August 23, 2011

One rainy evening at the Tower Club (UPDATED)

The brilliant Chef Chris Locher of C' Italian Dining, now on limited engagement at the Tower Club in Makati. (Photo courtesy C' Italian Dining.)

FANS of Chris Locher, Chef Patron of C’ Italian Dining in Angeles, Pampanga, are hereby advised that the irrepressible culinary genius is here in Manila whipping up his magic in the kitchen of Tower Club in Makati. (And shame on you if you still haven’t had a taste of the chef’s famous panizzas and pastas from his restaurant!)

Of course, the catch is, one must be a member of the posh exclusive club to be able to partake of Chef Chris’ sumptuous dishes, or at least, fortunate enough like me, to know a member willing to lend me her dining privilege for a night. (Thank you, oh Great Generous One!)

At the Pinot Room at the Continental Restaurant, the lamon gang and I feasted on a special menu Chef Chris prepared for us one rainy Friday evening.

While waiting for the rest of our dining companions to arrive, Chef Chris served us our favorite panizzas – his trademark rectangular thin crust pizzas – using fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and basil. As is the usual, these were served with arugula leaves and alfalfa on the side, which one deftly places in each strip of panizza before rolling them up to eat.

Crispy- thin Panizza Margarita for starters.

Although not normally on C’s menu, Chef Chris acceded to our request for some gambas using medium-sized succulent prawns. Unlike the gambas served in other restaurants, Chef Chris’s version was just lightly touched by olive oil and garlic, allowing the freshness and sweetness of the prawns to shine through. He also served us a deli platter with a variety of sliced meats, with sweet and crunchy olives dotting the plate.

For the dinner proper, our simple but hearty meal began with Tuna Ceviche with avocado, red onions, and fresh cucumber on roasted pepper salsa. It was like a bright ray of sunshine amid the gloomy rainy weather. Very light and summery.

We also had a very rustic classic tomato soup served in a demitasse, which kept to the theme of simplicity and lightness. The sweet-sour creamy blend gently warmed our tummies, in preparation for the other dishes to come.

Tuna Ceviche - like a bright ray of sunshine amid the heavy rain.

For our main entrees – I had a mini-crisis of sorts as I carefully pondered our choices – Grilled sirloin steak with herb butter sauce on pumpkin and carrot mash, with golden fried potatoes; Pink-roasted lamb loin with red wine reduction served with golden bramata cake and buttered green asparagus; or Pan-roasted Sea Bass fillet with Pernod butter sauce on a bed of mushroom risotto and greens.

They all sounded so delicious but I finally settled on the fish, primarily because I haven’t had mushroom risotto in a while – in fact, the last time I had it was at C’, and this was many many moons ago! As expected, the fish meat was just luscious and velvety soft as it gently melted in my mouth. And the mushroom risotto was creamy and cooked al dente - it was a nice contrasting earthy tone with a few crispy notes to complement the fish.

For the rustic touch- a creamy classic Tomato soup.

Not missing a beat, I took a slice of sirloin steak from one friend, and a slice of lamb from another, and I was blown through the roof with the tenderness of both. Not having tasted the other dishes in their entirety though, I am constrained to write about them further. But trust Chef Chris to serve the tenderest meats in town – he has not failed me yet. (One of his more sublime creations at C’ is his Slow roasted lamb ribs in aromatic spice rub, served with braised lentils, garlic glazed rapini and olive oil fried potatoes.)

For dessert, we had a very straightforward frothy zabaglione (or sabayon) which was scooped warm over – surprise! ice cold homemade vanilla ice cream. If it sounds very sweet, it wasn’t at all. Chef Chris gave it a nice kick by using some mint leaves and lemon rind. And the white wine incorporated within gave it an extra zing. What a smashing end to a great meal.

My main course - a tender and almost flaky Chilean Sea Bass fillet with Pernod butter sauce over a bed of creamy mushroom risotto and greens.

For the special menu, we were charged P1,850 per head for 10 persons – which I thought was very reasonably priced considering the fancy venue. For movers and shakers who like to hold their meetings or press conferences at the club, a special menu like this would definitely be excellent value.

A lunch buffet is also available at the Continental at P900++, following a daily theme: Monday is Italian, Tuesday-modern Filipino, Wednesday-Carvings (meats), Thursday-Curry Tiffin (Indian), and Friday-Seafood. The themed lunch buffet will last until the end of the year.

Meanwhile, a separate lunch menu featuring Chef Chris' special dishes are also available to diners.

MEMO to members: Chef Chris Locher’s stint as guest chef is only until end-August, so hustle up and treat yourselves (and your families and friends) to the awesome kitchen creations of this brilliant chef. RUSH.

For dessert, a zabaglione scooped warm over home-made vanilla ice cream with mint and lemon.

*For reservations – members only – please call tel. no. 885-7085. Tower Club is at the 33rd and 34th floors of the Philamlife Tower, 8767 Paseo de Roxas, Makati City.

(UPDATE): According to Chef Chris, he has just been appointed as chef consultant to the Tower Club. So expect to see him cooking his excellent dishes for its members for quite some time. Also, other projects are upcoming w/ Chef Chris leading the way in the kitchen of some establishments in Manila and Q.C. I am not yet at liberty to say what these are but yes, Chef Chris/C' fans - totoong-totoo na 'to! So keep reading this blog for future announcements of his projects.

(This blog entry later appeared as a published piece in the BusinessMirror food page, Life section, Aug. 26, 2011.)

August 22, 2011

Life and Art

(Photo of Mideo Cruz's installation at the CCP from emanzky88.)

OK, I’m no art critic, but I appreciate art in all its forms—whether these be painted canvases, sculptures, installations, even performance art. I remember how a former college professor in the mid-’80s once jumped on top of a table, then stepped down, then up again on the table, then down again, over and over, again. This was of course in Penguin in Malate, where all the cool artistes used to hang out.

People may not have understood it then, but that was her thing. She was a performance artist. Some said it was good art, some thought it was bad and a waste of time. I was just hugely entertained. I got drunk. And went home happy.

This controversy over the Kulo exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), specifically over the depiction of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, has been a pain in the butt for people like me who value freedom of expression.

