October 28, 2011

Excited over ketchup


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

And Harry Wallop of the The Telegraph says:

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

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

October 24, 2011

Happy ever after

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOT: PHL has other connections to Europe

AIR France-KLM’s planned pullout from Manila will likely impact on the number of tourist arrivals from Europe as many prefer direct nonstop services to destinations, a tourism official said on Tuesday.

“Nonstop service is a preferred option of many air passengers looking for a fast and convenient connection. The planned termination by KLM of its nonstop service to Manila by April next year is bound to affect our European market. We are hoping KLM will reconsider its decision,” Assistant Secretary Benito Bengzon Jr., spokesman of the Department of Tourism (DOT), said in a text message.

This as other tourism officials averred that even if KLM pulled out its direct service to Manila, there were other carriers that could take up the slack.

“We have more connections to Europe now than before,” said a DOT source. “Of course, we would still want them [KLM] to fly here because it’s a direct route [from Europe]. But there are other alternative carriers,” said the DOT official who requested not to be identified, as she was not authorized to speak on the matter. Air France-KLM is Europe's largest airline.

Latest DOT data showed that tourist arrivals from Europe were steadily rising, reaching 256,408 from January to August this year, compared with 238,891 in the same period last year. In August alone, tourist arrivals from Europe were up 13 percent to 26,612.

In the past, the same doomsday predictions about a drop in European arrivals arose when Germany’s Lufthansa said it would withdraw from Manila, which it did in 2008.

Other carriers that fly from Europe to Manila using various stopovers include Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Etihad, Qatar Airway, Emirates, to name a few. “All of these carriers,” DOT officials said, “offer very competitive airfares [as KLM]. And some travelers from Europe do like to break in half their trips, they like stopping over in other countries.”

A direct flight from London to Manila, for instance, is about 12 to 13 hours. Depending on the carrier, stopovers are either via Dubai, Doha, Singapore or Hong Kong, although this stretches the trip to about 18 hours.

A quick check via Internet booking sites showed that a London to Manila flight with one stopover, costs anywhere from $917 to $1,075, for end-January 2012, roundtrip, across all the above cited airlines.

A DOT official said even if European arrivals accounted for only about 11 percent of the total tourist arrivals in the Philippines, they stay the longest at 12 to 21 days, and thus spend more than other tourists from other regions.

Also, despite the DOT’s minimal budget for its European promotions, agency insiders said the Philippines still manages to make a dent during the important travel fairs in that region.

“We normally participate in the biggest travel fairs in Europe such as the upcoming World Travel Market in London from November 7 to 10. We also attend the ITB in Germany in March, and we just finished attending the Leisure Fair in Russia from September 21 to 24,” an official said.

Data from the DOT showed that of the total European travelers to the Philippines, those coming from the United Kingdom accounted for the largest. From January to August this year, tourists from the UK rose to 69,295, up 7.5 percent from the same period in 2010. This was followed by Germany at 40,250; and France at 20,284. Tourists from Amsterdam, the home base of KLM, amounted to 13,677, accounting for less than 1 percent of total arrivals in the Philippines.

The DOT officials, however, pointed to significant jumps in arrivals from Russia, which soared by 26 percent to 14,235 during the eight-month period from 11,298 last year.

In 2008 when Lufthansa pulled out from the Philippines, total tourist arrivals rose to 3.14 million. The DOT attributed the increase from significant growths in the European arrivals specifically from Russia, which was up 34 percent, and France 18.7 percent.

(My piece was originally published on the front page of the BusinessMirror, Oct. 19, 2011. Photo from the web.)

October 23, 2011

8 ad agencies vie for PHL brand campign

EIGHT of the country’s top advertising agencies have been shortlisted for the P5.6-million tourism slogan project of the Department of Tourism (DOT).

A list obtained by the BusinessMirror showed the eight are: Dentsu Philippines Inc., J. Romero & Associates Inc., Lowe Inc., BBDO Guerrero Proximity Philippines Inc., DDB Philippines Inc., WPP/J. Walter Thompson, Young & Rubicam Philippines Inc. and ASPAC Advertising Inc.

It was also learned that the winning bidder’s contract has been extended to one year from the original contract duration of only two months.

Acting Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. has said the new tourism slogan would be announced before Christmas.

A DOT source said 16 agencies submitted eligibility documents to bid for the “Philippine Branding Campaign focusing on Tourism” project. Of the 16, 13 were declared eligible.

The advertising firms were scored on the basis of “company experience and track record, as major factors,” before being shortlisted, another DOT source said. The highest score was garnered by Dentsu at 57 (out of 100 possible points), with the lowest recorded by WPP/J. Walter, Y&R, and ASPAC at 46 points each.

BBDO Guerrero, which was responsible for the DOT’s long-running and hugely successful “Wow Philippines/More than the usual” slogan launched in 2007, was ranked No. 4 with 48 points.

(BBDO Guerrero's Wow Philippines/More than usual 30-sec. TV for Europe via YouTube)

As per DOT’s Bid Bulletin No. 2, submission of the agencies’ final bids will be on November 3 at 1 p.m. The bids will be opened on the same day at 2 p.m. Presentation of pitches by the qualified bidders will be on November 21 as per the new terms of reference of the project.

But it could take a year before any actual ad campaign rolls out, featuring the new slogan for the local and foreign tourists.

DOT Spokesman and Assistant Secretary Benito Bengzon Jr. told the BusinessMirror the extension of the contract was done to “essentially get a longer commitment from the ad agency after developing the concept. After coming up with the concept, the ad agency will serve as the consultant for the DOT to assist in the implementation of the concept. Two months would have been too short a time for that commitment.”

In a separate interview, Tourism Assistant Secretary Domingo Ramon C. Enerio III, who oversees the bidding for the brand campaign said via text message, the winning bidder “can act as consultant [specifically] to the production and media applications of the branding.”

He said the DOT will also “conduct market tests on the winning brand so that the proponent bidder can assist in tweaking the brand to make it better for specific target markets/audiences.”

Part of the winning bidder’s “deliverables” as also stated in Bid Bulletin No. 1, is the submission of a “cost estimate of producing the creative materials proposed for the branding campaign, as well as of applying said campaign in various international and domestic media and platforms.” But it doesn’t mean that the winning bidder will produce the ad campaign itself.

Enerio disclosed there would be another bidding for the supplier of the advertising materials such as television commercials, brochures, posters, and other collateral materials.

In advertising campaigns made for private companies, an ad agency usually has the leeway to choose its own suppliers for the production of the ads and collateral materials.

The PH branding campaign project is the DOT’s third try at creating a new tourism slogan for the country.

(The failed Pilipinas Kay Ganda slogan under former DOT Secretary Alberto Lim.)

Under Jimenez’s predecessor, Alberto Lim, the DOT was pilloried for crafting the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” slogan, which was in Filipino and therefore criticized for being unsuitable for international tourists. The DOT also received flak for allowing its advertising agency to allegedly copy Poland’s logo for the PKG slogan. This led to the resignation of a key official of the agency.

