July 26, 2011

Gone too soon

RIP Amy Winehouse.

I loved her rendition of Moody's Mood for Love best.

Of all the tributes to Winehouse, I loved the one written by that brilliant British comic Russell Brand. He not only talks about the magnitude of her talent, but also about addiction in general and how governments can help eliminate it. It should be noted that Brand himself, has battled his own personal demons:

"I arrived late and as I made my way to the audience through the plastic smiles and plastic cups I heard the rolling, wondrous resonance of a female vocal. Entering the space I saw Amy on stage with [Paul] Weller and his band; and then the awe. The awe that envelops when witnessing a genius. From her oddly dainty presence that voice, a voice that seemed not to come from her but from somewhere beyond even Billie and Ella, from the font of all greatness. A voice that was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened. Winehouse. Winehouse? Winehouse! That twerp, all eyeliner and lager dithering up Chalk Farm Road under a back-combed barnet, the lips that I’d only seen clenching a fishwife fag and dribbling curses now a portal for this holy sound. So now I knew. She wasn’t just some hapless wannabe, yet another pissed up nit who was never gonna make it, nor was she even a ten-a-penny-chanteuse enjoying her fifteen minutes. She was a fucking genius." (Click here for the rest.)

And who would've thought...from whence that immense talent came from...none other than her father Mitch, who sings ala Sinatra. Here he is singing his first single, Rush of Love:

July 20, 2011

Guess who got bowled over by Filipino cuisine?

Anyone for Filipino food? (Tom Parker Bowles, Esquire Aug. 2011)

And yes, since you were wondering, he is the son of the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles.

Thank you Mr. Parker Bowles for allowing us to reprint your story. Do come back to the Philippines and explore more of our cuisine. We're so glad you got "us" and our food.

Many thanks as well to Charisse Chuidian, Mandarin Oriental Manila's super energetic Director of Communications, for sharing this piece with us.

July 13, 2011

Tetangco, right on target

Just a few days ago, a business leader and I were talking about Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. She quipped, “Ang seryoso pala nya ano?! Nakatabi ko sya sa isang dinner e.”

I couldn’t help but snicker. For sure, Tetangco, who has just made Philippine history as the first central bank governor reappointed to a fresh six-year term, can be quite stern and unsmiling in public. Bankers know he is not one to be toyed with as he doesn’t hesitate to crack the whip when they fall out of line.

More often than not, he is heard mouthing off some complicated but significant monetary policy or the other that, unfortunately, usually sounds Greek to the public. But those who have known him for some time, and especially the veterans among the business media, are already so tuned in to his language and manner of speaking, they can already tell whether the economy is in for an interest rate hike or not. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t pull a mean surprise once in a while, especially when he deals with foreign-exchange speculators, just to get everyone’s attention and calm down the currency market.

But in private, away from the limelight, Tetangco is not one to shy away from cracking jokes. He enjoys a good laugh shared with a number of naughty friends and fellow revelers, especially when relishing the occasional hearty dinner of baby crispy pata (oops!), with a bold-berried red. And even more so when he is mercilessly winning another round at the green against his fellow golfing buddies, or at the shooting range.

In this candid interview with the BusinessMirror, a very trim and youthful Tetangco (aka “AMT” to his staff, or “Gob Cutie” or “the Godfather” to his fans) talks on the makings of a BSP governor, in True Hollywood Story fashion.

Balancing competing interests

“Central banking policies are not that easy to understand,” admits Tetangco, 58. Nicknamed “Say,” the governor inhabits a remarkably straightforward office, room 501 at the BSP five-story building, just the kind where you know actual work happens. All tables are made of solid narra, with some high-backed black office seating, which adjusts to one’s height.

Enlivening the space are choice paintings and sculptures from the BSP art collection—Fernando Amorsolo’s Maytime in Antipolo hangs on the wall directly behind Tetangco’s main desk. In one corner sits a massive golden yellow globe, which has been in every central bank governor’s possession since Jose “Jobo” Fernandez.