And it just shows how far we Filipinos have fallen behind in terms of art appreciation, that our honorable senators even have to waste our taxpayers’ money to discuss “What is art?” (Good thing Sen. Edgardo Angara decided that one hearing was to be the first and last. The former University of the Philippines president probably could no longer take the uneducated comments of some of his colleagues which just exposed the Senate, not to mention his committee, to ridicule.)

Art cannot be all good and beautiful, like those painted flower gardens or seascapes on canvases regularly exhibited at SM Megamall. Many of our fellow Filipinos seem to be still stuck in the age-old concepts of art—the nudes of Juan Luna or Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, the fishing scenes of Oscar Zalameda and Fabian de la Rosa, the historical depictions and pastoral scenes of Fernando Amorsolo, etc.

If one just takes a look at modern Filipino art since the late ’60s, some ordinary folk would probably not even get what they mean, and also wonder if these pieces can be considered “art.” For instance, Raymundo Albano’s Untitled #575, a serigraph currently in the collection of Bank of the Philippine Islands, is just three blocks of colors—blue, red and orange splashed on top of one another. Is it art and will you pay a lot of money for it?

Then there is another serigraph, this time by Lee Aguinaldo, an untitled chest X-ray in brown. Is this art? Apparently it is because, again, BPI paid good money to have it in its collection. But what does it mean? And what does the person looking at it take away from viewing such a piece?

I don’t mean this to be another art appreciation course, but I think we need to be more open-minded about the new forms of art out there. It is not all swaths of blue skies, white picket fences, or rows of golden palay gently swaying in the wind.

(Photo courtesy from

Art can be ugly and thought-provoking as well. The artwork of Mideo Cruz, like it or not, fits the bill. He stuck a huge penis ashtray (the one you get from Baguio I suppose), on the face of a haloed Jesus Christ. My gauge of whether it is art is what his colleagues say. Apparently, other artists respect him as one, so who can deny him that title? And the mere fact that it has been exhibited in the UP, the University of Santo Tomas, and the CCP means it is art.

Cruz’s works may be shocking perhaps to some people who have yet to even see Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes with a sword slicing neatly through the latter’s neck, blood spewing everywhere. Done in the 1500s, it is upsetting even in this day and age. But perhaps because it is a painting, the gruesomeness is minimized compared to Cruz’s art installation. I am not saying Cruz is on the same level as Caravaggio, but in terms of the shock level, they come pretty close.

The religious have said that Cruz’s installation blasphemes Jesus Christ and the other religious icons therein depicted in his other works. But as an artist, he has every right to question our own religious beliefs (if that was his aim), and comment about it. And whether it is considered good or bad art, there is a need to protect his freedom to express what he feels about a subject, in the same way that my freedom to write down my thoughts in this column should be.

For instance, there are excellent, superb writers like Teddy Boy Locsin with his clever and witty essays and columns. And there are columnists who mix up their metaphors and yet are allowed to say their piece in their prestigious newspapers.

There are radio commentators who regularly mouth off ignorant statements, and yet are allowed by their networks to keep their crap on the air. (One brilliant commentator even had the gall to ask, “Who is Raul Sunico?” at the same criticizing Cruz’s work without having even gone to see it. Just for your information, Mr. Talking Head, Mr. Sunico is a celebrated pianist, who has won acclaim both here and abroad. Next time, do your research before shooting off your mouth.)

It is this very freedom of expression that these critics would like to curtail in the wake of the CCP controversy, which allows these cretins to write freely and speak freely. Just because we don’t like what they’re saying, and they offend people, doesn’t mean we have to demand for the death of their newspaper columns and radio programs. If you listen to the amount of BS that is being said over the air, with a few radio commentators here and there regularly lambasting this or that government official, to the point of slandering them, then this art installation of Cruz doesn’t even come close to being offensive!

As I kept saying in the social-media circles, no one pointed a gun to anyone’s head to force them to see that Kulo exhibit at the CCP. You and I and everybody else had a choice whether to look at the pieces exhibited there. If you were offended, then neither the artist nor the CCP can do anything about it. You had been adequately warned before entering the space that your sensibilities may be offended. No need to deface the artwork or set fire to the CCP.

In the same manner, we don’t need to read that grammatically-incorrect columnist or listen to that slandering radio commentator. Even for stupendously inappropriate TV shows like Jersey Shore, for instance, we have the power to choose whether or not to expose ourselves to such stupidity.

(Originally published on Aug. 19, 2011. My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)

August 21, 2011

(UDPATED) Kerima Polotan Tuvera, 85 and Edith L. Tiempo, 92

(Cover of Author's Choice, a collection of Polotan Tuvera's essays and short stories. Photo from scribblerjack)

MANILA, Philippines - Kerima Polotan Tuvera, former editor in chief of Focus Philippines magazine and the Evening Post newspaper, died Friday night after a lingering illness. She was 85.

Polotan won four first prizes at the Palanca awards, and also garnered prizes in the Philippines Free Press short story contest as well as the Stonehill award for the novel in 1961.

She was a regular panelist at the Silliman University Writers Workshop in the 1960s, and sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Patricia S. Torres. (The rest in the Philippine Star.)

The short story that launched her career:
The Virgin

He went to where Miss Mijares sat, a tall, big man, walking with an economy of movement, graceful and light, a man who knew his body and used it well. He sat in the low chair worn decrepit by countless other interviewers and laid all ten fingerprints carefully on the edge of her desk. She pushed a sheet towards him, rolling a pencil along with it. While he read the question and wrote down his answers, she glanced at her watch and saw that it was ten. "I shall be coming back quickly," she said, speaking distinctly in the dialect (you were never sure about these people on their first visit, if they could speak English, or even write at all, the poor were always proud and to use the dialect with them was an act of charity), "you will wait for me."

As she walked to the cafeteria, Miss Mijares thought how she could easily have said, Please wait for me, or will you wait for me? But years of working for the placement section had dulled the edges of her instinct for courtesy. She spoke now peremtorily, with an abruptness she knew annoyed the people about her. (The rest at Philippine Literature.)

(UPDATED): This was a sad weekend for all writers who grew up w/ Tuvera and Tiempo's stories, or were mentored by these two grand dames of Philippine literature.