In April, Lim again bidded out a P13-million branding campaign which garnered the participation of seven bidders. However, one of the bidders, Y&R was reportedly disqualified for technical reasons, while five – Dentsu, McCann, J. Romero, JWT, and Lowe, withdrew their participation in the bid, according to industry sources. This left only BBDO as the qualified bidder.

With this result, the DOT, this time under Jimenez, decided to declare the earlier bid as a failure, and has rebid the project, with a lower budget and less deliverables. (See “DOT rebids brand campaign, BusinessMirror, Oct. 3, 2011.)

(This is the complete version of my piece that was originally published on the front page of the BusinessMirror, Oct. 18, 2011.)

New Tourism chief's vision

HE has the right sound bites, that’s for sure.

That’s what I first thought when advertising stalwart Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. faced his first press briefing as acting secretary of the Department of Tourism.

He told the Malacañang press corps that promoting the Philippines’s beautiful sights should be “as easy to sell as Chickenjoy.” That comment shouldn’t be surprising—after all, Jimenez did handle the Jollibee account for years.

A Visual Communication graduate of the UP College of Fine Arts, the advertising veteran is the co-founder—with his wife, the former Annabelle “Abby” Lee—of the Jimenez firm Winning Over Obstacles (WOO) Communications Corp. WOO was the marketing communications agency which helped focus the theme of then presidential aspirant Noynoy Aquino’s campaign on the “Daang matuwid, laban sa daang baluktot!” Previous to WOO, both also co-founded what was once the leading advertising agency Jimenez Basic.

Still, my thought balloon at that time was, “Ang yabang naman nito.”

Don’t blame me. At the time I heard him say that, I had just come from Saigon, and was still marveling at the way the Vietnamese had packaged their country to tourists. Sure there were some issues with pickpockets (I walked through the Ben Thanh market with a firm grip on my bag), dishonest taxi drivers, and public smoking—but it attracted 5.05 million international tourists in 2010! The Philippines, on the other hand, managed to record only 3.52 million arrivals last year—and we’ve been at this tourism promotion thing since the Marcos administration in the 1970s.

Then I heard Jimenez say in one of his many TV appearances that Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia were already “very worried about what we’re about to do. They know we haven’t got the budget….[but] Filipinos have always beaten them with less.” I almost fell off my seat. Those countries with bazillions in their tourism budgets, worried? Was this guy for real?

I didn’t like it that he sounded like, well…an advertising guy spewing great ad copy. It felt like he was making a pitch, and we, the public, were his clients. (The only difference being, he had already been “approved” by President as the supplier. We had no choice in the matter.) And it made me nervous. Even one of his predecessors, Ace Durano, although considerably optimistic about the country’s tourism prospects, wasn’t this…well, unreal. (Jimenez’s immediate predecessor, Alberto Lim, meanwhile, was just way too pragmatic—it was almost depressing to write about the issues bugging the tourism sector.)

When I finally met Jimenez at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m. (he apparently starts work very early, as his own advertising colleagues attest), he clarified a number of issues for me. Yes, he was “super optimistic,” as one media colleague described him to me, but he does actually believe what he is saying. He wasn’t being disingenuous. I now agree with my colleague that, that is probably just what the sector needs.

That doesn’t mean Jimenez has his head way up in the clouds. On the contrary, he is quite aware that there could be a number of issues that may confound the implementation of the programs he wants to undertake.

One thing he really needs to do, however, is manage the high expectations of the public. For instance, there already seems to be some issue with the much-anticipated tourism slogan. After Jimenez had announced to all and sundry that there were already seven advertising firms working on it, boasting even that “it’s a who’s who of everyone in the advertising industry,” it turns out, most of the bidders had already withdrawn their participation in the project. The DOT only recently announced it has decided to rebid the project with a lower budget, and revised terms of reference. (See “DOT rebids brand campaign,” BusinessMirror, October 3, 2011.) As of Oct. 15, 2011, the agency had yet to announce the list of shortlisted bidders for the brand campaign as per in its Bid Bulletin #3, which moved the announcement schedule from the original date of Oct. 12.

Prior to this revelation, Jimenez sat down for a freewheeling discussion with the BusinessMirror, and answered a number of vital concerns about his sector:

What are we looking at in terms of tourist arrivals in 2012?

We will break 4 million in 2012, that’s our objective. And if we do that, we will be ahead of schedule. We will hopefully exceed doubling the target by 2016 (or 6 million arrivals).

But what is the DOT’s budget next year? Will it allow you to meet that 4-million target?

Well, the DOT itself has less than P2 billion in its budget for everything. But the details are not important. There is a resource we cannot easily quantify, the support of Filipinos everywhere. We are far and away the most savvy Internet communicators in this part of the world.

Let’s assume we finally found the so-called magic slogan everyone’s been waiting for, which is so unfair; no one ever had to clear a slogan with the country before because of what happened (in the past). But the vision is, once we have that, we put together what I call a tourism/country kit that anyone and everyone can pick up and transform into his or her microtourism campaign, whether they do it on Facebook, etc. We’ll give you the pictures, the slogans, the words, the basic tools you will need to create your own campaign. And theoretically, if every Facebook account holder can invite just one friend to visit, we would be the largest tourist country in Asia.

In your first day as Tourism secretary, you already met with the controversial Tourism Congress representatives. May I ask what you talked about?

It was really more a social visit if you will. We really didn’t get to talk turkey. But there was enough time to look at each other in the eye and I was very direct in saying that I hope they were open, and would listen to my advice. And they responded by saying, “if you’re willing to listen, then we are.” It was very frank. There was just enough time to say, “look, the opportunity for us is far greater than the pebbles and stones we’re trying to quarrel over now.”

The revised implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Tourism Act of 2009, especially those establishing a truly representative Tourism Congress, had been signed already by your predecessor. How are you going to implement these? Were there assurances made to the current representatives that they could stay?

There has been no such discussion. The fact of the matter is, the current congress, their terms expire in November. Now, I am not inclined to wait for that. What I’m more inclined is to get the parties together before that time, because there is a very unique opportunity for all of them to participate in a genuine transition as dictated by the new IRR.

Now, the existence of the IRR tells all the stakeholders that “Hey, this will be done as the IRR says. We can decide now—will it be neat or will it be messy?” That’s the way we Filipinos should begin to talk to each other. “Pwedeng graceful ’to, pwedeng hindi. But in effect, it’s going to happen.” The negotiations will end, and (I will) implement the law.

How are you going to deal with the issue of Mark Lapid, general manager of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza)?

The critical power of Tieza, contrary to popular belief, does not belong to the GM. It resides in a board that he reports to. Is he working under those limitations? Absolutely. He knows that. Frankly, in a way, I sympathize with his position. It’s a very short leash.