During our interview, he is dapper in a serious but fashionable dark gray suit—he has a long-time personal tailor who sews them—and his yellow tie with dancing ponies gives him a touch of whimsy.

“The job of the BSP governor is one of balancing the many competing interests in the economy that are affected by BSP policy,” Tetangco continues explaining his role in the country’s economic management. “Take monetary policy, for instance. While borrowers want low interest rates, savers want these at higher levels. The BSP must find the appropriate level that would be reasonable so that borrowers can borrow to prop business expansion and savers are enticed to put money into banks and alternative sources of saving/investment.”

(Tetangco shares his insights with new employees on how it is to work at the Bangko Sentral. Who knows, one of them just might follow in his footsteps and become another BSP governor!)

He adds, “Another example is exchange-rate policy. Exporters and families of overseas Filipino workers want the exchange rate high, while importers and those with debts in foreign currencies want it low. We can’t cater to specific sectors, so we make sure the peso remains market-determined and relatively competitive, with volatility of its movements low. So, we see the impact of these central banking policies on the everyday value of these economic prices.”

A career central banker for 37 years, having started as a statistician in 1974, his reappointment was much applauded by the banking and business community alike. No other appointment by President Aquino has been as widely accepted by a majority who see the need for some continuity in strong government policies that foster continued growth.

Under Tetangco’s watch, the economy was able to sail through the rough seas of the global economic crisis of 2008-09, which was brought on by a collapse in US financial institutions’ investments in subprime mortgage-backed assets. And yet in 2010, the country’s inflation rate averaged less than 4 percent, while the economy hit a stunning growth rate of 7.3 percent.

He also managed to keep the BSP’s benchmark interest rates at record lows, even as the rest of Asian central banks went on a tightening mode to quell inflationary pressures. Of course, these days, just as inflationary pressures are building up, the BSP’s Monetary Board has decided to nudge the overnight rates just a tad higher to siphon off excess liquidity from the system.

‘My guy, Say’

Tetangco says he never thought he would become head of the BSP, even when he had already been deputy governor for six years under his predecessors, Gabriel Singson, and the late Rafael Buenaventura. “It just never happened before, I mean, that a career central banker became BSP governor.” But by all indications, even his birth already foretold of the brilliant heights he would reach in his career.

The son of Amando Sr. and the former Teodora Maglalang, and the fifth child in a family of nine, Tetangco came from humble beginnings in Apalit, Pampanga. When he was born, the slogan “My Guy, Magsaysay” was quite popular leading the family’s neighbors to call him “Magsaysay” (later shortened to “Say”). More than the song being in fashion, perhaps the neighbors already saw in the little guy an earnestness and commitment to do well in his life and for others, much like the President then.

“My father was a dedicated accountant. He worked at the Commission on Audit for many years, and was an exemplary public servant. My mother managed our household of nine children. She used to tell me, even as child, I was very organized. I was also a diligent student. So my parents set up a table where I could study and do my homework. From them, I learned the values of integrity, modesty and being a man for others.”

(Tetangco is an expert marksman. It’s no wonder he is just as accurate in targeting inflation rates and taking aim at market speculators.)

After finishing his elementary and high school in San Fernando, Pampanga, Tetangco then studied at the Ateneo de Manila University, graduating cum laude with an AB Economics degree.

“I like the way how numbers tell a story, although Math was not my favorite subject. Somehow, this must be why I had an inclination to economics. Economics is the story of everyday life, depicted in numbers and concepts. Both Economics and Math are courses that help you hone analytical skills, so you can do anything you want to do for the rest of your life!”

Looking for the right fit

Upon graduation he joined the prestigious accounting firm SGV, trying to follow in his father’s footsteps as an auditor, and because the firm “had a reputation for training and development. In my generation, at 18-19, you pretty much did what your parents told you.”