National Artist for Literature Edith Tiempo, 92

MANILA, Philippines -- National Artist for Literature passed away Sunday. She was 92.

A poet, fictionist, teacher, and literary critic, she was one of the finest Filipino writers in English whose works are characterized by a remarkable fusion of style and substance, of craftsmanship and insight, according to the website of the National Commission on Culture and Arts. (Click Interaksyon for the rest.)

August 19, 2011

DOT chief eyed for Monetary Board vacancy

(A day before his resignation, DOT chief Bertie Lim attends the Philippine MICE Conference in Cebu City. Escorting him to the exhibit area is Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia. Photo from Philippine MICECON FB page)

RESIGNED Tourism Secretary Alberto “Bertie” A. Lim is being eyed to occupy the third remaining vacant slot on the Monetary Board (MB), the policy-making body of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

Several sources on Saturday confirmed that a recommendation to President Aquino was in the works. On Sunday a source in Mr. Aquino’s official family told the BusinessMirror: “I understand that’s what P-Noy has in mind for him,” indicating that the President had already approved the recommendation.

Lim reportedly has the backing of a number of Mr. Aquino’s own people, especially those from the “Balay” faction of Transportation Secretary Manuel A. Roxas II.

Contacted for comment on Saturday morning, Lim declined to say if he had been offered the job. “I believe it is more proper for P-Noy to respond to your query,” he said.

Asked, however, if he would accept the job if offered to him, Lim said: “It is a job that is less stressful and for which I am qualified to work in. So I would be inclined [to accept it] if it is offered.” Lim is an economics graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University.

The appointment to the MB is being played as a “graceful exit” for Lim from the Department of Tourism (DOT) on August 31, and a reward for his fervent dedication to Mr. Aquino whom he campaigned for in 2010. The tourism chief was part of the regular economic briefing group of Mr. Aquino, “working closely” with the latter even at the Times Street residence.

The appointment, however, could ruffle the feathers of some in the so-called Samar group of supporters of Mr. Aquino.

Lim’s rival for the MB post is former BSP Deputy Governor Armando Suratos, who retired from the monetary institution in December 2010. (UPDATE: Mr. Suratos is currently a consultant to the BSP.)

A career central banker and well-respected in his own circles, Suratos is rumored to have the backing of Sen. Ping Lacson, a distant relative; “brods” Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and Jesuit lawyer Fr. Joaquin Bernas, BSP sources said.

(The other contender to the BSP Monetary Board post is retired Bangko Sentral Deputy Gov. Andy Suratos. He is currently a consultant to the BSP. Photo from BSP)

Suratos studied law at the Ateneo and is member of the Fraternal Order of Utopia in the College of Law, of which Ochoa and Bernas are also members. Ochoa represents the so-called Samar faction of supporters in the Aquino administration.

But in a text message, Senator Lacson said of Suratos: “The name doesn’t ring a bell, and I have no knowledge whatsoever if, indeed, he is being eyed for the position.”

Understandably, BSP insiders are more welcoming of an ex-colleague on the MB, rather than an outsider like Lim. BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. failed to respond to several text messages seeking his reaction to Lim’s rumored appointment. But one ranking BSP official offered his thoughts: “Lim is a good man. But we are talking of the Monetary Board. More serious and specialized stuff.”

This would be the third government post for Lim. His first government job was as director of the Civil Aeronautics Board under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Before his appointment to the DOT, Lim was executive director of the influential Makati Business Club, a keen Mr. Aquino supporter.

Meanwhile, Lim clarified that the President didn’t “ask me to resign.” He had been rumored to be one of three on Mr. Aquino’s list of “headaches,” who only brought him “bad news.”

Retired advertising executive Ramon Jimenez is rumored to be taking over from Lim at the DOT, and was only waiting to be asked by Mr. Aquino, as of Friday afternoon.

‘He was smiling the whole day’

LIM’S resignation, announced on August 12, caught the public—including DOT employees and several tourism stakeholders—by surprise. He said he was doing so for “personal” reasons. “I would like to spend more time with my family. My responsibilities require a great deal of travel and time away from my loved ones,” he said.

A brother of broadcaster Cheche Lazaro, Lim has been married 39 years to the former Carla Campos Abreau. The couple’s children are already in their 20s and 30s, living abroad and pursuing their own careers; one of them is married and now has his own family.

The day before his resignation, Lim was in Cebu opening the MICE Philippines Conference, which was attended by a lot of tourism stakeholders, including a number of DOT officials.

In an interview, a tourism expert who was there said: “[Lim] didn’t look bothered to me. He even posed for pictures with delegates, though I noticed some sadness in his face. But he didn’t act like he was ready to quit.”

A tourism official who requested anonymity, said he and others had no inkling their boss would be resigning the next day. “He was smiling the whole day naman. And was chika-chika to many. He posed for photos until late Thursday night.”

(Participants to the Philippine MICE Conference in Cebu say they didn't notice anything unusual in the behavior of DOT Sec. Bertie Lim, seen smiling in this photo with some delegates from Davao. Only one 'noticed some sadness in his face. But he didn’t act like he was ready to quit.' Photo from Philippine MICECON)

Those who wanted Lim ousted virtually declared him “slow and incompetent” for the job, and had protested his advocacy of an “open skies” policy, later adopted by the President on a provincial “pocket-type scale. “

Also, the tourism chief earlier received flak for having given the go-signal for a failed tourism slogan, “Pilipinas Kay Ganda,” for which Undersecretary Vicente Romano took the fall.

Making enemies

THE Black and White Movement, of which Lim was a member, released a press statement after he announced his resignation, decrying the sinister forces that pushed him to resign.

“In the process of working in the government, Bertie made enemies from powerful vested interests that benefited from a regime of protectionism. And their constant attacks against Bertie made it increasingly more difficult for him to do his job,” it said.

Industry sources said the few vocal protestors claiming to represent the tourism industry had never once owned or worked in a tourism establishment. One who wanted Lim ousted even went to town with the media, but failed to mention that his group lost the bid for the national tourism development plan, the same sources added.

Jose Mari del Rosario, president of Microtel Development Corp., confirmed the staunch anti-open skies lobby to have Lim removed from the DOT. But he said, “that [open skies] policy is starting to benefit the hotel industry, at least in my case.” Del Rosario’s company manages several provincial hotels under the Microtel chain.