His background and my background are totally different, which probably makes him qualified for the job. He is quick to pick up on the imperatives that (local government units) have to face. He now understands through me, “that’s your role, ha. You tell us if it makes sense to the LGUs…. So just do things right, and you will get no grief from me.” Ang hindi productive talaga, is that we turn our backs on each and start sniping because that’s not what our people bargained for. “You’ve got a term, and I’ve got a boss. And we’ve got to find a way to make it work.”

So what happens to the Commission on Audit (COA) report? It’s like it never happened?

The COA report stands as it is. First, I have to explain ’no, the problems are administrative; we’re not talking here of somebody stealing money, and that’s why, in fact, he was sanctioned. Certain movements have been restricted already. By and large, it’s very difficult to be him right now, okay? It’s not as if that COA report had no effect. But it is just that, it’s a report. It’s not a body of evidence or anything like that. That will continue to be lawyers’ problem.

So there’s no actual stealing? No inappropriate use of funds?

No. Only the Tieza board decides on these things. We’re talking about things he did with his staff, ’yung ganyan.

So, why is COA talking about those things? It’s not fund misuse naman pala?

To be fair to COA, people may have picked up on it, well-meaning I’m sure. That’s okay. It’s just as well, he knows, ah, be careful. Kasi I will certainly not stand for it. But my responsibility precisely is to make him productive.

As per the new IRR of the Tourism Act, there are changes in store for the Tourism Congress and other tourism-related agencies, right? A new election has to happen?

Yes. We can’t move forward on the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) unless the Tourism Congress has now actively participated in nominating two people (to the TPB’s board). That includes the Tieza—may mga vacancies pa.

So your first priority, of course, is the tourism slogan. What else is on your plate in terms of priority programs or projects?

In terms of marketing and promotions, the priority is to transform the selling units, meaning, the smallest unit being the Filipino as individual, and the largest sets—the promotions units here, abroad and in the regions. Transformation means we’re giving them the tools, we’re making it clear what is the desired, or the cumulative net image we want to create, making it very clear in peoples’ minds, and conditioning them to accept that repetition is only a problem if you keep listening to your own propaganda. But do not tire of repeating your message over and over. That’s how it works.

What do you mean?

Ang tendency kasi ng Pilipino, they start embellishing because they tire of their own message. And they begin to lose the focus. It always happens—jeepney mentality—we never know when the work is finished. So we keep adding and adding until it is unrecognizable. The discipline is: “Here’s the country image, here’s what you say, and you repeat it, and repeat it, and repeat it, until we can reap the results.” So it’s a kind of reorientation and retraining of everybody.

Now the other role, which is going to be played largely by me, Tieza, will be to reorient the rest of government toward, in effect, a more touristic economic plan…. Right now, tourism accounts for less than 6 percent of GDP (gross domestic product). It’s about 40 percent in Spain. It’s serious business.

So what are your fighting targets for 2016?

I’m not prepared to call it a target as much as, if you will, a sensible prediction. If this country breaks 12 million visitors by the end of the President’s term, then we would have successfully transformed it into a fourth of the nation’s business, and that’s the one that will fuel our future. It’s really worth fighting for. If we’re at 3 million, just trebling that should not be a problem. I keep saying, we’ve got a better product…we just have to keep improving it.

That’s where the economic cluster comes in. I should say, they’re very, very receptive—(Secretaries) Greg Domingo (Trade and Industry), Mar Roxas (Transportation and Communications), Babes Singson (Public Works and Highways)—they’re all very willing to help because they know it can be done. Singson is really super supportive….

Yes, infrastructure is very important…

Correct. But like I said, that’s not as important as people genuinely trying to sell (the country) because 4 million come in with the present infrastructure, why do you think it is?

But that’s why it’s important. You can get more tourists with better infrastructure.

Absolutely, absolutely. [But] it’s a chicken and egg situation. I would rather much create the demand than force the issue on infrastructure, than rather force investors to put the money upfront, then the people didn’t come. That would be horrific! For example, investors in hotels, you think these people go around the world building hotels before the demand? No way! They’ve got to see at least the glimmerings of a 12-million visitor future for them to start digging now.

As a third (priority, I want to) shore up all our other offices. There is the Philippine Retirement Authority, the Intramuros Administration, we have the Philippine Scuba Commission, Duty Free Philippines—it is the fourth-largest Duty Free in the world! If you look at their sales, they’re staggering, because of the OFW market. Sales were supposed to be down in September but they’re having a really good year. In fact, we’re lined up for an award in France, the Frontier Awards which is like the Oscars of travel retail.

Can you break it down into more concrete projects? For instance, what are you going to do to clean up Manila?

The plans for development of Luneta, Intramuros…all of that will take place within the next five years. Theoretically, money is not a problem. The money will be raised. There are many groups who are willing to invest, it’s just a matter of gathering the resources, getting the plans finally approved. But this whole area will be transformed. If we can do it faster than that, we will.

It will involve briefing the DPWH, making sure that they reorient some of their projects to align with the development plans here. In other words, you have plans around the underpass here, TM Kalaw, etc., and coordinating it with them, and say, “do it this way, para naman it’s futuristic already—it serves the park, as well as Intramuros.”

That’s the easy part. The hard part, of course, is really rebuilding a lot of these things—the Chinese park, the Japanese park—we have to rebuild a lot of those.

I was just talking to a GM of a hotel here in Manila. He was saying his and the other hotels along Roxas Boulevard are all in good locations, you have the Manila Bay sunset, etc. But it’s so dirty here! Then you have the social issues tourists are confronted with—a lot of beggars, thieves, etc. And you can’t even ask them to go around taking the MRT or LRT; you go to Beijing, the subways are interconnected and clean….

But said another way, in Beijing the tourist areas are neatly isolated from the rest of the areas. There are some icky places, but they were able to create some islands of calm…we will be able to do that.

Theoretically, if somebody arrives in the Philippines, and went to Makati then straight to Bohol, they would probably think….

Wow, the Philippines is so beautiful!

Yeah. I have met people from India who couldn’t believe Makati. Something as lush as this couldn’t be found in India. When we rebuild our country, including the not-so-pretty places, it’s going to take time. Now our point of view is the Luneta, the Intramuros…if you did it correctly, you could shuttle people directly from Intramuros to the Luneta areas and Roxas Boulevard without ever having to see those. Right now, we just don’t have those linkages. ’Yun lang ’yun. Right now, it’s like getting people through New York having to pass by the Bowery every time because the infrastructure was made that way. Therefore the conclusion is, “Oh Manila is an ugly city,” because we make them pass there eh. We will create that flow.

So what is your vision for Intramuros?

Two things. Rebuilding it with stone is one-half of the restoration. The other half, is bringing back its spirit, its openness to new ideas, the arts, culture, music, etc. This is the venue for that. This will spell the rebirth of Intramuros after its physical restoration…. We’re already lining up artistic activities both in the performing arts and in the fine arts for next year.

Intramuros will rise again. The plans are already very detailed. But this will be the subject of PPP (public-private partnership) projects, because it is, in fact, a mini-city. The complications are, many people don’t know that not all the property in Intramuros is not public land. There are private parcels and it will require relocating informal settlers, etc.

