to realize my childhood dream on that Christmas-less year—to become a pilot and own an airline, and it was offered to me by the Philippines. Happily, I can say that I accepted. It is because of this I owe the realization of my dream to the country that I have made my home now.

Claire Yap, Senior vice president-head of the Global Service Centre, Global Payments

I belong to the Vedruna Foundation where there are diverse communities of children centers that we support with educational and feeding programs and spiritual enrichment from funds raised through individual donations and contributions by the largest Catholic parish in Tokyo, St. Ignatius Parish Church.

Our simple gifts for these children in the yearly Christmas parties—from way south in the Philippines like with the Manobos in Cotabato, to the Pangarap Children’s Centers in Quezon City and the abandoned children at Tahanan Vedruna in Tagaytay—are greatly anticipated and are filled with games, music and surprises.

The mere sight of the happy faces of children who receive our full attention for the day tops my list of the best Christmas presents I get blessed with every year.

Olivia Limpe-Aw, President, Destileria Limtuaco

I can’t really choose one favorite or unforgettable gift. For me the most memorable gifts I receive are always from those who took the time to think about what to give, gave the time and put in the effort to make me happy, delighted, or even to surprise me.

So in a way, it really is the thought that counts but the effort to make it happen is what makes it even more meaningful and unforgettable.

Philippe Bartholomi, General manager, Century Park Hotel

My favorite Christmas gift as a little boy was my first Formula 1 and Rally cars electric racetrack which was given by my parents when I was around 8 or 9 years old. Another unforgettable gift was when my parents visited me and were around during the Christmas season, the first time was in 2007, when I was still managing a hotel in Boracay. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner and big New Year’s Eve bash on the beach. The second time was in 2008 when I was back here in Manila at Century Park Hotel. Their presence really meant a lot to me and it was the best gift ever.

Jocelyn Chua, Proprietor, French Dolls

The best Christmas gift I received was a Rolex watch from my husband Al during our first year of marriage. It’s not the material thing, but the thought/gesture and the love that came with the gift. It was touching because instead of buying something nice for himself, he thought of me first.

Happy New Year people! Thank you for continuing to read my blog. Wishing you all the best in 2011!

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