He believes Lim to be a “very straightforward and idealistic person. Medyo mahina lang ang personal PR, ‘di politiko like his predecessors”—echoing the assessment of other tourism stakeholders who liked him well enough, but was put off by the tourism chief’s lack of charisma.

“Sometimes he would attend our events,” said a well-known female hotelier, who requested anonymity, “and he would just keep to himself. He doesn’t really mingle with us. Of course, when you’re in tourism you have to be ma-PR!”

Aileen Clemente, president of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association, sees Lim’s resignation as another impediment in the progress of the tourism industry.

“The primary enterprises of the industry put emphasis in having continuity. The average tenure of the past secretaries in the department is two years, which is quite detrimental to the industry. Plans have been made in the past but little of which were geared to have long-term impact. The rest of the public always clamor for good marketing strategies, but to industry stakeholders, this is merely the tail-end of an honest-to-goodness strategic plan that tackles institutional reforms,” she said in a press statement.

“[More] than branding and marketing, there are so many issues that plague the industry. First, there needs to be more effort to remove the downgrading of the [Federal Aviation Authority] and the European ban…. Second, measures must be taken to remove or lessen the numerous hurdles and challenges in the procurement of visas by foreign nationals coming to the Philippines. Third, the government must understand the impact of the double taxation of airlines as well as the charging of the CIQ [Customs, Immigrations and Quarantine]. Fourth, it is essential to plan the various infrastructure that needs to be developed especially in terms of airports, roads, transport systems,” she added.

“Laying the groundwork does not only take time. Being saddled with this responsibility takes patience, organizational skills and leadership to ensure that it creates an effective plan in ensuring the success of tourism in the country. Part of this, Secretary Lim has already done. We just hope that it will be continued by his successor to the post.”

For his part, del Rosario stressed, “People like to put forward their opinions on how the tourism industry should be handled—thinking it’s just slogans or tag lines. But it starts with the proper infrastructure. And that’s what Bertie Lim was doing. Consider his background in running El Nido Resorts as a microcosm of Philippine tourism. It was a ‘can-do’ approach on purely private initiative but to make it work, look at the logistics they had to put in place to make it a success.”

In what now appears to be a flash of prescience, Lim, who was also forced out the Arroyo administration due to his “open skies” stance, told the BusinessMirror in November 2010: “The enemies of reform are still strong. So we expect it to be a continuing struggle.”

(My piece was published on the front page of the BusinessMirror, Aug. 15, 2011.)

(UPDATE): On Aug. 17, in an interview with Karen Davila on ANC's Headstart, Lim said President Aquino delayed taking action against TIEZA chief operating officer Mark Lapid, despite a COA report detailing the latter's alleged fund misuse, due to "bigger political considerations".

The day after, Malacañang denied Lim's statement, saying there was "no selective prosecution of officials".

I dunno if this recent revelation by Lim will affect his chances of being appointed to the Monetary Board. All I know is, the President doesn't take too kindly to criticism.)

Greatness is among us

MANY of us will never become president of a country, a CEO of a multinational firm, or probably be even the most read novelist that ever lived. But all of us are called to greatness. This I believe with all my heart.

In my 46 years “on this planet” (and thank you, Manong Johnny, for another memorable line), I’ve met so many people who do great things in their own ways, in their own little worlds. Most of them aren’t even famous for what they do outside of their own communities. Or maybe they get a little attention in the newspapers, if ever their stories actually come to light, like that honest taxi driver who returns his passenger’s money and luggage.

Take our neighborhood postman Mang Rudy, for instance. It was pouring torrents one afternoon because there was a typhoon. Classes at all levels had already been called off and work at the government offices had already been suspended earlier. As I was leaving our subdivision to go to a meeting, I bumped into Mang Rudy, still making his rounds delivering the mail to my neighbors.

I called out to him, “Hoy, Mang Rudy! Ano ba, uwi ka na! Wala na kayong pasok. Bagyo-bagyo na!” And all he did was wave and smile at me. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t help but admire the guy for still slogging at work despite the weather. I mean how many government employees still do that? No offense, my dear civil servants, pero you know what I mean, right?

So to me, that was greatness. You are called to do a job, and you do it well. Even through rain, sleet and they say.

I’ve written about Efren Peñaflorida before. Before he became CNN Hero of the year, he just did his thing in Cavite. He pushed a kariton with books, and taught street children to read. Who would’ve thought of that? Peñaflorida is not rich; he can hardly afford to buy books for these kids. But because of his strong commitment to education and a desire to reduce poverty in the country, he persevered. Somehow he managed to acquire books through donations, and through the help of a few good Samaritans, he was able to help more streetkids.

These days, Peñaflorida and his Dynamic Teen Co. are trying to raise funds for another project—a kariton school called Kalingain Batang Mahirap Learning Center in Cavite City. I had just attended a pa-bingo hosted by Discovery Suites to raise funds for said project. I hope they have been able to raise thousands of pesos for the worthy cause, so that more street kids will have a place to go to and just chill after school, play sports, learn some new stuff, read, research on computers...instead of making mayhem in the streets and flouting the law.

(By the way, if you wish to contribute, please send your donations to the Dynamic Teen Co. using BPI account no. 00-1273-1633-59 Cavite, Caridad Branch; account name: DYNAMIC TEEN COMPANY-MAKING A DIFFERENCE INC., SWIFT Code: BOPIPHMM; Routing Number: 010040018. Or you may send your checks to Discovery Suites c/o Gemma Batoon, Marketing Group.)

A few months ago, Diane, a sales lady at a major department store, also stunned me. She hovered in the background as I was looking through the goods. Then she gently approached me to offer her services, speaking to me in very good English as a matter of fact. She offered to check on the other colors of the utility kit I wanted, then after, offered possible alternatives when the colors I wanted were not available. She was respectful, pleasant, and not pushy about her suggestions. I couldn’t believe a sales lady like her still existed. Most of the time, the girls at this particular department store are just gossipping among themselves or calling out loudly to each other like they were in fishmongers in a wet market. So before I left, I commended Diane for her excellent customer service.

Just do what it right.