During Secretary Lim’s time, he tried to talk to the Department of Finance about removing/eliminating the common carriers’ tax imposed on foreign carriers, but Secretary Purisima thumbed it down. Are you going to pursue the issue?

We would be the advocates of less fewer restrictions. So wherever I see an opening, I’m gonna squeeze in there.

You can expect, every time we encounter such a barrier and we feel it is in our country’s interest touristically to take down that barrier, we will take it up (with the agency concerned).

How are you going to professionalize tourist guides who are keys in enhancing the whole tourism experience?

This is in early days…my simple attitude; it will demand more involvement form the academe, more from the youth, that’s the only way. There would be more involvement from citizens who are natural historians—teachers, professors—but we have to put together a program that makes it worth their while.

I was telling them (DOT officials), you have the laboratory right here. The national standard for comfort rooms, we can build here (at the Rizal Park). The national prototype for tour guides, we can set them up right here. We’re not using these facilities as a national laboratory that we need, so that LGUs can see how it’s done. I intend to change that.

(This piece was originally published on the front page of the BusinessMirror, Oct. 16, 2011. Photo of Jimenez by Nonie Reyes. Tourism photos copyrighted by this blogger.)

October 17, 2011

No fund misallocation in Mark Lapid case – DOT chief

FOR now, Mark Lapid is staying on as general manager of the Tourism Infrastruture and Zone Authority (Tieza), formerly the Philippine Tourism Authority.

Thus said Ramon Jimenez Jr., acting secretary of the Department of Tourism, in an extensive interview with this writer, for BusinessMirror.

Jimenez also said there were no issues of fund irregularities with regards to the Commission on Audit’s report on Lapid. “The problems are administrative; we're not talking here of somebody stealing money, and that's why, in fact, he was sanctioned. Certain movements have been restricted already,” the DOT chief stressed.

He added that he was “working very well” with Lapid.

As per the Tourism Act of 2009, Tieza is “mandated to designate, regulate and supervise the tourism enterprise zones established under this Act, as well as develop, manage and supervise tourism infrastructure projects in the country. It shall supervise and regulate the cultural, economic and environmentally sustainable development of TEZs toward the primary objective of encouraging investments therein.”

It would be recalled that Jimenez’s predecessor, Alberto Lim, asserted that President Aquino had failed to act on the COA report on Lapid as the latter’s father, Sen. Lito Lapid’s vote was needed to approve the postponement of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao elections.

In the same interview, Jimenez also said changes were in store for the controversial Tourism Congress (TC). A number of tourism officials and private tourism stakeholders have criticized that the current crop of TC representatives were not “truly representative” of the sector.

Hoteliers said their sector, for instance, were not represented in the TC. “And yet they have someone representing the real estate sector sitting as one of its officials,” remarked the general manager of a five-star hotel, who declined to be identified.

The amended Sec. 137 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Tourism Act of 2009 calls for the DOT Secretary to convene the Tourism Congress and their duly representative members. Thereafter, he is supposed to preside over the election of the group’s new president, as well as its other officers.

“The fact of the matter is, the current congress, their terms expire in November. Now I am not inclined to wait for that. What I’m more inclined is to get the parties together before that time, because there is a very unique opportunity for all of them to participate in a genuine transition as dictated by the new IRR,” Jimenez said.

The TC is a key body in the tourism industry, which is why its previous representation became very contentious. It recommends candidates for the respective boards of the Tieza, Duty Free Philippines Corp. and Tourism Promotions Board. (formerly the Philippine Convention and Visitors Corp.).

With proper candidates to the TC and said DOT-attached agencies, the private sector is given a pivotal role in directing the course of tourism promotions and marketing of the country.

In the interview, Jimenez also outlines his priority programs, his vision for Intramuros, and how he intends to use the Rizal Park as a “national laboratory” to train local governments in the standards of establishing tourism facilities. (Click BusinessMirror Sunday for the rest of the interview.)

October 16, 2011

Seeing pink (updated)

Dreaming the Breasts
By Anne Sexton

strange goddess face
above my milk home,
that delicate asylum,
I ate you up.
All my need took
you down like a meal.

What you gave
I remember in a dream:
the freckled arms binding me,
the laugh somewhere over my woolly hat,
the blood fingers tying my shoe,
the breasts hanging like two bats
and then darting at me,
bending me down.

The breasts I knew at midnight
beat like the sea in me now.
Mother, I put bees in my mouth
to keep from eating
yet it did no good.

In the end they cut off your breasts
and milk poured from them
into the surgeon’s hand
and he embraced them.
I took them from him
and planted them.

I have put a padlock
on you, Mother, dear dead human,
so that your great bells,
those dear white ponies,
can go galloping, galloping,
wherever you are.

THE female breast is one of God’s most fervent expressions of His artistic vision when He created human beings.

Its shape is its own—not round, not oblong—it doesn’t fit any known geometric shape, so its clearly unique among all of His artwork. (They are bells, according to Anne Sexton.)

(Self-breast exam. This is also what OB-GYNs do on a woman's breasts when the latter is under 30.)

And its uses are so encompassing. Aside from adding allure to the female figure to help attract her mate, it nurses babies. From its nipple drops the first and most important nutrients for these tiny helpless infants, which hopefully affords them a healthy constitution when they are all grown-up.

But as Sexton’s poetry intimates, beautiful and nourishing as breasts can be, they can be touched by something sinister—in this case, breast cancer. (Sexton’s own mother Mary Gray Harvey died from it. When she was diagnosed with the condition, Harvey blamed it on Sexton who had just suffered a nervous breakdown. This was of course the 1950s where there was very little knowledge about the cause and effect of deadly diseases such as this. Finally undergoing a radical mastectomy, Harvey was disgusted by what she viewed was her mutilation. Sexton poignantly expresses her mother’s difficulties—and her uneasy relationship with Harvey—through this poem.)

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I finally had my very first mammogram.

We have no known case of breast cancer in the family, which is why I never actually went to get such an exam. But upon visiting an OB-GYN last week (and thanks to a generous health-card coverage), she pressed that I should get one. After all, I was, ahem, above 40. And whether there are cases of breast cancer in one’s family, all women are potentially at risk of the disease. Yes, just because we are women.

So in the mammogram room I stood, in my hospital gown partially open at the front. I was told to grip the handle of the machine, as the technician “arranged” my right boob first on one plate.

I will not lie...the examination hurt. The breast is squeezed by a plastic cover above and a metal plate underneath until that dreaded machine beeps, signalling that it can read your breast clearly. Then the radiologist hits a button to take its picture.

(The mammogram machine.)

But faster than one can say, “breast is best!”, it’s over. Well for one breast anyway. Then the radiologist does the other one. Ooof!

I winced the two times the mammogram machine read my breasts. But I guess it’s a good thing that we are women, because we are allowed to do just that. We are allowed to express our pain quietly or loudly, unlike the men who are forever doomed to keep it all in lest they be tagged as a wuss.