Being an economist in an accounting firm, however, didn’t seem the right fit for Tetangco, so he transferred to the then Central Bank of the Philippines in 1974 “because I heard it was a prestigious institution to work for,” especially for one with his educational background.

It was there that he met his wife Elma, also an Ateneo graduate, with a luminous beauty and a svelte figure to match her brains. It is because of this fateful meeting that Tetangco says he would be “forever grateful” to the monetary institution. They are blessed with three children—Patrick, Eula and Mia—and one cute bundle of a granddaughter, Zara, from Patrick and his wife, Miko.

So does his wife ever complain to him about the rising prices at the supermarket? Tetangco chuckles, “What wife doesn’t complain about rising prices? Usually, it’s a hint for us poor husbands to raise their allowances! Hehehe!”

But he turns serious and explains that the seven-man monetary board’s rate-hike decisions “are not made in a vacuum. You will find it interesting that among the considerations on whether we would raise or lower policy interest rates is how such action would ultimately affect the individual consumer.” As BSP governor, Tetangco chairs the policymaking MB.

His usual day

A typical day for Tetangco begins at 6 am with a prayer, then 45 minutes exercising on a bike, a cross trainer and lifting weights, while he flips through the TV news channels—CNN, Bloomberg and the BBC. After a shower, he eats his breakfast (“usually coffee and toast”), during which he scans the broadsheets. If he finds anything in the newspapers concerning the BSP and needing immediate action, then he starts tapping away at his BlackBerry to give specific instructions to his office staff or BSP officials.

“All this time my apo could be anywhere in the dining area, she’s an early riser like me. I think if she can come to the office with me, she would,” shares Tetangco, amused and obviously relishing being a grandfather to the fast-growing toddler. “Zara likes riding the car so if I have time, I indulge her and I let her ride my car once around the block.”

(After a long day, finally a chance to just shoot the breeze with the staff - the "angels" who make the governor's office run in tip-top order. Tetangco also goes to the in-house gym to exercise when he has a relatively easy day. PHOTO COPYRIGHT OWNED BY STELLA ARNALDO)

At the office, there are the usual internal meetings and appointments with bankers, dignitaries, academics, foundations—and a ton of paperwork which he works on. He juggles all these while trying to field questions from reporters, either via text message or phone calls. (He is one of the very few government officials who are accessible to both local and international media.) Throughout the day, he’ll scan the wires for breaking news via his computer terminals—four of them sit on a long console table adjacent to his main desk.

All that pressure (while comforting himself with delicious cholesterol-rich food) unsurprisingly did take its toll on Tetangco’s health, which almost prevented his reappointment. He underwent a heart bypass in February 2010, which forced him to take a leave for a month. With many speculating he was no longer interested in being reappointed due to his family’s concerns for his health, a number of names cropped up as possible replacements.

Tetangco also says he had wanted to try his luck in the private sector for a change so he could travel more with his wife. He rues that he’s “been to many places but mostly to see the airport-meeting venue-airport only. I had to hold back a dream of traveling more with Elma without necessarily having an agenda folder in hand.”

But what made it easy to accept the President’s offer was the renewed call to continue service and “work with one of the most, if not the most professional set of civil servants,” Tetangco adds. “I was also taken by the possibility of pushing for banking and monetary policy reforms and advocacies to expand the reach of credit, financial education and consumer protection. I am honored by the trust that the President bestowed on me for having offered it to me.”

Aside from adhering to a stricter diet (usually he does, ahem), and exercising more often, Tetangco takes the time to relax by playing golf and is quite adept at target shooting. “These are sports that, at their heart, make you compete only against yourself. The things you cannot control do not depend on actions of others. Other than the weather, how you perform at the end of the game is simply dependent on how much focus you put into the game at hand. Let’s face it, you can only be lucky so many times to succeed in these kinds of sports. They are games of precision.”