Then there’s businessman Archie Po. He was just someone minding his own business, working to expand his aviation firm, flying planes and deploying air ambulances, and just contributing to the tourism industry by building a couple of hotels.

He doesn’t like appearing on TV, or being interviewed. In fact when I met him for the launch of his resort in Boracay, he even asked me not to publish his photos. He’s just not that kind of guy who likes publicity for himself. For his projects, yes, but he isn’t about to go to town appearing on national TV just to market them.

But kapow! He suddenly finds himself right smack in the middle of a controversial transaction involving an undercapitalized government contractor and the Philippine National Police because of a few overpriced secondhand choppers. He is subpoenaed by our esteemed senators.

So what does he do? He just tells the truth. Asked during a Senate blue-ribbon hearing investigating the scandal, who owned those choppers, and he matter-of-factly said it was the former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. He was called a liar by Arroyo four days later, and was then sued for perjury.

But think about it. Why would someone like Po risk his own life, his family’s welfare, and his business to make up a story like that? That just goes against all common sense and rationality! According to a report in ABS-CBN’s Bandila the other night, all his proposals to sell those two blasted choppers were always headlined “second-hand,” because those were the specifications asked by the guy Larry de Vera of Maptra, the small-time company that sold the choppers to the PNP.

Po could’ve just said he owned those choppers and ended the mess just like that. He could’ve just gone back to his old routine, running his firm and flying his clients. But as he told journalist Ces Drilon, how could he live with himself knowing that he lied? I know that Po still has young children and I guess, if there was to be any significant teaching moment in their lives, this was it. The message - just tell the truth. Period. If other people don’t like the truth that you speak, sorry na lang.


Perhaps you are a call-center operator just dealing with another irate client complaining about the product he had bought from the company you are servicing. By the mere fact that you are being courteous to the customer, trying to help address his problem, and going the extra mile to answer his needs already raises you above the rest.

Or you are perhaps a waiter in a restaurant, just taking orders and serving out dishes to the customers. You too can be great. Just pay attention to your guests, be unobtrusive but available immediately to answer their requests respectfully, help them out in choosing their food by being knowledgeable first and foremost about the menu, and you have fans for life.

It doesn’t take grand gestures to do great things in one’s life and community. All you really need is some heart, and the passion and commitment to do what is right.

(This piece was originally published on Aug. 12, 2011. My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photo courtesy BusinessMirror.)

August 15, 2011

Proud to be a Theresian!

GOT my STC Swatch last Friday, and I loveeet!

I'm not a member of STC-QC Batch '87 (I'm so much younger than that...joke!), but congratulations to the gals who thought up the project. The watch is a beaut. And accdg to Big Sis, who is half a Theresian, it's the best looking school watch out there. I tend to agree! (No offense DLSU! I wuv our Animo 100 watch too!)

It's not so evident in this photo but it has a bubble top dome. Cute no?!

It's P3,500 and great for everyday use. You don't need to reserve at all. I just walked into a Swatch store last Friday and bought it. There are a lot of stocks on hand. Buy na!

(UPDATE): As per Millet Abesamis, from said batch, they are selling the STC Swatch to raise funds for their alumni homecoming next year (Jan. 2012). A portion of the funds raised through the sale will also go to the St. Theresa's Alumni Association "to finance scholars and other causes," representing batch '87's donation. Good for you girls! Keep up the good work.

August 14, 2011

Leon Archibald Po: By his father’s rules

BEFORE the August 5 hearing on the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) overpriced choppers, not too many Filipinos may have probably heard of Archie Po. People who know him are mostly in the tight-knit world of aviation, the privileged few who often charter aircraft to get where they’re going, and those in the market for helicopters.

A pilot himself, Leon Archibald Po owns LionAir Inc., the licensed distributor and service center of the Torrance-based Robinson Helicopter Co., the world’s leader in civil helicopter manufacturing.

He is one of the most sought-after men during the election season. His fleet of choppers and planes provide electoral candidates the needed campaign boost to cross the many islands of the archipelago.

And Po has flown them all—Gloria Arroyo, Joseph Estrada, the late Fernando Poe Jr., Chavit Singson, etc.—representing all colors of the political spectrum. “Of course, we’re non-partisan about it. Everyone is welcome to charter our choppers and planes,” he told me in an interview in December 2009. Even then, there was already an interesting mix of politicians or their representatives ringing him up, requesting his support for the May 2010 elections.

Sincere and unassuming

Archie Po, in December 2009, posing with his fleet of choppers at the LionAir Inc. hangar at the Manila Domestic Airport in Pasay. He is the usual go-to-guy during the election season. (Photo courtesy Asian Dragon)

From the short time I came to know Po, I saw him as a sincere, unassuming man. He is not someone who exactly stands out in a crowd because he is usually dressed down, wearing ordinary short-sleeved polo shirts and faded jeans, his feet shod in rugged sporty shoes. (That coat and tie worn during the Senate hearing was a definite stretch for him.)

As most men are wont to in pissing contests among themselves, he can also talk big, but not annoyingly so. Usually there is a lot of laughter accompanying his storytelling, but he doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at himself. He is certainly more comfortable speaking among friends in small groups, than in large gatherings where polite behavior and order is required. He takes the occasional drag on cigarettes, but doesn’t consume any alcohol as he is allergic to it, the same way his other siblings are.

Essentially, he struck me more as a dreamer, who merely wants a comfortable life for his wife and children—in the same manner he and siblings were brought up—as well as respectable returns on his various businesses. He is often thinking up of some new enterprise or some new project venture—“malikot mag-isip” is probably the apropos term to describe him.

But as a businessman, he didn’t appear to me as someone who would shake down others to get excessive commissions on deals. In fact, like most Filipinos, he, too, was just tired of the old political setup where red tape, unscrupulous politicians and double-dealing government officials were the norm, that’s why he was looking forward to the 2010 polls. Mostly, we talked about ways he could contribute to help the country regain its once-mighty economic status, a reality when he was growing up in the late ’50s.

But the path hasn’t been easy for businessmen like him.