I must stress that the pain is tolerable though. Yes, it will make you yelp, but hardly will it make you scream. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the pain of giving birth, a mammogram will probably just rate a 2 or 3. For those who’ve never had children such as myself, I just think that the benefits of getting a mammogram far outweigh the slight inconvenience of getting one’s boob squeezed tightly.

Another exam my OB-GYN recommended was the breast ultrasound. While a mammogram is usually just the only exam required for breast cancer screening, an ultrasound does supplement the former in that it helps detect smaller breast cancers.

At least the ultrasound was relaxing. A woman just needs to lie on the bed, while the technician uses a hand-held device as small as a computer mouse which is connected to a machine with a screen. She then runs this device—cool to touch because of the gel used—over each breast to check for any tiny abnormalities.

Both these exams will take less than an hour of one’s time. I suggest though that it’s better to get all exams for our female parts done, in one sitting. So get your Pap Smear done as well. The latter helps detects any issues with our vagina and thereabouts. (As soon as a woman is sexually active, she needs to visit an OB-GYN annually. You need not be pregnant to visit one, but it does help if you’d be able to tell the physician or her assistant, the first day of your last menses just for their records. So check your calendar before going to your OB-GYN.)

(To take a reading of your breast, it is gently squeezed between a film plate underneath and a plastic cover above.)

According to the ICanServe Foundation, a local group that has devoted itself to increasing breast cancer awareness, and functions as a support group to those afflicted with the disease, “the Philippines has the highest incidence of breast cancer in Southeast Asia. Breast cancer is also one of the leading causes of death among Filipino women. Most women with breast cancer have no known risk factors except that they are women.” So the group stresses that we women have to be vigilant in protecting ourselves against it.

Early detection is the key in helping us battle or survive the disease.

For women to be able to take care of others, we need to take care of ourselves first.


ICanServeFoundation is currently selling gift items at The Power Plant Mall on all weekends of October. Proceeds from the sale support its advocacy projects.

To know more about breast cancer, go to the foundation’s portal at www.icanservefoundation.org/?page_id=299 or visit the National Cancer Institute.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday, in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on Oct. 14, 2011. Illustration and images from the web.)

Celebrate International Chefs Day!

...with what else? more food! And help send a worthy student to culinary school!

FROM Chef J. Gamboa of Cirkulo (and co-owner of Azuthai, Milky Way, and Tsukiji):

Greetings from Les Toques Blanches Philippines!

Once a year, in October, Chefs around the globe celebrate the World Association of Chef's Societies International Chefs Day. A special day to recognize the many men & women that work in the culinary profession and an opportunity to give back to the communities the chefs belong to.

This year we celebrate this special day on 20 October with a special Asian inspired dinner prepared by Chef Alex Chong of the Heritage Hotel.

All proceeds from the dinner will benefit the LTB Culinary Scholarship Program which together with the International School of Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM) and Enderun Colleges has provided free training to over 75 hotel and restaurant instructors from Baguio, Cebu, Laguna, Iloilo, Bacolod, Davao and Cagayan de Oro. These instructors continue to teach and improve the culinary education in the provinces. Our beneficiaries for 2012 will be instructors from Pampanga, Batangas, Iloilo and Cebu. (For more details, click LTB Phils.)

Click the link above to read the mouthwatering menu of dishes that will be served at dinner, only P2,011 per pax, pero ang daming food! Yum! Yum!

Call LTB at 840-3771 to 82 for inquiries. Only 80 seats available.

October 09, 2011

iCelebrate Steve

WHILE we all mourn the passing of Steve Jobs, whose many gadgets his company, Apple, produced and touched the lives of two generations of techies, iCelebrate his life and his vision.

I write these words on my Mac : You rock, Steve.

His 2005 commencement address at Stanford University:

"I am honoured to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College [Portland, Oregon] after the first six months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned Coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky – I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz [Steve Wozniak] and I started Apple in my parents' garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2bn company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation – the Macintosh – a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling-out. When we did, our board of directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologise for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me – I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over. I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world's first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, some day you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "no" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7.30 in the morning and it clearly showed a tumour on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for "prepare to die". It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumour. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful, but purely intellectual, concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but some day not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called the Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of the Whole Earth Catalog, and then, when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words "Stay hungry. Stay foolish". It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay hungry. Stay foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

Thank you all very much." (via The Guardian. Click to read John Naughton's annotations. Underscoring, mine. Photos from the web. Share your Apple stories, condolences, and tributes to Steve Jobs here.)

STEVE JOBS 1955-2011

October 08, 2011

Typewriter wired to the world (Teditorial 10/06/11)

Typewriter Wired to the World

A man for mothers

The Hapinoy Store Program trains Southern Luzon’s women micro-entrepreneurs in personal and business development, management systems, and better priced goods, and introduces additional revenue channels.

GROWING up in a political family like the Aquinos of Tarlac, it was inevitable for Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV to become involved in social development issues, he said. Aside from having the late Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., and President Corazon Aquino as his uncle and aunt, Bam’s cousin, Noynoy, is now president as well.

And his father, Paul (the youngest of the late senator’s brothers), has been a key player in most political campaigns involving the Aquinos. His mother, Melanie, on the other hand, is a keen volunteer in religious social services groups.

Gasgas na to say this, I know, but Bam does bear a striking resemblance to his late uncle, it’s almost unnerving. Of course I’ve seen him on TV before hosting a morning show, but now just seated six feet across me, I marvel at the uncanniness of it all.

Bam is just as articulate and confident in public speaking as his Tito Ninoy, though I have yet to hear him sound bombastic as the late senator was in his speeches. The younger Aquino attributes this skill to having been honed in political rallies since he was six years old, campaigning for his Tito Ninoy while the latter was in jail. (It’s ironic though that Bam has actually never known his Tito Ninoy, and has no memory of meeting him, although his parents did bring Bam to the jail where the late senator languished.)

This was no political meeting I was attending, however. In a lunch tendered by MasterCard Philippines, a select group of journalists including myself met with Bam to talk about his Hapinoy Store Program. It is the micro-entrepreneur program of Microventures Inc., an organization he set up with friends Michelle Pabalan and Mark Ruiz, targeting the poor and disaffected members of our society, specifically the women and mothers in the rural communities.

The program won for Microventures a $25,000 Women’s Empowerment Grant from the Singapore National Committee for UN Women and MasterCard—the grand prize in the “Project Inspire: 5 Minutes to Change the World” grand finals which was held at the INSEAD Asia Campus in Singapore.

There were 10 finalists all over the world, selected out of 450 teams who submitted their “life-changing ideas” to empower women and girls across Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, in the form of a five-minute pitch videos or written proposals. Two finalists, including Microventures, were from the Philippines.