The need for the same kind of accuracy in keeping market speculators in check and taming inflation in Tetangco’s work as BSP governor is not lost on me, of course. His reappointment as head of the monetary institution is recognition of just how his aim has always been right on target.

(This piece was originally published on July 4 in the CEO Views page of the BusinessMirror. All photos courtesy of Gov. Tetangco's office unless otherwise stated.)

One year of the Noynoy Aquino presidency is over - what now?

What Now? (May-June 2011 Asian Dragon)

(This piece was originally published in the May-June issue of the Asian Dragon magazine.)

For the ladies who work (*Expanded version)

(You can walk or run all day in these pretty kitten heels, yes even at work. PHOTOS COURTESY OF SCHU)

LET me begin this piece by saying that I have totally nothing against Havaianas. In fact, I own a few pairs of the reputable rubber flip-flops in different colors and styles as well, and I love the brand. But por jos por santo, do we have to wear it everywhere and in all occasions?

It just pains me to see women going to work—in a five-star hotel, or the bank, for instance—with their feet shod in Havaianas. The brand has attained such a high level of stature among brand-conscious Pinoys that we think it is sushal for us to wear these even to our places of employment! Sure, the girls will eventually change into their uniforms and their heels before they go to their posts, but I really find the practice much too much laidback. The moment they step into their work premises, they have no excuse to be wearing these rubber flip flops, kesehoda pang Havainas yan, or Dupé, Crocs, or Fit Flops.

(Another pet peeve is women clad in jogging outfits wearing them everywhere but the gym! I mean, sure, they’re comfy and easy to move around in, but gads, there are better clothes out there that are probably more apropos for your shape, height, weight and the occasion!)

You can’t blame me for having this much contempt for people who don’t dress appropriately. I was born in the era when the only “proper attire” written on invitations was divided into three categories: casual, semi-formal and formal. (Nowadays I see that seemingly ubiquitous sub-category “casual chic” on invites, which makes me go “hmmm, should I or should I not wear my clean white Havaianas to this?” LOL.)

Seriously, folks, I guess you can call me “old school,” so I need clarity and difference in my attire—and especially my footwear. So if I’m going to work, like a press event or an interview, I usually have my heels or wedges on. If I’m going to the mall, I’ll be in my Adidas casual sneakers. If I’m going to the beach, then I’ll wear my Havaianas. Also if I’m at home, I’m usually in my Havaianas. After all, it is just a rubber slipper. I don’t care whether it’s a high-end or low-end brand like Spartan—it is still a tsinelas. Or as my funny bruja friend Georgia dubs it: pamatay ng ipis. Pag me ipis jan sa tabi, aapakan nyo pa rin ng tsinelas nyong Havaianas.

(Ballet flats and slingbacks for the women who need comfy footwear on their way to the office, before switching to their heels at work. These are also perfect for traveling. Very easy to remove before the security check.)

Work to me is a time to be serious and formal in manner of dress and thinking. You put your game face on and smile for your boss and clients, and the focus should be on the tasks at hand. That attitude should be projected in the manner of dressing, as well. Like it or not, whether you are in your office or outside its premises, you still bring the name of your company around. You are its representative everywhere you go.

This appeal also goes to all the women out there in the government offices shuffling about from table to table in their padded slippers! C’mon, ladies, your office, which represents the highest post in the land, your President, is not the place to wear your tsinelas. These belong at home.

Yes, I get the fact that we can’t torture our feet by being in heels all day. But just take the time to shop. If you really need comfy footwear, there are awesome sandals and cute and colorful flats out there in the market—and you’d be amazed at the diversity of choices! Also, think about wearing kitten heels! These are not too low or too high, that you can run around in them all day long. Promise.