“The bureaucracy has become a turnoff for most investors,” Po contends. “Alam mo, nagpagawa pa kami ng study nun—‘The Critical State of the Aviation Industry in the Philippines.’ Pinadala ko sa Congress. Pinagawa ko pati ’yung magkano binabayad namin sa gasoline. Kalokohan ’yung mga ibang taxes imposed on us investors. Airplanes are the bridges to our country, then you will impose too many restrictions?”

“In 1978 when I was in Malaysia, we were ahead in the airline industry and in technology,” he continues. “Now, lampaso na tayo. We’re the last in Asia. And now, bagsak pa tayo sa FAA [US Federal Aviation Administration]…Category 2 status na naman tayo,” he rants. It is the only time I hear him raise his voice. But after investing heavily in the local aviation business for some 30 years, who wouldn’t feel exasperated?

With his security now at risk since he came out and testified against some powerful political personalities in the PNP choppers anomaly, Po is understandably having sleepless nights these days. He is constantly on the move and doesn’t spend long hours in any one place, I am told. And meetings with lawyers occupy most of his time. This furtive life as a whistleblower is obviously not the one he had envisioned for himself and his family.

A boy and his paper planes

The toddler Archie, with his father, Joaquin Po Sr., founder of Popular Bookstore. (Courtesy Po family)

The sixth child among eight siblings, Po is a self-made businessman, learning much of the aviation industry on his own. His backstory on how he became an eventual success amid a challenging business environment, and after basically being a screwed-up teenager, is a page-turner.

The youngest boy of Joaquin Po Sr., founder of Popular Bookstore, and Flordeliza Legaspi (there are three other siblings from the elder Po’s first wife who had passed away), the young Po was once considered a brilliant student. “My parents were ultra-proud of me because I was only one of three students [in Lourdes School, Quezon City] who was accelerated to first year high school from grade six. I didn’t pass grade seven anymore,” he narrates.

But somehow, he lost his way while he was in high school, getting hooked on certain vices ­even he disdains to mention now, by the time he reached junior year. He was kicked out from Lourdes, then transferred from one school to another, finally graduating from San Sebastian College in Cavite.

For someone like his father who placed a great deal of value on learning, Po was certainly more than a disappointment. “Ako lang ang pinalayas mula sa bahay. As in ‘I don’t want to see your face!’” he quotes his father. He was 15 then and for one year, he and his father didn’t see or speak to each other, while he stayed with an uncle. They eventually reconciled after a year, when relatives intervened to patch the two up.

Instead of going into engineering at the Mapua Institute of Technology, as his father had wished—the Mapuas were family friends—Po took up a vocational course in aircraft maintenance and enrolled in flying school in 1973. “It’s always been my dream to fly. Any child’s dream is to fly, isn’t it? You start off with paper airplanes and that sort of stuff,” he recalls.

It was in flying school that his talent for business emerged. He borrowed money from his father, and along with a flight school buddy, Edwin Almeda, bought an airplane to lease to their classmates. “I told my Dad it was just like he was accelerating his payment for my flying lessons. I told him to lend me the money, then after we finish [flying school], I’ll sell the plane and give back the money to him.” A year-and-a half later, he fulfilled that promise to his father, and paid back the loan. Not only that, Po graduated in just a year, becoming the youngest pilot at 18 years old.

With a passion for the fast life, Po was also into motorbikes in the 1970s, becoming among the top motocross riders in the country as a member of Team Honda. But after busting up his leg in one ride, he decided to finally put his aviator skills to work.

From crop duster to airline owner

One of his first jobs as a pilot was as a crop duster in Malaysia in 1978, where he earned a fortune. “It was a high-risk, high-return job. You’re flying six feet above the trees but getting paid a bundle. We were paid per takeoff per ton. I make 100 takeoffs and landings in one day at $175 per takeoff, plus basic. Not bad, right?”

No longer just a boy and his paper planes - here teenage Archie flies the real thing in an undated photo. (Courtesy Po family)

By the time he was 24, he felt that the risk was not worth it. “I felt I would die in that job,” Po says. So he returned to Manila in 1980 and became the personal pilot of then Makati Mayor Nemesio Yabut.

He went on to set up Airspan Philippines which, after the Edsa People Power revolt in 1986, became the air transport of choice for high-powered politicians of differing persuasions during national elections. Between elections, Airspan shuttled hotel guests from the airport bypassing the traffic gridlock below.

By the time he sold Airspan in 1997 to JAKA, the Enrile family corporation, Po was heavily involved in Asian Spirit, and became instrumental in helping the airline expand its operations. It was the perfect time for a small airline to take flight. Philippine Airlines had pulled out of its missionary routes after its crippling financial difficulties forced a streamlining of operations, leaving Asian Spirit in the clear to dominate those routes.

He later sold his shares to CATS founder Antonio Ang in May 2007, sensing more difficult days ahead for the airline industry, what with the constant fuel price increases and increasing competition from more flexible carriers. “But by then, I already helped increase the value of our shares,” Po says with pride.

Expanding to tourism

Along with LionAir, which he set up in 2002, Po co-owns Executive Jets Asia (EJA), in partnership with American and Asian air transport experts. Based in Singapore, EJA offers executive jet charters in the region, although much of the business is now into air ambulance service.

“All our jets are convertible to air ambulances,” he explains, adding that the planes, mostly eight-seaters, are chartered by hospitals, insurance firms and individuals needing quick medical evacuations for critical medical conditions. “We bring in patients as far as Nepal and India to hospitals in Singapore, and also from Manila.”

In December 2009, he opened his 59-room boutique hotel in Boracay called Hotel Soffia. “It has always been a dream of mine to build a hotel on this island, which I passed so often during my flying days in the 1980s.”

This is the second boutique hotel to his name after the 48-room Hotel Fleuris in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, said to be a “favorite” among diplomatic embassies and consular offices, because of its reasonably priced rates. “I spent so much money on Fleuris, that I wasn’t looking for an ROI [return on investment]. A free lunch and a free dinner there, that’s good enough for me!” Po laughs heartily. “Like Soffia, it was just a dream to build that hotel.”

Last we spoke, he was considering to build another hotel, this time in Basco, Batanes, and was evaluating other possible hotel and resort sites in the country.

“I think the Philippines has no way to go except tourism. That is what will save our economy, not manufacturing, which is already the stronghold of China,” he stresses.