“Part of the reason we set up Microventures was that we realized that were was a gap in the microfinance sector in terms of business development. There are a lot of NGOs [nongovernmental organization] and social development organizing but when it comes to business development for the really small entrepreneur, there’s a gaping hole. That’s one gap we see in terms of getting the poor out of poverty. Finally, there’s financing, there’s capital, but there is no assistance to get their businesses to a higher level,” Bam explains. The target beneficaries not only get loans but are trained in all aspects of running a business, making it a more sustainable framework for social development.

He adds there are about 800,000 sari-sari stores nationwide accounting for 40 percent of the total retail sales in the country. Clearly, sari-sari stores provide a vital lifeline to many communities, especially those in remote areas, as these are the only establishments that provide basic commodities and daily needs of residents.

So in 2007, Microventures launched the Hapinoy Store Program, with microfinance borrowers in mind. “Upon realizing that 15 percent to 20 percent of microfinance borrowers use the capital to put up sari-sari stores, the Hapinoy Store Program first focused on aggregating these stores for bulk product discounts.”

Through the program, the storeowners are given access to capital through Microventures’ partner institutions such as the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD-MRI), the largest microfinance institution in the Philippines.

“Usually it’s P3,000 to P5,000 for sari-sari store owners, and tens of thousands [of pesos] for community store owners,” says Bam. A community store acts like the main commissary in an area of Hapinoy sari-sari stores.

Women micro-entrepreneurs, dubbed Hapinoy Nanays, are tapped for the program which aims to help them establish “a profitable and sustainable business, reap practical and tangible benefits from partners and microfinance institutions, become knowledgeable with the help of training programs and support services, and be confident and empowered. Why women and not men? Bam’s group of course follows the basic microfinance model set up by the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, where women have been found to be the most dependable in terms of repaying loans. “They have a loan repayment rate of 99 percent!” he enthuses.

Bam Aquino, president of Microventures Inc., receives the Project Inspire winner's certificate from Vicky Bindra, president of MasterCard Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.

Although he does note that in the past four years of the program, a number of men—the husbands of their Hapinoy Nanays—have started attending the women’s meetings. Mostly they do this out of curiosity, as the men try to find out what’s keeping their wives so busy. Eventually, Bam says, the men become involved in the program indirectly, as most sari-sari stores or community stores are family enterprises anyway.

Microventures doesn’t close the door to eventually assisting the men as well in these communities, but for now, Bam says, the focus is more on the women entrepreneurs who are still the most disadvantaged members in society. (In the Philippines most women are still unable to tap loans directly from banks and still need their husbands or fathers as co-guarantors. The alternative, especially in rural communities, is to turn to informal lenders, commonly called “5-6”, who unfortunately charge exorbitant interest rates on loans.)

Today, Bam says, the program has evolved into a full-service microentrepreneur enhancement program: a network of micro, small, medium and large enterprises where Hapinoy community stores and sari-sari stores “serve as the hubs of a network for goods and services that are coursed through the program.”

The products and services sold by these stores range from basic commodities and common grocery items to “more specialized projects with community impact like solar lanterns, medicine and affordable technologies,” he stresses.

What I find appealing about the program is that there is an effort to tap local suppliers which helps even more people other than the targeted beneficiaries. The program boosts the community producers and downstream micro-industries in project areas, as well.

“For example, in Laguna, we can have peanuts and sweets from their area. But you won’t find the same type of sweets in Bicol. Like the rice in the Laguna stores will come from farms in the area, but the rice in Bicol will come from there,” explains Bam. Among the community producers, he says, are the agrarian reform farmers who are Hapinoy’s source for the rice and sugar the nanays sell in their stores.

The Hapinoy Store Program currently covers 150 communities mostly in Southern Luzon and Bicol, and has targeted to expand to 400 communities by the end of the year. Bam says the $25,000-grant his group received via Project Inspire will help them expand their program.

“When we started this program, we envisioned that in five years, we will be present in all cities and municipalities in the Philippines with hundreds and thousands of sari-sari stores.”

Project Inspire was launched in March 2011 to commemorate the 100th year of International Women’s Day and to celebrate MasterCard’s 25th year in the region.

According to Judith Dayrit, MasterCard’s vice president for marketing and member relations, Project Inspire “serves as a worldwide platform for 18- to 35-year-olds, offering them the chance to make their ideas a reality in an effort to empower disadvantaged women and girls in Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa.”

She explains that despite the great strides in their socioeconomic standing in the last 100 years, statistics show that women account for 70 percent of the world’s poor.

“There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women,” she says. This is why MasterCard’s corporate social responsibility thrust is “to help empower women and children, because they are really the underdogs in society.”

It’s probably not easy being an Aquino, considering the pinnacles of success many of its members have reached. But having become an advocate for the oppressed and the poor mothers of this land, Bam, only 34, certainly more than measures up to the task of keeping the family name not only respectable, but honorable. I’m pretty sure he will reach far greater heights, as well.

For more information on Project Inspire, click on www.5MinutestoChangetheWorld. Those who wish to support Hapinoy and its projects, click www.hapinoy.com.

(My column Something Like Life is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was published on Oct. 7, 2011. Photos courtesy MasterCard/Microventures Inc.)

October 04, 2011

DOT rebids brand campaign

TO generate a more “competitive presentation” for the widely anticipated new Philippine tourism slogan, acting Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. has announced the rebidding of his agency’s branding campaign.

Acting Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. (Photo courtesy WOO Consultants via The Carillon)

This, after only one advertising agency, BBDO Guerrero, submitted a bid under the old terms of reference (TOR), where the project cost P13 million. This allowed the Department of Tourism (DOT) to declare the initial bid a failure, officials said.

DOT Spokesman Benito Bengzon Jr. told the BusinessMirror the new bid project would only cover the creation of the slogan or “concept,” and not the actual production of the ad materials. “Some of the deliverables in the original TOR were removed,” he said in a text message.

As such, bidders will no longer be required to produce the creative materials for the branding exercise, such as audio-visual presentations/TV commercials, brochures and posters. This made it possible for the DOT to reduce the budget for the project to only P5.6 million, he added.

Jimenez said he had to “seek the approval of the [Government Procurement Policy Board], if we could rebid the project.” He was advised that as head of the agency, he could “amend the TOR if it could be shown that pursuing the project would be disadvantageous to the government. We could thus declare a failure of bidding,” explained a DOT source familiar with the project.

The same source said that if the government agency had proceeded with the initial bid with only BBDO as the lone bidder, “it would have cast doubt on the DOT and BBDO. As the secretary has said, this is the ‘most anticipated tourism slogan in Philippine history,’ so we want the government, and the public, to get the best deal. A rebid would allow a competitive presentation from more advertising agencies.”

According to the new “Request for Expression of Interest” issued by the DOT’s Special Bid and Awards Committee and published on the agency’s web site, prospective bidders in the “Philippine Branding Campaign Focusing on Tourism” will be required to submit a “nonrefundable fee of P100.00” to the DOT cashier by October 10, if they want to secure eligibility documents or a checklist.

Shortlisted bidders will be announced on October 12, and can then secure official bid documents until October 30. Bid documents may be secured upon payment of a "nonrefundable amount of P5,000" to the DOT cashier.