Ruby Gan, who co-owns Schu and MYTH, and is my lovely fashion guru (when I need to dress up for some once-in-a-lifetime noteworthy event, I ask her input on what to wear), once told me she too gets peeved when she sees her employees go to work in their flip-flops and, get this, their pekpek shorts! The term is such because the shorts leave very little to the imagination. I shudder as she tells me this. Is it another Sunday at the mall? Or a walk along the beach?

So I asked her input on the kind of footwear a woman should wear to and from work (or again, for you ladies in the government offices, in lieu of your tsinelas).

“In my opinion,” Rubt says, “closed flats are better for work, then switch to heels—these will go well with work clothes.”

She does point out that with “work clothes” becoming more casual these days, “it’s okay to wear sandals—but never wear thong sandals with stockings! That looks awful! Footless stockings may be acceptable for open-toe sandals but I still would advice against this, because your feet will slide forward and stockings are prone to tearing. However, I know there are special kinds of stockings now that are specifically for open toes, where your toes are exposed.”

For women who wear more formal office attire, such as bank uniforms, Ruby suggests “ballet flats or slingbacks with closed front (on your way to the office).” The understanding is, once the ladies are in their offices, they switch to their heels.

There you have it—some sage advice from the ever fashyon Ruby. Heed her or she’s going to bop you on the head, girls. And I mean it! The sexy lady is a powerful lifter as well, hala!

(A fabulously smart and chic sandal for that ride on the MRT before work. And hold the stockings please!)

Seriously gals, this is not just about fashion. It has to do with respecting oneself—and the people you work for and with.

Dressing up appropriately for all situations and for the occasion shows you care about yourself, and how you project yourself to the world. It also shows how much regard you have for your place of employment, and, in the case of special occasions, the people who invited you.

I once read this account of a well-known celebrity writer who was denied entrance to a chi-chi members-only club dining area because she was wearing sneakers. Sure, these were high-end branded fashionable sneakers that probably cost more than the monthly salaries of all the waitstaff put together, including their F&B manager, but see? not apt for the occasion and the premises.

Btw, I am also appalled when I see men and women in their rubber flip flops at the airport when they are on the plane going abroad. Again, whatever happened to dressing up properly for flights? I'd understand if they were going to Boracay or Bali, but heavens, if you're going to a modern city like Hong Kong or Beijing for instance, flip flops I think are unacceptable footwear for planes. Wearing these may make it easier for passengers to unshod their feet during security checks, but really, I find these disgusting and so inappropriate. So I don't blame Immigration officials in the destinations these flip-flopped passengers are arriving at to look at them with suspicion. Passengers need to dress respectably to be respected.

Being in a tropical country where the lifestyle is so laidback sometimes makes us feel lazy and too casual in our manner of dressing. But we need to put more thought in our clothes and our footwear, and be more presentable, especially when we’re outside our homes. There has to be a line drawn between a casual look, a work or special-events look, or yes, for that flight abroad.

And just because everyone wears their Havaianas to everywhere, doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Be different, be fashionable, and dress correctly. As the novelist Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man.”

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on July 1, 2011.)

PH has 'positive image' among Chinese travelers

(Marco Polo Parkside Beijing general manager Stanley Lau, fourth from left, and Philippine government officials toast the official launch of the Davao Cultural Festival at the hotel on June 11, at the Café Marco Polo. The promotion will run until June 30 and is co-sponsored by Cebu Pacific and the Department of Tourism-Region 11. From left, after the emcee, are Mary Ann Montemayor, chairman of the Davao Regional Tourism Council; Art Boncato, regional director of DOT-11; Richard Chang, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing; Alex Chua, charge d’affaires of the Philippine Embassy in Beijing; and Jazmin Esguerra, tourism attaché, Philippine Embassy, Beijing. China is the fourthlargest tourism market of the Philippines. PHOTO BY ARNOLD KING)

BEIJING—The hostage crisis involving Hong Kong tourists in 2010 and the ongoing skirmishes in the South China Sea (now West Philippine Sea to the Philippines) between the Philippines and China are not deterring the influx of Chinese tourists into the Philippines.