The hotel business “will give you money, but the returns aren’t as huge,” Po notes. “For years, I was in the business of high-risk, high-return investments. In hotels, eto ’yung mga ‘you’re getting older,’ and so you’ve mellowed down to a low-risk, low-return investment. Returns in the tourism industry are small, but solid. And your base, your property, appreciates. So you won’t go wrong.”

His dad’s respect

When pilots are lacking, Po usually takes the wheel of his choppers and personally flies his customers.(Photo courtesy Asian Dragon)

Despite his 56 years on this planet, Po shows no signs of slowing down. He just wants to accomplish more and do so many things all at the same time. I surmise it’s probably a throwback to his younger years when he still felt the need to prove himself to his father. Then, as now, those who are old enough to have met Joaquin Sr. speak of him with much reverence.

Looking back, the former black sheep says his most joyful days were when he was trying to earn the respect of his father. Po would show his father that he could make good deals, buying up old planes that no longer worked, then repairing them and making them fly again. He built up his fleet from the barest to having a successful charter service, and then moving on to own an airline.

’Yun ’yung mga masasayang panahon ko. I was trying to get my Dad’s attention, his respect. What was touching was, when he told me once, mala-Ingglis pa ’yun e, sabi nya ‘Archie, what are you trying to prove? You’re richer than me!’ ’Yung parang, ‘sobra na e, you look after your health! What are you trying to prove?’ I told him, ‘No Dad, hindi naman ganun. I’m just enjoying myself.’”

The ultimate compliment his father paid to his son was in his final moments before passing on in 1997. “Pinagbilin nya sa akin ’yung mga kapatid ko,” says Po, his voice breaking ever so slightly at the memory. Despite being the youngest boy in the family, his father’s blessing has given him a significant voice in family matters. “At least kahit paano, ngayon, me ‘say’ na ako,” he quips.

I don’t know why Po turned whistleblower especially when he has so much at stake—an unsullied international reputation as a businessman, a huge network of aviation alliances, and a young family to protect. I can imagine it wasn’t an easy decision for him to make, especially with the mighty personalities he is up against. Maybe he is still just that same teenager trying to do what is right by his father’s rules.

(Originally published in the CEO Views section of the BusinessMirror, Aug. 8, 2011.)

The new Caticlan airport terminal

I HAVE been going to Boracay Island since the late 80s, back when it was still basically, an open stretch of pure powdery white sand, with lush coconut trees dotting the shore, and just a smattering of resorts and restaurants. Much of the electricity was still supplied by generators.

Going to Boracay was still by land – driving all the way from either Iloilo City, Roxas City, or Antique - if you were not from Aklan. If you managed to find a plane to fly you, you would still usually land at the Kalibo airport, in Aklan, then still make the drive to Caticlan, the jump off point to the gorgeous resort island. From Caticlan, pump boats could take you to Boracay, for a minimal fee.

Since regular scheduled air services began in Caticlan in 1996, travelling to Boracay has been faster but not necessarily more convenient for tourists. Tourists arrived in a third-class provincial airport, which was not airconditioned until this year, and where passengers were expected to get their own luggage directly from the airline trolley as there were few porters.

On my second trip to Boracay this year, last July 30, I was amazed at the major improvements in the Caticlan airport, courtesy of San Miguel Corp. president, Ramon Ang. The terminal seemed larger, it was now airconditioned, and there was, for joy! a baggage carousel. Not to mention, the restroom was clean and smelled good, thanks to the burning of perfumed oils, and actually reminded me of a hotel washroom. There was also a money-changer on hand to enable foreign travelers to exchange their currencies for our local pesos.

At the departure terminal, check-in counters are sleek and brightly lit, everyone is courteous - from the airport security to the terminal fee collectors. It is a two-story affair w/ even VIP lounges for departing guests checked in at Shangri-La Boracay, and Discovery Shores. There are a few food counters where passengers can satiate their hunger pangs and last-minute pasalubong shopping. The most notable feature of the departure terminal, however, is a small private breastfeeding room for nursing mothers and their babies. My, my...will wonders never cease?!

The modernization of the Caticlan airport is said to cost $300 million, which includes the improvement of the passenger terminal and the extension of the airport runway. During the summer season, small jets and and most turbo-props of the leading airlines are able to land in the short runway.

But when the rainy season comes around, it is usually only the Dornier 328s of Seair, and the Dash 8's of Airphilippines Express which are able to land in the slippery runway. The rest of the planes such as the larger ATRs of Cebu Pacific are either diverted to Kalibo or return to Manila or other points of origin.

How true is it though that the newly-improved Caticlan passenger terminal is actually only temporary and a permanent structure will rise in the municipality of Nabas, once the runway extension is completed? According to Boracay resort owners, this was the tradeoff for the Nabas local government to allow the mountain in their midst to be lopped off to give way to the runway extension. If that is true that will take tourists a longer time to get to Boracay because it is farther than Caticlan, as you can see from the Aklan map below.

While having a passenger terminal will definitely boost the living standards in Nabas which is currently a fourth class muicipality, hopefully San Miguel's Ang will reconsider and keep the comfort of Boracay tourists top of mind.

In the meantime, I wish the Caticlan local government would fix this:

This is where we landed, the tiny dock in Tabon, Caticlan, after crossing from the Tampisaan port in Boracay (the severe weather condition as we left the island prevented many from leaving via the usual Cagban jetty port). Tabon is considered an emergency dock where pump boats can park when the waves make it impossible to cross to the main Caticlan port.

The bamboo crosspaths, however, are very unstable, and there were a few times I almost lost my footing. This is an accident waiting to happen, and its sturdiness needs to be addressed immediately.

*I own the copyright to all the photos published here, except for the Aklan map, which I borrowed from the Makato Community eCenter.

August 11, 2011


HIS name is Kellen Mirador Sarmiento. He's a little dude who channels The Warblers from GLEE w/ matching uniform.

Dontcha just love the way his little adorable face scrunches up, mimicking Darren Criss? who is also proudly Pinoy by the way.