Bidders have only until October 31 to submit their bids. Accepted bids will be asked to “make a pitch” to DOT officials on November 21.

The bid project is described as the “development and implementation of a branding campaign that shall highlight the competitive advantage of the Philippines as an international and domestic tourist destination.” The contract duration for the winner is two months.

Jimenez, it will be recalled, had announced to the media that seven of the top advertising agencies in the country were already working on the branding effort.

But the BusinessMirror sources in the advertising industry said the agencies, which had expressed interest in the initial bid, withdrew after they found the bid process “so tedious.”

Only BBDO Guerrero was left to pursue the project. It was the same agency that conceptualized the “Wow Philippines” tourism campaign under then-Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon.

A DOT source confirmed the withdrawal of “four or five agencies,” which had participated in the initial bid, “because they found the [P13-million] budget insufficient.” The sixth bidder, the source added, was “disqualified on a technical rule,” thus leaving only BBDO.

Industry sources said the other agencies that had prequalified in the initial P13-million bid were J. Walter Thomson, McCann Erickson, Dentsu Inc., J. Romero and Associates Inc., Lowe Philippines Inc. and Young & Rubicam. It was learned that the DOT did not allow Y&R to proceed with its bid.

While declining to reveal further details of the new TOR, the same DOT source intimated that these were “substantially changed to make it more acceptable to the ad agencies.”

He said the DOT expects about 30 advertising agencies to express interest in the rebid of the new tourism-slogan project, thereafter, this would be whittled down to about seven prequalified for the actual bid. “Of course, it could also be less than seven, it’s not a fixed number,” he said.

Despite the project rebid, Jimenez was still firm on unveiling the new tourism slogan “before Christmas. Kailangan matapos na,” the source said.

In a press statement released late Friday, the DOT said: “The arrival of the new Secretary of Tourism, Ramon Jimenez Jr., a former advertising executive, has led to a rethink over the concept of the campaign and TOR and so necessitates a declaration of a failure in the previous bidding process.”

It also quoted BBDO Guerrero’s Chairman and Founder David Guerrero supporting the rebid for the branding project: “We are one with the Department of Tourism in expressing the desire for having more than one agency to present its ideas for the country’s branding campaign in what should be a highly competitive process. Indeed, this is about getting the best result for the nation’s advertising and so we are only too happy to fit in with the secretary’s plans.”

Citing an unnamed “spokesman,” the DOT press statement added: “The failure in the bidding process is no reflection on the ability of BBDO Guerrero to meet the previous TOR and the responsibilities of the campaign and we certainly look forward to welcoming them to the new process.”

An official of BBDO Guerrero, who declined to be identified, said the agency “will definitely join” the rebid.

(My story was published on the front page of the BusinessMirror, Oct. 3, 2011.)

October 03, 2011

Jinkee Pacquiao on marriage, marital infidelity and mothers-in-law

AT 32, Jinkee Pacquiao struck me as being so wise beyond her years. Who would’ve thought that she would be the one who could advise many women on how to deal with their husbands, adultery, and mothers-in-law?

And it was impossible not to like her. Despite the trappings of her own newfound celebrity status, Jinkee still remains level-headed and—what a surprise!—refreshingly honest. It only took just a few questions from me, and she started telling me her life story like I were a gal pal (or therapist, maybe).

Born Maria Geraldine Jamora, Jinkee and her four siblings lived modestly in a small barrio in the suburbs of General Santos City, South Cotabato. The family had a coconut farm, traded copra, and had a passenger jeepney that generated sufficient income to enable her parents, Rosalina and Nestor, to send all their kids to school. Two of her siblings finished college.

Jinkee went to high school at the University of Notre Dame in Dadiangas, GenSan, where she took part in in school plays and was a sought-after sports muse. Both her parents were very conservative and strict, particularly with regards to dating. “My siblings and I were told to finish our studies. Our parents didn’t want any of us to marry early,” she says.

While she manages to poke fun about it today, Jinkee says despite her family’s middle-class status, she didn’t live a charmed life while growing up in GenSan, in that barrio where were most villagers apparently were blessed with mestiza looks. She talks about the heavy-handedness of her father against her mother and her brothers whenever he’d come home in a drunken rage. The domestic squabbles back then that were loud enough for the neighbors to overhear. “Sikat ang pamilya namin sa amin sa mga ganyan. Naku, bidang-bida!” The chaos would force the Jamora kids to flee their home and sleep over in other people’s houses.

She and her siblings had begged their mother to leave their father and wanted to call the cops to throw him in jail. But her mother stuck it out for the sake of the children. “My siblings now say I am like my mother in this way,” Jinkee says wistfully.

This situation made Jinkee even more determined to finish her education. She says that even as a child, she was never the “stay at home” type of girl who only dreamed of getting married. “I wanted to finish college and become a bank teller, basta, makatapos lang ako ng four years,” she says. She took up computer programming at AMA Computer College in GenSan, but cut it short to go to Davao to live with her eldest sister Heidi, and work in retail and in a restaurant while studying for a business degree at the University of Mindanao. But she dropped out and returned to GenSan where, while working as a beauty consultant for Pond’s at a mall, she met Manny.

It was, at least for Jinkee, not love at first sight. “An uncle was his assistant trainer and he told Manny he had a niece—me—working at the mall, so he introduced us.” Manny, already an up-and-coming boxer, was at a nearby stall buying a gift for someone. “My uncle told me Manny was a boxer. The next day, Manny returned with a card, saying thank you that we had met. From then on he would invite me every night to eat out.”

She eventually fell for him, with his patient, quiet and modest ways. “Hindi siya mayabang,” Jinkee recalls. Seven months later, he proposed. She was 20, still nurturing her dream of a business degree. Marriage, she says, was the farthest thing from her mind. “But I don’t know [what got over me]. I just said yes. Ayun, dere-derecho na,” she remembers rather ruefully.

The initial years of their married life was certainly no picnic to Jinkee, especially since she had to live with all her in-laws. Manny’s mother Dionisia, now known to all and sundry as Mommy D, did not disguise her resentment. (Apparently Manny was already engaged to another woman prior to meeting Jinkee.) “’Yun ang pinakamahirap, ’yung makisama sa iba. Kahit siguro maliit lang ang bahay ko, tapos ako lang at si Manny, OK lang. Mahirap ’yung madami kayo. S’yempre may instances na may maririnig ka, ’pag bibili ka ng damit, nagsha-shopping ka daw, pera ng asawa ang ginagamit mo, kung ano-ano.”

Jinkee kept her mouth shut and just tried to stay out of Mommy D’s way. “’Di ko sya pinatulan. Tinitiis ko lang. Si Manny ang nagagalit sa kanya. ’Di ako nagsusumbong pero may ibang nagsusumbong sa kanya kung anong nangyayari.”