The Chinese market is expected to further improve, especially with the recent marketing push of Davao as an ecotourism, extreme adventure, and culinary destination, especially among Beijing travelers, a Philippine tourism official said.

Cebu Pacific, meanwhile, is assessing the feasibility of plying a Davao-Beijing route, an airline representative said.

In an interview, Jazmin C. Esguerra, tourism attaché of the Philippine Embassy in Beijing, said Chinese travelers, especially from this city, are currently on the lookout for new exciting destinations in the Philippines.

“The honeymooners, for example, like island destinations and Davao will be a perfect new addition to their itinerary because it has Samal Island, and island-hopping tours,” Esguerra said.

Data from the Department of Tourism (DOT) showed that Chinese travelers to the Philippines grew 18.54 percent to 71,113 from January to April 2011, making them the fourth-largest tourism market. For 2010 alone, arrivals from China jumped 21 percent to 187,446, just ranking behind arrivals from Korea, the United States and Japan.

Esguerra said this substantial growth in arrivals indicated that the Philippines still has a “positive image” among Chinese travelers, despite the bungled hostage rescue attempt in August 2010. “While there were some tour groups that canceled their trips to the Philippines via their travel agencies for about two months after the incident, many of them booked their trips directly online,” she said.

Esguerra added that current dispute over the Spratly’s Islands has “presently no effect” on the tourism decisions of the Chinese. “Tourism is nonpolitical,” she said.

Many Beijing travelers, she added, are now spending more on travels because they are earning more, and have become tech-savvy—they now do most of their bookings and reservations online.

“They see the Philippines as a romantic destination, that’s why they often go to Boracay and Palawan. And because of the tsunami [which recently hit Japan], they have redirected their focus on Southeast Asia,” Esguerra said. Her office is currently helping push the Philippines as a wedding and honeymoon destination, which will attract more upmarket travelers from Beijing.

Aside from being a romantic destination, the Philippines has also become an ideal destination for the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions market. She said a group of 85 company employees recently traveled to the Philippines as part of their incentives package.

A Davao Cultural Festival is currently being held at the Marco Polo Parkside Beijing, on the initiative of its general manager Stanley Lau, who managed the hotel’s Davao unit from 2004 to 2009.

The Davao delegation earlier made presentations before members of the Chinese media, promoting the many activities that can be pursued in the city.

Art Boncato, regional director for DOT’s Region 10 said the cultural festival, themed “From Islands to Highlands” was in line with the Philippine Independence Day celebration at the hotel. The event was also cosponsored by Cebu Pacific, with the participation of the Davao Region Tourism Council, Davao Eco-Crafts and the Center for Asian Culinary Studies-Davao (CACS).

The festival was launched on June 11 and will run until June 22, while the dishes of Davao will be a mainstay during the lunch and dinner buffets at the hotel’s Café Marco until June 30. The dishes featured at the food fest were by Chef Gene Gonzalez and his CACS crew. While the festival is ongoing, cultural dancers from Davao will provide entertainment for Café Marco’s guests.

Meanwhile, Agnes Gupalor, Cebu Pacific’s sales manager for the Visayas region told the BusinessMirror the airline is “currently studying” the market for Chinese travelers to find out if it would be feasible to have direct flights between Davao and Beijing. Davao already hosts an international airport where Silk Air flies regularly from and to Singapore.

Addressing members of the Chinese media, Gupalor said the airline “is very optimistic about expanding our services in North Asia, especially with the observed 23-percent year-on-year passenger growth in Greater China for the first quarter of 2011.” The airline’s general sales agent in Beijing is Pacific Aviation.

She noted that in May 2011, the airline “carried over 1 million passengers in one month alone, a first for any Philippine carrier in the history of Philippine aviation.”

(My story was originally published in the BusinessMirror on June 21, 2011.)