Here he is singing Katy Perry's Teenage Dream:

And here is Kellen in the promo for the film, GLEE The 3D Concert Movie (can't wait to watch it!):

The toddler just might make it as a GLEE cast member. Hopefully the show lasts that long. ;p

August 09, 2011

For a good cause

GOT this from my friends over at the Discovery Group. Hope you guys can attend. This is for a good cause:

Discovery Suites has been raising funds to help Dynamic Teen Company of Efren Peñaflorida (CNN Hero of the Year 2009) build its Kariton school - Kalingain Batang Mahirap Learning Center in Cavite City. All proceeds will go to Dynamic Teen Company.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011, 5:00 PM
P100 per bingo card, 2 games per card

Hosted by Jose "Chiokla" Bunag III

Grand Prize: Three-day, two-night stay at Discovery Shores Boracay inclusive of airfare from Zest Air

Sponsored by: Chelsea, MoMo, Mr Jones, M Cafe, Zong, BusinessWorld, Mossimo, Corporate Travel, Jan Patrick International, EMI-Polyeast, Zest Air, Fabio Salsa Salon, Terra Wellness Spa, Balance Lifestyle Fitness Gym, Discovery Country Suites Tagaytay and Discovery Shores Boracay

For inquiries, please contact (63 2) 719.8888 - Rowena Gulle local 6910 / Laurice Landicho local 6772 or email us at

Congratulations to the Discovery Group for choosing to focus its CSR efforts on education.

August 05, 2011

Sobrang cheesy!

BUT I really loved it. And it moved me to cry happy tears. ;p

Click and watch. It'll be worth your while, I promise.

I hope the couple is still going strong and loving/living well. Cheers to Danielle Laurie for making this film.

August 02, 2011

A look at Archibald Po*

IN December 2009, I interviewed Archibald "Archie" Po, president of LionAir Inc., who had then just launched his newest business, a hotel in Boracay Island, as well as an air ambulance service in Asia. He has been in the aviation industry for more than three decades, and is one of the well-respected aviation experts and pilots in the Philippines.

Po has never been involved in any controversies before, and I don't believe he deliberately misrepresented those allegedly overpriced choppers sold to the PNP by Maptra, as brand new. The Po family is a very respectable clan whose father Joaquin, founded Popular Bookstore, which is still operated by his children today. I personally know a number of the siblings, and I've found them to be down-to-earth and very sincere people.

The case of the allegedly overpriced choppers, obviously involve unseen, and much bigger hands, and only the PNP officials involved in the purchase can shed light on it:

Former Asian Spirit owner diversifies into tourism, air ambulance

BORACAY ISLAND, Aklan—Archibald Po, former majority shareholder of Asian Spirit (now Zest Airways), is now going full blast in his investments in the tourism industry by opening another boutique hotel.

A pilot by profession, Po also recently set up an air ambulance service in Singapore, bringing in patients as far as Nepal and India to hospitals in the city-state.

In an interview, Po said his new resort, called Hotel Soffia, was built at a cost of P100 million under his property concern, Kifessia Realty Corp. “It’s always been a dream of mine to build a hotel on this island, which I passed so often during my flying days in the 1980s.”

Architect/interior designer/master plumber Chi-chi Victoriano, who also did the Amorita Hotel in Bohol, designed the boutique hotel. Because he is an environmentalist, Po explained that the hotel uses only natural lighting aside from its energy-saving light bulbs, solar heaters, and filters its waste in a leaching field which produces fertilizer, instead of emptying into the island’s sewerage system.

It employs 50 employees in three shifts for its round-the-clock operations, making it a “very lean” hotel, he added. Room rates of the hotel are “affordable”, ranging from P3,500 ++ (standard, twin/triple-share) to P5,000 ++ (superior, twin/triple-share).

Although nestled on a hill in barangay Yapak, the hotel, Po said, will attract Boracay tourists who want quiet and privacy, but still need quick access to the restaurant strip and main white beach. “You just relax here and swim in our infinity pool. Or have your cocktails while taking in the 340-degree view of the island. If you want to go to the beach or the party places, we’ll transport you there. It’s only seven minutes away.”

This is the second boutique hotel to his name after the 48-room Hotel Fleuris in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, built at a cost of P90 million. Said to be a “favorite” among diplomatic embassies, consular offices, Fleuris is now on its 11th year of operation, “but it still looks brand new,” said Po. At least 84 percent of Tripadvisor members who have stayed at Fleuris have dubbed it the “cleanest and friendliest” hotel in Puerto Princesa.

Po said he is considering to build another hotel in Basco, Batanes, and is currently evaluating other possible hotel sites in the country.

“I think the Philippines has no way to go except tourism. That is what will save our economy, not manufacturing, which is already the stronghold of China,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, Po recently bought a Hawker jet to beef up his fleet of air ambulances via Executive Jets Asia, a company in partnership with other Asian and American air transport experts.

Po said he invested some $4 million in the company, based in Selatar Airport (East Camp), Singapore, supplying the company’s four-plane fleet. The company also provides cost-effective executive jet transport services to the region’s high-powered businessmen.

“All the jets are convertible to air ambulances,” he explained, adding that the planes, mostly eight-seaters, are chartered by hospitals, insurance firms and individuals needing quick medical evacuations for critical medical conditions.

Po praised the Singapore government for its efficient bureaucracy, allowing businesses to operate with the most minimal permits and signatures required. “An air ambulance, for instance, has to mobilize quickly in less than 45 minutes,” he stressed.

He said he is eyeing to invest another $2 million to expand the operations and maintain four planes in Singapore. He is also eyeing to expand to other countries.

Po also operates LionAir Inc., a charter service with 20 helicopters and two LET aircraft. The company is also the licensed distributor and service center of the Torrance, California-based Robinson Helicopter Co. in the Philippines. A number of well-known politicians and high-profile businessmen in the country are owners of Robinson choppers. LionAir is also the favorite go-to charter service by politicians running in national elections.

In 1995 Po set up Asian Spirit with two other businessmen—Antonio Turralba Jr. and Noel Oñate—capitalizing it a cost of $3 million. In May 2007, he sold his shares in the airline to Antonio Ang, founder of CATS, the distributor of Mercedes-Benz locally. Ang, in turn, along with the airline’s minority shareholders, subsequently sold their shares to juice king Alfredo Yao in March 2008.

*This piece was originally published in December 2009 in the BusinessMirror.