Jinkee’s patience would bear fruit as her mother-in-law eventually came around and warmed up to her. They became so close that during the scandal over Manny’s affair with the starlet Krista Ranillo, whom he brought to his fight against Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas, it was Mommy D who was her support. “Si Mommy D lang ang kakampi ko, kasi siguro gawa nung nangyari din sa kanya,” referring to her mother-in-law’s tribulations with her own husband.

Jinkee says it’s all in the past now—“tapos na.” When they managed to catch a piece on the ex-starlet on a showbiz/gossip show on TV, she recalls reaching over to Manny, putting her hand on his chest, and kidding him, “Kinakabahan ka ba?”

She says that of all the reported infidelities of her husband, it was the one with Krista that pushed her to the edge. Jinkee cried herself to sleep every night, woke up “maga ang mga mata,” and she didn’t want to even leave the house. When she did go out with friends who wanted to take her mind off her marital problems, “natuto akong uminom...para makatulog na lang agad.”

But Jinkee protected her children from the gossip. When their eldest Emmanuel Jr., now 10, would ask why she was crying, “I’d just say I had a headache.” She says she never once badmouthed Manny to her kids, although she confesses that during those days, she would sometimes project her anger toward her children. “Naranasan ko din ’yun. Napagbubuntungan ng galit. ’Pag maingay na, pinapagalitan ko sila, pinapalabas ko. Napapagalitan ko sila.”

She relied on a few close friends and her siblings to keep sane. And she prayed a lot. “That’s more powerful than all the strategies put together against infidelity,” she says.

When she finally reached her breaking point, Jinkee says she told Manny to end his affair with Krista. He refused. Manny even blamed her for his dalliance, telling her it was her fault, that she no longer cared for him enough to stop him from falling for the starlet. She cried and nagged. Nothing worked. Finally too tired to care anymore, she just let him do his own thing.

She stopped speaking to him for four months, but in public continued to perform her wifely duties. The two pretended that things were going swimmingly. But during the Thanksgiving Mass to celebrate Manny’s victory over Cotto, the dam just had to burst. “I wasn’t even supposed to attend that Mass because I didn’t want to take the sham that far,” says Jinkee. “Anyway, I told him, he had won already and I had played my role. But Manny asked me to go. Ang homily naman nung pari, tungkol sa mag-asawa. So natamaan naman ako. Eh kasi masakit din naman. Ayun, umiyak ako.”

Quietly and with a good dose of self-assurance, Jinkee has finally found her own voice. Manny and Jinkee Pacquiao with their children (from left) Michael Stephen, 9; Queen Elizabeth (Queenie), 2; Mary Divine Grace (Princess), 4; and Emmanuel Jr., 10. (Photo courtesy of Pacquiao Family)

What eventually patched things up was Manny’s decision to run for Congress representing Sarangani province. Jinkee says he saw how hard she worked at his campaign, waking up early and pressing flesh from house to house. “Sabi ko sa kanya, ’Di naman kita pwede pabayaan na lang.’” She adds, “One of our ninongs also advised him that he should keep his family intact because, if our family broke up, it would indicate he can’t manage his family and people would wonder how he would be able to manage his constituents.”

She says it also helped that Manny also found out that Krista, while canoodling with him, was also fooling around with a guy who would later become her husband.

Then there was the scuttlebutt linking Jinkee to the actor Derek Ramsay. The handsome hunk quickly quashed the rumor, but Manny, she says, was hurt. “Nasaktan s’ya. Sabi nya, ‘Ayoko ng makarinig ng mga intriga sa ’yo. Kasi masakit pala.’ Intriga lang nga ‘yan, masakit na, what more kung totoo? ‘Now you know how it feels,’ I told him. Binabalik ko na sa kanya.”

On hindsight, Jinkee says she knows Manny didn’t mean to hurt her. It’s just that he didn’t know how to handle his fame and the temptations that came with it. “‘Di n’ya kasi naranasan dati na madaming nag-a-appreciate sa kanya, parang wow!”

Incredibly enough, the tables have turned, and Manny, according to Jinkee, is now “strict” with her. “’Pag bibigyan ako ng show, ‘Ay, ’wag yan. ’Di pwedeng ganun.’ Nag-iiba na. Dati wala lang sa kanya. Dati kasi sa bahay lang ako, kampante lang s’ya. Pero mula nung umaalis na ako, minsan nagba-bar ako, ayaw n’ya ng ganun. Isip n’ya ang asawa, basta d’yan ka lang sa bahay, alagaan mo mga bata. Ngayon ’di na ganun. Dapat ka din mag-grow as a person. Ganun talaga. Ayaw niyang nakikita akong me kinakausap na mas gwapo sa kanya, mas sikat sa kanya—’O, nakuka mo ‘yung [cellphone] number?’ ‘Bakit ko naman kukunin ‘yung number?’ sagot ko sa kanya. Dati kasi me kaibigan ako na nagdadamit ng maiksi, sabi niya, ‘Nahawa ka na sa kaibigan mo, ganyan ka na mag-bihis ngayon.’”

But Jinkee certainly exudes confidence and sex appeal, especially after some cosmetic and body enhancements, making her a great candidate for any fashion magazine cover. (The enhancements aren’t drastic enough to, as some naughty wags have implied, make her look so different from her twin sister Janet. I, in fact, made the mistake of greeting Janet, thinking it was Jinkee.) The girl is a size zero, by the way, and any dress falls ever so smartly or sexily on her—any fashion designer would probably love to have her model their clothes.

Away from the klieg lights and the paparazzi, Jinkee still does her wifely duties in the Pacquiao household, especially when it comes to financial matters. For example, she is the one who distributes the balato to the relatives after every fight of Manny.

I kid her that their relatives have probably now grown in number since her husband became a world champion boxer. “Oo. Nung unang panalo pa lang, isang papel lang e nakalista na ang lahat—ito ’yung pamilya ng Pacquiao, ito ’yung Jamora. Ngayon siguro mga 10 pages na! Pero binibigyan pa din naming lahat, kahit pakonti-konti. Basta makatanggap lang sila at walang masabi. Wala kaming hinihindian. Saka sabi din ni Manny, ‘Pamilya din natin ’yan, tumulong tayo sa iba.’”

Aside from her product endorsements, Jinkee busies herself looking after the family’s various investments and businesses in GenSan. She even put up a pool hall “so Manny and his friends can play there, instead of going somewhere else,” she relates this with a twinkle in her eye. I tell her she wouldn’t earn anything from that because, of course, Manny won’t pay that tab, she protests, “Ay hindi! Nagbabayad s’ya! Paano tayo kikita kung ’di magbabayad? Sinisingil ko talaga sila,” she snickers. “Pati ang barkada!”

She says wants to put up her own fast-food dining franchise in Sarangani one day, and in the meantime she has re-acquired the properties her own paternal grandfather’s family had sold off. She is still a hands-on manager for the family businesses, seeing to their operations and talking to the employees. But when she is away, she relies on both her internal and external auditors, to keep her up to date with the goings-on in their family’s growing enterprise.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was published on Sept. 30, 2011).